Moldovans sometimes ask me whether Champa and I like Moldova. When I tell them we’ve come to love Moldova and will miss it when we return home, they are often surprised.
Their eyebrows go up. Their eyes widen. “Really?” they ask in disbelief that an American might admire their country.
Inevitably, they respond with “but what about”: But what about the bad roads? What about the overcrowded buses? What about the low salaries? What about so many people leaving the country to work elsewere? What about the corruption?
In a recent poll, 73 percent of Moldovans said the country is going in the wrong direction; 76 percent said young people do not have a good future.
These and other problems are very real. No question about it. But so is the beauty of Moldova’s countryside, its glorious churches, its delicious fruits, vegetables and wine. I love the laughter of its children. I love the grandmothers talking in the market, the mothers carrying babies, the dads holding their children’s hands. I love everyone’s hospitality and generosity.
I love so much about Moldova. It’s been a privilege to serve here. Champa and I are both grateful to have had this opportunity.
We will return in July to a country with profound problems of its own. Yet even though recent events have sometimes led me to despair, I have never wavered in my pride about my homeland. Yes, we have a messy democracy and corruption in our own politics. But we also have backyard barbecues, Saturday Night Live, Fourth of July parades and Little League. We have LeBron James and Beyonce, overstuffed aisles at Costco and food trucks lined up beside our farmer’s market in Durham.
Living abroad has reminded me how lucky I am to be an American.
I wish more Moldovans would recognize and celebrate the wonderful things about their country. After living here for two years, I’ve come to believe their biggest problem is not politics or the economy. It’s the “glass half empty” view of life I encounter so often. I’ve lived and traveled in other countries much poorer than Moldova, with deep challenges of their own, but the people I’ve met have generally been proud of their homelands. Here in Moldova, there is a “cloud of pessimism,” as Eric Weiner described in The Geography of Bliss. Not always, not with everyone, but often.
To my foreign eyes, Moldova’s negative self-image is out of alignment with its reality. Even recognizing its many challenges, I’ve come to know it as a beautiful place with dedicated, hard-working people who have the skills and hearts to make it prosper.
First, though, they have to believe in themselves. When they ask someone from another country whether they like Moldova, they have to expect the answer to be yes.
In any case, that’s my answer, and I know other Peace Corps Volunteers who feel the same way: I don’t just like Moldova; I love Moldova. Maybe that’s something Moldovans need to hear. Really.