The most memorable person we have met in Moldova, and the person we will miss the most after we return home this summer, is the 87-year-old grandmother, or bunica, of our host family.
Nadejda Ciornea inspires us.
She travels almost every day from our house in Ialoveni to downtown Chișinău, where she sells handicrafts in the outdoor market in the Arts Square. She walks up a steep hill to the bus stop, then boards an overcrowded vehicle before finally arriving near the market. There she sits outdoors on a folding chair, in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter. Only rain or a snow storm keep her home.
Watching this small woman shuffle on the road with her cane, or greet customers in the market, never ceases to amaze us. When we ask why she continues to work at her age, she smiles and wags her finger, saying la lucru! (the work). In fact, she says this to us almost every day, teasing us that we need to work as hard as she does.
Every evening I ask her how business went that day. Often she says she earned nimic, or nothing, usually followed by some choice words about Moldova’s faltering economy. Sometimes she smiles and points to the small ledger she carries, where she records her sales. Occasionally she’ll share photos or letters from customers she’s met over the years who befriended her and sent her greetings.
In the evening, we sometimes share a glass of wine and a piece of cake, preceded by her toasting our good health and success. She asks about our family back home and what we did that day, always with a twinkle in her eye and a quick laugh.
Bunica’s daughter, Nina, is officially our “host mother,” and we’ve become very close to her, her husband Mihai and the rest of the Bordei family. Since we are a few years older than Nina, however, it’s Bunica who has felt like a mother while we’ve been in Moldova. Champa and I both lost our own mothers years ago. We never expected to find another here on this side of the world.
In the years ahead, whenever we feel like complaining about getting old, we will remember Bunica wagging her finger and saying la lucru! She has shown us how to age gracefully, embracing every day with what Moldovans call a suflet mare — a big soul.
Bunica said to me the other day that she will miss the two of us a lot after we depart in July. We will miss her even more.