la revedere, Moldova
Leaving a place we have called home for several years, there is always a temptation to make a mental list of the things we will miss, and a corresponding list of other local peculiarities we will happily do without.
A few items readily come to mind, such as Moldova’s wine and delicious produce, but what we quickly realized when we sat down to compile such a list is that all of the ideas we jotted down were dwarfed by the one thing we will miss most. When we think back on the two years we spent in Moldova, the memories we’ll treasure are of the people we met here and the warmth and friendship with which they received us.
After two Foreign Service tours and several other extended stays overseas, we have become well acquainted with the psychological arc of the expat experience. At first, the excitement that comes with the prospect of delving into a new culture is tempered by the solitude that accompanies the move to a foreign place. When the time to say adieu finally arrives, one’s adoptive country feels as familiar as home, and the longing for new adventures is tinged with the sadness of leaving close friends behind. And yet, for all the similarities of our two Foreign Service farewells, they could not have felt more different.
We met a lot of Kenyans in Nairobi — the Embassy alone had more than a thousand local staff members — yet we befriended very few locals. We made a handful of Kenyan friends, but for the most part the cultural divide proved too wide to bridge in the span of just two years. It was virtually unheard of for the Embassy’s American and local staff to spend time together outside of work, let alone for Americans to be invited to their Kenyan colleagues’ family events. We had one Kenyan friend who invited us to her house. Our understanding of and appreciation for Kenya’s diverse cultures were much poorer for this distance.
The opposite was true in Moldova. The majority of our closest friends in Chisinau were Moldovan and they delighted in sharing their culture with us. We went to several weddings, our social media accounts swelled with Moldovan acquaintances, we hosted birthday parties for our new friends. We felt plugged into the local social scene in ways that would have been unthinkable in Nairobi. There were no tears when the time finally came to say goodbye, but they were not far away either. Our farewell to Moldova feels a lot more personal, and it’s not because it is much more recent.
We held a farewell fete, went out to dinner with our closest friends, and held a small house cooling party after the movers had crated and taken away all of our belongings last week. S and Munchkin left the following evening, but D was forced to remain at work for an extra week, giving him additional opportunities to say goodbye. He went to his final frisbee practice and shared a few beers with his Flying Mamaligas teammates, but there was more to come.
The last day is always a mad dash, backing up files, rushing around the Embassy collecting signatures on a multi-page checkout form, trying to wrap everything up in time for the office farewell party. D was so busy spending time with friends his last week that he hadn’t packed his bags; he was still shoving odds and ends into suitcases when the Embassy driver arrived to take him to the airport.
One of the young Moldovans from the frisbee team asked several times what time D’s flight left, so D was unsurprised to see him waiting at the entrance to the departures hall. But then D’s other teammates started popping out of nowhere. Enough people came to the airport to bid D one final adieu that they could have easily played a game of ultimate right there and then. And this is why when the time came for a final round of hugs, instead of goodbye D said, “Till we meet again.” Friends like these are hard to find.