Do I want to remember the sanitation? Placing used toilet roll in the rubbish bin and flushing my waste down an open concrete river into a nearby lake? Do I want to remember the cold shower drawn from the nearby well water? No, I don’t.
The bus rides, on the other hand, they were worth remembering. Each day an old beat-up minibus would bounce along the dirt-track, pot-holed and patched roads to the children’s camp. The bus driver constantly swerved from one lane to another to get the best bit of road – even if it was on the wrong side of the flow of traffic. On the first day, we ran out of fuel and got stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes waiting for a top up. This was our first lesson in flexibility. The patchwork of roads was just a snapshot of the nation. Despite access to 4G everywhere, water was drawn from a well. The disparity is something I will never forget.
What do I want to remember about Moldova? I want to remember the cows, the goats, the cockerel’s dawn conversations and the open grazing of the livestock on the sides of the roads. I want to remember the seemingly endless fields of sunflowers all straining in the same direction. I want to remember the apple and pear orchards, the watermelon fields, the rows and rows of maize, some of which we ate straight off the cob. It was starchier and less sweet than the corn we were accustomed to.
I want to remember our Ukrainian border crossing. The people there do not queue. They crowd. They push in. We had to form a sort of side-to-side front, just in order to keep our group together. I remember some shouting started behind us, culminating in one person accusing a member of our team of deliberately pushing him. This completely unfounded accusation was merely designed to get him further up the queue.
What do I want to remember about Moldova? I want to remember the food. Fresh cucumber and tomato slices with salami and cheese at breakfast; the soup at lunch with the soft tangy goat’s cheese; the savoury vegetable sauces and, of course, soviet-style ice cream. There was a Russian-style bitter-sweet fizzy drink called Kvas and a non-alcoholic Mojito mix. I also tried Robusta coffee for the first time. Their brewing method was primitive, leaving the grounds at the bottom of the mug. The timing of the last sip was crucial, get it wrong and you got a mouthful of grounds.
I want to remember the faith and energy of our hosts Andrei and Larissa and their team of volunteers. After just one week I was exhausted, but they were on week five. Maybe one day I’ll have words to describe these wonderful people, but for now I’ll just have to say I’m amazed.
But above anything else, I want to remember the names and faces of the young people. I want to remember Lusha’s cheeky smile. I want to remember Daniel’s generosity, as he eagerly gifted me the origami he had spent five days poring over. Five days: enough time to become friends. A man of 43 and some teenage boys of 14. I must remember the ones who left at 7:30 each evening to bring in the family cows from the fields. I want to remember the quiet dignity of Coal, as he entered the circle and shook the hand of each boy in the group. I want to remember how quickly that changed, and him jumping onto my back without warning. There are so many stories that I have no room to share. But I pray God allows me to remember them; to hold their names and their faces in my heart, and in my prayers.