Tag Archives: Safety

The Power of Community

I try not to worry about safety in this country.

This may sound gravely irresponsible, but I am a worrier by nature. Too often the “what ifs” and “what could bes” consumed me, until I’d exhausted all possible courses of action I would take if ever they were to occur. Many times I deal with uncontrollable events by “forgetting” they can happen, “convincing” myself that I won’t be a victim, even though deep down inside I know that I’m not invincible.

Childish as it may sound, feigned ignorance gave me the courage to walk through the treacherous streets of North West DC at all hours during my 4 years of undergrad; in spite of the fact that my roommate had been held at gun point, and our neighbors had been robbed. But that was my life in DC.

Here in Moldova, no matter how hard I try to “forget” about the dangers of living abroad or being a foreigner in a village, I am reminded to never get too comfortable. For example: today, while walking around Chisinau (the capital), this toothless man stopped me and my friend on the street to tell us how beautiful we were. He then turns to me and tells me that I’m the most beautiful woman in Moldova, and he wouldn’t let us walk away until he could kiss my hand.

Roughly two hours later while riding the bus home, an elderly man sat down next to me on the bus. He leaned in close.  His breath wreaked of alcohol, and he said something I couldn’t understand. He then motioned for me to take my head phones off and tried to take them off for me when I was reluctant to do so. Then, he informed me that he and I were going to go into Chisinau together because I have “beautiful legs”. I turned my head away in an effort to ignore him but when he subtly attempted to touch my leg, I brush him away just as these two women got involved in a loud argument, which became a distraction for everyone. Divine Intervention!

Once I was off the bus, the brief encounter I had with both men weighed heavily on my mind. The fact is. I don’t blend in, which makes me an easy target, easy to track, and an object of fascination. Denying the reality of my situation doesn’t make it any less true, and it certainly doesn’t make me any safer.

What does make me safer is the concern and support of my community.

Last week I moved out of my host mom’s house, so I currently live alone. However, the owners of the house went through great lengths to ensure that every light switch worked, all the bulbs had been replaced, the locks were tight, my windows were covered with paper, my land line worked,  etc… It was blatantly obvious that they wanted to ensure that I felt comfortable in my new home. They even purchased me chocolate, champagne and bread as welcoming gifts! Right as they were about to leave,  my new host dad/owner of the house pulls me aside.

Host Dad: Laquia, you aren’t afraid of being here by yourself?

Me: No! I’m really excited!

Host Dad: (Slightly confused by my reaction) I’m going to buy more paper to better cover the windows in your room. People can see your silhouette.

Me : (staring at the window) Okay. That sounds good.

Host Dad: And the windows in the kitchen too. Are you sure you aren’t afraid?

Me: No, I’m not afraid.

My host dad then proceeds to ask me my age and is disappointed when he finds out that I am so young. He then goes into great detail about how important it is to befriend my neighbors and not to make enemies. He also ensures me that he knows EVERYONE in the community and to call him if I need anything.  Later that evening, he called to check up on me before bed and also called me the next day to make sure that my first night went well! Surprisingly, I received 4 different phone calls from different people (all before 11am) concerning my safety and well being in the new house.

It didn’t end with the phone calls.  A cleaning woman from the school stopped by every day last week to “work” in my garden, although it didn’t need work done to it. Also, my host dad stopped by two days after I moved in to check in on me. Almost every day last week,  the school director dutifully grilled me on the whereabouts of my new home. She even asked me if I had a bed to sleep on, which I found to be amusing!

I can’t pretend like I didn’t get slightly annoyed. After all, I moved on my own to have more privacy not less, but the truth is, having others look out for me can never be a bad thing. Even when I am in denial about how safe or unsafe I may be, there are people in my corner who aren’t pretending, forgetting, or being irresponsibly negligent. I know that the power of community will keep me safe, even when I don’t do a good job of doing it myself.

To be honest, that’s more than I ever had walking the scary streets of DC.

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Think Before I Move

There is a lot that has happened over the course of the 10 months that I have been in Moldova that has not been documented in this blog. Some of those events have led me to the decision to move out of my Host Mom’s house and explore other housing options. The process for moving consists of:

  1. Telling the Director of the School, partners, and anyone else that can help me that I am looking to move.
  2. Visiting the houses to ensure they meet all of the Peace Corps requirements. This includes taking pictures of the house.
  3. Completing the necessary forms, sending them to Peace Corps, paying my current Host Mom one last time and then moving into my new place!

Currently, I am still on step 1. So after two weeks of communicating to the School Director that I want to move, I thought by now she’d have SOME idea of what my options are. The truth is, I’m anxious to have my own space, cook my own food, and not have to worry about interacting with others when I really don’t want to. I suppose there is a part of me that is an introvert. Ironic I know, but hey, it could happen to anyone (said in my Carlon Burt Voice).

A little frustrated that I had yet to hear anything from the director, I had a meeting with her today regarding my options. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: Ms. Lidia, have you found other places for me to live?

Director: I wanted to verify something with you first. (Serious look on her face) You want to live in the same garden as another family correct? Not alone in another house…Right? You want a Casa Mica?

(For those that don’t know, a casa mica is a smaller house that is close to the main house that is used for a variety of things: gatherings, storage, housing guests, or for their adult children to live in etc… It is within the same gated area of the main house where the family lives.)

Me: It doesn’t matter. I just want to move, and I don’t want something very big. It’ll cost too much to heat during the witner.

Director: I agree. Here is what I think Laquia, I think we should ONLY look for places were you can live in the same garden with the family.

Me: Why is that?

Director: Because I am afraid for you to live by yourself. I mean, I cannot guarantee your safety if you don’t have the support of another family. I will worry about you and what can happen.

Me: (Hesitant) I think you know best Ms. Lidia.

Director: GREAT! I will have options for you this week!

After having that conversation with the director, waves of worry slammed into me and my mind went into overdrive.  Does she know something I don’t know about my safety in Mereni? Has she heard things? Have people said things? Are there warning signs that I have missed given the language barrier, etc…?

That’s when I realized that as independent as I want to be, I am still in a FOREIGN country. I don’t always know what is going on or what is best for me. Thus, I am forced to depend on others to be cautious for me, when I become the stupid American girl who just wants what she wants regardless of what anyone else thinks. The truth of the matter is, people always watch me and stare and document everything that I do. However, I don’t know WHAT people? I don’t know what families they come from, or how much they know, or what their thoughts/intentions are.

My entire life, people have told me to think before doing things. Think before you speak, Laquia. Think before you do that, Laquia. Know what you are doing before you do it, Laquia. Where I live for the next 17 months can determine my health, my productivity and my safety.

Consequently, I must slow down, be patient, and think before I move.

That is all.

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