That's what I thought when I first heard someone say they were from Moldova. It was 1993, we were in Kiev, Ukraine at an International Congress, and there were 65,000 people there from all over the world. I was walking back to my seat and I saw a little group using sign language. I had dabbled a bit in sign, so I stopped to watch. Two were from Moldova (Huh?) and the hearing one was from England. They couldn't communicate because the Moldovans had learned American Sign Language, (in addition to Moldovan SL) and British SL is different.
So there was little ol' me, who could only remember one sign (turtle, a lot of good that does a person) interpreting finger spelling from the Moldovans to the Brit. It was the most magical moment from the most incredible event of my life. The Moldovans were explaining what they went through to get there, their long, hot train trip, but how it was worth the effort. They made signs that conveyed their joy to be there and the unity they were experiencing. I will never forget their sweetness and dignity and positive attitude.
Fast forward ten years, we were in Hungary for another convention. It was blazing hot, we were in the Italian section for some reason (Candace) and they made an announcement asking the English speakers to move to where the Romanians were, to an inside air conditioned hall. We walked in and it was heaven. It was so refreshing and cool, people were dressed in these amazing clothes, they were welcoming and wonderful, and I remember thinking, I don't understand a bit of this language, but it sure is pretty. So Romanians also made a memorable first impression on me.
Again, fast forward some more years, and here we are in a Romanian speaking congregation with mostly Moldovans. So what is the difference between Moldovans and Romanians? And where in the world is Moldova? It is that little land locked country between Romania and Ukraine, not to be confused with Moldavia, an area of Romania. I am still learning, but here are the facts as I understand them.
During the Cold War, both countries were under communist rule, but Romania was not part of the USSR. At that time Romania was the poorer of the two, but that has flipped. Now Moldova is Europe's poorest country. Life is rough there, I have intrepid friends who have traveled many places, and they say conditions are pretty bad there still.
Because Moldovans had to learn Russian in school and their language was switched to the Cyrillic alphabet, they really got the shaft in the language department. Half the women I know my age and older still write Romanian, one of the Romance Languages, in Russian script. They also use lots of Russian nouns, and their accent it not the purest. They tell us to not sound like them, to speak "clean Romanian", not their "dirty Romanian".
They are amongst the most amazing people I have ever met. They come from a country of poverty and sadness, and yet no one knows how to party like they do. After the convention last weekend, they had a huge party. Two days later, another one for some that were leaving combined with an anniversary party. This was a Tuesday night, more great homemade food, more dancing, the bride changed into her wedding dress and was dancing in a living room. I am continually amazed at their stamina. Is it the potatoes? The mămăligă? I have so many stories to tell, more to come...