Today we went to one of the bus stations in the city. Our friend asked around to find a bus going to Zahareuca. A man shrugged his shoulders and our friend said that meant we should get on his bus. The bus was small – perhaps a 16 seater. Interior decor was blue with icons. Smell was a mix of alcohol and unwashed bodies. Before departure a lady climbed on to sell us blessings – if we gave money to build a new Biserica ( Eastern Orthodox Church) she would write our names down with major donors at the top of the list, and an equivalent blessing would be ours. Four or five people gave her money and their names for the list. Next came a woman selling passport covers, chocolate and paper tissues. It seemed that this was the pre-travel ‘we can meet all your needs’ service. Spiritual and physical.
The bus did indeed take us to the edge of Zahareuca and the driver was kind enough to shout down the bus to wake us up as we’d all fallen asleep in the overheated fug. Our reason for travelling there was to meet a family who had played host to my daughter a year ago. She had loved her time with them and we were going back to visit and I wanted to thank them for taking such good care of her.
We spent four or five hours in their home today, and the love, kindness, generosity and joy in that family was tangible. But tonight my heart is aching and I’m wrestling with questions again. I wish I could just take things as I find them and enjoy them, but it’s not how I was made. We’ve just watched an hour of comedy ( Trevor Noah – you should check him out), and eaten two chocolate bars and I suspect it’s an attempt to eat and drown out some feelings.
In this family the mother and grandmother live with the four children – a boy aged 11, twin girls aged 8 and a boy aged 6. The mother is 29. I think the grandmother may be around 60 years of age, but looks older than a British 60 year old would. She has seven children and 17 grandchildren and all her sons have moved away to work. The father of this family works abroad. He left Moldova 5 years ago because he could not make enough money to provide for his family if he stayed in the country. This is a country where your business may be taken and you have to pay ‘extra’ for everything including driving licences and treatment in state funded hospitals. I asked his wife if many families in the village experience the same separation. She told me that it is the usual way of things. No one can earn a living if they remain in this country. Moldovans are economic migrants. Even those of us who are pro-refugees being welcomed into our countries tend to put economic migrants in the next category down. We think that they are less needy. I’m having to re-think that position. By working abroad and sending money home the family we visited have a house with secure walls, electricity and a cold water tap. Their toilet is a hole in the ground in the yard, they don’t have a bathroom and as the house has only 2 bedrooms they sleep 3 children to 2 beds, mother and youngest on a couch, and grandmother in a bed. Working abroad does not provide a luxurious life for the family; it just elevates them out of poverty.
We could not have been made more welcome in this home. We were fed the best eggs I have ever tasted ( they have chickens), some sort of delicious tomato and pepper mixture, and mashed potatoes. Apples from a neighbour’s trees had been baked, and tasted delicious. Maria, the grandmother, was convinced we were not eating enough and kept chiding us for our poor appetites. She gave us two huge jars of homemade jam to take away with us. Maybe to feed the hungry people in England.
The village in which the family lives receives Christmas Shoeboxes every year. You may know of the appeal where people in the UK ( and maybe other countries ? I’m not sure) fill shoeboxes with gifts, toiletries, scarfs and hats for children in need throughout Europe. Our church at home collects them. All the schools in our area encourage the children to make up shoe boxes. Rightly so. We have so much and it is good to think of others. But what happens when those ‘others’ want to come and settle in our country because their children’s lives are so difficult? Today in the UK parliament there was a debate about whether our country, the fifth richest in the world, would accept unaccompanied child refugees. Seriously ? We have to debate that in parliament?
One of the feelings that keeps hitting me whilst I am here in Moldova is shame. When I hear Moldovans who are becoming friends say that they have trouble getting visas to visit the UK I am ashamed. When I hear that our government is debating whether we can offer help and a home to a small number of the most vulnerable children who have suffered outrages and trauma no human should ever suffer, I feel shame. When I sit in the home of a family, enjoying their warm, generous hospitality and their children play in exactly the same ways as my own have played, and yet I know they would not be able to come to sit in my home and enjoy my hospitality, I feel shame.
I do believe that we in our rich countries have developed a skewed view of need and of wealth. We are suspicious of strangers. We’ve forgotten that according to the bible, ‘to those whom much is given, much will be required’.
I don’t want to return home angry and ranting! I don’t want to see people head in the opposite direction when they see me coming because they think I’ll get on my soapbox about these inequalities, so I’m trying to find the hope. I’m trying to work out and discover and imagine how I can make, how we can make, the differences we want to see in the world. How do we, working within the confines of governments and laws, some of which are corrupt, some of which are selfish, live generously and joyfully? How do we in the UK work towards meeting the needs of our own population, whilst also recognising that we have such significant wealth and resource that we should go far beyond our own citizens?
I’d be glad to share this discussion with others, so do comment or message me if you want. We have nearly three days left here. In that time we will attend a conference for vulnerable girls aged 12-17 who have been or are at risk of being trafficked or abused, so I’m sure there will be many more thoughts in my head which will need expression somewhere! Thanks for reading. As the beautiful grandmother I met today kept saying to me, ‘Dumnezeu s te binecuvanteze’. May God Bless You.