If you were to ask me what my life dreams were for every consecutive year of my life, I would tell you they were to travel. Exciting adventures, unknown destinations, and mysterious outcomes beckoned me, for reasons I could only guess at. And then, after a lot of dreaming and scheming and growing up, I finally set foot on foreign soil. The destination: Moldova.
As I rode away from the tiny airport in our getaway van/mission bus, emotions overwhelmed me with the fact that my lifelong dream was actually happening. I stuck my head out of the window and soaked in the beauty of the country we were driving through—endless sunflower fields, rolling hills, and tile roofed houses—until I realized the impoverished condition of it all. The wave of joy was replaced by a new feeling of shock. How could an entire country live this way? Where was the siding on the houses? The roof over the farm equipment? When I’d imagined my first venture out of the American bubble, I didn’t even think about culture shock. But as the days passed, my surroundings became normal, admirable even, as I realized that they represented a simplistic way of life that western convenience has obscured.
That simple lifestyle was reinforced by the people I met. People who built their own homes, made sheep cheese, and kept bees. And that simplicity, along with their hospitality, extended to us westerners.
They say that you have the most fun when you step out of your comfort zone…and let’s just say that couldn’t be truer. It only took about a morning of convincing for our Moldovan translators to convince me and my friends to go to a nearby “pond” for a swim. It was early July with European air conditioning, and soon four girls and a chaperone were skipping (and I mean skipping) down a muddy track to the promised land. We hadn’t been out of the village yet, and I felt like a welcome intruder as we wound out of town and through fenceless fields of sheep, cows, and wildflowers. And then, as we crested yet another tiny hill, the “pond” came into view. I think the Romanian word for lake was lost in translation, because my expectations of a farm pond were far exceeded by the actual thing, a large round lake with clear water and shores misty in the distance.
With our chaperone warning against amoebas from the shore, I swam out as fast as I could and as far as I dared, waving to the fisherman on the far bank while everyone whooped and splashed. In the anticipation of discovery, we had ignored the storm that was most certainly brewing and—
The excitement was overwhelming. First two miles through new country, then an incredible lake, and now a ripping thunderstorm to top off the adventure. We stayed in the water until the lightning was lashing the hills around us.
The walk home was almost more fun than the lake; the gully washer had turned our farm road into therapeutic mud, which then turned into a two-mile slip-n-slide.
As we made our treacherous way back home, I wrote down the first entry in my mental travel journal. But as amazing as that adventure was, I realized that travel is not about crazy experiences like that one, it is about people. Nothing felt more fulfilling than meeting, staying with, befriending, and even helping the Moldovan people, and the live simple environment opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of what life can look like when you just have gratitude.
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