“My son is leaving soon. I want to spend more time with him. Can we do this some other time?” she asked as her eyes teared up.
“Okay. What about the parents’ meeting tonight?” I asked.
We had planned on discussing with our students’ parents the topics we would be covering in health education. We agreed to postpone it. Then, she fled the room.
Later that evening Iurie, my teaching partner for sixth- and eighth-grade health, and I were running a meeting in a classroom for the parents of one of the classes we taught together.
Unexpectedly, the door opened halfway and Maria, hunched over and leaning heavily on the doorknob, took a small step inside the classroom. I stuttered and stopped talking. The parents’ attention focused on the partly ajar door and their eyebrows rose with curiosity. They could not see Maria on the other side.
Maria’s eyes were half open and her cheeks drooped. She nodded at me and asked to address everyone. Not wanting to offend, I told her to go ahead, despite not knowing why she wanted to address the group.
She stepped further inside and shut the door behind her. Surprised, the parents shifted back in their seats. Maria raised her left arm and, as she let it drop to her side, seemed to make a shallow bow. She rose up and began spitting out short sentences between labored breaths, with her voice straining as it increased in volume. Its force made those even in the last row hunch towards the desktops as if hunkering down against a bad wind. The parents did not have faces of shock, rather they stared at the floor or they glanced up and then down again before Maria could lock eyes with them.
Iurie, who had once been a student of Maria’s, slouched in his chair with arms crossed over his chest. He looked down at the floor with his mouth tensed into a small frown. Younger teachers typically deferred to their older colleagues out of respect. Even if he wanted to, he could not interrupt Maria without violating the social manners of the school.
“I am a single mother,” she said. Her youngest child, a daughter, still lived at home.
“My husband has left. My son will leave,” she shouted as her eyes focused on a distant spot past the classroom wall. With each phrase she swung her left arm from her chest as if trying to toss these feelings as far from her as she could.
Maria came to an abrupt stop and her chin dropped to her chest. All the parents watched her, but no one moved. She turned and raised her head. Tears glistened in her eyes.
“Excuse me,” slipped from her lips. She let herself out of the room. Nobody said anything. Everyone straightened up in their seats and looked at me.
For a moment we stared at each other. Their eyes were calm or a little sad, while mine were wide open. I could not think of anything to say. Not knowing what else to do, I resumed the meeting.
NO ONE SAID whether or not Tamara’s son’s work in Moscow would be legal. This question didn’t matter to their family. The job was his chance to achieve a goal that otherwise seemed unobtainable, but, before 1991, had been taken for granted. But even if he did earn a college degree, it would not mean much if the country’s economy did not provide him with the circumstances to use it. Like Maria’s son he would be a skilled professional forced to work abroad.
The predictions for the future of Moldova are not optimistic.
During Peace Corps training an economist spoke to us about the Moldovan economy. Someone asked him about Moldova’s chances for European Union membership, which is a good indicator of a country’s economic status, as members have to meet certain standards of economic health.
“Well, Romania hopes to be in the EU within the next five years,” the economist replied. He chuckled before saying: “Maybe Moldova will be in 25 years from now.”
On January 1, 2007, Romania and Bulgaria celebrated joining the European Union. EU leaders were willing to support the eventual membership of seven other already designated countries. Moldova was not one of them.