A little Moldovan riddle for you…

So I have decided that one of the most magical parts about traveling is the “aha” moment. You know that moment in middle school when the curtains part in your brain and you finally understand how to do the math problem? Or that moment as a child when you look at a series of pictures and suddenly your brain identifies which picture occurs next in the pattern? It’s that glorious epiphany…the “aha” moment when things suddenly become clear in your brain, and it is a moment made even sweeter when you have had to do a little work to get there.

Now maybe y’all have these moments frequently in your life. (Curse all you creative people who are constantly problem solving and trouble shooting and doing other sorts of amazing things!) Us Wilsons over here, sadly, have realized that those moments seem mostly to have occurred in our childhood. As adults, we exist in a world with defined schemes and rules that we already understand. We are comfortable in that world. We move fluidly and proficiently through it.

Here is where travel enters in….and particularly traveling in a place where you do not speak the language. I initially wrote this post last weekend while visiting Munich, Germany to meet up with a wonderful friend from Madison (and his super cool parents too!). We found ourselves in an underground subway station trying to figure out which way we needed to go to find the meet-up location with our friends. I don’t speak German. Daniel doesn’t speak German. But we found a map, found the meet-up spot, found our current location and enjoyed that little “aha” moment in which we both figured out the direction we needed to go AND the German word for street “StraBe.” It was like being a child all over again and learning language from the experience of it and not from books or lectures.

Some light map reading while in Munich

So we had another “aha” moment recently in Moldova. Or shall I call it an “almost aha” moment. We were walking back from a store through a section of town that we had never been in before, and we were stopped at an intersection waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green. The day was sunny and mild and lots of people were out and about in the mid-afternoon. We heard sirens approaching from our left. We thought, “Nothing major, probably just an ambulance coming through.” However, what we saw approaching us was not an ambulance, but rather an entire fleet of vehicles with flashing lights and sirens. In the front of the fleet were 3-4 unmarked cars/SUVs, as well as one marked police car. They were followed by an 18 wheeler truck. The truck was then followed by another group of at least 4 unmarked vehicles with lights and sirens. The initial group of vehicles and the truck sped by quickly, and we didn’t get a chance to look inside. But suddenly the fleet stopped for some unforeseen traffic around the bend in the road, and we found ourselves staring into the window of one of the stalled, unmarked vehicles. Guys – there was a guy in the passenger seat wearing a full-on black ski mask! WTF?? Soon the traffic cleared, the fleet moved on, and we were left staring as the truck and the flashing vehicles turned off the road and disappeared behind a high gate.

Daniel and I laughed in amazement. And then, very quickly we found ourselves trying to put together the pieces for what in the heck was going on with this whole “thing.” [I can’t even think of a better word to call it than “thing!”] We looked around and realized that the building connected to the gate was the Banca Natională (National Bank.) Was the semi-truck full of money? Was this some delivery of money from the EU to bolster western influences in Moldova? No wait – make that Russian money to encourage Russia-leaning politicians!! No wait….was there some crazy water-creature-man being delivered to a secret lab like in “The Shape of Water?” Actually, Daniel declared convincingly that the truck was full of gold ingots, and then he immediately asked if gold ingots were a thing. We didn’t come up with an answer (which is why I call it our “almost aha” moment), but it was such a fun and playful exercise to think through what could be going on.

This mental stretching happens to us so often when we travel and so infrequently when we stay at home. I take for granted how deeply and intricately I understand the unwritten rules of American culture. In the United States I can witness a situation that I don’t have previous information regarding and I can probably make an educated guess about what is going on. But after living in Moldova for a few months, I am realizing how little I understand of both the daily life and of the unusual events (ie secret armed money delivery). Sometimes this is frustrating, but other times it is truly magical. I love the feeling of my brain doing a bit of gymnastics to try to make sense of things, to try and find patterns, to try and learn without being told the answer.

All this to say, Daniel and I thoroughly enjoyed our almost “aha” moment and wanted to pass it on to you. If any of you have some insider knowledge on semi-truck deliveries with unmarked vehicle escorts – or perhaps just some hilarious ideas on what we witnessed – feel free to send them our way.