Valeriu Pocitari, you grew up in Moldova but left the country 25 years ago. What made you decide to move to Greece?
Valeriu: In the 1990s, living conditions in Moldova were very difficult. I worked as a laboratory technician at the Technical College in Chișinău where I’d also studied but I earned very little. So my wife and I decided to seek our fortune elsewhere and moved to Greece. In comparison to Moldova, it seemed like heaven on earth. I quickly made good friends, there was more than enough work, everything went well. In the beginning I mainly harvested fruit and vegetables.
Later I was in construction, sanding walls and mixing mortar. And then, for a few years, I carried sacks of olives. That was the hardest work I've done in my life. At that time, it was still the case that the harder you worked, the better you earned. My two daughters Valeria and Irina were born in Greece. When Valeria, the younger of the two, started school my wife and I decided that it would be better if they went to school in Moldova because the educational opportunities there are better than in Greece.
So, with a heavy heart, we decided that my wife and Valeria would move back to Ungheni, while our older daughter and I stayed in Greece. Actually, we’d planned that the two of us would return to Moldova after a while too, but that wasn’t possible because of work ...
“I really, really missed Valeria and my wife”
When you, Valeria Pocitari, were eight years old, you moved back to Moldova. What do you remember of that time?
Valeria: That was the first time I experienced a winter with snow. In Greece, it only snowed in the mountains. There was a lot to adjust to: so many things were different in Moldova. I had to brush up on my Romanian because in Greece, I mainly spoke Greek. I had difficulties with the other children in my class ... and it wasn’t so easy maintaining a relationship with my father.
Valeriu: I really, really missed Valeria and my wife. At the beginning, I didn't know how to handle the pain of it. We talked on the phone every day. But with time, the heart turns to stone, as they say here in Greece. You just put your head up and keep going.
Your everyday life has taken place in different countries ever since. How do you stay in touch?
Valeria: At the moment, we communicate maybe two or three times a week, mostly using video calls. We also write to each other on WhatsApp.
Valeriu: She tells me how she is doing at school and whether she has any problems. And we send each other photos.
“I feel safe with him - and unlike my mother he says ‘yes’ to pretty much everything”
What are the main topics you talk about?
Valeriu: Valeria tells me about her problems. The other children in the village always used to call her “the Greek”. Happily, that situation has improved lately. We also discuss what she’s currently reading. Some children just roam around outside, but Valeria was always a bookworm. When she was little, I affectionately called her “my little encyclopaedia”. She also tells me what books she wants at the moment. Sometimes I try to compensate for the fact I can’t be with her every day by giving her gifts.
Valeria: At the moment we’re talking a lot about my applications for university. Sometimes we also think about what we can do together the next time we see each other.
What role does your father / your daughter play in your life?
Valeria: I feel safe with him - and unlike my mother he says ‘yes’ to pretty much everything. We don’t see each other so often, and he probably thinks he has to compensate somehow.
Valeriu: My daughters mean everything to me. When I think about my family, it helps me to overcome difficulties and get on with it. The main reason why my wife and I looked abroad for work was because we wanted to give our children a better life. That’s why we’re investing in the education of our daughters. Formerly, one gave a dowry to a daughter. For us, education is a form of dowry.
“We are very close”
What is your relationship to each other?
Valeria: Essentially, we have an intimate parent-child relationship, I would say. But because of the long separation it’s quite as strong and unquestionable as it could be.
Valeriu: We are very close. When we spend time together in Greece, we are inseparable. Even at a distance, we have a deep understanding. When she has school work to do, we have less contact, because I don't want to distract her. In the run up to her final school exams, I called her mother instead when I needed to reassure myself everything was OK with Valeria.
“Now I think I should have found more time for my family, that it would have been good for my soul”
Is your relationship missing something?
Valeria: Yes, we’re missing the ten years we didn’t spend together. We’ve had too few everyday moments, however small or trivial. I know that hurts him as much as it does me. All the days we lost because I was here and he was there.
Valeriu: When Valeria was little, I thought I would have an eternity with her. But then she moved back to Moldova and I wasn’t there for her. During that time, I worked extremely hard - until late into the night. Now I think I should have found more time for my family, that it would have been good for my soul.
What was the most difficult time you experienced with each other?
Valeria: I think probably a phase when I was 13 or 14 years old. Back then, the world seemed incredibly complicated and I blamed my father. Going through adolescence without my dad was hard. Not because any one particular thing was missing but simply because I missed the closeness we had before. I was hurt and I pushed him away.
Valeriu: For me it was especially hard when Valeria had health problems. I was so worried about her, particularly because the doctors in Moldova told us one thing and the doctors in Greece another. To this day, she still has symptoms ...
“My wife was our connection when things were difficult”
How did you get through this phase?
Valeria: We talked a lot, that helped. I’ve grown up a bit too. Okay, I'm not quite adult yet, but I am a bit more mature. I was really fortunate that I had my mother. She was always really committed to making sure my father and I understood each other and stayed in touch.
Valeriu: My wife was our connection when things were difficult. Without her, Valeria would not be the person she is today - and our father-daughter relationship wouldn’t be so good either.
How often do you see each other in person?
Valeria: Almost every holidays. In summer, winter and in spring; at Christmas, at Easter and during the summer vacations.
Valeriu: Usually five or six times a year. This year I was also at Valeria’s prom in Ungheni. At one point, we didn’t see each other for a whole year because of the Covid travel restrictions.
“I have no words for it. Such a positive feeling”
How does it feel when you see each other again?
Valeria: I’m so happy!
Valeriu: I have no words for it. Such a positive feeling! We hug, we cry and we laugh together.
Do you have common rituals?
Valeriu: When she was little, we always touched our noses together. I remember I wore a red clown’s nose when my wife came out of the maternity ward with her. I wanted to get her attention, but of course she was still a baby (laughs). Later I would always take her in my arms and throw her gently in the air.
Valeria: Until I was 14 years old, we sang Christmas carols around the neighbourhood, and if we made a little money, I was allowed to keep it.
What is your favourite thing to do together when you see each other during the vacations?
Valeria: I really like it when we go swimming together. Or when dad takes me to the museum or the planetarium.
Valeriu: Valeria loves it when we go out with snorkel and mask go diving. When she was little, she had problems with her legs, which is why we encouraged her to do swim training. We still do it during the holidays. Or we walk in the woods together.
“When I'm lonely, or when something goes wrong at school, I always wish my father was there”
In which situations do you miss each other the most?
Valeria: When I'm lonely, or when something goes wrong at school, I always wish my father was there. Sometimes I’m just seized with a longing to see him that comes out of nowhere. I always wonder then if he's thinking about me too. We recently celebrated my mother’s birthday in the village. Everyone was dancing and having a good time, and I just thought of how much my father would have liked to be there. There was a lot of cake and there’s nothing my dad likes more than cake.
Valeriu: I found the first few years really hard. When Valeria went with my wife to Moldova, I missed her not just every day, but every hour. With time, God has helped me deal with the situation a little better. I’ve worked hard and done everything I possibly can to make sure my daughters want for nothing. The thought that they’re doing well and that I can call her any time has helped me when I particularly miss Valeria.
“Sometimes it makes me jealous, sometimes melancholic”
How do you feel when you meet families in which the parents and children live together?
Valeria: Sometimes it makes me jealous, sometimes melancholic. I try to be happy for these families, to rejoice, but if I’m completely honest, I’m mostly jealous. It is not a bad jealousy. I just wish I had what they have.
Valeriu: I say bravo! They made a different choice to us. We wanted to educate our daughters. My wife and I are convinced that the school education in Moldova is better than in Greece so we sacrificed a life together for that.
“For everyone, family is the beginning and the end of life”
What does your family mean to you?
Valeria: For me, it is a feeling of absolute certainty that we can overcome difficulties together. It means spending time together and making each other feel loved. There’s a saying, saying "Home is where the heart is". I would say: My home is neither in Greece nor in Moldova. It’s where my family is.
Valeriu: For everyone, family is the beginning and the end of life.
What is your fondest memory together?
Valeria: I remember one day when my father picked me up from elementary school and we went to the playground. It had just rained and I love the smell of rain. I was always introverted, and I particularly liked that we had the whole playground to ourselves.
Valeriu: For me, Valeria's birth was an overwhelming experience. She was a long-awaited child.
Valeria: Dad was also the one who taught me how to swim. We always searched for the deepest spots and gazed down to the bottom of the sea.
Valeriu: Yes, that's true! Valeria swims much better than me now. Without flippers, I haven’t a chance of catching up with her any more.
The interview was conducted by Aliona Ciurcă