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Published: April 8th 2008
Ah, Moldova. The joys of myriads of concrete blocks, the cheerful stares you get in the streets, the benign hassling from the police, and the feeling of union when sharing a Mercedes Sprinter with 20 other people. I think I'm the only foreigner here, despite the Peace Corps volunteers, some diplomats, and the Russians, but you can't really consider the latter to be foreigners here. This is their country. They can live their whole life here without speaking a word of Romanian (oh excusez-moi, make that Moldovan), they drive the best cars, they do some quality trafficking of the most beautiful women here. About 25% of the Moldovan population lives abroad. They don't have an economy. The country lives on the money sent back by their people abroad, and by what they can smuggle in from their neighbour countries. If you really make it big in this country by, say, establishing a successful business, the President will 'convince' you to sell it to his son or his cronies, for a ridiculous price, of course. If you were Moldovan, would you want to stay here? The villages are full of old people and kids, but nothing in between. Everybody's abroad. Why shouldn't they, they pick up foreign languages easily, they take almost any job, they don't need much to be content.
So how did I end up here? My stay in Bucharest wasn't necessarily the Super Bowl of traveling, on Saturday, I felt the strong urge to get my ass out of there. It took my until Sunday to hop on a night bus to Moldova, though. My host Claudiu warned me not to go to Moldova, I reckon he was scared they would kill me and make a barbecue with what'd remain of me. Well, when we went to the bus station to buy the ticket, the seller wasn't exactly the friendliest person I'd met so far. He refused to issue me a ticket, he just told me to get on the bus on my allocated seat. So there I was, stuck with half a busload of Moldovans. The driver thought a good thing to make the time pass by faster would be to show us some nice little films. So he played Taxi, you know, the bad French film. Number 2,3 and 4. They were dubbed in Moldovan, but there was just one guy speaking all the characters, and he spoke them over the original version. Let's just say it was a tad strange. I put in my ear plugs, and tried to read with my flashlight, since the overhead lights didn't work, of course.
After a couple of hours we reached the Moldovan border, where we were first controlled by the Romanian side. No problems there. A couple of hundred metres after that was the Moldovan border control, and it was unexpectedly hassle-free. They didn't even ask me a single question, just collected all the passports, stamped them, and off we went. I'd heard so many bad stories from evil border guards torturing you with the dumbest questions for hours, looking for ridiculously high bribes, spiking your luggage with kilos of heroin. But it was all good. Maybe I shouldn't believe all the horror stories I get told about the country to the Eastern side of the country I'm currently in.
So I arrived in Chisinau at 5am. My host would only arrive at 12, so how did I kill all those hours? Answer: I have no idea. I just walked around, went to a cafe when it opened, and sat there for hours reading and ocassionally snoozing away, until finally I met Ian, my new host. He works as a Peace Corps volunteer, and he has been in Moldova for three years now. Pretty impressive, I reckon. They're doing some interesting projects and aiding the Moldovan people with developmental issues like health care and agriculture. Looks to me like they're doing a good job, given the fact that there are quite a lot of volunteers here, and the projects seem to be pretty successful.
As I mentioned before, Moldova is not a tourist country. Well, there's not a lot to see anyway, despite the statue of Stefan cel Mare, their patron saint. Chisinau has some nice parks, though, and you can spend the whole day walking around, marvelling at the architecture, which is at best interesting, and at worse plain repulsive. So that's what I did today. Yesterday I took a day off. I had to recover from the strains of travelling.
Tonight I'll be taking the night train to Kiev, then. Starts at 11pm, arrives at 1pm. 14 hours of infinite, relentless joy. Ukraine will be the first cyrillic country, and I'm already a bit apprehensive of that. But then, English is supposedly a lot more widespread than in Moldova, and there should be more tourists, and places of interest. So I'll have almost reached Europe's far East, and the post-Soviet cultures that go with this geographic location. Wish me luck.
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