It takes a village

by Erika Senkowsky

Nights in September can be very dark - especially in villages in the Moldovan countryside. When we arrived in Sofia, the impression we got was one of total darkness. The friend who was to meet our bus appeared from nowhere and directed us to streets we would never have found ourselves. The candlelit hospitality and the welcome we received was incredibly open-hearted. The absence of electricity from 8 to 10 p.m. every evening and the richness of the food on the dining-room tables gave that evening a very special feel. Most entertaining were the excursions across the vegetable patch to the toilet. The absence of rain and real cold make this experience an appreciated memory. Waking up in a bed of mattresses and covers woken by the sound of animals was also a real country experience we sometimes miss.
Travelling to the countryside is so much an experience of travelling backwards in time. The pace of life, plus the absence of a sewage system, of asphalt roads and sometimes of electricity convinced us that we had reached the real Moldova. It takes a visit to a village to know a country. It takes a talk with the village mayor to learn the facts. After what we heard from the village mayor (who - surprisingly - was female and chic), the whole village experience lost its picturesque tenderness. The 6,800 inhabitants have two main possibilities to earn their keep: the kolkhoz dairy and the kolkhoz tobacco factory. The roughly 3,000 women are treated equally with men in their choice of work; the conditions in the private household will differ. The villagers pay local taxes to their mayor, and communal funding supports a small hospital (built with the help of an American) and the village school. Both institutions are open to the public and can be regarded as a good achievement of self- government, especially considering that both these buildings are the only ones linked to a sewage system. The hiring of teachers and doctors is decided upon by a committee.
One problem is that most of the roughly 1,130 young people in the village prefer to get higher education, look for a well-paid city job and come back to their village for the holidays. One reason may be the fact that a doctor at the clinic earns the sum of 200 Moldovan lei a month (((How much in $$$ or DM))) and the teachers earn from 150 to 250 Moldovan lei a month (((How much in $$$ or DM))) (depending on how new they are on the job). Sofia, the mayor said, is a dying village, the population is getting older and older and the future offers no hope for change. The information we got did not surprise us; it was more the honesty with which the mayor spoke of the unlucky future of a once-prosperous village.
Honesty and friendliness seem to be the prevailing emotions villagers exhibited. It made the walk around the kolkhoz factory and the dairy most entertaining, including fresh melon and smokes. It made us appreciate the real beauty of the surroundings. The houses are the houses of proud people; their assets are well-kept and gladly displayed. Slow but gradual development is visible and poverty less well-hidden than in the capital. The village is a more tangible way of getting to know Moldovans.


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