The Moldovan Way of Life

by Roland Schmidt

Let me first mention that it was my first time in the East. A lot of issues were totally new to me - may be they are completely ordinary and beneath notice for one knowing this great part of the world. Further I've to state that this text is based on my personal views, the way how I've seen the country, the people and their life. So, as any other journey report this one is also quite subjective. The title "The Moldovan Way of Life" might be a bit exaggerated - but it sounds quite well, that's why I prefer to keep it. For me as a westerner (even it is questionable if Austria is western), there was a certain temptation to judge things out of an arrogant and hedonistic position. And this is anything but what has been the aim of our trip.

Iasi, September 1997

Our second destination was Iasi. The city is in the eastern part of Romania, already in the historical region of Moldova. In the old city there are still some old houses of the 18th and 19th century, so compared with other towns it is a bit untypical. Nevertheless the achievements of the socialistic architecture (imagine a shoe-box) dominate the picture of the city. Some of them get pulled down or rebuilt, new business buildings appear in a contemporary style. May I'm taken in, but I smelt a little gold-rush atmosphere or at least a certain starting-mood. Our hosts were highly motivated people, not only in making our stay as convenient as possible. It was much more than this. They were amazingly flexible and committed. In my courses at university we always get prompted to be flexible concerning working hours, competition etc. But that's nothing compared with their way. Our accommodation was a dormitory of the university. The comfort might cause some frown, but for me it was just once again an evidence of how easy it is to get spoilt by "Western luxury"; four beds in one room, a wooden box outside the window serving as refrigerator and the physical miracle that the water in the shower is despite of - 10C still liquid. But actually all that's nothing of real importance.

Chisinau, Republic of Moldova - September 1997

The first thing I noticed in the capital were the wide roads. Like the Champs-Elysee, avenues with trees - only traffic jams are missing to complete the picture. We stayed at our AEGEE-colleagues flat in a suburban building. These houses look a bit seedy form outside, but the first impression deludes. Inside the rooms are nice furnished, people try to make life as comfortable as possible. Next to our block there was market. Bread get sold directly form the lorry, farmers coming from outside offer their vegetables and fruits... and you can also buy plastic bags. Colourful bags from western supermarket-chains with sportcars or Claudia Schiffer on it.
8:30 a.m.: Time to get up. After the hardest moments of the whole day, those of leaving the bed, the way to the bathroom. On the shelves are some western-styled products neatly placed. A try to elicit some water out of the tap fails. Nothing unusual. But our hosts are used to it and know how to tackle this little problem giving the new day the right start (smell). In wise foreseeing the tub was filled up the evening before, when supply is certain. Our host puts a pot of water on the oven so that we finally haven't to sacrifice our "luxury". Breakfast: Unfortunately I can't say much about a typical Moldovan breakfast as we were served with excellent meat, vegetables, "holly" Mamaliga and a lot of other delicious things. So the meal was more similar to a lunch than to a breakfast. I'm quite sure that the majority of the Molovans, including our hosts normally don't have such delights for the taste-buds. But this is just another proof of their amazing hospitality. I hope someday I'll have the possibility to pay it back.

Tiraspol'/MRP (up to now), some days later

Tiraspol is the capital of the MRP, a former part of Moldavia, which declared its independence in the beginning of the 90s. The big majority of the population is Russian origin. The government of MRP still sticks - or at least pretend to do so - to the communist ideal, which seems to be in this version just a corrupt and poor imitation. We go to the university in order to find some students willing to fill out some of our questionnaires. Some of us dare to enter a lecture room where a English class just finishes its lecture. Madame Professor surveys us critically and finally asks with dominant voice: "Who are you and what do you want?" Nothing easier than that. She starts to smile. After explaining the situation in Russian language to her student, she invites us to stay. Now the students, all of them are girls, start to survey us critically.
Olga, Natasha and her friends seemed to be overtaxed with our questions concerning political future, the situation now and before the civil war, Europe etc. Every question causes hot debates among them before everyone ticks the same choice. Sometimes the English students had some problems to understand our questions. Madame Professor kindly helped them from time to time and asked us how to pronounce certain English vocabulary. Yep. After finishing work we wanted to invite the ladies for a drink. But they've lectures, so any solution? As we didn't want to cause any inconveniences, we asked the teacher, if we can complete the questionnaires outside. She deliberated two times - and cancelled the whole lecture for about 40 students. (She knows how to tread AEGEE.) This all may sound a bit superficial, but actually it was me who was Karl May's greenhorn. The first impression I had was like "o my god, they have no future, no possibility to go the way they want to go...." The city remembered me on a museum of a Soviet Union which existed ages ago, unreal and artificial.
But by talking to each other, I discovered that there's not that much difference between them and me. Of course, like all other young people they have imaginations of their future, their aims of life, their fears and hopes; honestly, it looked a bit strange seeing girls wearing skirts shorter than those of the Spice-Girls, made-up like a Diva in a Oscar's night, MTV free-your-mind T-shirts in a city like this. Okay, but what's the difference to the West? There was Olga, 19 years old, married with a Polish taxi driver, having already a baby. As we invited her to visit us in the Republic of Moldova or Romania, she just smiled embarrassed. It wasn't only a matter of money, there was something like "I can't go there because it's...."; no why, no argument; she remembered me to a child playing in the garden, not being allowed to go to close to the fence. Of course it's not everybody's thing to travel across Europe, but at least a certain joy of discovery I thought to find.
Now writing these impressions down, I would like to continue our conversation. Too many questions left unanswered.
Today I get enthusiastic when I think of the time spent in Romania, Moldova and MRP. For me it was history at work. We shouldn't miss it. I made the experience that the more difficult it is to get into the country, the culture and the people, the harder it is to say good-bye.

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