Thursday, September 07, 2006

Moldova

Honestly, it's been a huge surprise but Moldova has actually been a great experience for us and one of the more interesting places we've been in a while. I say it's a surprise because everybody says that Moldova is boring, there is nothing to see and do there, so don't waste your time going. Well, that's actually a pretty accurate statement for the most part. It is boring and there is nothing to do here. We had to go anyway (just to get another stamp) and had actually considered only getting a transit visa at the border and staying just 2 days. I'm glad we went for the full tourist visa in the end though.
If you're having trouble finding it on a map, Moldova is a little country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. It's an ex-Soviet republic so has had quite a few problems and is largely ignored by everyone. Historically most of it was part of Romania so today the majority of people speak Romainian (though Russian is still very common) and it's flag is almost identical. The part of Moldova that wasn't historically part of Romania was a thin stretch of land east of the Dniestr river. Shortly after independence this region broke away in a civil war and now functions as the de facto independent (but not internationally recognized) republic of transdniestr. It has it's own borders, currency, capital, etc, etc, etc. Transdniestr wishes it was still part of the Soviet Union and is considered the last bastion of Soviet communism in the world. It's supposed to be pretty strange over there and I would've loved to have seen it but it is ridiculously corrupt and we just can't afford to pay the outrageous bribes required to get across their border. That and it's pretty sketchy and nobody official can get in there to save you, and we have Terri here, blah, blah, blah.
Anyway, we took off on an overnight and very crowded train north from Brasov, Romania to Iasi, from where we switched to a bus to cross the border and get to Chisinau (the capital of Moldova). In Chisinau it started to rain again and we quickly learned that the cheap hotel doesn't exist anymore. Moldova was starting to look like a bad idea. As we were standing in one of the nicer hotels, we met Adam, a Peace Corps volunteer from Wisconsin. He was crazy enough to offer up the floor of his apartment for us to crash on for a few days while we were in town. Using that as a base, we ran around Chisinau for 2 days. It's true, there is very little to see or do here. The most interesting thing is that being back in the old Soviet zone, we immediately started to see the Russian influence again. Pointy shoes, depressing grey block buildings, shaved heads, Russian girls with short skirts and lots of crumbling infrastructure.
The rest of the country doesn't really offer up anything else to see or do but the countryside is beautiful to drive through. Most of Moldova is covered by some of the world's best topsoil and it's all farmland and villages out of the capital I think. The villages are connected by little bumpy two-lane country roads with infrequent bus or minibus services. In the villages themselves and for shorter distances, it's all about the horse and cart. It's like the way they describe rural Romaina but it's even poorer and more rural. The landscape isn't quite flat but is very gradual rolling hills and field after field of corn, sunflowers or melons. It's beautiful, especially when the sun is shining.
Having seen a little on the drive in, we were eager to get out and see some more. Adam was kind enough to hook us up with another Peace Corps volunteer (another Adam from Wisconsin oddly enough) in a village up north for a few days. A couple hour bus ride north and we were met by Adam and Jessica (another Peace Corps volunteer) and were quickly made to feel at home in our little village of Zgurita (it's up in the northeast close to Soroca). We stayed 2 days up there, sleeping on Adam's floor, and eating with local families that he is in contact with. It was awesome. The stories they could tell and just being in such close contact with locals again was great and I felt like I was really doing something. Unfortunately, the truth is incredibly depressing with too many stories of the hardships that they have to deal with now. I don't have time to get into it now but let's just say that things probably were a lot better under the Soviets and it's no wonder the older folks keep voting for the communist party (they are the only ex-Soviet republic with a communist president).
I don't want to get into it all but just to name a few of the bigger problems; the hospital doesn't even have running water and like everyone else has to bring it in by bucket from a well, teachers will disappear from class to all get drunk together in the middle of the day before coming back to teach a little more, everything worth stealing was stolen after the collapse of the USSR and nobody has any desire or interest in doing any work for themselves. They are still waiting for somebody else to do it, like back in the communist days. Old habits die hard I guess. It's much the same as in the other rebublics but as Moldova is smaller and really has no tourism potential or even heavy industry to make anything for export, you quickly get the impression that they are not going to be doing well for a long time. Right now the biggest industry is wineries but even that can't be that big.
It's been a great experience though and thanks to all the Peace Corp guys that made it happen for us. We are off to Bucharest tonight on an overnight train.
Ammon

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