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No Food No Choice No Future • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
Not being a psychologist makes it hard to analyse the thoughts of people, but
in the new Moldova of the 1990s it is a skill not needed, as the thoughts of
its people isn’t a secret, it is written all over their faces, the look of despair is
there for everyone to see.
If people are able to get some money today they will spend it today, to try
and explain that it would be wise to save some for tomorrow would be as
difficult as teaching a monkey Shakespeare.
What is the point of planning for the future when it is hard to survive in the
present, this is an argument that is impossible to disagree with. The word
live might as well be removed from the dictionary and be replaced with
survival because that is all there is here.
We in the West fill our lives with plans and choices for the future; here there
isn’t that possibility. Just imagine your own life with all your ambitions
removed, there would not be much left to live for. That is what everyone has
to endure for every day of his or her miserable lives in Moldova
Of course there is a glimmer of hope, it may be distant, but its there. Western
life is coming and it’s brought a new spirit with it. You can even find some
Western food in the shops most of the time no one buys it because they don’t
know what it is.
In the autumn of 1994 I was overjoyed to find cornflakes in a shop, OK they
were from Germany, cost £1.50 and the milk that I put on them was not the
same as back home, but it was a sign of civilization.
Western life for these people has not just brought it food but many other
problems, which has in some ways just increased their anger and frustration
towards the world. One example of this is the adjoining country of Romania,
which though being a different country has opened its borders so that the
Moldavian can travel without Visas. Romania is much richer and more
powerful, its Western culture is some twenty years ahead and so is its
So the visiting Moldavian can only look in wonder upon the shelves full of
food and Western goods with envy. Some are trying to take advantage of
their rich neighbours and buying things like cheap biscuits and selling them
by the box load when they get home. A very healthy start to becoming a
capitalist especially when you consider that most of the entrepreneurs are
still at school.
This new generation is the only hope for the country; their spirit for life and
adventure is as infectious here as it would be anywhere else in the world. But
the problem that they have to face is not just the hardships of their country
but the system and the people that control the seats of power.
These are still very much in the hands of party bosses or members of the old
government, who in this new time that Moldova finds itself has simply
changed job titles, from head of the Communist party in the old days to head
of the government in the new. While they still live then so does the systems
they help to put into place for the last seventy years, Communism is not dead
it just lives under a different name.
Next morning saw me on the floor and Jane in my bed, which I had been so
much looking forward to. Tolic was cooking up some weird and wonderful
concoction that we were not able to eat.
Arrangements had already been made for us to leave for a village by 10
o'clock, which due to the time now did not leave us long to get ready.
As we waited for our trolley bus early on Saturday morning it seemed that
the others waiting with us were very anxious and very much on edge.
Eagerly looking down the road for any sign of the bus there was a defiant air
of anxiety. When at last it did arrive we, the English were left glued to the
spot as everyone surged forward past us before it had even stopped as if they
had jumped the gun at the Olympics. It was just a mad rush of people
pushing and fighting for their own space. As we waited for our own turn
with the greatest of patience Tolic informed us that it was not that busy this
morning. Busy or not we waited until three more had filled up with people
before we boarded the fourth, which had fewer passengers on and some
standing room still left.
It would be difficult to explain the transport system until you have traveled
on them for a few weeks and you had become like everyone else and pushed
and shoved to guarantee a place. You would also have to look at the method
in which we are able to travel around, in the West, which is something that
most of us take very much for granted. With twenty million plus cars in
Britain, trains that even if they do run late are always comfortable and clean.
Buses that as the saying goes sometimes turn up by the dozen. Even if all
these fail there is an abundance of taxis and private car hire firms to whisk us
on our way, or even the option to rent a car.
So the ability to travel from one city to another or even to other countries is
not a major problem to us. Here, like many other things it’s very difficult.
The possibility of owning a car is to almost everyone out of the question, not
only because of the cost, which in many cases would be the equivalent to ten
years wages but you also have to consider fuel, and repairs, which are very
expensive if not impossible to find.
Of course there are cars and a different sort of Moldavian owns some very
nice ones at that, BMW’s or even Mercedes but these are the kind that steal
and rob and make their money by threats and terrorism. It’s funny that they
seem to have the same name where ever you go in the world. “Mafia”.
So the only form of transport available to most was the public transport.
Being cheap even in this part of the world.
Thirty pence would buy a ticket for a trolley bus for a whole month to go
anywhere. It comes back to the old saying; you only get what you pay for.
The trains fall very much into the same category for most of the time, as you
don’t pay anything.
To fully understand all the horrors of these methods of transport, you must
know certain things about the country's culture. Firstly no one cares about
the person next to them in any way shape or form, and secondly the lack of
food in the cities means that its citizens are continuously on the move to find
whatever they can. Those that are fortunate to have a family in the villages
rely on them to obtain any fresh food, which also means continuous journeys
to replenish stocks. This not only meant that there was far to many people
waiting for the limited amount of places on the trolley bus but you also had
to contend with all the bags that were always full of fruit and vegetables.
By all accounts the trolley bus, which would become a daily routine for all
of us, was something that was impossible to get use to. In time it was
possible to learn some of the skills required to cope with this transport.
Timing was firstly the most important thing for you if you were out of
position when it stopped, then you would not be able to get on.
I found with a bit of watching that it was best to be standing on the right
hand side of the doors when they opened so that the mass of people just
carried you on.
Once on, it was best to move away from the doors and into relative safety,
but most of the time this was not possible so you simply became like
everyone else and pushed and shoved for any tiny space.
On occasions it would be impossible even to move your arms, the thought of
the trolley bus catching fire was with me every time I used it. I have seen on
more than one occasion people pulled off of to make room for someone else.
There was no respect for anyone else, people would kick and punch each
other to get an inch of extra space. But that seems to be what is happening
everywhere in Moldova. Young girls were always vulnerable often squeezed
up against some pervert, they would have to endure being touched up for the
entire time of their journey, not being able to move to a safer place or find
out who the attacker was in the mass of bodies around them
Today was no exception but fortunately when we finally managed to get
Jane to stop putting on her make-up, and get to the bus stop it was a quiet
time of the morning so it was possible to get on one that was only half full.
Moving away from the doors to safety as soon as we got on.
As our half hour journey to the train station continued, more and more
people boarded until we were at a point, in my mind at least, that it would be
impossible to fit anyone else on. But still they came, and the atmosphere
became foul, I found myself squashed up against beggars, drunks and young
Surprisingly, Jane kept quiet all the way; maybe she thought that she was on
thin ice because of her performance from the night before.
It amazed me at this point how the ticket collector decided it was time to
collect the fares and to check passes. He forced his way between us pushing
and cursing, sometimes it was just impossible for him to make headway even
after a few digs in the ribs for those unfortunate to be near him. So he
jumped off at the next stop and got back on the bus through a door further
All the time that I was in Moldova, I never saw a conductor that was of slim
build, I would have thought that it would have been a requirement of the job.
The conductors earned a very good wage about 50% more than a teacher, but
they would have to collect 70 Lie per day, so at 15 ban a ride and many
people having a monthly pass it was hard going. Some would have to start at
6.00 in the morning and work until the buses stopped at 10.30.p.m. just to
reach their target.
The only sign of humanity that I was ever to see was when a woman got on
the bus with a baby or was pregnant. A corridor would open for her and a
seat made available, with out one argument from anyone. After a fairly
uneventful ride we arrived at the station only to be met with the sight of
hundreds of people trying to board a train that was obviously already full
with thousands on it.
At this point I was waiting for Tolic to say that we were going home, or even
Jane to start complaining; but unfortunately neither of them said a word.
Adopting the trolley bus principle I climbed on board the train stepping over
and on others as I went. Any thought of getting a seat was long gone and
with everyone crammed into every possible space you could not even see
where they were. Those inside were helping their friends still outside to load
luggage and then themselves through the windows. This sudden influx of
people from the inside coming though the windows upset the balance of
those still entering from the normal entrance, to the extent that a sudden
surge, that we were not involved in, forced several dozen people back out
This only resulted in a few fist fights and another scramble to get back on
With 15 minutes left until departure, I found that my small group were
lodged in the companion way between carriages with no possibility of going
anywhere, and still more people came. At last on the stroke of the hour the
automatic doors closed and we departed, leaving at least 100 people on the
platform. We were now thrown into total darkness without windows or
lights; it took sometime before my eyes could get accustomed, but when they
did I started to feel very scared not ever suffering from claustrophobia; it
became very hard not to start now.
If the train had ever crashed thousands would have been killed, a thought
that, for some reason I never thought of until a little later when I was not on
it any more.
Fifteen minutes later saw us arrive at the next station where more passengers
got on than off.
I could not understand why people would try to get on before others had got
off, surely the ones departing would leave space for those arriving but in
Moldova this rule was not understood, so the fighting continued. This time
as we pulled away, those nearest the door decided to hold them open, a
practise I regarded as being very dangerous.
One sudden movement and we would have lost half a dozen passengers,
which at least would have given us some more room. We trundled on for
another thirty minutes and two more stops before it was our turn to get off.
Drokea was by all accounts a town, mainly because it had a road running
through it. Our stay was about as uneventful as the place itself but it was nice
to sit under a tree on the first piece of grass I had seen in many weeks. We
drank wine and put the world to rights. Well for three hours at least before
we had to start the journey back home. I suppose that it should have not
come as much of a surprise to us, but yet again the station was full of
hundreds of returning passengers all laden down with goods that they had
been able to scrounge from their families, at my estimation at least a couple
of tons of produces was going to be imported back to the city.
The same mad struggle to get aboard the train was followed by a twenty
minute shoving match that we lost, but this time we were more fortunate that
the tide of people had carried us down the corridor and into one of the
compartments so at least this time it would be possible to be able to look out
of the window, until that is night fell!
As it turned out there was nothing to see but miles upon mile of endless
fields without any boundaries such as hedges or fences to separate one from
The reason for not having these was that even though the Socialist system
was not meant to be in power any more, things had very much stayed the
same. Collective farms were just one of those things that is still in place. A
Government official is placed into a village to run the farm that all of the
people have to work in. They tend the fields and reap the crop, but most of
the food goes to the government with a small amount being retained by the
A payment in the way of a fine would be paid if the food produced is not
enough to meet the quoter. Most of the time a bribe of a bottle of vodka to
the official would sort that out.
The sad thing is that most of the time the crops are left to rot in the fields, as
long as the workers got their share that’s all they seem to worry about. They
live well regardless of whether they work or not, for the government still
pay' s them.
So much waste when you think that the town folk have so little. People were
offered the chance of ownership of the land but without any financial support
for machinery tools or seeds they had little chance of success. Those who
could raise the money independently to buy, had no guarantee that they
could sell their products, as it had to be offered to the government, and if
they refused then it was not allowed to be offered to the public, so most
didn’t bother. So much for a free market economy. But it was interesting to
see just how vast and lonely this country is, seeing this land that stretched for
as far as the eye can see, and then some more; made me realise how hard life
is. As the train left the station the occupants were silent and fairly subdued,
maybe recovering from the traumas of there long day.
There was the occasional pushing but nothing to cause anyone much of a
The first stop came, and our train was met by another mass of commuters.
The fighting that took place for what was now only a few remaining places
left some needing hospital treatment. Once again all but the seriously
wounded were able to get on board, bags and all. I even thought at one point
that I heard a pig squeal which would not have surprised me seeing as I had
already spotted chickens and ducks.
We were all pushed further and further down the corridor until we met the
people being pushed from the other way. At that point I realised the danger
we were all in, not only was I trapped with no way of escape, but also if the
train were to crash how in the hell were we to get out.
With the amount of bags in my way let alone the people, it would need a
mountain climber to get over them. It was best not to think of the
implications of a disaster, so I tried to push the thoughts out of my head,
which I found very difficult to do. With the arrival of all the new passengers
and all the possible spaces filled the fun started. An old lady who must have
been the only one daft enough to buy a ticket started to rant and rave because
all of the seats had been taken by those who did not have a ticket. No one
took any notice of her and she was left to her raving until she eventually
Then the drunks started to get noisy and restless, but for once they did not
cause too much trouble, mainly because they could not move. Drinking is
something that the Russians seem to do a lot of. Though we in the West can
be accused of consuming vast quantities of wine and beer it would never be
to the extent of which it is drank here.
On many occasions I was to experience this culture first hand at the
numerous parties that we were obliged to attend which in a way was like any
other party that I have been to in the West. Yes, maybe the urgency to get
drunk as soon as the evening begins is different but the end results were
always the same. Drunken people staggering home being sick and trying to
find a take-a-way.
A fast food restaurant is something that they don’t have here which is a
shame for they could have done a roaring trade.
The amount of drink that a Russian could consume never ceased to amaze
me, but the frequency in which they did it surprised me. Many a time I
would see men and women staggering around at 9.00 in the morning. Or
when I was drinking a coffee in a café I could look around to see everyone
else downing Vodka. If the availability of the stuff was not tempting enough
then to top it off, there were numerous beer barrels on wheels located around
the city at the busiest spots that people used. A woman would sit on a stool
dishing out the evil smelling brew for a few pence a pint. These drinking
holes would soon become mobile meeting places as the contents had to be
drank on the spot because the glasses could not be taken away. They would
open at 6.00a.m. So that by the time the children were setting off to school
some ninety minutes later, there would already be quite a gathering of by
now half drunk adults. A fine example to set to their children who could only
grow up accepting it as a way of life.
Eager to join the social circle of their peers many youngsters drink on a
regular basis, which is only encouraged by the authorities for there isn’t an
age limit to drink in Moldova.
Our stop was getting closer but it was not going to be possible to move until
the people on either side of us got off. Fortunately Balti was the destination
for most, which meant that once the slow process of removing all the bags
had taken place we had a relatively easy passage of escape.
We quickly joined the mad rush that followed to the bus stop, traveling
somewhat lighter than everyone else meant we were able to secure a place
on the one and only bus that was waiting. Its capacity even for Moldovian
standards was going to be well short of the mark, so even with everyone
squashed together like sardines it still left hundreds waiting.
It seemed stupid to all of us why no one had had the foresight to have a few
buses waiting for the evening train that was always full of people, but that’s
the East for you.
We waited for the bus to start up which seemed to take forever, only to find
that the driver had chosen to take his break. I’m sure that the poor chap
needed it for he must have been driving for well over 12 hours by now, but
why did he pick that particular time? I will never know, the heated
discussion between him and most of the passengers did not last long and
within a few minutes the driver who had obviously seen the error of his ways
decided to take us home. Or maybe it was the knife that someone was
holding to his throat.
Each stop saw more and more people get off until it was even possible to
move. Tolic got off at Jane' s stop and walked her the short distance home,
leaving me to carry on the journey on my own. As I saw them walk off into
an unrecognisable complex of buildings I realised that I was now for the first
time very much on my own.
I was sure that as it was only eight in the evening and most of the other
passengers with me looked friendly enough I would be all right.
What of course I had not considered was that as we traveled through the
centre, these tired people who had been working all day would get off and be
replaced by those who had nothing better to do but drink. Within ten minutes
of my bodyguard leaving me, I found that I was faced with at least four or
five alcoholics in the now half empty bus. Being tall but of slim build it was
going to be difficult to make myself look menacing but I did the best that I
could staring back at them whenever needed. This seemed to work for the
time being anyway. After a few more stops all but one got off, so I felt
He seemed more interested in the females than me. His attentions were
directed at two teenagers sitting near to where I was standing. At first they
ignored his suggestive remarks. Not being discouraged in any way the man
increased his advances to the point where he was touching the girls.
Everyone else on the bus were looking as if watching a good movie on the
television, but no one seemed to be interested in helping. The girls by now
were getting quite frantic and tried there best to move away from him but
found nowhere to go.
Something snapped inside of me and I flew at him, the people around me
were more surprised than the drunk who was to far gone to realise what was
going on. The thought of a stranger helping somebody they did not know
must have been beyond them.
At the next stop it was reassuring to find that there were many willing hands
to help me evict the offender from the bus.
Maybe I had stirred some distant memory of decency that was locked away
deep inside these people. As I returned to my seat one of the girls came up to
me and said in perfect English “ Welcome to Moldova” I am sure that it was
sarcasm rather than a greeting.