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Trying to Understand • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
My life in Moldova started in the hot summer of 1994 this is what happen over the next 17 years
Any profits from this website goes to help the people of this forgotten country
NO BORDER LINE
1994 PART 1
This book is not filled with the historical events that have made Moldova
what it is today.
Because the past is not important, the struggle of daily life is all that matters
to its people now.
How the country got into the situation it now finds itself in, is not important
because it cannot be changed.
The fight for a better future is all that matters to its people. To have a normal
life is their only dream.
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND
NO FOOD NO CHOICE NO FURTURE
THE MOLDOVAN WAY
WHY NOT VISIT
1995 GOING HOME
THE KILLING ROOMS OF MOLDOVA
THE BLIND LADY
THE GIRL WITH NO FACE
A MAN WITH TENT
I arrived in Moldova in the summer of 1994 and have never really left, I did
my very best to help its people. This is my story.
The country of Moldavia was one of the fifteen old C.C.C.P republics that
now can only be described as a place consisting of the most extreme
differences one could imagine from a country that seems on the outside to be
civilized. When I arrived the people were still trying to come to terms with
the changes that its new freedom offered them. On the outside they seemed
to live the same as we did in the West and the first impression you got when
you saw them in their smart copycat Western clothes is one of normality.
They have tarmaced roads and modern looking shops, transport, banks and
schools, all the indications of Western society. But these things are only
there to mislead you, and it will not take long for the reality of the place to
hit you right between the eyes.
Everything that we take for granted, including what we expect a normal
society to have is missing. The legal system does not exist; health and
hygiene are just words to be found in books, that is if you can find one that's
not over twenty years old.
People’s attitude to life and their fellow man would take a psychologist to
analyze. They push and fight for everything, from the space on a bus or train
to a piece of bread.
And when the day is over and the daily fight for survival has come to an end,
an alarming amount of people will lose every remaining sense they have, in
the bottom of several bottles of vodka
To speak to these people of a society that is stuck between Socialism,
Capitalism and Communism only leaves you with the impression that they
are a lost race. My heart goes out to them all, the young school children who
at thirteen know that their family hasn’t any money, food or a future.
Or the teachers, who after collecting their ten pounds a month wages can
only dream of a better life that they now know exists in the West. To make
things worse what we have is thrust in their faces every day, in magazines,
television, and by Western visitors. Sixteen-year-old girls are forced to
marry in the hope of a future with a husband who can provide for them, and
then find themselves no better off than they were before.
Of course there is a way out, if these people could raise the two hundred
pounds needed to buy a ticket to the West, they could live the same as us,
except that the governments on both sides of the boarder would do all in
their power to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get the visa
required keeping everyone trapped and under control.
They are an angry but loving people, who need a fair deal in life, and not to
be treated like second-class citizens by their own government who only get
richer as they get poorer.
This small country located between Romania and the Ukraine, has a long
history consisting of many battles and conflicts for independence, most of
which it lost.
But on August 27th 1991 the most recent battle was won. Its four million
people were freed from the reins that most of the surrounding countries had
held over them for many years. The Communist system in Russia had
collapsed and a free society was declared. Moldova walked into freedom
without a single shot being fired.
When people, that have spent most of their lives being supported by their
richer neighbours are released, it has a wide reaching implications, it is
unfortunate that no-one sat down and thought about it first.
I can only liken this new society to that of the freeing of the slaves after the
American Civil War. Yes, they were free but there was nothing for them to
do, and nowhere for them to go, most of them either sat around doing
nothing, or were forced back into working for their old slave masters in
worse conditions than before.
Without the support of the U.S.S.R, Moldova has found that it is very much
the poorer relation.
An agricultural country that is under financed and under developed it now
finds that it has to survive on its own. With out money for imports or
investment in manufacturing, each new day is looking bleaker than the one
For the average person, the future simply does not exist, you can only guess
at the unemployment level as there isn’t a system to count the people who sit
around aimlessly and without a program in place to provide even the basic
financial help there is very little hope for change.
The question now being asked by the people is, “Was Communism such a
bad thing” compared to what they have now it must have seemed like
heaven. When it was alive there were systems and a certain amount of
normality, and more importantly they had food. Now they are just hungry
and confused without any direction in their lives and no one to turn to for the
answers or help.
Ask the average men or women in the street what they like about their new
country and you would get the same answer every time, “We want to escape
to the West”. Maybe this is because they now know so much more about our
country, whereas before almost all the information was withheld.
Sometimes ignorance is a good thing, for now they have something to
compare their lives to and it has come as one hell of a shock.
They now realize that what they have is nothing compared to the us in the
Tomorrow, for them will bring more of the same thing.....nothing. If they
were a stupid race then they would have no comprehension of how much
better the Western way of life is, but with most fourteen-year-old school
children being able to speak four languages, and most ten year olds two
they are more educated than the best student of the same age in the West.
This knowledge can only work against them for they are able to comprehend
the problems when still young. It gives them more time to get angry and
dissatisfied. The average fifteen year old has already experienced many of
life’s horrors and so ends up falling in line with the ever-increasing number
of alcoholics and drug addicts.
Without a thought for the future or maybe a cunning plan to suppress the
people even more, the government made the decision to reduce the price of
vodka to around fifteen pence per bottle, affordable even to the poorest. The
reason they gave for this generous gesture being that it would help reduce
the risk of cholera, which was rife in the summer of 1994, mainly due to the
total collapse of the water system. At forty per cent proof it does not take
long for even the hardened of drinkers to fall into submission.
This method of brainwashing has been used here before, whenever the
government ran out of a certain food, or simply could not afford them, they
would inform the people that they had removed the offending food from the
shops because it had been discovered that it was bad for their health.
A drastic step to take just to keep the vote, and one that has left the people
believing that certain foods that we eat on a daily basis are not good for you.
Of coarse this has had its own effect so that when the offending food
returned to the shops, no one will buy it and it stays on the shelves until it
goes rotten. This not only deprives the country of revenue, but also the
people of food.
At least when Communism was in place people were in a state of happy
ignorance. The ignorance has now been removed and the people are anything
but happy. A community of angry dissatisfied people now live in this
country and it can be seen in their everyday lives. Like a swarm of hungry
ants they climb over and step on each other in their fight to survive, without
time to think or care for the person next to them.
Things will change, but it will take a long long time. The sad thing is for the
people of today is that it will not happen for many years, maybe not even in
The school children of today know that they will have to live their lives with
no future or hope. Is this life, or a living nightmare?
So what has gone wrong? In my opinion just about everything. Reading
through this book will give you your own ideas and it will be possible for
you to come to your own conclusions. I have only written about the events
that happened to me, and have told what I was told.
As you read on, I would like to leave you with the thought that these people
are as normal as you and I, with the same dreams and hopes for the future
that we have, but stand no chance of ever realising them, unless that is you
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND
As the weeks dragged into months, I started to find that not only was my
personality changing, but so was my outlook on life.
It was now in the middle of winter and the six months I had already been in
Moldova seemed like years, life itself had just become one big struggle.
The cold was forever with you, and so was the hunger, there seemed no
escape from either of them. Even the routine of Russian life became a part of
me, getting up early in the dark due to power shortage, shaving by
candlelight in cold water were things that had become normal.
The trolley bus that had been taking me to school each day was as packed as
ever, but now did not seem such a fearful thing, gone were the days when I
would wait for one that had spaces on it. I now found it possible to get on
regardless of the amount of people that fought for the smallest space,
hanging onto the next person so as not to fall out the open door and once on I
would not give up my place for anyone.
Seeing people in queues, I would automatically join them just in case there
was some food to be had. Most of the time there wouldn’t be, so I was forced
back to my diet of bread and potatoes. It would be wrong to say that there
was no other food to be had.
There was every thing from tinned pineapple, yogurt and even pizza had
turned up on odd occasions, but at a weeks wage for each it was beyond my
Anyway, you could buy bread for a month for the same price as one of these
items so that's what we ate.
As winter started to take a firm hold with temperatures down to minus thirty-
five, the first snows fell. It seemed to have an affect on everyone; people
became withdrawn and more desperate than before. Food prices started to go
up, sometimes doubling overnight, and the cold was unbearable.
Rumours had started to circulate that maybe soon the government would pay
everyone’s wages, which by now were four months overdue.
Some people who worked in the umbrella factory had been paid in
umbrellas, which they would try and sell in the streets or swap for food, an
item of little use when you are starving and there is no rain. Other workers in
the Vodka factory got a fairer deal and were a lot better off than others.
People were saying that the prices would soon fall and this then would
stabilise the currency. I tried to explain that it wouldn’t, that it might even
devalue instead, but I gave up on this idea as they needed some hope.
The only thing that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was survival in the
bitter cold, they would wrap up in as many layers of clothes as they could to
fight the conditions.
Then they would spend hour upon hour trudging around the markets to try
and find food, and I was one of them.
The trolley bus was just the same, but fewer could now get on because of the
thick clothing, which meant even more pushing and shoving, and I found
myself in the middle of it all.
People seemed to have changed overnight, but there again so had the
weather, at least in the summer it was possible to look upon all the beautiful
things which that time of the year brings and makes one feel happier with
life, but now all that had gone.
Everywhere now looked bleak and sullen. Even the white snow did nothing
to brighten things up.
Power supply's were a continuous problem, the electricity had stabilised into
a regular pattern of being switched off every four hours for six hours at a
time so at least you knew when it was going to happen and could already be
wrapped up in bed, but hot water continued to be a mystery, sometimes it
was so hot it would burn you and on others it was turned off for weeks. On
more than one occasion, I returned home to find a cold blast of wind was
waiting to greet me when I opened the front door to go into my flat as all the
power had been turned off at the same time, this not only meant that I would
be freezing cold until they decided to turn it back on, but I would also not be
able to cook the simple food I had been able to find. With nothing hot inside
me my mood would become even more depressing.
The resolve I had first felt when I arrived all those months before had almost
gone, being a Westerner you have the impression that you can beat the
system and to a certain extent in a free society you can, but here there was no
way to even start. Everything was falling down and was corrupt, with no
where to turn to for help or support. Everyone was out to get what he or she
could for them self, which meant that the average person was left with
All the fresh food had long gone as the country could not afford to import, so
we were forced to eat the most basic of foods that had been in store from the
The meat that was available would consist of either old livestock that only
produce fatty, tough meat or young animals that they could not afford to feed
so were killed that had no meat on it.
Christmas of 1994 came and went without being noticed, December 25th is
not recognised as the birthday of Jesus in Moldova, and even if it was it
would not have made any difference for there was nothing to celebrate with.
People’s health started to suffer due to the continuous deprivation their
bodies had endured, but nothing could be done. If you were forced to go into
hospital you would have to take your own medicine, blankets and food
because they hadn’t any. Sitting in a freezing cold ward would not help any
recovery, so most stay at home preferring to rely on the old women for their
knowledge of herbs and old wives cures.
The dental service was the same, a filling was always done without
anaesthetic and also in some cases were extractions that is unless you could
afford to pay.
The continuous struggle of day-to-day life became life itself. There seemed
to be nothing to look forward to, not even a little spark of happiness on the
horizon. Just more of the same and deep inside you knew it was going to get
For me even the knowledge that I could escape seemed no consolation. I felt
trapped, not just by the conditions of life but the system that supported it.
Home, seemed so far away and out of reach.
It would only take six days of traveling before I could get back, with many
hardships to suffer on the way but to go home would be running away from
the people here that had become my friends, so I was forced by my own
stubbornness to stay, and was forced to suffer with them.
It seemed strange to look back only a few months before when I had set out
from England thinking of all the great adventures that were before me. Now
I was faced with the reality of life, like a soldier marching off to war my
bravado had now been replaced by suffering.
These apartments are only a few years old
My decision to go to the old U.S.S.R. was not as hard a choice to make, as it
must have seemed to my friends and family. At the age of thirty-four I had
long ago given up on the idea of living a normal life, of a steady job,
children and a pension plan. My only desire for most of my adult life was to
travel and see the wonderful places that can be seen in a Thompson’s travel
brochure. Over the years I have been able to do this, but like most, had
always opted for the safety of a package holiday and had thought I was being
most adventurous just hiring a car in a foreign country and finding my way
around. But this time it was going to be different.
As I boarded the coach at Victoria bus station in London, to the fond
farewells from my friends, who even at this point were taking bets as to how
many weeks it would be before I returned home, I knew I was on my own.
The only precaution I had taken was to arrange this trip through a company
called Teaching Abroad. Who although did not offer much for the five
hundred and fifty-four pounds I paid them, they at least gave the guarantee
of getting me there with a visa so I could stay, also a host family to live with
and an unpaid job as an English teacher.
This may seem like a well-organised organization that offers all the
requirements of a package holiday, but the reality was soon to follow as not
many of the things that they promised materialised, they were in it for the
money and I was soon to find myself in a country that did not even have a
British Embassy, and little help from the company I had joined.
My mother a few months after I had left was watching one of those BBC2
programs that exposes people who are involved in bad businesses practices
she was horrified to see Teaching Abroad featured, this prompted her to right
to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, but to no avail I was on my own.
To be fair, Teaching Abroad did get me to Moldova but at extra cost to
myself and the other English people who had been adventurous enough to
embark on a journey to one of the least unexplained countries of the world
for Western people.
It just seems a shame that as soon as the doors of the East have opened, the
first things that are imported are corrupt Western businesses that are doing
nothing to develop East-West relations.
The East have had corruption for most of its history, what it needs now is to
be able to learn from the West that there is a right way of doing things. What
it doesn’t need is the likes of Doctor Store the M.D. of Teaching Abroad
who does nothing but discourage other Westerners to follow in our footsteps.
As the coach pulled off at nine o'clock on a hot July evening, our small
group were filled with an adventurous spirit that was to get us through the
pending problems that at this point we were so ignorant of.
Of the fifty-four people on the bus who we would spend the next thirty-six
hours with on our journey through five countries, eleven were English and
the rest a mixture of Ukrainians, Polish and Russians whom were all
returning after visiting their families in England.
They were laden down with bags and parcels all wrapped up with string and
full of Western goods. It was surprising to see that their spirits were very
low, they did very little talking, but sat quietly in their seats, but I now know
what it was they were going back to. If I had been in the same situation, I
would have either tried to stay in England as an illegal immigrant or jumped
ship in the middle of the channel.
Their over loaded luggage started to be a problem even before we had
covered the three-hour journey to Dover. Precariously balanced overhead, it
would fall down at every sharp corner we went round, and due to the style of
driving our Russian driver adopted at most other bends in the road as well.
We rearranged the baggage at least ten times to the annoyance of our foreign
companions who not only did nothing to help but also got angry that we
were touching their things. It took over two hours before we could find a
suitable compromise, even if it meant one of us sitting in the aisle, but it was
pleasing to see the Ukrainian teacher who had argued with us the most, took
his turn in the uncomfortable seat.
The one a.m sailing of our Sea-link ferry was the first opportunity for the
English people to meet, and was also going to be our last contact with
Western life. I had sat next to a twenty year old student named Jane, through
accident more that design, (or it could have been fate) for as our small group
was reduced in size over the next week by being sent to different areas of
Russia to teach, Jane and I ended up in the same city teaching and at the
Over the next two months we were to see many unpleasant things and
experience the truth about Moldova, some we would like to forget, but never
will. Our experiences threw us together so that we felt we needed each other
to get by, but since Jane returned to England after her two-month visit, we
have not contacted each other. Maybe the things we first saw in those early
days in Moldova are best not thought about too much; to communicate again
would only bring them back to life.
None of us took as much advantage as we should have of the facilities on the
ferry. I recall that no one even bothered to have a meal or use the toilets and
wash room. If we had been better informed as to what awaited us I am sure
that we would have eaten them out of all that they had.
Arriving in Belgium at four thirty in the morning and after only a few
catnaps under a bar table on the ferry saw most of us in a state of
sleepwalking; our earlier enthusiasm had been left in England.
So we sleepily boarded the coach again for the thirty-hour journey to L'viv in
We had all been aware of the possibility that we were going to have
problems at the numerous borders we had to cross in the East, but I was
surprised to find that we had to endure a two day delay in Belgium, not due
to our presents, but that of our Russian fellow travelers.
The gun touting border guards were not impressed with a bus load of
‘Ruskies’ traveling through their checkpoint. The obvious power that they
had, excluding the guns they carried was unleashed on one unfortunate chap
who did not seem to have the correct Government stamp on one of his
numerous documents he presented for inspection.
He was dispatched with great haste to an ominous looking building with bars
on the windows hotly pursued by our driver who was under the
misapprehension that he could do something to help his countryman.
Smelling blood, more guards arrived to inspect our papers with much more
scrutiny. By this time, English being English, we had lost all interest, and
tried to find a position of comfort so as to sleep before our driver could
continue the race back to his motherland. I was stirred from my dreams by a
guard who was getting carried away with his job and had not been informed
that there was British on board.
I discourteously thrust my passport in his face just to make the point of my
European citizenship, and without a word went back to sleep.
Our load was reduced by one and his baggage, as we drove on, which at least
meant that we had a little more room than before. As is always the case when
you are tired you cannot sleep, and when there isn’t a toilet, you want to go.
For five hours we hurtled down the Autobahn (motorway), our driver
seemed hell bent on leaving the country as quickly as possible, or he was just
trying to make up time. Regardless of his reason it meant that his unfortunate
passengers had to cross their legs until we arrived in Germany and a pit stop.
For me it was nice to be back in Germany where I had lived for four years
whilst being in the Army, although I had not been back in thirteen years I
still held fond memories of the food.
I had taken the foresight of bringing Deutsch marks just for this reason, and
had even brushed up on the language.
Our thirty-minute stop consisted of four cigarettes, three German sausages,
and countless trips to the loo.
The snap decision by Serge (our driver) to depart caught many of the
passengers still trying to order lunch, but it seemed to be his style to do
everything on the spur of the moment, and he would get angry if he was not
obeyed immediately, to the point that he would encourage his passengers by
driving off in the bus at such a high speed, that even those that did not
believe his sincerity at first, were convinced they would be left behind.
They would race after him, waving their arms and shouting the best they
could with a mouthful of food that had hurriedly been pushed into their
mouths, so as not to waste what might be the last hot thing they would get to
eat for many hours. I am certain that he would have left anyone of us behind
if he so wished.
Germany passed in a blur of speed, and by four in the afternoon we were
well on our way, but with the outside temperature well into the nineties we
were all starting to suffer from the intense heat. The air conditioning only
worked when the bus was not overheating which it seemed to be doing all
the time, so we had to rely on the sunroof for any relief.
Unfortunately for me my immediate neighbours were traveling with a
Russian who was immune to the heat. Where we had reduced our clothing to
a point that bordered on the indecent, he spent most of the time sorting
through his luggage to find more clothes to put on which never seemed
enough for him. So when we opened the sunroof, he would close it without
any regard for his fellow travelers. Being English, we did not
complain and suffered for the rest of the day.
One more stop for ten minutes at a lay-by was the last time I was able to step
on German soil, or Western come to that point, before we covered the last
three hundred km that took us to checkpoint Poland and the East.
A hurried rush into the bushes for both boys and girls before we were off
again was all we could manage.
I had prepared myself as best as I could to deal with the red tape of the
Eastern borders, after seeing many James Bond and other spy films over the
years, I felt I was quite experienced, but the long awaited process of being
scrutinised and messed around to a point of total frustration never took place,
or at least not for the English. Yes, we did spend three hours waiting and
being processed, but any problems or anger was directed at the foreigners
that accompanied us. First, they were told to leave the bus as the rest of us
just waved, what seemed to be our magic British passports.
Then in a long line they were marched off into another menacing looking
building clutching those oh so important pieces of paper that they were still
hoping would allow them entry back into their own country.
But as they had experienced earlier that morning was by no means a
guarantee. After twenty minutes of waiting in ignorance, we made a group
decision to debark so as to stretch our legs, or in my case for a long awaited
It didn’t take Serge long to dispatch us back on board in his normal cursing
way, but for once his little empire of captured subjects were not in his
control. A heated argument between him and a very important looking Polish
officer saw us released once more and Serge marched off to undergo the
same ordeal as his comrades.
We were later politely asked to fill in forms to declare how much money we
were carrying, but this did not produce any useful information. Firstly they
were all written in a language none of us could understand, and secondly we
When at last we were reunited with our fellow travelers it was possible to
sense the relief that everyone felt. For us it was the fact that we had arrived
in the East, and for the others it was the simple fact that they had gotten
through the checkpoint, and would soon be home.
As the barrier opened the bus crawled through at a snails pace, which was an
unusual experience, as we were all used to racing starts by now. I could not
decide whether it was due to some warning that Serge had received by those
who obviously had more power than he ever would, or a reluctance to enter
the East once again.
Somehow things looked different, there was less trees on the side of the road
and the colour had gone out of the landscape it was dull and unattractive,
with dust blowing up from the verges where the grass should have been.
As we started to pick up speed, I noticed on my left there was a long line of
assorted cars and lorries waiting to exit the same point we had entered. All
the drivers were gathered in small groups drinking, talking or simply
sleeping under the shade of their vehicles.
This line stretched for over four miles, and by the looks of its movement
most would be still there for some days. It dawned on me as we left the long
line of stranded vehicles behind, that on our return we would have to join it.
My first experience of the East was just around the corner, as within half an
hour we pulled into a poor excuse for a service station, for a stop that none
of us needed, as it had been possible to make use of the facilities at the
border, but we scrambled off of the coach, eager to be the first to step onto
Polish soil. The little collection of shops and one small café as well as the
petrol station seemed to be a meeting point for the local people, and it had a
status of being a place where things happened. It did not take us long before
we realised that the only thing happening here was us, or any other out of
towner. This place in the middle of nowhere would be our last possible
resting stop for the next seven hours, and the first stopping place for any
Westerners who ventured into the unknown.
Beggars and souvenir sellers eager for our dollars pestered us all the time,
they must have had the impression that we were daft enough to be taken in
by their outstretched hands and look of despair on their faces, but most had
forgotten to remove their expensive looking Western watches which rather
gave the game away. Serge came to our rescue which was as surprising to us,
as was the situation that we now found ourselves in.
He was able to dispatch the unwanted urchins with a few well chosen words,
and then proved his generosity beyond doubt by helping us to stock up on
provisions for our non stop dash across Poland.
We boarded the coach this time without being told to, only to find that most
of the locals had not even got off of the bus. I’m sure they knew something,
which we didn’t. Serge finished washing the bus windows with a hose that
he had produced from some hidden compartment, and then used it to scatter
some children that had came to close, then we were off again.
Night was falling and soon it was not possible to make out the tree line. Cold
drinks were offered at one dollar each from a blue cooler box and then a
video was installed into the recorder for the first time so that we were able to
watch it on the T.V positioned above the drivers head. We were also invited
up to the front of the coach for a cigarette.
After just one visit to the cockpit I decided that my nerves could not stand
seeing the driver watching the television, drinking beer and having to lean
across to the passengers side of the bus so as to see when overtake slower
vehicles, this was due to the bus being a right hand drive being driven on a
left hand drive road. And so it was that the old bus continued roaring along
at seventy-five mph. into the night.
I was woken from my half sleep by what at first seemed like distant gunfire,
that turned out to be the most amazing electrical storm I have ever seen. The
sheet lighting would light up everything for several seconds, and the thunder
became deafening, even drowning out Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music
that was now being shown, but strangely it never rained.
We passed through villages and small towns like a blur in the dead of the
night. Mile after mile we traveled without checking our speed or direction
and all around there was a menacing darkness, only broken with an eerie
shot of lighting.
The built up areas were bleak and depressing without a sign of life, and for
the first time I felt that maybe my friends had been right. I was far from
home in a country no one knew much about and traveling further and further
into its heart by a crazy Russian bus driver. I realise that as each minute went
by my need to get off the bus and go home only got greater.
I was tired and needed my bed, but I knew that there was nowhere for me to
go in this deserted uninhabitable country. So the best place for me was where
I was regardless of how I felt. Accepting my situation the best I could, I fell
into a nervous sleep.
We were only to have a rest stop once more before we reached L’viv, which
was at a small garage at around four in the morning but I know not where.
We all hurried to the toilet before being ushered back on board without
having the chance to do anything else.
The Ukraine border was our next stop and again for us was easy, but it made
me wonder if it would be the same on our return journey back to England.
The outskirts of L'viv was a mass of high-rise flats that looked very simply
constructed, painted blue and white there wasn’t anything that would
distinguish one block from the other. The ones that we could see near to the
road had large cracks appearing in the walls, which seemed to be a common
fault; it made them look old and shabby and very dangerous to live in with
the paintwork also needing attention, it was not a very pleasing introduction
to the city. I was very surprised to find out that the average age of this
accommodation was no more than ten years old though it looked more like
The stretch of land that separated them from the road must have once been
filled with young trees green grass and flowers, but now all that remained
was the remnants, the dry season that most of the country was experiencing
had killed all the colour in the plants and turned the ground to a Grey dust.
At midday on Tuesday we arrived at our hotel that was to be our home for
the next twenty-four hours.
Serge positioned the bus by the reception and in the process prevents anyone
We were ordered off and told to unload our bags as quickly as possible,
which we did on to the pavement, it had become normal to obey any order
the bus driver gave without question. Then without a bye, or I’m leaving, the
man who we had stupidly placed our lives with for the last two thousand
miles left us. The feeling of loneliness after his sudden departure that seemed
to fill all of us was very short lived, for a young man of around twenty years
old came forward and introduced himself as our Teaching Abroad rep, then
asked us politely to move our things into the hotel so that he could arrange
our rooms. After being herded around for the last two days by an over
weight Russian who also smelt of B.O. this came as a refreshing reminder
that it does not take much to be nice to other people.
But at least Serge had never tried to hide what he was or what he was doing,
as we were later to find out that this particular little creep was as devious as
they came. Unless there was some extra money in it for him, he would not
Thinking that our problems were over and we were now in the hands of our
protective company, that we all had paid so much money to, we moved
obediently into our temporary home.
Standing in our small group in the foyer of the hotel with luggage piled up
around us we must have been a bad advertisement for Western people.
We had all lived in the same clothes through the whole journey and our body
odour was past the point of being unpleasant. But we didn’t have much
energy to think about it, we had decided hours before that we would give
anything for a cold shower and a hot cup of tea, which now was so close it
was almost possible to touch it.
The rep returned with a bunch of room keys which he was not prepared to
hand out unless we gave him our passports and some Dollars. The passports
were duly handed over with the minimum of fuss and so was the money, at
that particular moment the natural requirement of our bodies were far more
important than a government document, and some cash.
Due to our over packed bags which contained for most of us more clothes
than we need, meant that we would have to take the lift to the third floor
rooms. Like most things in this country the lift was inadequate as everything
else and could only take one of us at a time and a few bags.
One particular member of our group had four sports bags and a rucksack,
which could only be carried if worn around his body. Jane had three bags,
which I was only just able to lift, and had for the journey became my
responsibility. My own case was so full of tinned food that it bulged in all
possible places, and was almost impossible to lift.
Half an hour later saw us all placed in two main rooms, which in normal
circumstances would have had us complaining to the management, but for us
it was heaven.
The next hour saw eleven half naked English people running backwards and
forwards down the corridors trying to find the various facilities that we were
so used to having in our rooms back home.
Without locks on the shower door many of us were rudely disturbed which
produced screams from the girls and cursing from the boys. By two o'clock
we had gathered in small groups in each other’s rooms, our energy and
excitement recharged, we were ready to explore.
Our rep returned our passports and tried to give us instructions, but we had
already heard most of his English and had no way of understanding him.
He was meant to be our guide from Teaching Abroad, it would have been
nice if he spoke English, he did the best he could but we gave up before he
did and left him to those who were more patient. Stepping out on to the
streets of L’viv our small group must have looked quite strange. All dressed
in Western clothes that would have cost the average person a year’s salary
we started to feel a little out of place. The looks that we received that
afternoon was something that would not change for my whole visit to the
East, my presence always seemed to cause interest from the locals, but I was
later to realise that most were not menacing.
The city was a hub of activity but not modern, it had its normal collection of
churches statues and monuments, but all in all it was dull and drab. Even the
perfectly blue summer sky could not brighten it up. We wandered around for
most of the afternoon looking at whatever seemed to be of interest, which
was not much. Late in the afternoon the decision was made to eat after
changing a few dollars, which made us all millionaires. We then looked
around for a place, which resembled a restaurant. We had several attempts of
ordering a meal that must have been a very funny sight as our frustration at
not being able to communicate reduced us to acting out animal impressions.
Jane was particularly good at making pig sounds, but our best efforts at
miming was always followed by the waiter returning from the kitchen and
telling us that that particular animal was not on the menu. So our first meal
ended up being beetroot soup and bread which most of us could not eat.
Some years later I found out that animals in Russia speak different from our
own in the West so any attempts at miming them was literally lost in
The thought of raiding my supplies flashed through my mind, but I was able
to control my desires at least for the time being.
After paying the bill, which between us cost over a million or their currency,
our group slowly made its way back to the hotel. Over tiredness prevented us
from sleep, but the next morning, surprisingly enough saw us all bright eyed
and bushy tailed.
The day’s food was supplied by the hotel, all part of the extravagant fee we
had all paid. The pittance that was served for breakfast just showed how little
of the money had gone on it, I settled for a few pieces of bread and cold
meet that wasn't bad, any idea of a traditional meal or even a sign of a piece
of toast was soon forgotten.
Back onto the streets for what remained of the morning left us looking at the
same dull sites that we had seen the day before.
I did the best I could to be as enthusiastic as the rest, but just ended up
falling in line behind them as they darted in one direction and then the other
in a vain attempt to find a monument that was marked on a map, that I am
sure was being held upside down. After a few fruitless hours of searching it
did not take much persuasion to get everyone heading in the direction I had
wanted some hours before.
We arrived back at the hotel hot and tired in the midday sun, which was
around one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. All of us eager for a shower before
our long journey into Moldova.
We were staggered to be informed that we had just ten minutes to remove
our bags from the rooms, unless of course we paid the rep a few dollars each.
We declined his offer and packed.
After a long wait in the hotel foyer and another attempt at extortion, this time
for a taxi to the train station by our rep we all took matters into our own
hands and opted for a bus that only cost a few pence for the whole group.
So it was on a hot August afternoon, that we found ourselves sitting on the
platform in an Eastern block country that for many years had been closed to
all visitors, our small group of English people had traveled half way across
Europe and now it was time to say our first farewells.
Only a few days had passed since we first met but we had become as close as
old friends. As each train arrived a few of us would board to be taken to
different cities, after fond goodbyes and hurried exchange of addresses the
trains pulled away. My own train was the last one, with six of us remaining
we felt comforted by the size of our group, not I am sure like the ones who
had to finish the last leg of the journey on their own. Something I am glad I
did not have to do. I was presented with five tickets by our rep for the
overnight sleeper, with a false promise that it had all been arranged with the
conductor, for the extra place that we needed. We then pulled out of the
The carriage was an open plan affair; it was clean and well organised. One
dollar saw half decent bedding provided, our bunks were fine apart from
being in the aisle which meant we had to stay sitting on our bunks so as to
keep the passageway free, which rather split us up.
Apart` from the heated discussion with a very angry ticket collector over our
shortage in tickets, that cost us twenty dollars to calm him down, the journey
was uneventful and mostly dark.
The train trundled on through the night with frequent stops that only
disturbed us due to the stopping of the clickity click of the wheels. Morning
saw a hive of activity and half naked Russian women who, like the rest of us
had been too hot in the night, we had been able to keep our dignity firmly in
place, but they had simply removed their clothes and now seemed to have
forgotten where they had left them, or simply did not care.
The toilet with its adjoining wash- basin was a no-no, due to the
unbelievable state it was in, the toilet itself was just a hole in the ground
where it was possible to see the tracks below. So forgoing my wash and
shave my morning ablutions only consisted of a cigarette in the communal
smoking room, or should I say the companion-way between carriages. A
friendly group of Russians who I had met the night before had beaten me to
it already, so the small windowless space was already full of smoke.
It was still before seven am and the Vodka they had not been able to
consume the night before was already being passed around again. My turn
came sooner than it should have but I courteously downed it in one and
escaped before I had finished my smoke or I had to drink more. The rest of
the trip for me would have to be smokeless.
Midday saw us pull up in Chisinau the capital of Moldova and the end of a
five-day journey. It was not possible to get off in a hurry as the locals were
far too quick for us rushing to the doors in a stampede. When we finally set
foot on Moldavian soil our new rep was already waiting for us looking very
organised with a clipboard in his hand.
But then again, he was British. John had gathered a small party of
respectable looking people who were going to be our host families, most of
them had come not only with their partners but with their children also, all
were dressed as if going to a very good outing. We were told to wait on one
side of the platform the Moldovan's on the other with John in the middle.
Calling out a name that we could not understand but was the head of one of
the families who stepped forward and then one in English for our group was
the system for paring up. After a quick introduction our friends disappeared
into Moldova. This all happened within a few minutes and before we knew it
everyone had gone and we had not even had the chance to say goodbye.
We were never to see each other again. I then realised that there were no
more families left waiting, but Jennifer and I were still standing like lost
children in a now deserted station.
It was explained to Jane and me that our host families would not be able to
collect us until the following day, so we would be staying the night in a
hotel. Disappointed at first that we had another day to wait before it would
be possible to unpack, we followed John to the taxi rank. The lame excuse
that he gave for not accompanying us to the hotel, and the few dollars he
gave us for the fare soon made me realise that my own countryman had
himself become as corrupt as the others.
Jane and I suddenly realised as we were left to fend for ourselves that we
could not even give our taxi driver the simplest instructions on our drive to
the hotel. Fortunately we were able to find amongst our travel documents
something with an address on that seemed to be a stopover point for
Our first real encounter of what East/West relations could really be like came
in the form of a heated argument with the taxi driver over the price that we
were to be charged, he seemed to want to increase it just due to the fact that
we were rich Westerners he wrote down the price and trust it under our noses
$10 for a county like Moldova was daylight robbery, but it was not the last
time I would have to give my money away.
After parting with the $2 John had given us and the $8 from my pocket we
sat quietly in the back of the taxi while the driver, who had seemingly
forgotten our earlier disagreement spoke in a cheerful manner for the entire
short journey in a language we did not understand. For all I know he could
have been calling us all the names under the sun, but he did it with a smile
on his face.
But we were to busy taking in as much of the new city as was possible to
take notice of him, and anyway I never feel comfortable being friendly with
some one who has just ripped me off. The only major difference between
this place and L’viv were the people selling, they lined the streets with their
small tables or up turned boxes filled with goods, like chocolates, sweets,
soap, garlic and of course, Vodka. The most striking thing about them was
that they all seemed to be selling the same things, and due to the amount of
them no one could have been making much money, with no more than a few
feet separating one stall from the other, on some streets there were over fifty
on each side of the road. A Mars bar or a Bounty was the equivalent of forty
pence, which was more than most could afford.
I did notice on closer inspection that the wrappers on some of these sweets
were so worn out through being handled and the age of them that they
probably had been on display for some years without being sold.