Chisinau, Moldova First Impressions
You know, it actually makes me a little angry. Here’s a nation of 4.5 million people going about their daily lives in a way that’s not that different from any of us. Yet the majority of the world I know doesn’t seem to know the country of Moldova even exists. The response I got from almost everyone I told about this trip was a blank stare and “You’re going where?”
Although I’ve only met a handful of Moldovans so far, they’ve all been warm, friendly, and charming people. I’m not about to let them know that most of the people I know in the U.S. are unaware their country exists.
A couple of people at home did show a glimmer of recognition. “Do you mean Moldavia?” At least there’s a good reason for that confusion. Moldavia is actually a province in the country of Romania and borders the country of Moldova. In past history and through many border changes, this region has often been combined.
And it’s probably not fair to blame the average person because there appears to be a lack of attention to Moldova in the media, too. I’ll be here on April 7 – a very significant day in Moldova. Last year, there were riots and even some deaths protesting an apparent fraudulent election. Even now, a year later, Moldova is running on an interim government since no party got enough votes to officially take power. No one seems to know if the communists really did run a fraudulent election to get into power or if Romania did have something to do with inciting the riots. Or maybe both of these things, or neither of them, are true.
But when I googled, searching for more background on this significant date, I found barely a handful of websites…even CNN had almost nothing on Moldova’s political situation. So I have no idea if tomorrow will be a day of remembrance or a day of additional riots. I guess I’ll find out.
Even once people figure out where on the globe Moldova is, they’re incredulous I’ve chosen this country to visit. “Moldova? Unbelievable!” said a Canadian woman I met in Turkey…when her own itinerary included Cambodia and Syria, not exactly common holiday destinations.
Most people seem to feel the same way. There’s a distinct lack of tourists and tourist infrastructure here. On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to walk down the street without having to worry overly much about being pick-pocketed. There are so few tourists it’s not lucrative enough for anyone to bother.
But life here seems pretty normal – people visiting family for Easter, walking down the street texting on their cellphones, sitting in the park picking up wi-fi, grabbing a burger at McDonalds, jogging around the lake in a city park.
At least, normal in an ex-Soviet-Union sort of way. Every walk down the street is like taking a hike; the sidewalks are so broken and uneven you have to watch every step. The architecture favors big Commie-condo buildings (zero architectural appeal), plus lots of big partly completed buildings that no one seems to be working on.
The public transportation is crowded. The doors rattle wildly on the trams and about 4 layers of paint seems to be peeling off their roofs. Not surprising since these trams seem to be recycled from the buses used in the Czech Republic 20 years ago.
Another popular form of transportation are the rootiaras (or Maxi-Taxis), vans that run on regular routes at short intervals. But when they’re so crowded there’s a butt squished up against the windshield, my friend Kathy, who’s living here, advises just waiting for the next one rather than trying to squeeze on. I’ll trust her on that. There’s always another rootiara on the way.
More later as I explore further.