Moldova’s future

Today, I want to share with you a story from my last trip to Moldova. On the bus from Comrat to Chisinau, I met a young man. He looked quite ordinary, but after talking to him for a bit, was quite extraordinary.

Moldova is going through quite a rough patch. Many of the young people are leaving to work not only in Russia but in Spain, France, Romania and many other countries. They are looking for possibilities that they cannot find in their own country. This leaves behind a nation of very old and very young people. The 20 to 50 year olds seem to have fled the country in large numbers.

Meet R., 22 years old. Has completed 4 years of University and is waiting to hear where he can start his three year placement that he has to complete before he can be a cardiologist.

He told me that he would like to do his placement in Comrat, because he liked it there. Coming from a formerly Ukrainian family, and having completed Russian school in Moldova, R. speaks Russian better than he does Romanian. He likes Gagauzia for its Russian connections and has been there many, many times. In the future, he wants to stay in Moldova, because he sees that his country needs young, able workers. He told me Moldova needed good doctors, so he was going to stay here to help people. Apparently cardio-vascular diseases are the main cause of death in Moldova…so he is on his road to becoming a cardiologist. It was so inspiring to hear his story on the scenic bus ride from Comrat to Chisinau. It was so heart-warming to hear of a young man who wants to stay in Moldova despite having many more opportunities, a lot higher pay, and probably better equipped hospitals if he were to go abroad. No, not this man. He wants to stay in his country to help build it into a better state.

More Moldovan’s should start to think like this. I know it must be very difficult, and it is probably impossible for me to understand how almost an entire generation can leave a country, but R. inspired me to put his story out there. To tell the world that Moldova’s not doomed. I am sure there are many more who think like R. Who want to stay in Moldova to build up a workforce, to create a better country.

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Moldova’s independent regions: Transnistria and Gagauzia

Moldova in itself is a tiny landlocked country squeezed between the Ukraine and Romania and has played a role as a buffer between Europe and Russia. The country is incredibly split in this aspect of its politics…should they go towards a future with hopes of entering the EU, or should they start to make closer ties with Russia again?

Two areas where this debate is no longer necessary are Transnistria and Gagauzia. These areas have made their decision to join forces with Russia.

Transnistria

Transnistria is often called a de-facto state, but I am going to just call it a country. It has been working independently since 1990, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union in Moldova. It has its own parliament, government, judicious system, currency, university, flag, culture, and border patrols. Every Transnistrian resident has a Transnistrian passport as well as either a Moldovan, Ukrainian or Russian one.

Mostly Russian in heritage, the people feel a strong connection to Russia and thus are eagerly awaiting the recognition of the sovereignty of their state. From talking to Transnistrian teenagers I heard that many in their country are angry that they haven’t been recognized by the world because so many other states have. The example they gave me was Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia when the country decided to split up. Transnistria has been an independent country for over 20 years now, and is still not recognized. In their point of view this was because of it’s strategic position as the border between the EU and Russia.

Having said this, within the country there seem to be two different views on independence. Due to the poverty in the country (with an income of around $US 150 per month and 2-bedroom-apartment prices between $US 80 and $US 150) some Transnistrians believe that their lives would improve if they were to become part of the Russian Federation again. The other part of the population wants to be a sovereign, independent state that can make its own decisions.

If it were to be its own country though, one thing they would need to focus on is options for youths, because one of the questions I asked the teenagers I talked to was whether they enjoyed living in Tiraspol and whether they wanted to continue to live here when they were done with school. As a response, I got that they did enjoy living here for now, but that they wanted to leave this country when they finished school. The most common answer was that they wanted to go to Russia.

Tiraspol is the capital and with its 200,000 inhabitants it is also the largest city of Transnistria.

As I walked out of the front door of the bloc I stayed in for the night and the cold, crisp air hit my face, I felt like I was sent back a couple of years to the time of the Soviet State. My new friend and guide, and I walked past trolley busses and huge, disproportionately large, empty boulevards to see the city centre of Tiraspol where statues and monuments overlooked the Sunday morning shoppers and market vendors. Past a Lenin statue and bust towards the University and the theatre until we reached Vadivostok park; half of which consisted of concrete roads that went through grass and patches of trees, while the other half consisted of old theme park rides and two gated playgrounds: one in Soviet style and the other in European style…this immediately made me think of the split of opinion of the nation…ironically the European playground was completely empty, while there was a small number of families in the Soviet playground. Foreshadowing?

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The country really did feel like the last part that was left of the USSR. It is a very strange place to be. It feels like its own country, but then again, I didn’t get a stamp in my passport on my way in. In some ways it feels like a normal small eastern European town, while in other ways it seems very Russian…that might be because everything is in Cyrillic and no one seems to speak anything but Russian.

Gagauzia

This region in the south of Moldova is not quite as independent as Transnistria. There are no border controls, they use the same currency as Moldova and the people have Moldovan passports. However, the region has some political autonomy and has made it known that if Moldova were to enter the EU, they would become an independent state…backed by Russia.

Although this city is a lot more welcoming than Tiraspol was, people still seem to only speak Russian. There are some signs written in the Latin script (mostly road signs), but most of the shops and advertisements are written in Cyrillic. As I go on my search for an ATM..because obviously all exchange places are closed on a Sunday afternoon…and since I had to give 100Lei to the border guard at the Transnistrian border (a separate post on my border experience is coming soon) I didn’t have enough to get me back to Chisinau. Anyway, as I go on my search for an ATM I find out that everyone assumes you speak Russian, and only a very, very, very small minority of the people actually speak Romanian or Moldovan. Anyway, at least I get to see a small part of Comrat, the capital city of the region, before I get on another bus to go back to Chisinau.

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Chisinau, Moldova

I had forgotten how beautiful Chisinau can be. The church with the golden roofs, the parks in the city centre, and the cathedral on the main road (Str. Stefan cel Mare).  I spent a lovely morning in Chisinau with an old friend.

Here, have a look!

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What I enjoyed the most of this short stay however was something that cannot be photographed…or at least I can’t take decent pictures of feelings like that. I arrived at the main bus station of Chisinau at around 5:30 in the morning. The sun was up, but the streets were empty. The only people that were on the streets of the city at this hour were the street sweepers. They reminded me of a children’s book called Momo by Michael Ende about a girl who needs to save the world be getting it’s Time back. Awesome book. But back to Chisinau.

After walking around town this early in the morning, at around 7 o’clock I wander back to the market place where shop keepers are at different stages of setting up their stalls and some early-bird shoppers are already out getting their daily groceries. This feeling was just amazing. I walked along the different parts of the market for a whole hour. There is so much to discover! Whatever you need, you can find it at the Chisinau central market…be it knives, or forks, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, meat and cheese, bread, shoes, underpatns. You name it. You can probably get it there.

If you haven’t been to Chisinau…or any of Moldova for that matter yet, go! Yes, it’s an incredibly poor country with what seems to be the highest rates of slavery in Europe,but it’s also the country that is home to the famous Monasteries [insert link] and to amazingly calm, untouched nature. It is a country of agriculture with bustling market places and friendly people…for the most part.

 

 

What worries you, masters you.

Now I’m going to say John Locke wasn’t so wrong. And I’m going to do it be getting up close and personal to my 19 year old self from 2  years ago. I’m going to get frisky with the crippling fears and worries I have had just to come out a better person, a changed person, someone who I am proud to be.

That’s what I would say if this were a good-heart-diary-blog. But it’s not.

I have said before that Nepal has changed me. But why is that? Why didn’t Moldova change me? Or did it? Why am I so incredibly critical of everything and so hard to impress?

I have had an extremely privileged life; and I don’t mean because I am an upper-middle class white girl that grew up in Europe. I don’t say it because for the last ten years or so my father has been in upper managerial positions at work, and I don’t say it because I grew up with an intact family that loved each other.

It’s simple, I grew up without worries.

Yes, times have been rough, harsh. I was born in the time of the second gulf war…in Turkey. I lived through the huge floods in Romania, while living in Bucharest, and I was a student without a job during the greatest economic breakdown since the great depression. But none of these really affected me. I was surrounded by my parents and my brother who always made sure I had nothing to worry about.

I grew up in a bubble that nurtured my hope, let me have fears, that helped me deal with my problems in a healthy manner and that taught me determination, hard work, hope and love can overcome anything. And to this day, I think this is true.

So why the huge worries? Why the crippling fear of the future or in the words of Augustus Waters, oblivion?

Almost exactly two years ago my family was torn apart. I was left with seemingly nothing.

I felt it was my fault; that I had brought this on myself and that I should no longer have a place on this earth. I hated what I was doing at University. I wasn’t learning what I felt would help me in the future. I wasn’t happy with the people I was surrounded by and my monetary pillar had also crashed. I was stuck in an apartment by myself wondering at night wondering how long it would take for someone to notice I was gone, who and how they would find me.

The only thing that kept me going was the thought of what my mother had gone through and how the disappearance of me would probably end her completely.

So I started drawing and painting, reading into art-therapy and self reflection. Really began thinking about myself, my situation, my family. Hope. Love. Determination.

I got really into Tumblr and have learnt SO much, met people that are in a similar situation to me. I have learnt it’s not all over.

My dissertation was coming up, so I seized the opportunity to learn about myself. I achieved this by keeping it as objective as possible. Reading on Third Culture Kids, Identity development, bilingualism and the lack of a home made me question myself in ways I hadn’t done before.

Finally, I decided to put a lot of my efforts into planning my trip to Nepal. I made that distant dream become tangible. Instead of asking Why? I began asking Why not? Suddenly, I had something to look forward to. A hope to achieve something. To make something of myself. To change someone’s life.

Who was I kidding?

At this point, I’d like to refer to this wonderfully insightful blog post by Pippa Biddle that describes all the thoughts I had before going on my trip perfectly. Nonetheless, I decided to grant myself my wish and go. And boy am I happy I did. FACE Nepal, Patihani and the kids did more for me than I could ever do for them. Yes, I might have given them some fun in the fun lives they already leave. I might have taught them the word “butt” (which seems to be a univerasl trigger word of laughter). At this point, I would also like to thank Shreeram for helping me through the crisis I had over there. When I asked him what the point of my being there was actually; that I was just being selfish that there was nothing I could do for the country; to uplift the community, he simply responded with a smile and a speech about the importance of the individual. About how it’s not the country you need to save. It’s the individual children. The Pardeep and the Shrishti. Nepal doesn’t need saving. The children need hope, communication, world-views. And that is what I was there for. To brighten the eyes, to create joy and to maybe teach them a little English.

So what does this all have to do with Locke’s saying?

All the worries I had about my mother, my brother, my future, the world, my inability to help, my fragility made me question my importance. My raison d’etre if you want. It drove me mad to the point of being unable to think about anything else. It stopped me from questioning my  worries. It just showed me them. It drove me close to insanity. It MASTERED me.

But not anymore. No, no, no. I would like to say that one day I just woke up and decided to say NO, but then I’d be lying to you. It was a journey a physical as well as metaphorical one.

And now, I am a similar situation as I was two years ago: finishing a degree without a clear future. But the difference now is that I am relatively happy with where I am, what I am doing and who I am with. I surround myself with people conducive to my physical, emotional and academic well-being. I still don’t really have a plan. But I know I want to do good. I know I can’t do everything. I know I can’t change the world by myself. But I can change MY world. And I am now ready to to accept that. To understand that MY world is as important as the rest of the worlds.

I have fears and worries. But I no longer let them master me. So while I still say that Locke isn’t wrong. I think that worry is also necessary. Without worries of something being wrong, how would we improve? Without worrying about someone else, without empathy, why would we reach out to help?

Everything is new

Nepal has changed me for the better.

I’m sorry for being cheesy, but this trip did make me change my life. Not in the sense that I am now a vegan Buddhist monk, but in the sense that I learnt to love myself again and how to smile. I went through a rough time before I went on my trip, and I feel like I am back to my strong and happy self that I was several years ago 🙂

Having said this, I want to tell you all the new and exciting things I have planned for the future! Becuase I LOVE to plan things.

Since coming back I have moved to England and have started my MA Education in International Development and Education. Part of ther degree is a Placement. Since I am interested in homelessness (not really much to do with my library in Nepal ^^ but oh well!) and I have connections in Bucharest, Romania (from previously living there for 7 years) I decided to go back to that beautiful country to do my placement and conduct the research for my Dissertation (focused on the educational opinions and needs of the homeless and the informal education that is already going on–more on thsi in later posts).

Since I am doing a MA programme, I have quite a bit of time where I have no classes. And since I am organized and have stuff planned and can work efficiently, as well as the one month easter break in April, i will take some time to travel.
March will be spent in Bucharest conducting my research and April, and maybe some of May, will be spent TRAVELLING!

My initial plans consisted of South Eastern Europe, but after posting some questions on fodors.com my trip seems to keep getting bigger and bigger.

1. The initial plan: Live in Bucharest and travel to Moldova to visit old friends and then go off through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, potentially northern Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bus and train travel is cheap, couchsurfing is free and food is inexpensive too! Ther perfect trip for a student 🙂

2. Moldova: In 2010 I volunteered in an orphanage in Moldova. This would be a PERFECT opportunity to go back and visit for a weekend or so 🙂 The last time, the situation between Moldova and Transnistiria was still very shaky and border patrols and guards were taking extremely high bribes. I was also told it would be very dangerous to go. Since I was 17 back then I did not want to take the chance.

After having posted on fodors though, I have gotten responses about the situation having gotten a lot better since the elctions in 2011. After a consultation on couchsurfing.com I also found potential hosts. So guess where I’m going for a night? That’s right. Tiraspol.

This leads me to point three. The crazy part of this trip.

Yes. I call THIS the crazy part…although I have gotten called crazy for wanting to visit places like the Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (which I find extremely interesting)

3. Asia: I’ve been to Asia before. Actually, I was born in Asia. There’s a fun fact about me! ^^

Back to the trip.

So I was told the train trip from Chisinau (Moldova) to Tiraspol (Transnistiria) and then on to Odessa (Ukraine) is supposed to be BEAUTIFUL. So I have to take that person for their word…and as someone who loves to travel and who loves bus and train travel a statement like that is lethal.

I have been to Odessa before…but I remember it being a port town with Ferries. So…yea.

Internet + travel plans + google maps = oh my gosh!

So I found ferries to Georgia. Yep. And Armenia’s not far off from there…Tblisi is only a 5h drive from Yerevan (WHAAT?) and then I can go visit Ankara and drive through Anatolia! Take a beautiful old train to Izmir (my place of birth that I’ve been wanting to visit for years!) and then a ferry to Athens (where I’ve also never been)

From there on I can then continue my previously planned trip.

The only downside to this is missing out Bulgaria…but I’ve been there so many times, I think I’ll survive…And I’ll get to see pretty much three new countries (I’ve only really been to Istanbul in Turkey…)

What an adventure!

libraries and me.

Yes, I like books…and I like to read…but this is a new trend that i’ve discovered.

Three summers ago I worked in an orphanage in Moldova, and out of my own doing ended up working in the library every day there for a month and a half. Two summers ago I worked in the primary school that is connected to the school where I graduated high school for a month and ended up organizing three or four classroom libraries. This year I am half way around the world in Nepal and again, out of my own doing, I end up working in a library.

Maybe I should give up my career (that hasn’t even started yet) as a teacher or development worker or whatever I’m going to do and just become a librarian…I seem to be getting quite a bit of experience in this field of work 😛

Wie ich zur Bibliothek kam:

Shreeram fuehrte Ruth (die andere Volontaerin) und mich durch die Schule und zeigte uns ein paar Klassenzimmer. Nebenbei erwaehnte er die Bibliothek. Sie wuerde nicht wirklich benutzt und gehoerte mal organisiert. Er redete nicht lange darueber.

Nach der Tour sassen wir im Lehrerzimmer und dann kamen meine Fragen. Daraufhin gingen wir in die Biliothek. Shreeram zeigte mir ein paar Buecher und ich entdeckte, dass einige von ‘Room to Read’ gesponsort wurden. Da ich es extrem bloed finde, dass eine so tolle NGO wie RTR Buecher gespendet hat die nicht verwendet werden, und da ich Biliotheken unheimlich schoen und sehr wichtig fuer Schulen finde entschloss ich mich in dem Moment dazu die Bibliothek aufzupaeppen!

Auf gings ins Farbengeschaeft und dann in den Raum.

Als erstes wurde mal alles durchgeputzt. Dann wurden die Waende bunt angemalt (noch immer nicht ganz fertig). Am naechsten Tag ging es an die Buecher. Zuerst wruden sie in drei Kategorien sortiert: Nepali, Englisch, Nepali und Englisch gemischt. Dann in weitere Unterkateogorien unterteilt und in die sauberen Regale gestellt (da sind wir grad dabei). Hoffentlich bleibt mir auch noch ein wenig Zeit um ein paar Bibliotheksaktivitaeten aufzuschreiben und dem verantwortlichen Lehrer zu geben, damit die Biliothek auch (hoffentlich) wirklich verwendet wird…und nicht nur als Ort wo Buecher stehen, sondern als Raum zum Lernen, Lesen und Spielen.