Please pray for the country of Moldova, which as many of my readers know I lived in for a couple of months a couple of years ago whilst doing fieldwork for my PhD. On Sunday they had parliamentary and presidential elections, which were overwhelmingly won by the (unpopular) ruling Communist Party, who have already been in power since 2001. Since Monday protests have been held in Piata Marii Adunarii Nationale (PMAN, for those of you following on Twitter), which yesterday became violent with both the Presidential Palace and Parliament building being stormed by protesters. The parliament in particular has been trashed.
I don’t know what is going to happen. The (supposedly outgoing, I’m not too sure) president is accusing Romania of involvement in the protests and has expelled the Romanian Ambassador. Russian news agencies are blaming Western agents. Blog posts I have read are accusing the secret services of attending the protests in civvies and taking pictures of protesters. There are reports of up to 100,000 dead people being included on the electoral roll, and in fact the main demand of the protesters is for a recount (which might be going ahead).
The protests are largely (but not exclusively) by young people 18-25. Deeleea sent me an article about how a lot of them mobilised through Twitter, as mobile phone lines are reported to have been blocked. I am worried that once this is over, nothing will have changed. I have hope for future generations, but I really don’t know what to think about today. Of course I’m also worried about my friends and colleagues, and hope they’re safe.
Here is a link to some photos from PMAN and of the parliament and presidential buildings, that I took in 2007, so you can see what they usually look like. The penultimate photo is the presidential pad, and the last one is the parliament. The rest are of views round PMAN.
And here is a link to some photos from the protests.
I’ve been very entertained this week by reading the Moldovan newspapers online, where there is the most ridiculous spat going on in Chisinau, the capital. As far as I can tell, the crux of the matter is that the police are responsible to both the municipal authorities and to the national authorities, so when those two august bodies don’t agree there is the potential for ridiculous spats.
If I’m understanding correctly, the situation is basically as follows. The other day the mayor arranged for a big Christmas tree to be placed in the centre of the main square, in front of the Government building. However, suspecting that the tree might (in a beautiful Romanian euphemism) “make feet”, he arranged for some members of his Liberal Party’s youth wing to hang around the square during the evening and into the night after the tree was placed in its allotted spot. However, after not very long the police came along, said “‘ello’ ello’ ello what’s going on ‘ere then?” (or words to that effect) to these young people, confiscated their phones and cameras, and marched them round the city centre for a couple of hours. They then took them back to the square, where the phones and cameras were returned to them (and, quelle surprise, all pictures that they’d taken had been erased) and they discovered that the tree had been moved to a less prominent bit of the square. The bit that really made me laugh was when one of the young people told journalists that the place where the tree had originally been placed “was cleaner than a pharmacy” – all trace of earth, decorations, greenery, had been totally removed. Apparently the police, in this case, seem to prefer the orders of the government, who will be putting up a tree on 25th December.
It is the most ridiculous thing – but totally unsurprising. Along with the various machinations of who may or may not represent them in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest (another Big Topic in the press), you’d think everything else in Moldova was rosy. If only.
I’m having a bit of a funny old day today. I’ve just had some good news from HD which has made me very happy and improved the day enormously though, so that’s good.
Yesterday the Man Flu got worse again and, having felt OK on Saturday, I spent all Sunday morning in bed groaning and feeling miserable and not quite daring to stand up because my head was spinning. But because I had lots of interviews today, I had to get up to prepare, and what would normally take me a couple of hours ended up taking more like 7, and when I finished I realised it was time for bed! So much for a day of rest.
Today’s interviews have been sort of OK, and sort of not that great really. I reckon they would have been fine if I’d done them towards the start of fieldwork, but now I’m in my last week here, I’m really struggling to be arsed with it. I found the first one OK, and thought the second was in the same building (actually it was just up the road, so I went to the wrong office to start with, which didn’t put me in the best mood ever. I’m getting quite tired of trying to locate buildings which don’t have numbers or obvious entrances or have ambiguous street signs and which all look the same as the next building. It’s a wonder I’ve ever found any of these people, let alone interviewed them). The second interview really was a case of “well I’m here so I’ll do the interview but I honestly can’t be doing with it and I’d rather be in bed” so I don’t think the interviewee was that impressed with me, but I felt too ill to care. I then made my way (by dint of quite a bit of a walk and then an unknown bus) to the third, only to find that a. I couldn’t find the building (same reasons as before – no number, no street sign, all look the same) and b. when I phoned the person to ask for directions it turned out she was in a totally different part of town (she had told me the right address, but I had written the address in my diary from a photocopied business card which was clearly out of date). So I had to hot foot it across town and get a taxi (which was a rip-off – I could have got half way to the airport for the price he charged, grrr, but needs must) and was only about 2 minutes late, but I was all sweaty and flustered, and my interviewee had even worse Man Flu than I did so didn’t get the impression she really wanted to talk to me – because it was too painful as well as because I was probably smelly and gross – and croaked her way through it with me spending the whole time praying that the dictaphone would pick up her whispers. I’m sure it’s fine, but if she hadn’t been in a hurry (and ill) and I hadn’t been flustered and kicking myself for being stupid and not checking the right address, it would have been much better. I have another interview this evening and then will be catching up with my one expat friend here as this is our last chance before I leave. Which will be good, but to be honest all I really want to do is go to bed and sleep for a week. No chance of that though – too much to do!
At some point reasonably soon, Mary is, God and Bishop-willing, going to be ordained as an OLM. I’m sure she’d appreciate prayers (and her loyal fans would appreciate a blog update 😉 ). [3rd attempt, hopefully the link will work now]
Intrepid Expat has finally arrived in Khartoum, and has started blogging – hooray! I’m sure she’d be happy to be prayed for too.
And Jane (blog pending, I hope) (*spot the subliminal subtle hint*) is off to vicar factory, today I think – definitely pray for her.
As for me – I fly to Romania a week today, and to the UK 2 weeks today! Will everything be done in time? Will I defeat the dastardly Man Flu before I leave? Will the Sibiu internet cafe staff remember me and greet me like a long-lost friend? Will I overcome my pathological phone phobia and speak to all the remaining scary people (who are fine and normal and lovely really)? Stay tuned ….
Despite T&E’s assertions that Man Flu isn’t a real illness (dith: you’re welcome, glad to be of assistance), I woke up this morning feeling Grotty. Really really ill. Not helped by my landlady insisting on giving me a camomile (urgh) tea without removing the teabag (double urgh) and stirring in a spoonful of strawberry jam (triple urgh). Yes thank you it was indeed as foul as it sounds. I managed about half a cup out of politeness, but even being the ultimate diplomat I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
I have though valiantly made my way into town to at least try and do some work (which is why I have been in the internet cafe for an hour on the ship and facebook and reading blogs, obviously) so I don’t feel like I’ve completely wasted my time here. I only have just over a week left here, and there’s still stuff to do, but right now I feel too grotty to care much. I just want to go home!
Anyway, I signed up with the other internet forum with my new name, but I’m guessing there must be a problem with cookies because every time I log in it just takes me back to the log in page, over and over again. It’s like being in Groundhog Day. I’m sure it would be fine if I didn’t have Man Flu.
I didn’t mention yesterday’s adventure, when I headed out to the countryside about an hour’s bus ride away from the city to do an interview there. It was really interesting, very very different from the city, and I’m so glad I got the chance. I took a few photos (not many) but it wasn’t the best day weather-wise so they’re not that great, unfortunately. But I’m so glad for the opportunity – I know I’m moaning and want to go home, but I am still having some really great experiences and am glad I’m having them.
They’d be even better if I didn’t have Man Flu, obviously.
Today I came into town to do an interview (which went very well thank you) (see even working at weekends, now that’s dedication for you) and walked through the Stefan cel Mare park to my destination and found a very big festival going on. The park has a big fountain in the middle with lots of paths emanating away from it like a giant spider diagram (spot the former OU student) and down each path were lots of stalls relating to the different nationalities and ethnic groups who live in Moldova. After the interview I went back and explored, and took lots of pictures. There were lots of people wearing various national costumes, and music and food and books and knick-knacks and flags and balloons and colours and smells and all sorts of things on display. Groups I counted were (in no particular order): Russians, Ukrainians (including an amassed youth accordion band which surely must have heralded the entrance to Hell itself, but fortunately they weren’t playing when I walked past), Bulgarians, Belorussians, Greeks, Jews, Roma, Uzbeks, Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Polish, and the Lithuanians/Latvians/Estonians/Germans were lumped together for some reason. There were also stalls for the African-Asian association of Moldova, and by UNHCR staffed by refugees from various places (Somalia, Chechenia, etc).* It really was fascinating. There was a stage where various music and dancing was going on – I saw an Eurovision-esque Ukrainian power ballad singer, some Azeri dancers, some traditional a capella singers (not sure where from), and some gypsy dancers waiting in the wings. I chatted with a couple of girls from the Polish young peoples’ cultural centre (or something like that), and bought a CD from one of the Roma stalls. The one thing I was really sad about was that, despite all this celebration of diversity and ethnic culture, the Roma (ie gypsy) stalls were right on the edges, and nobody was going anywhere near them. I did try to chat with the guy who was selling the CD, but he didn’t speak Romanian, although he did manage to figure out that I was asking him how to pronounce the singer’s name so that was good (I hope I remember!). I also took some really nice pictures of some of the gypsy dancers with their amazing dresses – I hope they come out well when I download them. The Roma community is very small here, much smaller than in Romania and elsewhere in eastern Europe, but it seems even here they’re despised and ignored. It’s so sad.
* ETA: And the Gagauzi! They were there too!
It’s not just the Germans who do funny acronyms. In my line of work I’ve come across a couple of classics.
The one I’ve known about for a while is a qualitative data analysis software package, the forerunner to the package I’m (allegedly, *cough*) using to analyse my data – it’s full name was Non-Numeric Unstructured Data – Indexing Searching Theorising, but it’s always known as NUD*IST (ho ho). But imagine my joy this week when I discovered the Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics – affectionally shortened to JOCSTraP. Now admit it – hasn’t that made your life just that little bit better? It did mine.
In other news, I was on the radio again yesterday, and this week I said something! In Romanian, no less! I also blanked at the end, when unexpectedly the presenter suddenly asked me for a last word. In a scene reminiscent of just about every job interview I have ever had, absolutely every last thought in my head buggered off and hid behind the sofa. On live radio. Sigh. I did eventually come out with something, but am slightly worried that in my confusion instead of saying I hoped that psychologists would be less stigmatised as a profession (which is what I meant) I said “more” instead of “less”, which let’s face it changes the meaning somewhat, and not in a good way. Nobody said anything though – I’m not sure if I did actually say what I meant or if they were just being polite and not pointing or laughing till I left the room.
Moldovan hospitality is legendary – they simply will not let you get away with refusing biscuits/cake/tea/wine/add your edible/drinkable indulgence of choice here. That is the main reason why I am so lardy at the moment!
Today I did an interview, and the secretary at one point came in with the kettle. Fine I thought, I could do with a cup of tea (I also thought it would help me diplomatically avoid the pile of chocolates on the plate in front of me!). Anyway, she then proceeded to pile a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into the cup (it’s generally assumed, unless you specifically say something, that tea and coffee will be full of sugar, but I couldn’t say something as I was mid-interview and I’m already going to have the transcription include “yes, thank you, I’ll have a tea please” as well as more weighty subjects, so I didn’t really want to discuss it any more!). Anyway, like the trooper I am I smiled and just got on with it, and managed to drink it without gurning (I hate sugar in tea!), and thought I’d got away without having to eat the chocolates.
So I got up to leave, opened my bag to put my diary and dictaphone back into it, and the person I had interviewed swept up a handful of chocolates and chucked them in my bag! I mean really – what would Jesus do? (don’t tell the Chocolate Policeman). Sigh.
I eventually landed back in Moldova just before 11pm local time, having woken up at 4.15am (Wales time). HD very wonderfully drove me to Gatwick, then drove back to Wales to do a full day’s work – he’s such a good guy. Needless to say I howled at the airport again, as usual – I’m getting fed up of these tearful farewells, they’re really draining! By the time I got on the plane I was shattered, and actually slept through the entire takeoff, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before
I spent a few hours at Budapest airport (not enough to make it worthwhile to go into the city centre, but too many in what has to be said is possibly the world’s most boring airport). Free wifi is extremely random there and I only managed to get a few minutes just before take-off, so I was a bit antsy. I was met at the airport by the usual crowd of taxi-drivers, the first one to reach me in search of my custom was quite creepy looking and scary, but fortunately he asked for a really extortionate fare so I felt justified and not at all guilty in telling him it was too much and walking away! I’m back staying in the same place as before, and it’s now looking like I can stay here till the end of September when I leave, so that’s one weight off my mind. Unfortunately they are giving me such unhealthy food (and in such vast quantities) that it’s definitely not weight off anything else, if I’m not careful the plane back to Romania next month won’t be able to take off.
Having got to bed really late I then couldn’t sleep despite being exhausted, and then I had to get up at the crack of dawn again today as I had a workshop to go to. That went well and I have a number of interviews lined up over the next few days, although the one I really want is still being a bit reluctant, so if praying’s your thing please can you pray she’ll stop putting me off?! I have to go back this evening and sort out some new questions for someone I hadn’t expected to interview who I’m seeing tomorrow, even though what I really really want to do is go to bed really early! Sigh – no rest for the wicked.
Tomorrow is apparently national Romanian language day, so there are lots of events going on in town. Not sure if I’ll go to any – I don’t feel like I’m back in the Moldova vibe yet and could do with a bit of headspace just to think about what I’m doing and what I need to do.
I’m missing HD lots too. I know it’s less than 6 weeks till I’m back in the UK, but I’m really tired of these long separations now. I want to be in the same country as him again (even though we’re at opposite ends of it – at least it’s better being opposite ends of a country than a continent!).
I’m sure I thought of something really earth-shattering to mention too, but I’ve completely forgotten it.
I’ve tried, really I have, to fill my time productively while waiting for the rest of the (Moldovan) universe to get back from their holidays. I have read articles, and sent emails, and bought newspapers, and chatted with friends about life here, and faithfully kept my research diary. But oh my goodness I’m rapidly running out of enthusiasm. I just want to go on holiday now (like the rest of them, bah). Work – I’ll do it another day. I hope.
In other news, yesterday I was very amused when I was in the post office to see that, due to an utter lack of remotely interesting buildings, the tourist bods have produced a postcard of the post office and another one of a random flyover. I saw another postcard with five or six different pictures on it, and it reminded me of those films where you see the trailer and it looks really good, and then you go to see the film and you realise that the only good bits were the bits in the trailer. Chisinau’s so like that. Lonely Planet says something along the lines of it “not exactly being blessed with lots of spots of interest to tourists”, which is a delightful understatement.
Anyway, whilst in the post office I was also amused by a fellow customer, who for some random reason had her kitten with her (as you do, in the city centre). She plonked it on the counter while she looked for her purse, and it amused itself by playing with the items on the counter in that cute way that only kittens can. I did take pictures, but the internet cafe here doesn’t have any way of uploading them from a flash drive, so you’ll have to wait for those. When she’d finished paying for her stuff (and I and the assistant had finished cooing over the kitten) she picked it up and popped it back in her handbag, and walked out with the kitten leaning out of the bag surveying the world like Lady Muck. Very cute indeed.