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Saying Goodbye • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
So the time had come for everyone to leave, most having to return so as to
go back to university or schools at the beginning of the September term,
either as students or teachers. Some had decided to stay longer and had
changed their return tickets, but there was not many. Lots had decided to go
early, many excuses were given for their early departure from problems at
home or missing loved ones, the truth of the matter was that life in Moldova
was just too hard for the average Westerner who is too use to having
modern conveniences and food at their finger tips.
The last week of the summer break saw a mad rush of activity, bags were
packed, presents bought and parties held. It turned out that not only was it
possible to go to at least 2 of these parties in the same day, if you wanted to
say goodbye to everyone then you had no choice.
My own group had been the last to arrive in Belti and so would be the last
ones to leave, though it was only a few days after the main group we did
feel lonely when they went. We were now able to walk though town or go to
one of the bars we had made our own without meeting anyone from the
West. No more classes were held at school and no BBQ's or parties were to
be found, and for me worst was to come. Soon there would be no one and
only I would be left to walk the streets. Its strange the bond that we had all
formed over such a short period of time, but it was something that had
happened to everyone.
It was possible to see for some that this new found friendship would last for
a long time, maybe because once home again and life was back to its normal
way it would not be possible to talk to your friends and family about that
strange country in the East that you had visited, they just would not
understand. I know that many have kept in touch over the years and some
even have a reunion once every few years. Maybe one day they will return,
once things have changed and the country has something to offer. But for
some reason I think that for most once is enough.
Our last party was very much the same as the others we had been to, this
one we had decided to have at Andrews and Amanda's house, which was
due to the location more convenient for us all to get to, or more to the point
get home afterwards in the dark. Even though the food was the same as
always and of course so was the flow of Vodka, the mood of us all was very
different. We all sat talking quietly our new family members gathered
around us even though we had only known them for 4 weeks they were very
much a part of our lives. Small gifts were exchanged and many toasts of
Vodka offered, then as the evening started to draw to a close we witnessed a
Moldavian custom of farewell. A towel was wrapped around the shoulders
of Andrew and then a loaf of local bread was given to him with a small pot
of salt placed in the well that had been designed for it on the top. He was
then instructed to break a small piece of the bread off dip it in the salt and
then eat, after this he was to pass it to the person on his right and so on until
we had all had our turn.
I believe that it could have come from the Bible, that breaking bread
amongst your friends means that you will meet again, the salt is something
of great value or was many years before so you were sharing your wealth.
We all said our good nights with the agreement that we would meet at the
bus starting the next morning, I walked Jane to her front door knowing that
it would be the last time I was to see her, for tomorrow I would not be there
to see them off. I had a lot that I wanted to say but didn't.
When all of the English had gone I ended up being on my own with no
contact from any Westerners for over two months. Teaching Abroad had
forgotten that I was even there so when they did a few months later send
some more people to Belti they were more than surprised to see me at the
station to greet them.
In this period of forced isolation the only thing I had really missed was
deep conversation with people that knew something of life or that I could
discus current affairs with or to be honest even the merits of one football
team against another.
The 1st of September came with school starting again everything was back
to normal after the summer break and so were the children. In the summer
lessons they seemed to enjoy the communication that we had in our
classroom and I think the freedom that we offered them to express
themselves now it was back to the old ways and for them it was boring
again. It was at this point that I decided that I would not be involved with
Teaching Abroad any more, I was going to cut myself off from them and
support myself as much as possible.
With the help of Sofia I was able to get myself some private lessons
teaching English in the school and I was also signed up as a history teacher
with six classes per week. I also got some one to one teaching in student’s
homes which paid big money. At the same time I was able to get three
lessons per week at the University, all in all I was able to look forward to an
income of £30 per month which was three times the average for most
Every morning when I attended school sixteen I was greeted by over 600
kids who all wanting to say hello to the English man, they would then try to
get me to come to their classes as a guest and then bombard me with the
same questions that they never seemed to get tired of. I had become quite a
celebrity inside the safe and secure walls of the school grounds, outside of
this little world life was very different, I would have to fight my way onto
the trolley bus and some times with people to get my space, I often found
people staring at me with what I could only describe as hatred in their eyes.
Why was this person here, what did he want from us. They could not
understand why a Westerner who had so much would want to be in their
country that had nothing. Even though I had stopped going out at night due
to the danger I felt I was still on average attacked at least once a month,
most of the time in broad daylight when out shopping or going to work, no
one would help, maybe they all thought that I was fair game and got what I
deserved. It was always the same, give us your money.
Most of the time I just handed over the few Dollars that I had, thinking that
the medical bills I would have to pay to put my body right after a beating
would cost me more.
Forever the capitalist. But sometimes when things got too much I would
refuse, this I think started when I got a better understanding of the Russian
language and could start to argue with them, this would result in me getting
hit a few times, but I was always able to keep the money when I stuck up for
Most of the spare time I had would be spent in the kitchen, which was the
warmest place in the house that is when they turned the gas on. It was only
on a few occasions that we were unfortunate to have all the different power
supplies turned off at the same time, when this happened we would all sit in
the kitchen to try and get some comfort and warmth from each other, I
would have to sit at the table and try my best to write by candle light but at
least this threw out some very welcome warmth. Food became a constant
problem not just because we did not have any but for the simple fact that
most people had not got any idea as to how to cook things differently. So it
came to pass that I was able to introduce delicious dishes such as the roast
potato or the famous bread and butter pudding, we even got on to things like
garlic bread which went down very well.
Then as the winter months dragged on and summer started to become a
distant memory we started to run out of the things that we had been able to
store such as vegetables and fruit soon I feared that there would be nothing
Shopping became a daily task for us all trying to find bread that was not too
stale or a bit of something nice to go with it. Needless to say I started to lose
weight and was soon down to just under eight stone.
The worry that now started to be with me all the time is that maybe soon I
would be taken ill, with nothing to make me better and nothing to comfort
me it was a very worrying time. Winter was at its worst with temperatures
still dropping and life was going from bad to unbearable.
My only comfort was that some friends from back home had offered to buy
me a plane ticket should things get too bad this meant that with in five hours
I could be back home living a normal life again. But for everyone else there
was no choice but to carry on they could not escape and I could not leave
As I sat alone one night in the freezing cold of my apartment I was
reminded of the glossy information pack that had been sent to me, with all
its stories of the good times those before me had experienced. But like most
companies that are trying to sell you something they tend to miss out the
bad bits that they do not want you to know or that could stop you parting
with your hard earned cash. One such article read like this.
William goes to Moldova
My life as a Teaching abroad Teacher
Moldova, the tiny ex-soviet state where a bottle of local wine cost the same
as a carrier-bag was my home for 2 months in the year 1993. My first
encounter with the country was a blurry-eyed meeting with a boarder guard
who was very oblivious to glasnost and the new rules that it was suggesting
should be adhered to when dealing with foreigners.
This particular person was the scowling incarnation of all we had been
taught to fear during the cold war, not the most encouraging introductions
to Moldova. Fortunately however this chap proved to be the exception to
the general rule of Moldavian hospitality. The people there are so
accommodating, that one of our group married a local girl he had only
known for a few weeks and no one has seen him since. This warmth is
amplified in the class room where the children felt duty bound to mother us,
we were simply suffocated in well meaning concern.
Surprising really when I consider the tripe I dish up sometimes and call it a
lesson. One day I would be talking about the Loch Ness Monster and the
next Charles and Diana and even on one occasion the words to Stairways to
Heaven, which I though would be a bit divers for them but found that they
had all got the record. (rock on Robert Plant)
Apart from the riots that were meant to be lessons, I found the classrooms
are no more than museums of pre-glasnost memorabilia. In my class I had a
map of Great Britain that pin pointed the positions of all the nuclear power
stations and navel bases, then there was an old pile of booklets that were
officially meant to be propaganda material, that described the way that the
average English man spent his weekend in the practise of Morris dancing
with his friends before downing far too many large of beer.
Besides teaching the real experience of living in Moldova was being apart
of family life, for a few months you will gain a surrogate family who will
welcome you with open arms into the busum of their family, as if you were
their own son or daughter. For all the time we stayed we were well fed and
watered and spoilt rotten. And if we were asked now and again to queue for
the bread it was the least we could do. Every day either in the capital
Chisinau or the surrounding villages I would always experience fresh and
novel moments. Apart from discovering the local brews, marvellous wines,
dubious beer and of course Vodka and the frantic nature of shopping or
public transport I found that always as a bearer of an British passport I was
regarded as a celebrity, we were snowed under with invitations to tea from
our pupal and their families to total strangers who we met in the street.
These all turned out to be fantastic occasions for us as they always put on
the best spread possible. Anyone that was even a distant relation to the
hosting family would be invited to meet their new Western friends.
Almost as regular as these gatherings were the approaches from budding
entrepreneurs who tried to convince me that only fame and fortune could
come from any partnership that we entered into.
Looking back on my time in Moldova I remember the sights and sounds of
every day life of the tree lined boulevards of Chisinau, the frenzy of the
trains and the buses, the gambling stalls set up in the streets, toasting the
locals with many glasses of Vodka, and scores of old men playing chess in
the parks. But most of all I remember the fabulous generosity of the
Moldovans, struggling though the chaos of the past Soviet era.
And when I left my bags were laden with gifts from my new friends I know I
would never again come across better people.
After reading this article again, I sat too scared to go out, and hungry, it
some how did not fill me with the same enthusiasm and excitement that it
had done when I first read it. Not surprising considering what had happened
to me since I had ventured out of England
Each day had started to become the same as the last and after three months
of the same I had become bored, school was the only release but even that
had lost it spark for me.
How people can live this sort of life for ever is beyond me, with nothing to
excite you or to look forward to, always hungry and cold with no escape,
but with the reminder every where of what normal life could be like it just
made you more depressed, as you knew you could only dream.
As the days of my life flashed by without me noticing I realised that I was
fast becoming the same as every one else, that the system was starting to
take me over, I was accepting every new situation with out question and
dealing with any new hardship without complaint as if it was normal. After
four months I decided to get out, I felt that I had to tell the world about this
place which I could not do from here. So I started to formulate my plan.
Though it would not be possible to go for the next few months it changed
my attitude to daily life and stopped me becoming one of them.