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Romanian Wedding • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
As winter started to take hold, with average temperatures being about -7, the
opportunity came in the form of a wedding for me to visit Romania.
Jumping at the chance to not only see a traditional wedding but to go to
Romania, I set off immediately to Chisinau to get the visa I would need to
cross the border and then get back again.
Fortunately I was able to get a lift by car a very rare treat in its self, I could
not remember the last time that I had been in one. The one and a half hour
journey was interrupted at regular intervals by the traffic police, who
obviously had nothing better to do due to the lack of cars that were on the
road so would stop just about anyone they could. And in our case as many
times as they could on the same stretch of road. Our documents were
checked every time and with luck my driver had made sure that they were
all in order, this of course did nothing to hasten us on our journey, as
finding everything to be correct just seemed to annoy them to the extent that
a check on the road worthiness of the vehicle was needed, the Seven stops
that we had to endure only resulted in us losing time and not money.
This was something that could cost me as I had a dead line to reach the
Romanian Embassy before they would not accept any more application that
day for visas, which meant that I would have to return the next day.
Understanding how important it was for me to get to my destination on time
my driver took it on himself to get me though the back streets of the capital
as only a London taxi driver knew how.
The speed in which the Embassy was able to deal with my application
surprised my as did the $32 they asked for the privilege I was to have of
going to their country for a few days, on top of this was any travel cost I had
such as the train, which as it turned out was 60 pence return. With only a
few hours remaining before I was to meet the other guests and then catch
the train, there was no time for me to see the capital that I had passed though
over four months before. As we left I took in as many as the sights as
possible, but to be honest there was not a lot to distinguish this place for the
one that I lived in, the buildings and squallor were the same so were the
streets full of traders and queues for the trolley buses.
Twenty minutes saw us back onto the country roads with nothing but
endless fields on either side, and within a few miles of this now sight seeing
opportunity I was fast asleep. Knowing that I had to be back in Belti for 3 in
the afternoon the driver increased his speed to the maximum that his old
Lada could reach, this only resulted in longer delays as we were soon
stopped for speeding and fined for going 55 miles an hour.
The same policemen that had tried to get money from us on the inward
journey got out of their car with a smile on their faces as they approached us
you could almost see the $ signs in their eyes.
This time there would be no getting out of it. For the first few minutes my
driver refused to get out of the car insisting that he had done nothing wrong
but after a heated discussion and a hand placed on the gun that both
policemen had they won and he got out., and l was then lead over to the
squad car. I was reminded of my last encounter with the law which made me
very nervous about my present situation. I then noticed that the driver was
pointing over to me all the time as if it had been my fault and both the police
man were looking.
Trying to make myself as small as possible in that little car was not easy and
there seemed no escape from the attention I was now getting, but it was too
late they were coming my way. The biggest of the policemen held out his
hand and demanded to see my passport which I placed in his hand though
the open window before he had even finished asking for it. He looked at it
turned a few pages, looked at me, then nodded to his colleague he passed it
back to me then both men walked back to their car and drove off, we were
left on the country road with me feeling very confused. It was impossible
for me to find out what had gone on due to the language problem, so I sat in
silence for most of the rest of the journey my only attempts of
communication was met with a wide grin all over his face. Quickly finding
a translator when we finally met up with the wedding guests I found out that
the fool had told them that I was a member of the British government and
that he was taking me to an important meeting, a story that was to become
his party piece for some time to come.
I should have been grateful for him helping me out by taking me but I was
very agree as he had no idea as to how dangerous the situation could have
been if they had decided to check things out. But I gave him as much of a
tip as I could and a good bottle of Vodka to be going on with.
It did not take long before the party atmosphere lightened my mood and I
was soon lighting and jogging as we set off on our 5 hour journey to
Romania, even my apprehension as to what the train would be like was
unfounded as it was as good as empty apart from our group there was only
about 20 other people which meant that we all got seats which was a good
thing seeing that we were going to be on it for a long time.
But the pleasure of the seat was to become short lived after the first few
hours, it was made of wood with no padding what so ever, that and the
jolting of the train quickly made my bum very sore and I contemplated
spending the rest of the trip standing, but a seat was a seat and I had learnt
to keep hold of one should you ever get one, so I stayed where I was. By 7
o'clock we were well into the journey, with darkness falling fast and no
inside lights we soon fell in to our own worlds of isolation and silence all of
us trying to come up with mind games to combat the boredom.
Those of us who had the foresight to bring cards or a book had to give them
up as when total darkness flooded over us the carriage lights failed to come
on, with in another half an hour it was impossible to see anyone else even
the ones sitting next to you.
After a few stops that saw people getting off in the middle of nowhere,
sometimes not even at stations we arrived at the border. A quick inspection
by the border guard of our documents followed, the only unpleasant part of
the whole event was the guard shining his torch right in my face to check
that I was the person in the passport, and as all was in order I got the
appropriate stamp and we were all off again with in about 15 minutes.
The next stop would be ours and was only 3 miles inside the country which
meant I would not be doing much sight seeing, not only because it was too
dark to see anything but also as we were due to leave on the early morning
train, not a great deal of value for the $32 it had cost me. But to be honest I
had enjoyed the experience of the Romanians they were so much more
civilised than my Moldovan's.
We still had a 15 minute mini bus ride to take before we were to reach the
village that was to be the host of the wedding party, fortunately one had
been arranged to collect us from the train station, the few minutes that we
had to wait gave me a chance for a quick look around but there was not a lot
to be seen as there was no lights in the streets and only a few at the station.
The waiting room was filled with broken seats as was the toilets, but at least
they had toilets and not just a hole in the ground like I had got so use to.
Unfortunately the bus that came to collect us was only designed for 15
people but had 30 to collect, which at best would be a tight fit but there
again I was now very use to public transport in the East.
What made things almost impossible was that the bus was also loaded with
all the bands equipment as well as the band, but in the true party spirit we all
pushed and shoved and sat on each others laps until we were all on.
The short trip over bumpy potholed roads did nothing for our comfort levels
after the long train trip, for those of us that had been forced to stand our
heads continuously hit against the roof as we hit yet another obstacle in the
road, but got there in one piece. As to where we were was beyond me as
was what we were meant to be doing. Rumour had it that first we would be
going to the home of the brides parents then move on to that of the groom so
that the parents could find out who had put on the best party, then we would
be going to the all night wedding party with yet more food and drink. As we
picked our way though the mud in the near darkness of the village I had it
firmly in my mind that under no circumstance was I going to over indulge
myself, which I know would be a challenge knowing the generous customs
of these people.
Squeezing us around a table that at its maximum was only able to sit 10 less
than our number we were presented with an amazing array of food the likes
of which I had not seen since last in the West. Forgetting my previous idea I
tucked in to slices of cold turkey, pickled onions, fresh bread and cheese,
civilisation at last. There was even soft drinks like ginger beer and coke for
those not wishing to partake of the harder stuff.
After I had had my fill I realised for the first time that neither the bride or
groom with us, they were in the house but in another room that I could see
had a large table in the middle laden with the same food that we had been
given, after asking the right person I was told that the table was set for the
guests that were at the grooms house they would be coming here as we went
there. It seemed to be a shuttle service of eating and drinking or their
equivalent to fast food. We were up and off again with in one hour after
donning our shoes that we had left at the front door another custom we got
back onto the mini bus which though had off loaded the band and all their
equipment still seemed a bit of a squash, or maybe it was because we all
must have put on a few extra pounds.
The second party was the same in almost every way as the first, the table
was set out with food and drink and we were invited to sit and help
ourselves, my Moldovan friends who must have been used to this sort of
night out tucked in as if they had not yet eaten, I by now had had more than
I needed so just picked at some of the nicer bits. After 3 more glasses of
home made wine I was feeling very content, tired and more than a little sick.
Letting the party continue on around me I sat back in my chair to relax and
It was now 10 in the evening we had all undergone a 5 hour journey and
been to 2 parties most of us had overdone the drinking already and we still
had a long time to go, I had eaten more food in one sitting than I would get
in 3 days and to top all that I realized that I was miles from my Moldovan
home and in another country without the faintest idea of how to get home.
But to be honest it did not seem to matter any more I was with a friendly
group of people who only seemed to have fun on their minds and had
accepted me into their group, even if it was only going to be for the one
night. I had started to feel very comfortable in the warm surroundings of the
village home we were partying, a far cry from what was the venue for the
main event of the wedding, and that was the large wedding party itself. As
we waited outside the house for the mini bus to take us to the next stop the
bride and groom joined us for the first time but their way was blocked by
many of the village people who's out stretched hands prevented them from
passing, that is until they were paid to do so.
After getting through the line of people they stopped at the front gate and
throwing backwards sent hundreds of small coins into the air that was
immediately lost in the darkness. Then water was sprinkled at their feet,
which for me just added to the mud problem, strange customs indeed. My
little taste of civilisation was soon to come to an abrupt finish as we reached
our last destination.
The music that was being blasted out from the far too big speakers could
have been heard back in Moldova. Not only did they have them on the
inside but also on the outside of the main entrance, but seeing as the whole
village had been invited no one would complain or lose any sleep. The large
hall that was going to be the setting for the party looked as if it had once
been a shop, shelves still covered some parts of the wall space along with
advertising posters and some price lists.
The now gutted room was full of long tables stacked high with food and
drink, with wooded benches for seats it looked like there was about 300
people coming, but as we arrived just after 10 o'clock there was only a few
other people there. The music was in full swing which made it impossible to
talk or even be heard if you shouted, but apart for that nothing else was
We found a seat that we liked on one of the school benches and waited, no
one tried to eat the food or take a drink and no one was on hand to offer us
anything. So we just sat, after an hour not only was I bored and cold but in
great need of a drink. The music was getting on my nerves it just seemed to
be the same beat being blasted out time and time again, but I think I must
have been the only one that did not like it as all the others were tapping their
feet and hands on the tables as if this was a number one favourite. Or maybe
they were just trying to keep warm. At last people started to arrive and soon
the place was filling up well, at 11.30 the bride and groom finally made an
appearance. I thought that would be it, but apparently not for it was another
30 minutes before the most important person of the event turned up, and that
was the Nanasa.
This is a chosen couple that are meant to teach the newly weds all about
married life, everything from how to budget the bills to sex education, and
of course to be there to referee any arguments were just a few of their
They were greeted at the door by the married couple with a loaf of bread
with two very large white candles on it, walking backwards they showed
their honoured guests to their place at the top table and next to them,
which pushed their own parents further down the line. So we seemed to be
ready to start some 2 hours since we arrived we were offered to sit. I do not
know what I had been waiting for, not only had the food been on the table
since early that morning and was now dry and dusty so there was nothing to
keep it fresh or appealing to the eye.
Most of the dishes I had seen before, raw fish with onions, pure fat with
onion and garlic, and fat with jelly with a chickens foot or two thrown in.
Up until now this is the sort of food I had been able to keep well away from
but this time it was going to be impossible as it was but right in front of my
face. I looked round for a plate but there was none all I got was a fork which
I was meant to use to take the food from the general plate and eat what I had
been able to take before moving on to the next item.
Most of the guests dispensed with even the fork and reverted back to the
tools that God had given us, our hands. For an average Westerner that can
not stand the sight of fat let alone have it on my plate I found it unbearable
to see every one around me, stuffing it in their mouths as if it was the best
portion of Fish and Chips they had ever had.
Not wanting to offend I tucked into the only dish I saw that I could eat,
Pancakes and chocolate sauce, which as you could imagine was very nice
indeed. After only a short time every one had had their fill for now without
even denting the pile of food that was before them, so most got up to start
the first of the evening dances, and soon every one had joined in.
Joining hands and forming a long line, the equivalent of our own Congo,
every one paraded around the room only stopping to shout at the bride and
groom, beat her beat her, which meant kiss her kiss her it did not translate to
this but it was a strange twist on the meaning that I would never understand.
The couple had no problem complying with the request and were counted
down from 10 so that the audience got their monies worth. After half an
hour of activity we were back at our seats eating and drinking the wedding
At this point I was informed that we would not be able to leave until 8 the
next morning because that was the time the train would be leaving, it was
one in the morning and I had had enough, so by the looks of it had some of
my friends, the thought of another seven hours of a wedding party that was
being held in sub zero conditions with deafening music was not my idea of
fun. I had looked round for a comfortable corner that I could try and set up
camp in and try to sleep but there was none, only leaving the cold concrete
floor as an option.
As I was moaning to myself some of the others had been able to arrange a
place to sleep for 5 of us in a locals house who seemed to have no problem
letting a group of total strangers sleep in his home, this was due to either
him being total drunk or that these people were like most others I had met,
very generous when it came to hospitality. So it was at 2 o'clock on a
freezing morning that we left the party goers to their dancing and drinking
and walked up the road still with the sound of the music ringing in our ears
even though we must have been over half a mile away.
I fell asleep that night still hearing the music with two Russians two
Moldovans and a Romania for company, if nothing else I was doing my bit
for East West relations as they were all girls.
Our six o'clock alarm call came but not with the customarily cup of tea and
toast, but a jug of home made red wine, which was thrust into my hand in a
manner that made it impossible to refuse, by the kindly soul who had given
up his home for us. I customary downed it in one before even getting out of
My female companions had been able to avoid this shock wake up treatment
and were already making trips to the bathroom, but I think that it was a bit
of a man thing.
The bathroom was in fact a sink in the kitchen and a hole in the back
garden, both having a water supply on the roof of the house that had to be
filled by hand if there had been no rain.. Waiting my turn politely I ended up
being last in the queue outside the kitchen door to use the loo.
After two more glasses of red wine which the girls were forced to drink we
set off again for the party. I was starting to feel the effects of the wine
before we had gone only a few yards and was glad for once of the cold fresh
morning air that brought me back to my senses quickly.
Meeting groups of people going in the opposite direction we realised that
the proceedings must now be over.
The music thank god had stopped, even though it could still be heard
coming from many homes on either side of the road where the party must
have moved to for those who had not had enough yet. The village hall was
now like a bomb had hit it, most of the tables were upright but the benches
were not, food and bottles had somehow ended up on the floor as had many
empty bottles and a few people who could not stay the distance, or could not
make the trip home before passing out.
But in the true spirit of the Russian people some were still at it, glass in
hand and leaning against anything that could give them support they stood
their ground. Not wanting to get involved in more drinking with these
professionals I decided to stay out of the hall. Trying to take in as much of
this new country as I could on this short visit I wandered out side waiting
for the bus. Life seemed to be getting back to normal after the feast with
people starting work. One man was taking his livestock to the fields right
down the main road.
As I looked around I started to see that there was a difference between the
Romanian and Moldovan way of life, all around were well appointed
homes, most with smart cars on the drives. OK maybe they did not have
indoor toilets or street lights yet, but I got the impression that it was only
going to be a matter of time, which could not be said for their neighbours
who were firmly stuck in the dark ages.
After my little walk around I went back to the pick up point where I was
confronted by a very dirty, abusive and drunk individual who by the state of
him must have spent a great deal of time rolling in the mud. After closer
inspection I realised that I had seen him before. He tried to stand straight in
front of me but was not able to stay still swaying from side to side as if he
was on a fun fair ride, I think the words he started to say were not nice ones
but as I was not sure I did not try to reply and as he got no reply he seemed
to lose interest in me and staggered off to find someone else to have a fight
with. This was the Nanasha from the night before, the honoured guest who
was going to help the young couple get though life's hardships. He would be
teaching the groom how to be a good husband, I think if they listened they
will by now be divorced. bad choice I think. As the time for departure
arrived the remnants of my group staggered out from various houses rather
the worst for wear, even the ones that I had spent the night with had become
well under the influence of drink in the short time that I had left them, they
had all been encouraged to partake of the wine instead of breakfast and were
now paying the price, one hell of a way to start the day even more so with a
five hour train journey in front of you.
The time for the transport came and went, with me being the only one that
seemed to care, mainly due to the fact that I was now the only sober one.
What was worrying me more than anything else was the fact that they did
not need a visa for Romania and mine was fast running out. The bus finally
arrived at the same time the train was due to be pulling out of the station.
The impossibility of the driver getting us from where we were to the station
in exactly no minutes what so ever did not stop him from trying, and though
he did cover the distance in a new world record, the only reward was three
of us being sick one down the neck of the person in front. Seven hours of
waiting lay before us and the next train home most just accepted the
situation and went to sleep where ever they could find a comfortable place.
Not being affected by Sunday trading laws meant that all the shops were
open, in fact this part of the world closes down on a Monday and not the
So I was able to take full advantage of supermarkets that sold food that I
recognised, I was like a kid in a sweet shop and only decided to go back to
the station when I had run out of money laden down with my goodies and
feeling a lot happier with my life in the East.
My mouth was already watering with the thought of custard, tinned meat
and Weetabix that I would be eating the minute I got home. Hour after hour
past on the platform, all I could get was a few cat naps that broke the
boredom and was an escape from the cold for me. Luckily the train arrived
at exactly the allotted time 3.30 in the afternoon.
So it was our cold and now very sober group boarded the train for the short
trip to the border of Romania and Moldova, this was to consist as before of
a quick check of our documents by both countries, but I was not even going
to get past the first check as due to the delay my visa for Romania had run
out by one hour, I was now an illegal immigrant and was deemed to be in
the country illegally.
I protested my innocence, even though I wasn't, what had I done that would
make any difference to anyone, my friends protested my innocence, but it
did no good.
The first guard had now been joined by two more who each took it in turn to
check my passport which by now the whole train knew was out of date and
that they were in the company of a hardened Western criminal. I simply
stood on the middle of the carriage totally dumbfounded, arguments were
going on all around me, and the only thing that came to my mind was that I
was losing. The more everyone tried to defend me the more the border
guards got angry with me, as if I understood anything that they were saying,
it got to the point that by the end of it all they were as good as screaming
right into my face. At this point when words could not win the argument I
was unceremoniously dumped off the train.
Trying not to panic I was marched off by all three guards to their little hut
that was a feeble excuse for head quarters, I looked back to see the train
disappear into the distance without me.
Trying to get some gauge of my position was not easy, the tone of their
voices were still angry so I tried to make myself as agreeable as possible, I
smiled all the time and tried to follow out their every instruction as quickly
as possible which was not easy as they spoke Romania and I had only been
One of my fellow travelers had tried to explain to them as I got off the train
that it would be better if they accompanied me for translation purposes but
to no avail. I now found myself sitting in the corner of the hut on a small
wooden stool. Gathered around the desk that filled most of the room they
were still poring over my passport for the umpteenth time. I was asked a few
questions, I think, as the guard looked at me moved his lips and then
gestured with his hand when I did not answer.
I did try once to get them to speak in either Russian or English but the
response I got made me decide not to speak again, I came to the conclusion
that they were being a pain in the ass for the sake of it and to get me as
worried as possible, it was fine on the train when they were dealing with the
Russian travellers as they would then speak Russian but now when it suited
them they simply forgot it.
After another 15 minutes I was approached yet again, this time a decision
had been made $50 and you can go. I was more surprised to have been
spoken to in English than the demand for money, the bastards had set me
up, all this time they had been deciding how much money I could afford to
pay them, making me sweat was just another tactic.
My first reaction was to tell them to kiss my ass but I held my tongue, I
know as they did that my only other option was to wait until Monday
morning when the visa office in town was open, pay another$32 and any
fine they decided to impose on me and then try to catch the afternoon train
A night on the platform was not worth the difference of what I was being
asked to pay now, but I was trying as much as possible to hold on to my
Answering in Russian just to make a point I told him that I did not have that
sort of money on me, but if he was prepared to organise transport to get me
home today I would give them my watch, failing that I would be forced to
take my chances with the custom office and they would get nothing. This
now caused them a bit of a problem, I had seen them looking at my watch,
which for some reason had always caused a lot of fascination where ever I
had gone. I had even had someone offer to buy it off me for $100 on the
I must admit that it did look unusual, but when it came to value I had paid
$10 for it at a flea market in Florida, it was simply a copy but they didn't
know that. They now seemed to be arguing as to which one of them was to
get the watch should they decide to do the deal. They must have thought that
they were on to a winner and were now going to get twice as much as they
had first thought from their hostage.
The first demand to hand it over was met with a flat refusal by myself and a
counter demand to be taken over the border first, with my passport and they
were then to place me on a bus that would take me home.
My request seemed to be a reasonable one that they accepted without too
much trouble. So after only a few more minutes and one phone call I was
led outside, the border barrier was raised and I was escorted to freedom.
There was already a car waiting for me which I quickly got into, the driver
was given his instructions and $20 by one of the guards for his trouble. I
tried to keep the smile off my face as I handed over the watch in exchange
for my passport. Sitting in silence for the whole trip home knowing that I
had come out of this a winner didn't make me feel any better about the
whole incident. Its hard enough for Western visitors to survive in the East
with the day to day problems of life and there are only a few of us that
come, but to have salt rubbed in to the wound by corrupt officials who are
only thinking of themselves today and not the future of their country.
Westerners can help these countries develop even if its only by spending
their Dollars which helps the economy but the more they are treated as
second class citizens the more they will not follow. As it was I got home
before every one else, they thought it was all very funny, for some reason I