Saturday, April 29, 2006

Locuri nu mai sunt

I returned Friday from a full week of traveling and celebration during our week-long Easter vacation. It came complete with visitors in Mereseni (thanks Leigh and Shie), a trip up to the northern city of Falesti (thanks Levi, Priya and Mark), conversations with two amazing Moldovans who really have their acts together (thanks Irina and Sergiu), an evening in the city of Ialoveni (thanks Jess and her host family), some early birthday presents (thanks to my entire extended family), Shie's birthday party in Chisinau, bowling, the final tournament for the Peace Corps basketball league and the Russian card game дурак (durak).

It'll take me a long time to digest everything that happened this week, but first I want to write about something that happened on the way back from Chisinau yesterday evening.

I arrived at Chisinau's South Station at about 5:50 p.m. and began snooping around for a ride. A rutiera to Cahul looked like a safe bet, since it passes through my village, Mereseni, on its way south. I asked the driver what time he was leaving.

"In five minutes," he said. "Where are you going?"

"Mereseni," I said. "Do I need to buy a ticket?" This is a common question, since rutiera drivers sometimes don't want you to buy a ticket if you're not going the entire distance. It rarely costs more than buying the ticket at the proper location in the station, at
least for such a short distance as to Mereseni.

"To Mereseni? There's no room," he said. The driver, dressed completely in black and sporting a very short buzz cut, wrap-around sunglasses and an earring, went back about his business.

"What?" I asked. I peered through the side window. No one was sitting in the back row. Maybe he was holding seats for passengers willing to pay all the way to Cahul, so I asked him, "Not even standing?"

"No, not even standing," he replied. This driver was breaking the cardinal rule of rutiera capacity, enshrined in the joke:

Question: "How many people can fit in a rutiera?"
Answer: "One more."

So here was this bald guy with an earring telling me that there was no room, when his national culture clearly states that there is always more room. I had never had a problem like this before.

"There's a bus over there for Cahul. Try that," the driver said, not sounding as if he gave a damn about my situation.

"Well when does he leave?"

"I don't know. Ask him."

I walked 40 feet over to the bus, which was empty and not even in a loading area, and asked the driver when he was leaving. Seven o'clock. Great. An hour's wait. I returned to Baldy in Black, who, come to think of it, was the same driver who hadn't picked me up on the side of the road in Mereseni the day before. I told him that the bus didn't leave for another hour and once again asked him to let me on.

"There's no room," he said. He was accompanied now by a middle-aged lady who was checking his paperwork and writing down how many
passengers had bought tickets for this rutiera.

"Let me on," I said again, sensing how pathetic I was sounding with every repetition.

The paperwork lady butted in. "He can't take you to Mereseni. This is an express."

"Since when is anything in this &%$#!@#& country a #$&%@# express?" I screamed. Well, I screamed it in my head. To the outside observer, I just looked really angry for a few seconds, followed by a much longer period of being sad. I stood outside and Baldy in Black drove off
with my best chance to get home quickly.

I walked over to the next driver heading to Cahul, who said he was leaving in 20 minutes. I stood by his rutiera until he turned to me again and said, "Auzi?" which, although technically a question, is the Romanian equivalent of, "Listen up, buddy."

"The driver's down on the street," he said. "He's waiting for you. Run."

I turned to the street, about 100 feet away, and saw that the rutiera was indeed stopped on the side of the road and was taking passengers. I ran to it and climbed in.

Baldy turned to me and said, "Sorry I had to be such a jerk over there, but the paperwork lady would have killed me if I had taken you." Just kidding. Baldy said nothing. I was simply expected to have understood the situation, and I shouldn't have made so much noise at the station. I paid my 10 lei, and he folded my bill and fastened it with a paperclip to his documentation.

Five minutes later, as we were leaving Chisinau, the driver stopped. He got out of the rutiera, holding his paperwork in his hand. He ran out to meet the police officer who had stopped him and gave the cop the paperwork. The cop took the 10 lei bill that had been paperclipped to the documentation, handed the paperwork back to the driver, and sent us on our way.

When Moldovans and foreigners alike complain about corruption in this country, this is just one of many items on their list. But in this particular situation, it seems that the corruption was caused by the transit laws. If I had been able to buy a ticket for this so-called express rutiera, I wouldn't have had to travel illegally. If I, and others who were picked up on the side of the road, hadn't had to travel illegally, the driver could have shown the policeman correct paperwork and wouldn't have had to pay a bribe. If the police continued to check cars and saw only clean paperwork, they would stop needlessly checking the cars in expectation of a pay-off. Like in so many instances in which corruption takes place, if you make something easier to do legally than illegally, people will do it the legal way, and you will have one less instance of corruption in your country.


At 9:42 PM, Blogger Cristina said...

I am sorry Peter for this experience. Sorry for all that takes place in my own country. I wish I could do something...

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

Why apologize? Americans tend to look at this sort of corruption with amusement. However, there are more serious issues of corruption that affect much more important aspect of Moldovans' lives. I have yet to experience things like students paying for grades and cronyism in the government, so I'll leave others to write about those things. But as you know, those things happen, too.
- Peter


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