Un alt sat: Partea a doua
As I woke up on my second day in Rosietici, a small village in Floresti county, I had only two objectives: to see the village's second bridge, which is even less stable than the one I had crossed the day before; and to leave the village in the early afternoon so that I could be back home in Mereseni in the evening. Shawn, the volunteer I was visiting, was more than happy to help me with the first part of my day. No one, it seemed, was eager to help me with the second part.
Even the bus system conspired against my leaving. Normally, there are two buses out of Rosietici that leave on the paved road from the center of the village: one at 7:30 a.m. and the other at 10:15 a.m. If you miss these two buses and still want to leave the village, you have to walk 45 minutes to the highway and hitch a ride from there. Compare this to my village, which is on a major road and from which you can find a ride to the county seat or the capital city almost any time of day.
I slept until about 8 a.m., then prepared for the 10:15 bus. But when I woke up, Shawn's host family told me that there was no 10:15 bus that day because it was Sunday. Actually, I was glad to have a chance to repeat the 45-minute walk I had taken the day before, and I was happy to have the flexibility to leave the village any time I wanted during the day. Shawn and I agreed on a plan; first we would see the second bridge, and then in the early afternoon, we would walk to the highway.
Shawn and his family made it clear that I was welcome to stay a second night, especially because the 9th grade graduation ceremony was that night and I could be Shawn's guest. It sounded interesting, but I had no clothes for the occasion and I wanted to get home.
At 11, Shawn and I went for a walk through his village. We saw all three of the stores in the village, two of which had opened in the past month and had already taken large amounts of business away from the poorly stocked store which had previously enjoyed a monopoly. One night several months ago, the owner of one of the new stores was drunk and asked Shawn if he should add a second story to his building and put in a pool table. Shawn said it was a good idea, so the guy climbed up to the newly constructed roof and, in his inebriated state, tore it down to make way for the pool table. The next day, the guy realized that it was a bad idea, and he had to rebuild the store's roof.
We walked to the edge of the village and continued another 10 minutes through some fields until we got to a different bridge on the other side of the village from the bridge we had crossed the day before. This bridge was equal parts scary and hilarious; scary because of its construction, and hilarious because it's hard to imagine a place in the 21st century that depends on a bridge this poor as its connection to the outside world. The bridge was made from four 15-meter steel cables, two on the bottom to support the foot-planks and two up top to serve as handrails. On the bottom, two-by-fours spanned the cables every three or four meters, and those two-by-fours supported 20 cm-wide beams. Each section of the bridge had only one of these beams, creating what basically amounted to an unstable balance beam with handrails.
Shawn said that he had crossed the bridge plenty of times in the past two years, and that he wanted to see me try it on my own while he took pictures from the bank. I started walking across, more confident than I had been on the other bridge the day before because this time I could use my hands to balance. I had no major problems until I got halfway across and noticed that the next beam I needed to walk on was detached from the supporting two-by-four. Putting my weight on it would probably cause it to bend down a foot and cause me to slip backward. I turned around to look at Shawn.
"This board isn't even connected!" I shouted. "How the hell am I supposed to get any further?"
Shawn laughed. "Oh yeah. That just broke recently. Just walk on the cables." That made sense to me, so I spread my legs a meter wide, putting my left foot on one cable and my right foot on the other, and shuffled along for a few meters until I reached a stable plank.
I finished crossing, then got back on the bridge for a few posed pictures. After I crossed back over to the original side and we started walking back to Shawn's village, he told me that I was probably the third American to ever cross that bridge.
We got back to Shawn's house and I prepared to leave for the main road, but Stela, Shawn's host sister, insisted on us eating lunch before we left. In the middle of lunch, Shawn's brother called from America, so he left the table and Stela and I continued talking.
Stela is 28 and has her own tailoring business in Soroca, but has had to leave multiple times to work in Moscow in order to support herself and her mother. After finishing 11th grade, she went to a vocational school, where she learned all of the necessary skills to become a tailor. She then took correspondence courses at the state university in the same subject, but dropped out before her last year because the family didn't have the money to continue her education and she didn't think she was learning anything new that she hadn't already learned in vocational school. After that, as I understood, was the first time that she left for work in Moscow. It was odd seeing her photos from that time, especially because many of the pictures were with her neighbors who were Vietnamese immigrants. Even though I know Russia has the second-largest immigrant population in the world (only the U.S.'s is larger), I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea of Vietnamese immigrants speaking Russian and living in Moscow.
When Stela returned from Moscow, she started a tailoring and clothing rental business with a partner in the large town of Soroca. The first year, she told me, was good. They were able to make money and she enjoyed the work. The second year, however, the government began taxing her business at a higher rate and created a new law saying that businesses like hers had to also own arable land. Why did a tailoring business need to purchase farmland? Stela said she had no idea. She bought land, but soon the new taxes hurt her business too much, and she had to return to work in Moscow.
Only a stupid and corrupt government would make these kinds of regulations to hurt entrepreneurs, I told her. Stela agreed that it was completely non-sensical, but also told me how she copes.
Any time you don't understand how the government could function so poorly, how the system could have so little sense, she said, "just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, 'I'm in Moldova.' Then it'll all make sense, and you can move on."
Our conversation took place on a Sunday, and on Wednesday Stela would return to Moscow to work again as a shopkeeper. "She hates it there," Shawn told me, "but she does what she has to do."
After Stela and I had talked for a half-hour, Shawn got off the phone and we were ready to go. The weather, however, was now looking inhospitable. Clouds were starting to gather, and while I didn't mind walking a little bit in the rain, I didn't want to force Shawn out into the rain, especially because if it started to rain hard, he would have to walk back from the road to his village in the mud. I said goodbye to Stela, and Shawn and I started walking down the side of the gorge to the river. We stopped several times during the descent as the rain went through short spurts of intensity. Every time we stopped, we looked up the hill and saw Stela waving us back to the house. We crossed the same bridge that we had crossed the day before, but just after we had crossed it, it started raining more heavily. I stopped, looked at Shawn, and laughed.
"It's your call, man," Shawn said.
"Oh, screw it," I said. We turned around, crossed the river again and headed back to the village.