Tuesday, December 23, 2008

And Then Transdniestria Got in the Way… – Part 3

We eventually relented, thinking, “How often would we get to see a Moldovan village house?” Probably never again. So off we went up the road, which soon turned into muddy tire ruts. You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when the pavement in a village ends and all you have left are makeshift tracks that horse-drawn carriages only stopped using twenty years ago.

After a quick right turn and up a small hill, we arrived at the residence of our new friend. It was a modest dwelling. An addition had been made to the front of the house that now represented a kitchen. We were ushered in and sat around the table. There was stuff everywhere; strange sweets, coffee packets, vodka bottles strewn about.

Our friend continued with the vodka while water was boiled for coffee. Then the guy’s phone started ringing. Conversation and conversation in Moldovan. In between calls he kept saying how is wife was in Italy and how his friends were part of the mafia. He also had a relative in Canada who he was trying to call. Who really knew what was going on?

The next grand idea was to put on some Moldovan/Romanian music videos. Our friend popped one of two VHS tapes into the VCR and pressed play. Unsurprisingly, all I remember from them is a Romanian girl prancing around on a stage wearing the shortest dress known to man. I wonder how many times these tapes had been watched.

After our little foray into the local music scene, we were given the grand tour. Behind the kitchen was the bedroom. “Italian furnishings,” the man would continually exclaim. The room to the right was a living room. There were the customary pictures of the man and his parents. In the corner were pictures of his sons. He had two. One was a DJ somewhere in the Moldova, the other was into computers. Outside we went.

The yard had a small shed and another building that we soon learned acted as a home for the mother. She was an incredibly sweet woman. Her pension was virtually non-existent, so her days were spent tending the garden and making preserves.

We were then introduced to the neighbour, a Belarusian who was busy building a sauna or something. The guy had the biggest nose I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but ponder how on earth a Belarusian ended up in rural Moldova.

Back inside we went and back to the phone went our friend. I think he was trying to arrange us a ride to the border, or maybe he was organizing a sale of our body parts. Either way, we were in for something interesting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Deliciousness at its Finest

Last night witnessed the best pizza to ever be created in the city of Baku.

Photo evidence is here.

Literal evidence is here.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

And then Transdniestria Got in the Way... - Part 2

Sure enough, along came a man carrying grapes, vodka, smoked fish, and chocolate. In many of the countries around the world that equals a party. Think about all the things you could do with those ingredients.... But I digress...

He took a look in our direction, looked back in the direction he was going, and then, in a double-take for the ages, realized what was wrong with the the picture he had just looked at. What was normally a serene memorial to those lost, including his father, in the Great Patriotic War, had suddenly been infiltrated by two aliens (although it could be argued that one could potentially be Moldovan. There was something about the hat).

If there is anything we have learned from movies about meeting aliens, it's that we should approach them, speak in English, and then proceed to get vaporized by some space-age weapon not seen on Earth for the next thousand years. Our soon-to-be Moldovan friend had obviously not seen those movies. On his second take, he started to approach us and, in French, ushered a cheerful "Bonjour!"

"Here we go..." I thought instinctively, having been through this before. "Was that vodka in his bag?"

Moldovan is very similar to Romanian which is part of the Romance language family that includes French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. I suppose it is logical that the man tried French as a first option. After all, it's not as if Russians ever come to these parts. They prefer Odessa and Transdniestria (or so the latter would like to think).

Alas, Russian was determined to be the language of choice. In hindsight, was there a more perfect pairing with the Russian birch leaf vodka the man pulled out of his bag? Would the day have gone differently had we been speaking Moldovan and drinking Croatian plum schnapps?

"Wait, wait. We don't have glasses. Let me go to my house and grab some. I will be back. Please stay here," he urged. So we waited. It was perhaps a bit early for vodka. But then you realize that it's never too early for vodka in the former Soviet Union. It would be an insult not to have a drink or six.

The man returned with clean glasses and a renewed passion for the sport of drinking a clear, potent liquid from a glass as fast as you can. He was decidedly drunk already, but we figured an extra shot or two wasn't going to disrupt the balance.

We raised our glasses to friendship, to his father, to Canada, to Moldova, to the Great Patriotic war; every shot chased with juice, lots of juice. The question was then posed, "Do you guys want to come see my house? We can have coffee."

Admittedly, we had nothing to do other than walk back to the train station. I was also under the impression that the man would not take "No" for an answer.


End of Part 2

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Going to be a Long Winter...

"Residents of Baku and one of the biggest cities of Azerbaijan - Sumgayit- will be left without water, both technical and fresh water from 15:00 Thursday, said chief of the general department of Sumgayitelektrikshebeke Eyar Gasimov, according to Novosti-Azerbaijan."


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day I Had a Meeting with the Georgian Finance Minister

Quote of the Day:

"For God's sake, I don't even know what the purpose of that tax was. It's completely ridiculous."

-The Georgian Finance Minister discussing a tax placed on vehicles

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Canadian Government

As a Canadian, I feel obligated to say at least something about what's going on with my government. Unfortunately, I don't live in the country so it's hard to guage the ineptitude of the current government in dealing with the economic crisis.

The basic situation is this: the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons, but it is not an absolute majority. This is what's called a minority government. Four other parties are represented, which when their number seats are combined, equal more than the Conservative party's. Three of those parties threatened to form a coalition in response to the Conservatives' plan to cut funding to political parties and their lack of any sort of plan to aid the struggling economy. To prevent that, the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, suspended parliament until January 26th.

So now we find ourselves at a stalemate and the government is on vacation until January 26th. That basically means 8 weeks of the goverment doing nothing to fix the economy. Could you imagine if the US Congress just gave up the ghost for 8 weeks while the entire economy slipped deep into recession?

Obviously, the current situation has sparked polarized opinions across the country. Some people are for the new coalition, some are against. The latter, and the Conservative party, argue that this coalition goes against democracy (we had an election 8 weeks ago and the electorate chose a Conservative minority). The former says that if the government is going to sit there and do nothing will the economy falls into recession, something needs to be done.

There is one thing that puzzles me about the anti-coalition argument about this move being "anti-democracy." First of all, when you look at the percentage of votes that each party got, you see that the Conservatives had almost 38%. Now, when you add the percentages of the other 3 parties (the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois) together, you get almost 55%. Perhaps I'm wrong here, but isn't such a coalition more representative of the electorate's will? The same holds true for the number of seats that the coalition would have versus the Conversatives (163 vs. 143).

Second, isn't this the point of a minority government? To form coalitions and ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISH THINGS. As the electorate, we were obviously not fully convinced that one party could lead the nation. So shouldn't we be happy that three parties are willing to put aside their political differences in order to do something about the problems facing the country?

Minority governments are great in theory for this exact reason. You have input from multiple sides in order to reach a solid solution that everyone can agree with.

The Road to Moldova in Pictures

Moldova - the road to Chisinau

On the train to Moldova.

Train Station in Chernovitse

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

And then Transdniestria got in the way...

Trandneistria. You may have heard the name, but you probably couldn't point it out on a map, right? Not that this is anything to be embarrassed about (most maps don't show it). In short, it's a long, narrow strip of land that sits between the Dneister River and the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Why is it special? Because it is a self-proclaimed autonomous region that the world does not recognize.

Once you've lived in the former Soviet Union, you realize just how problematic "autonomous" regions can be to your travel plans. They often block direct passage from one country to another. If you attempt to pass through them, you better get ready to bribe your away to the other side. These regions play by their own rules, which are, not surprisingly, very rarely foreigner-friendly.

Some might relish the opportunity to go to one of these places, while others wouldn't go near them with a thousand-foot pole. As my Dad and I were sitting in an internet cafe in Chernovitse pondering the next phase of your journey, my mind was see-sawing back and forth between the two polar opposites.

You see, the plan was to go from Chernovitse, through Moldova to Chisinau, and then on to Odessa before going back to Kiev. A brilliant plan on paper; not so easy in practice. Enter our old friend Transdniestria. It conveniently controls the main road between Chisinau and Odessa. Want to cross through it? You better be prepared to buck up.

We were short on time, so a rendezvous with Transdneistrian border patrols, however tempting it was, seemed out of the question. Instead, we decided to jump on a local train, cross the border, and get off somewhere random.

Rural. That's about how I would describe where we got off. A small road, ironically the main road in Moldova, meandered its way southeast to Chisinau. Buses roared passed every once and a while as we walked without anything resembling a destination in mind. What I would've done for a bike....

We stopped for lunch in front of an old Soviet war monument. Let's see. Two foreigners sitting on cement steps eating bread and meat from a bag. It was only a matter of time before a local came up and asked us what was going on. We were like magnets in a lead storm.

End of Part 1