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Summer Holiday • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
We had all traveled to Moldova to teach, but due to the summer holidays
that had just started there would be a break of two weeks before summer
school was to start, which was extra lesson for those that could afford to
pay. This suited me fine as I was here for a year, it gave me plenty of time.
So I quite looked forward to two weeks of exploring in this glorious
It was unfortunate though for Andrew and Amanda who were only here for
one month, being teachers by trade it was something they had been looking
forward too. But that’s Teaching Abroad for you. It did not take long before
we found the local drinking spot of the English, the Flamingo Bar, that by
all accounts the Mafia owned, but seeing as we spent good money there they
never gave us too much trouble and even at times a little protection was on
hand if any of the locals got out of hand.
On our first visit there it was surprising to see that there was a pecking order
within our own people, which was based on the length of time that you had
been here which made us very much the new boys. Never being one for such
childish behaviour I decided to distance myself as much as possible from the
old timers who were of an average age of twenty and had been in the
country for less than six weeks maximum. I was here to learn about
Moldova and its people, not spend all my time with a bunch of kids who
seemed to want to spend all their time in each others company.
In a way it is the typical attitude of the British when abroad, I have
witnessed them in resorts like Spain and Greece, eating fish and chips and
demanding an English breakfast and English beer.
We can criticise the Germans for always getting the sun beds first thing in
the morning but maybe we should look at ourselves when we are in someone
else’s country. We are the foreigners, not them.
Some of the locals had been able to infiltrate the group of Westerners and
there was even a bit of East-West relationships going on, but all in all it did
not amount to much. I watched some time later these Western people leave
Moldova for home over the following months, to fond farewells and tears by
The English who had been taken into their homes and treated like one of the
family promised so much as they waved goodbye, but they were escaping
and leaving this land of struggles for ever. I was able to witness the results
of all these false promises and in many cases had to take the responsibility
for my countrymen. Many times these families would stop me in the street
or ring me at home to see if I had heard from their lost friend. Of course I
hadn’t, but tried my best to comfort them with excuses that the post was late
or maybe the phones were not working. Sometimes weeks turned into
months and then it became obvious that no one was going to write let alone
send the invitation that had been promised.
If any of you read this book, my message to you is simple don’t come again,
as you have done nothing to help Moldova or its people. To be fair to some,
they have not only written but sent lots of interesting information to the
schools, which I have spent most of my time translating, and once an old
hand who had first come in 1993 even came back to claim his bride.
As the sunny summer days flew by and the attraction of the Flamingo Bar
wore off for me and our small group we found that our afternoons, and
sometimes all day would be spent sunning ourselves by the outdoor
swimming pool. Not being the cleanest I have ever used and the toilets being
an absolute no no for us all due to the state of them, it was still by all
accounts a very pleasant place.
Also it suited me very well as it was only five minutes from where I was
staying even if at times we had to go and collect Jane, who was on the other
side of the city, a task that we split between Tolic, Andrew and myself.
After a few visits to the pool we started to get the impression that we were
becoming as much of an attraction as the pool itself. With the younger
members of our host families we would set out our camp with the towels
and the music playing we would don ourselves with suntan oil and chill out.
For the locals this must have seemed very strange for as far as they were
concerned a swimming pool was for swimming, not for the one or two
minute dip we allowed ourselves.
This was actually pointed out by Tolic, who would spend up to five hours
submerged in the murky water and came out looking like a prune. We found
the need to re-name him mermaid, which after explaining that it meant man
who liked to swim pleased him no end.
After one week in Belti, my food rations that I had brought with me from
England were finally used up, mostly at the pool. Everyone would bring
whatever food they could find which was normally bread or some cheese;
we would do the best we could to make sandwiches or a small salad.
It was always interesting whenever a tin of peaches or pineapple was
opened, as our host had never eaten them before. Their faces would light up
like a child’s at Christmas at the smell and the taste of this simple food, I
would always have mixed emotions of joy that I could give them this
pleasure and anger that they could not have it every day like the rest of us.
When things were really bad for me some months later I rang my mum
pleading to be sent some food, she rushed out and bought the things that I
had requested, plus those little items that only mums think about. It cost £23,
or two months wages to send the parcel to me, which seemed very
extravagant but I was thinking of my sanity at the time, not money.
We then waited patiently for four weeks until the parcel arrived.
When at last the small box was collected from the post office we set it on the
kitchen table for over ten minutes before temptation got the better of us and
the mother of the house took the responsibility of opening it to the delight of
all of us.
We immediately tucked into the contents of chocolate and soups only saving
things like custard and tinned meats for later.
As it turned out I did not get a great deal of my mums present, for the look
of surprise and wonder on the families faces as they tucked into Crunchy
bars and Kit Kats was all I needed to keep me going.
When, if ever these people do become free it would be a wonderful
experience for us Westerners to take them on a day trip to Sainsbury’s or
Tesco the wonders of these places for them would be something that their
imaginations could not even comprehend.
As we sat by the pool tucking into the delicious contents of a tin of cold
baked beans, the local children would sit at a respectful distance from us
watching our every move, which made it difficult to enjoy our banquet to its
To try and share as best we could we offered Smartie sweets to our
audience, which resulted in them running off to get more of their friends.
Unfortunately, our limited supply ran out just as the last few children
collected their ration.
Settling back down to catch some more rays of sunshine, we were
approached by a middle-aged couple whose son we had given sweets to.
Fearing the worst that maybe we had offended them in some way I quickly
looked around to see where Tolic was. He was still looking for sunken
treasure at the bottom of the murky pool. Fortunately, we had jumped to the
wrong conclusion, with one of the kids interpreting for us; we discovered
that we had been invited to a party.
We had learnt earlier, that to refuse the invitation would be an insult so we
accepted with smiles and an outstretched hand of friendship.
Our new found friends took it upon themselves to join us, and spent most of
the afternoon trying to look like one of us.
The invitation had been arranged for the following evening, so it was
decided to go back to Tolic’s for the night, not just because it was the
nearest but he always had a good stock of booze. Not having had much food
that day and with out much on offer, plus no opportunity to get any, we were
soon feeling the effects of the wine after only a few glasses.
My English companions settled into one corner playing a card game which
didn’t seemed to consist of any rules what so ever.
Then Tolic decided that we would all like to hear his favourite heavy metal
song over and over again, which after six repeats forced us to persuade him
to put the earphones on. This left me and his girl friend, who fortunately for
me spoke very good English, a good opportunity for me to find out more
about these strange females that seemed to be everywhere. They would look
at me as if I had just landed from out of space, but would turn away when
Now I had the opportunity as I had one cornered whom seemed friendly
enough and more than willing to talk, helped even more so by the wine. Talk
she did for the next two hours, I was to learn many truths about this country
and its hardships, more than I had bargained for.
A Young Boy Living on the Streets Hopeing for Help
Again the next day we spent the afternoon in the pool before going to
Tolic’s and getting ready for the party, which fortunately was in the same
district. We had all decided again that it would be best to stay at Tolic’s
house after the party so that we would be able to stay longer than 10.30
when the last bus departed. It still meant that there would be a twenty-
minute walk home, but that was acceptable to us all.
Setting off in our small group on a summer evening through the dusty back
streets of Belti, all of us seemed to be in a happy, carefree mood, even
though the surroundings were nothing to smile about especially if you lived
there, but we seemed not to notice. Maybe we had got used to it already and
accepted things as they came like most of the people here had to do. Had it
only been a week since we arrived, for all of us it seemed like we had been
here for months.
Even Jane had become settled; she had been able to change her return date
back to the UK, forward by three weeks so that she would be here for five
weeks in all and not the eight she had first booked. I think that she was
beginning to regret this decision. Amanda was suffering, but it was the
mosquitoes that was her biggest problem, we had all been affected by their
stings when sleeping, and I was in the position to be able to boast having at
least fifty bites on my back alone which far outdone her half dozen.
But I would not have swapped, for where mine was just mild irritations that
would soon pass once cream was applied, she had to suffer large blood
blisters that would swell until they burst, a most unpleasant affair which she
coped with as best as she could.
We found that it seemed to be only the English that attracted such a reaction
from these infernal pests, the locals did get bitten but you would need a
magnifying glass to find out where. Without any insect killer sprays to be
found anywhere, the only way to catch them was to hunt them down with
the vacuum cleaner. An instrument that I never saw used for anything else
but this. People seemed to prefer to sweep the carpets with straw brushes
than vacuum them.
I found it very amusing if nothing else to hear the continuous hum
throughout the night as people tried to suck up the last mosquitoes that had
managed to hide away until the lights were off. With no such defence at
Tolic's due to the lack of a cleaner, whenever we saw one of the offending
insects there would be a mad swinging of arms, and newspapers in the hope
of striking lucky, which must have looked quite strange for any onlookers.
Tolic led us to the correct apartment block as usual, taking our shoes off as
is the custom, at the fount door. Misha greeted us with slippers and
introductions to the gathering he had assembled in our honour. The small
flat with so many guests in it reminded me of a trolley bus. The eating table
seemed to take up the whole room but still did not look big enough to seat
But it was managed at a squeeze. Food had already been placed on the table,
a varied selection that looked very appetising if not strange.
I was trying my best to eat whatever I could, but most of the time it was
impossible mainly because I had seen where they had bought it from and
how it was prepared. The meat was the main problem, not only did it consist
of fat and gristle but seemed to be handled by everyone who wanted to
examine its quality before buying. Needless to say that most of us kept away
from the meats to the extent that we were telling everyone that we were
But as the evening progressed, we were all later to change our minds, as one
by one we gave in to temptation and the natural requirements of our bodies
and tucked into what turned out to be very good food.
Of course at every opportunity it was expected for us to have a toast. The
custom is to down your glass of Vodka in one, which at twice the strength of
Western spirits and being on average equivalent to six shots it did not take
long before the effects were felt. In the end we were toasting not only to
each of our countries, to health and wealth, but to even the pet cat and
goldfish. This of course resulted in us feeling very sorry for ourselves the
next day, ‘but when in Russia’.
The other guests who sat around our table seemed to listen to every word we
spoke with the greatest of interest, but were not able to understand a word,
just to be in our company was good enough for them.
Leaving just before 11 o'clock with our collection of small gifts that had
been thrust upon us, one being presented to Andrew from an old K.G.B.
officer who Andrew had found in the next-door flat. We all felt very jolly
and rather worse for the drink.
Now feeling at ease with our surroundings we broke into song, and sang
whatever tunes we could remember, which ranged from carols to rugby
songs, normally Welsh of course.
Taking a different route home so as to have the aid of street lights, we ended
up passing a disco which was on the opposite side of the road which was
renown for Mafia and prostitutes who were actually soliciting on the street
right then. We had only just passed when a group of police who had been
drinking in the bar stepped in our way and stopped us.
As they grabbed Andrews and my arms Tolic was doing his best to calm
down the situation. Never having been searched before I found it quite
frightening to be pushed against a wall with arms and legs apart and have
someone go through my pockets. When they had finished with us they
turned to the girls who were trying to look as small as possible. Having our
privacy invaded was one thing, but when the same is going to be done to
your loved ones it is a different matter.
The look in Amanda’s eyes was enough to make Andrew become crazed
with anger. The thought of these drunken policemen touching her was too
much for him, for we all knew that it wasn’t going to be their pockets they
would be going through. As Andrew moved forward to intercept the
policeman I had a mad thought to try and stop him, but the look on his face
was enough to stop me in my tracks. The situation was now getting very
much out of hand; Tolic was still trying to reason with the most senior of
them. Andrew was standing between three policemen with guns and
Amanda with other men still holding the arms of the girls and myself. For a
moment no one moved or said a word, then to our surprise after just one
word from the senior officer they all backed off and we were told to go
which we did as quickly as possible.
The rest of that night we tried to make sense of the whole thing. They had
stolen our money and bus passes, but more important they had stolen any
desire we had of staying in their country. We all knew how bad this place
was, but if you can’t trust the police then whom could you trust.
I have never liked the police in my own country, but at least I knew that
most were true and honest people that were there to look after the citizens.
But here they were just as bad as the criminals. The reason for their action
had been our singing, which just amazed me.
They were drunk and on duty, talking to prostitutes who were selling
themselves right in front of them and standing outside a disco where the
music was far louder than any noise that we could make. It was then decided
after we had talked the whole matter through several times that we would
have to do something about the incidence. My own thoughts were to let it go
and learn by the experience, but I found that this was not the opinion of
everyone else so I fell in line with the majority. Tolic made a telephone call
to the police station which only resulted in us getting more agro, for they
seemed to be having their own party and were far to busy to deal with our
After informing us of the beating that the police had given him a few years
before, that saw him with broken legs, Tolic left for the station himself.
Needless to say none of us slept much that night worrying about our friend
who not only was trying to look after us but also was making his own stand
for justice in this lawless society.
A telephone call early that morning saw Tolic, Sofia and me outside the
police H.Q., which was one place I did not want to be. The commissioner
listened but did his paperwork at the same time and would stop the
proceedings to answer lengthy telephone calls. After forty minutes I was just
as uninterested as he was. The sting in the tail came when I asked for it to be
translated, and that we had had been personally invited to his country by his
government, also that if we had no satisfaction from him then next we would
speak with the government.
Looking me right in the eye to see if I was lying to him did no good
Having spent many of my younger days as an insurance salesman I could lie
with the best of them. He obviously did not find me out for within one hour
we were in front of five hundred assembled police officers for an ID parade.
I did not wish to say at the time but through almost all of last night’s
incident, I had been looking at my feet not anyone’s faces. Needless to say
the poor soul they picked out was the wrong policeman but as he was
dragged off I found that there was no sympathy in my heart for him.
Two days later we received a telephone call with instructions for Tolic and
myself to stand on a certain street corner at a given time. Apparently the real
culprits had confessed so as to save their colleagues. Maybe there is an
honour amongst thieves. They had been instructed by the Commissioner to
meet us for what reason I could not get Tolic to tell me. He simply said that
it was a surprise. I saw the police lorry with its armour plating coming down
the road, seeing the worried look on my face and that I was looking around
for a place to hide, my friend told me that it would be O.K., which to be
honest I did not believe. As the vehicle stopped four men got out, I was
ready to wet myself, but instead of guns or sticks in their hands they were
carrying plastic bags full of meat, vegetables, champagne and Vodka. It was
a bribe, we were getting paid off, in my mind and I am sure my friends as
well, this was making us no better than them.
But there wasn’t anything that could be done, if the bribe was not accepted
then there were not many other options open to them. To be honest we had
gotten this far on a lie, so what the heck. Walking back home with the bags I
dared not to look behind, and only felt safe again when the door was closed.
The story of how we stood up for our rights was one that I would have liked
to play down mainly because I had planned to stay longer than the others
and did not want to have a mark on my head. Tolic had other ideas; he was
determined to let everyone know how he beat the system. Any ideas of
immunity that our English group now thought it had were soon dashed when
we heard that one of the longer serving Brits had been picked up in the street
He was taken down to the local station beaten and robbed of fifty Dollars,
which is about two month’s wages here. So much for us standing up for our
rights, but at least we were able to make a stand, most people here do not
even get that chance. They sort out their own problems as best they can and
bend to the will of the criminal who for the police is a good source of
We went to many other parties that summer, but never sang any more songs,
and never walked home again.