PHOTOS AND TEXT: NEIL THOMSON
Squashed between the Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Since becoming independent in 1991 from the USSR there have been a couple of nasty little civil wars. Everybody there has guns, which is a little surprising as they can barely afford to eat. Our translator taught English at the university and got paid £10 a month. The country is full of orphans because their parents have ventured to Moscow to find work or fled illegally to Western Europe. Most blame a corrupt government and the Red Mafia, which is effectively the same thing. The chances of Moldova joining the EU are practically nil because of this.
It’s estimated about a third of the population have left. They mostly end up in the sex trade or doing dangerous construction work and only rarely make it back. The landscape is bleak and featureless and most people live in isolated villages doing subsistence farming. The Moldovans are great, though. The kids are really fit and healthy as they have to walk miles to school and fetch water from wells instead of eating, shopping and complaining like they do over here. They also love painting everything blue for some reason, which I suppose cheers the place up a bit. I urge you to support the charities listed above as they are helping to make a difference over there.
The guy at the top has no legs so the other guy carries him around all day. They even share a bed at the Brenzeni Insane Asylum which is about two hours from Balti. The people there are not all totally insane but more completely institutionalised. Some are Afghan and Chechen war veterans who have had complete breakdowns. Most have been there since being abandoned as children.
Drochia Orphanage is in the far north of Moldova and home to 200 orphans, many of whom are mentally ill. With no govenment support, they have to farm their own food.
Despite the -30 degrees winters, doorless houses are common. Many houses we saw are made from wood and stuff the owners find on the street.
There are fierce dogs everywhere—and I mean really fierce—especially where livestock is kept. You have to be especially careful in the summer as that’s the peak time for rabies.
Max Power Moldova style.
A market in Balti. They believe in nose-to-tail eating in Moldova, a bit like Heston Blumenthal. I’m sure they'd rather be eating quater-pounders with chesse. Although I have to say the offal stew our driver made out of this stuff was delicious.
Alexander Bucur, left, and her great aunt. Alexander works in the fields instead of going to school. Her mum disappeared three years ago.
Old women knitting around a table in the Brenzeni Asylum. These women have been in this institution for their entire lives, pretty much.
There are graveyards everywhere and all the crosses are mostly blue. With death being so close at hand a lot of the time, the Moldovans look after their deceased friends and family very carefully, which is quite touching.
This is Katya, 18, whose mum died a year ago leaving her to look after five siblings in a one-room house. She has no job and lives in a village in the middle of nowhere. She was very proud and it took her hours to admit she didn't have enough wood to heat and cook through the winter. This would probably have meant that a couple of the kids would have got sick and died. However, $20 from the charity ensured enough fuel for their survival. It’s a small amount to us, but not to them.
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