Friday, March 10, 2006

Dinner discussion in Mereseni

Three meals a day in Mereseni were all served in the warm and toasty little house the parents cook and sleep in during the winter. Ann's favorite dish was chopped eggs, chopped crab meat and corn mixed with a mayonnaise dressing. We will try to duplicate it at home. Ann was craving some scrambled egg and toast but alas it was not to be. Maria spends lots of time cooking and cleaning up with no running water or conveniences we take for granted. She was most gracious and we enjoyed our discussions with the family.

One of the things that I enjoyed with both families (Costesti and Mereseni) was a brief discussion about life in Moldova and politics after dinner. The stories and views on each of our respective countries were interesting. The Moldova stories included:

  • Loss of savings - one of the things that I understood is that Dmitru and Maria had saved a reasonable amount of money, built their house and sent two children to college as lawyers. However, they were in a much worse financial than in the USSR. The conversation was about how they lost so much money in the banking crisis in 1998 and since. I did some research afterwards, and discovered that 1998 was a major financial panic in Russia and all of the CIS (read this Washington Times supplement from 1999... a bit dated and overly "Moldova is great and there are no problems... I do suggest reading it as a general overview, and to find out that Sacramento is sister-city to Chisinau). The value of the leu went from 5 leu to the dollar to the 13 leu today (and this is against the weakening dollar, not the Euro). There have been reports of 30-40% annual inflation. The basic issue is that their financial well-being was significantly at risk as a family. This devaluation took away the savings and resources of many in Moldova. The story is a common one... they didn't have much in communist days, but they knew what they were going to get.
  • Dmitru told a story (more than 15 years ago) about waiting five years to get a car. He finally got a notice in the mail that he was entitled to a car; he picked it up appropriately. Then, two weeks later, he received another identical letter that he was entitled to a car; he was honest and assumed that this was a duplicate. In retrospect, he wishes that he had just worked the inefficient system and taken the second car.
  • Was asked if they had more goods in stores than they did in the Soviet days. Maria said that there was moch more now, and better quality, although they have less money for purchases. Then Maria went on to describe how it worked 15 years ago. She worked a a local store in Mereseni - the Russian shoes, which is what they normally had in stock, were bad. However, when shoes arrived at the store from Germany or Poland, Maria would bring the shoes home for her family, working around the system.
  • Dmitru worked in construction in Portugal for a year (large amounts of the working adults leave the country for "black work;" in a sense, Moldova is to construction in Europe what Mexico is to landscaping in America. He did say that this was the most lucrative year of his life.
  • Discussion of having a Peace Corps Volunteer (they have had 9), how they need to do this to make up for Dimitru's more-local job that an pan-European truck driver, and how they'd like to have the money. It is hard to think of having a peace corps volunteer as a economic boost, but there are numerous stories of families with volunteers boarding having the money to buy a washing machine.

Then conversation then turned to me and our views of the US and Iraq. Peter has covered many of these topics in his blog, but I'll give a quick summary. My main That US was fighting a destructive conflict in Iraq, but that did not reflect the views of the people of the US. If I had one wish, it would be that the people of the United States would acknowledge the issues of Moldova, and spend our money to help their economy get rolling again instead of military campaigns. At the same time, I was encouraged by the government funding of the Peace Corps, and support of the many volunteers in Moldova and around the world; George Bush did double the funding for the Peace Corps.

Water was an interesting topic. One took captured water everywhere. As an example, the melting snow from the roof was collected in buckets, and then emptied in a 55 gallon drum in their cellar. This water was then used for cleaning. There was no running water in the village. When I went for my walk a few days earlier, we passed a tower (30 feet tall, somewhat rusted and with a set of pipes coming out the bottom. This was their former well for the village. It had broken a number of years ago and was not repaired. Peter also explained that the well for this had been too shallow; even when operational it was not good water. The village is applying for a grant to get a new well drilled deeper and get running water functioning again.


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