As an expat or a traveler have you ever done something the hard way rather than the easy way? For moral reasons perhaps, because you are a high-minded person. Or for financial reasons, or because you had no clue, or because you’re an
innocent idiot like me, Miss Footloose, now living the expat life in Chisinau, Moldova.
On my way home from my Romanian language lesson one morning I stop by a little street market to buy peaches. Most of the vendors are older women, perhaps selling their own homegrown produce. The peaches are small but wonderfully sweet and flavorful and have apparently not been adulterated with chemicals. At least one hopes. I buy two kilos, about 4.5 pounds. No, really, you don’t want to know how cheap they are.
Minibuses galore at this location so I‘m thinking to go native and take one home. I’ve been on them several times and they are cheap and convenient, stopping anywhere you want to get on or off. The first one comes along quickly but is jam packed full and I watch as the people ahead of me try squashing themselves into it and I think, heck no. I’ll wait for the next one. I eye the taxi sitting right there waiting for a fare, but really, why not take a minibus? It is so easy and it makes me feel like I belong here, that I know how to do as the natives do. You try to get your kicks where you can, you know.
Several minibuses with different destinations stop and go and are all full. It is shopping time, going by the passengers and their shopping bags. When my number 154 arrives, it looks full as well, but several passengers struggle out. A few people ahead of me get in and I assess the situation and see there is now room for one more, and that would be me since I’m next. So I get in and hand the driver my fare and stand there, just clearing the door. I’m thinking the door will close and we’ll take off. Ah, the innocence of a new expat in Moldova!
Behind me three stout matrons with ample bosoms and overflowing shopping bags start pushing at me trying to get in as well, pressing up against my back and butt with all their might. But I have nowhere to go and stand there rooted to the floor next to the driver, trying not to fall in his lap. But they keep shoving at me as if I’m a piece of furniture and yelling in a most unladylike fashion. What they say I don’t know but whatever it is I’m not moving. I mean, please, I need space for my chest to move in and out so my lungs can take in whatever oxygen is available, which isn’t much.
Unable to close the door, the driver just sits there staring blankly into space. Apparently he has seen this show before, and is possibly taking advantage of the situation and having a mini meditation break.
The Moldovan mamas are not about to give up. They keep pushing at me and yelling like the proverbial fish wives until ahead of me some people – desperate to get going, I assume – shuffle around and make a few more inches of space. I move into it and all three women shove themselves and their bags in behind me. It is unbelievable. My earlier experiences with half-empty minibuses have not prepared me for this spectacle.
It is well into the 80s F (over 30 C) and I’ll leave you to imagine the temperature in the van with all the body heat pouring forth with abandon. However, since this is not Africa, there are no live goats and chickens aboard, so I count my blessings. This is going to extremes to find a silver lining, I know, but there it is.
We finally take off and I hang onto the hand rail and hope we don’t hit pot holes or crash. With my face buried in someone’s shoulder, my view is thoroughly obstructed and I can’t see where we are. Several stops later the situation has not improved. Bags, butts and boobs battle for space and I still have no view of the outside. I have to make a wild guess where to get off.
I end up a couple of intersections too far, but at least I know where I am and trudge home, bruised and sweaty and an adventure richer.
Let me tell you, going native isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Next time I’m in that location at that time, I’ll go native on a bit grander scale and take a taxi.
Sadly, my peaches have suffered greatly in the battle of the bodies. Half of them have perished and are dead on arrival. Doing triage on the other half is a sticky, messy business.
And so it goes.
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This is a feeble story compared to traveling on public transportation in Africa, Asia and other delightful places. I know this. Now, horrify me with your tales of survival on public transportation.