Today we are going to Tiraspol in Trans Istria (also called Transnistria or Transdniestria because of the river Dniester that divides it from the rest of Moldova), an autonomous region of Moldova. Trans Istria is Communist and doesn’t want to be part of Moldova. In fact, they have sent a request to President Putin of Russia to become part of Russia. His response was that he would consider their request in due time (presumably to give him time to conquer the region of Odessa in Ukraine). This is wonderful for us because if he had said yes right away, then we would not be able to go there without a visa and an invitation. As it is, we were invited, and are going to visit Natasha, one of the teachers who had come to the conference, and to sit in on her English class.
We have to be very careful about how we travel. Although we have a van, we will be taking a bus there. On the bus we will need to be careful to blend in as much as possible, which means no loud talking among ourselves, no laughing or smiling, no conversation with the people around us, and not volunteering any information about ourselves or our reason for entering the region. At the checkpoint, we will be asked to show our passports and to fill out a form about ourselves and our reason for entering. We were instructed to give as little detail as possible, and to refuse to fill in the entire form. Our reason for entering is tourism, and since we will be exiting the region tonight, they can’t force us to fill in the entire form.
For me, keeping a low profile is not a problem except that my bright red hair, cut in a strange style, and my brightly-colored wardrobe tend to draw attention. Had I known about this when packing for the trip, I would have packed appropriate clothing. But I came up with a plan: I will wear my gray T-shirt inside-out. At least that much will be plain as plain can be. I can’t do anything about my lime green jacket or multi-colored scarf and hat. But perhaps it will be warm enough that I won’t need them . . . at least that’s what I hope.
So with this rather scary prospect in mind, we sat over supper and without planning to do so, we got all the silliness out of our systems. Sally started it with a hilarious translation of a Polish phrase for “dinner is served.” From there the evening progressed into more and more laughter and giggles, howling and chuckling. We frequently asked ourselves what we’ll do at the checkpoint if a fit of laughter overtakes us. But I don’t think it will. We really laughed so hard that our sides were aching.
The Next Day
Our trip to Tiraspol went very smoothly. We took very little with us, besides our cameras, some money, passports (of course), and umbrellas in case it rains. We were given the checkpoint form to fill out at the bus station in Chisinau. The bottom half of the form was exactly like the top half, so I filled in only the top. But we were told to fill in both halves.
About half an hour later, at the checkpoint, the guard took a look at my form and passport. He shoved the form back at me immediately, saying something in Russian. Jurek translated, “You need to fill in your father’s name.” And what they wanted was my father’s first name. Then the guard took a very long time, perhaps checking me out on the internet. Finally, he handed my passport back with only the lower half of the form, which he had stamped. Eventually, we all got through the checkpoint without any problem.
The most obvious difference between Trans Istria and Moldova was that the roads were noticeably better in Trans Istria. Also, the signs in Moldova are in either Moldovan (essentially Romanian) or Russian or both. In Trans Istria, the signs were exclusively in Russian. I remembered what I had learned of the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria, and was able to figure out some of the signs we saw: аптека (pharmacy), фото (photo), телефон (telephone), and кофе (coffee).
Natasha met us at the bus stop and led us two blocks away to the church. The church has rented space in an enormous ex-Soviet exhibition center. Natasha took us upstairs to meet her English club, and there the five of us split up and joined in the groups. In my group I met Jessie, an American girl from San Francisco—where I grew up. Talk about a small world. Jessie was there with the World Racers, a group of young adults who sign on to do missions in eleven countries in eleven months. What an adventure!
Over lunch Natasha told us some easy and fun ways to remember simple Russian phrases.
Natasha’s Crash Course in Russian:
- Godzilla? (Как дела?) – How are you?
- Space Bob (спасибо) – Thank you
- Yellow blue bus (Я тебя люблю) – I love you
I think that if Natasha’s English classes are as fun as her little Russian lesson, then she must be a really fun teacher.
On the bus home the woman across from me had a rabbit in her lap. We laughed about how scared we had been about the checkpoint and the KGB, and instead we rode home with a fluffy bunny. God is good!