Old vs. New

It is a strange thing to be in a place that seems to be straddling centuries.  Or maybe it is a question of more than just centuries. From my viewpoint, it seems like Romanian/Moldovan culture is straddling the divide of old poverty and new wealth.  It is rather disarming to be confronted with the dichotomy in its multitude of variations. It is not present in my mind constantly; it jumps out to the forefront of my consciousness at the spur of a moment.  Let me give you some examples.

Recently we took a trip from Chișinău, Moldova (capital city of Moldova) to Bilca, Romania (remote town with a population of 3000) to spend the Christmas holidays with Daniel’s extended family [more on that in a future blog post].  The trip involved a taxi from our apartment to the main bus depot THEN a minibus ride to Iași, Romania THEN a transfer to another minibus that took us to Suceava, Romania THEN a pick-up from Daniel’s uncle and a car ride from there to the village of Bilca.  [Something like 9 hours total.] While we waited to board the first minibus in Chișinău I decided to use the bathroom at the bus depot even though I had just gone in our apartment. You know…the nervous road trip bladder feeling? In any case, I made sure to take some money with me because this ain’t my first European bathroom rodeo.  I started to get a little nervous when I saw the bathroom was down a flight of stairs into a basement, and then more nervous when I smelled the air down there. But I faithfully paid my 3 Moldovan lei (approximately 20 cents) and was given a foot long length of pre-torn toilet paper. I rounded the corner and saw this:

I don’t post the picture to seem shocking.  I’ve used plenty of pit toilets in the woods.  I know that many people worldwide don’t have running water.  What is shocking is that the women going in and out of the bathroom looked so put together.  As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, Moldovans make every effort to look nice when they go out in public.  So these women have fancy leather boots and stylish outfits with hair and make-up done just so. When I look at these women walking along the street it seems that they are wealthy European women.  But when I see these same women in the bathroom above then I am like – what is going on here? I am conflicted and confused about how these two things exist simultaneously in this one situation.

There were more of these situations in Bilca, the village where Daniel’s Mom is from.  Nearly everyone in the village owns a car, and often they are nice cars. Most of Daniel’s family drives Audis and BMWs.  In fact, we never saw so many BMWs in one place (except for in a dealership) as we did in the parochial church parking lot.  [To be fair, these cars are much cheaper to buy in Europe and they are almost always7 or 8 years old]. But even with mostly fancy cars zipping along the roads, it is not uncommon to see these moving much more slowly in the same lane as the cars:

We went for a walk one day along the main road in the village and we were passed by 3 such carts with horses.  Does the person in this picture own a car but chooses instead to use the horse and cart for farm work? Or can this person not afford a car?  How do I make sense of these two disparate things existing side-by-side?

And yet another example from Bilca.

These wells are everywhere.  They are outside of most, if not all, homes in the village.  And as you can see, some are obviously still in use. However, have you seen some of the bathrooms that exist in Romanian houses?  They have huge jacuzzi tubs and showers and heated tile floors. In fact, one of the bathrooms at a house where we stayed was certainly larger than the spare bedroom in our condo in Madison.  Honestly it might have been larger than the master bedroom in our condo. This combination of wealth and poverty and old and new and traditional and modern has not ceased to confound me.

But this is one reason why we travel, right?  To see new things that cause us to question our assumptions.  Every time my mind is blown by such a dichotomy I can only hope that my viewpoint is a little wider….a little less judgmental….and a little more generous than it was before.  Hah – either that or I am just way more confused in general. It’s hard to say in the thick of it.