I should start at the beginning. The missionaries we volunteer for in Moldova have had a spare car for the past couple of years. They loan it out to people who work short-term with them. When we arrived in Moldova, the person driving the car was Ashley. Therefore, we always and forever will refer to the car as “Ashley’s Car.”
Sadly, Ashley left us in the beginning of May. But after her departure the missionaries generously passed her car along to us. The informal agreement was that we would pay for gas and use it as we like, with the understanding that we would also use it to help transport students to and from volunteer events.
Like all things in Moldova, the car transfer happened unexpectedly. As in we were literally getting into somebody’s car to get a ride home from a meeting, and then 5 minutes later we had the car keys and drove ourselves home in “Ashley’s Car”. What this means is that we had no backstory on the car except for a vague knowledge that it DRANK oil. And by “drink” I mean putting oil in every week or two. (YIKES, right??)
Ignoring the signs
For two weeks, we only drove the car around town. Finally we stretched her wings when our friend Colin came to visit. We drove to the airport as well as to Cricova (20ish minutes away). But it was after our hour long drive back from Orhei Vechi that we first ran into problems. Namely lovely white smoke coming from the engine even though the temperature gauge read normally.
No problem though! We were close to our destination so we parked and spent a few hours site seeing. After that, we simply topped of the coolant (ie poured like 2 gallons of water into the car) and then drove home with no problems.
Unfortunately, this incident was the warning of more problems to come. If our life were a horror movie, this would have been the first odd sign – the first piece of moved furniture in a house we ultimately find out is haunted. But as in all horror movies, we remained blissfully unaware. Meanwhile you, the reader, are yelling at us “Don’t go into the basement alone!!! What kind of idiot are you that you don’t see that your house is haunted!!!”
Our house (car) was definitely haunted (dying)
Fast forward to our camping trip. I already told you all about that adventure. So you can imagine that we were hot, sweaty, and exhausted as we piled into the car to return to Chișinău. I was happy to be on the way to a shower and AC, but one of the students was very disappointed that we had left camping an hour ahead of our predetermined schedule.
Just 20 or so minutes outside of the campsite, climbing a steep hill out of the valley, things went south fast. We now had LOTS of white smoke billowing out of the engine. We pulled over, as did our friends in the car behind us. The Moldovan in the car ahead of us had already sped away and didn’t know we stopped.
Again, the temperature gauge read normal. However, things in the engine were most definitely not normal. As I mentioned in the video above, we added water and oil. But deciding we also needed actual coolant, a car drove 20 minutes away to the nearest gas station to buy some. Ultimately we hung out on the side of the road for about an hour while the engine cooled and we waited for the gas station contingency to return.
Major respect for the Moldovans here because it was hella hot and hella annoying to be stuck for that long. But as you can see in the video above, they took it all in stride. And in fact, one of them had the hilarious opinion that we were still “camping” thanks to the breakdown even though we had left the campsite earlier than planned.
The final kilometers for “Ashley’s Car”
After the car cooled and we capped off all the fluids, we made another go at our journey home. And honestly things seemed smooth for the next 40 minutes or so. That is until we started to struggle up a long, shallow hill about 20 minutes outside of Chișinău. Daniel noticed that the engine wasn’t switching gears. But it was the car in front of us that noticed more white smoke streaming under the car as we drove.
We pulled over yet again, this time without the hemming and hawing and amateur diagnostics. Quickly we decided that a tow truck was the best way to go. Within just three minutes, the Moldovans all hopped into other cars and sped off back to the city. One of the Moldovans handled the tow truck details for us. So Daniel and I….waited.
It wasn’t all that bad – except for the rain that started, our residual annoyance at each other from the weekend, and the fact that I had to pee. My ultimate low point came when I found myself on the steep slope of the highway embankment, perched precariously on random bags of gravel, squatting in the drizzle, as I pretty much peed on my own feet. (It was that or likely fall down the hill side if I tried to readjust position too much.) AH! The joys of car ownership in Moldova!
Eventually, our tow truck arrived. The driver was taciturn but efficient, and soon we were rumbling down the highway toward Chișinău in the cab of his truck.
One Ironic Side Note
We were not the only car being towed that day. While driving back to Chișinau, we saw a car pulling another car by rope down the highway. There was a driver in the car being pulled, so that he could break when the car pulling him breaked so as to avoid colliding. I am continually astounded by how unregulated and unsafe Moldova can be.
My Final Thoughts
Again and again, I am impressed by the flexibility and the hardiness of the Moldovan people. I know I finish many of my blog posts with thoughts like this. The reason is that I have these thoughts a lot! As an American in Moldova, I continually oscillate between “the grass is greener”-type thoughts. When I’m stuffed in a sweltering bus and feeling nauseous, I am certain driving a car would be so much easier. When I’m peeing on my own feet on the side of the road, I wish desperately that we had taken the aforementioned bus.
My life is generally controllable and comfortable and easy in the United States. Here in Moldova I feel out of control a lot of the time. It is both hard and good. But it also raises questions of passiveness vs. flexibility. To what extent is it valuable to be flexible in adverse conditions, and when is it important to instead step up and demand better conditions for oneself and one’s community?
I don’t have an answer to that question, it’s just one I mull over occasionally. I struggle knowing when to fight to get something my way and when to just let it go; when to be offended by the system and when to remind myself that I am just a traveler here and this is not my system to attack. I think Moldovans themselves might struggle with this same issue. Fighting communism got you shipped off to labor camps. And although communism no longer exists in this country, its sticky and residual fingerprints remain.