Expat Life: Let’s Go Native

by missfootloose on August 5, 2011 · 30 comments

in And So It Goes, expat stories, Moldova, people watching

Not my house in Moldova. It's a museum

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.

Minibus, in a calm street in Chisinau

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.

There's always room for one more, or two, or three

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.

Perished peach

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.

* * *

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.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob August 5, 2011 at 5:52 am

Just wait until autumn, and then winter. The lightweight clothes are exchanged for winterweight, and then further bulked up by coats and jackets and hats. And you must add the occasional young couple sandwiched in and using the marshrutka as their own motel room, more or less, well, with clothes on at any rate. I left there last in 2009 and wait for the chance to return and see friends again. In the meanwhile, I am enjoying your comments. Keep your chin up. It only gets better. Bob


missfootloose August 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

My chin is up 😉 but I am writer so a little drama helps the stories. Moldova is a very easy place for expats.


Turkey's For Life August 5, 2011 at 8:43 am

Ha ha, this has just made me laugh. If you hadn’t have mentioned Moldova, I would have read this and said it was about the Turkish Dolmuş – exactly the same. A minibus that stops wherever you want it to, packed with people…squashed peaches! 🙂 – and some of the village ones will have livestock on them, too.


missfootloose August 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Maybe the village ones here in Moldova will have livestock on them too. Haven’t checked that out yet 😉


Mara August 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

The worst experience I ever had with public transport was when I was living in (horror) England! I had lived there for about a year and a half, when I had to visit the doctor’s office in the next village. I managed to catch a ride of one of my colleagues who dropped me off in front of the surgery. After having seen the doctor, I walked to the busstop, because I wanted to catch the only bus of the day: the school bus. Well, it came and then it went and I was still waiting!

I had been waiting on the wrong side of the road! I walked the four miles home!


missfootloose August 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Walking four miles . . . I’m hoping you weren’t at the doctor’s office because of a sprained ankle!


Pearl August 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Enjoyed this! As a daily commuter via bus in Minneapolis, this is both a little familiar and wonderfully different!



missfootloose August 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I expect the women on a Minneapolis bus don’t yell at the top of their lungs!


Walter Knight August 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Still being the athlete that I am, I would have opted for a roof ride. You can get great photos up there. Of course my peaches might not have survived.

I am glad you did not have to sit on the driver’s lap.


missfootloose August 10, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I’m glad I did not have to sit on the driver’s lap myself, for more than one reason . . .


Claire August 8, 2011 at 4:36 am

I insisted on “going native” on the island of Zanzibar by taking a dalla-dalla on what I though would be a carefree one hour ride out to the beautiful beaches. Little did I know that the particular death trap I chose for the ride was one that even the natives turned their noses up for various reasons I won’t go into here. Lesson learned. Pay the nice taxi driver.


missfootloose August 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

Going native is often not the way to go for a foreigner, and often locals will just think you’re nuts for trying. Still, once in a while, there is little risk. Maybe.


missfootloose August 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm

We live and we learn, but that’s how we stay mentally alive, and hopefully physically as well.


Welshcakes Limoncello August 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I know exactly how you felt on that bus!


Braja @ Lost & Found in India August 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

Oh, yeah, totally familiar 🙂 I just do NOT do some things anymore, just because I *am* a foreigner, and we do NOT belong in some places :))


missfootloose August 22, 2011 at 8:32 am

You’re right, you’re right!


Lady Fi August 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Such a delightful and witty post!

If you’ve ever travelled in China, you’ll know the meaning of crowded. I once got on a bus with my umbrella. The metal post was completely bent when I got off.


missfootloose August 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

Amazing! Metal, no less. Physical closeness, not so charming on a bus!


Aledys Ver August 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Well, it all sounds like my own old adventures taking public transport during the rush hour in my hometown in Argentina – exactly the same. I can’t say I miss that!
What about the peaches? Were they still in one piece when you got off, or by then you had peach pulp? 😀


missfootloose August 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

You missed the last paragraph: Many peaches perished, others barely survived. As for public transport, the Dutch do it well 😉


Michelloui | The American Resident August 12, 2011 at 11:29 am

I was worried about the peaches the whole time!


MaryWitzl August 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm

What you’ve described here is exactly the same as the Turkish dolmuş we used to have so much fun on when we lived in KKTC (North Cyprus). There wasn’t always a mob of militant grannies on board, but when there was, it made for a bracing ride. Carrying produce on them was almost always tricky.


Sarah | Move Me Abroad August 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

Sounds a bit like an experience I had in Rhodes. We were on a day trip to Lindos and we stayed all day and then we had to get the last bus back to Rhodes Town. The bus came, it was a decent size, more of a coach really.

There was a massive queue but we thought we’d be alright in the middle. We were, we had to stand in the crowded bus (all seats taken), the temperature was late 30s and it was horribly crowded and I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back.

But we were the lucky ones. Unfortunately there were a few people who just couldn’t fit on. There were no more buses so the bus driver suggested to them that perhaps they could go in the luggage compartment – you know the type under the coach sitting area where you put your suitcases? Luckily, they turned down his kind offer!!!


Sine August 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Ha! This could have been right here in the streets of Joburg. No minibus taxi ever leaves until there are at least 15 people (and 30 bags, most likely) squashed in it. I have to admit I haven’t taken one of them yet, but then again I envy you and your story! Very well written and that alone probably makes you grateful for the experience!


missfootloose August 22, 2011 at 8:31 am

Oh, yes, in Africa (many places) they know how to load up their minibuses, lorries, trucks, anything! And when they don’t fit in, they hang off the sides or sit on top of the roof. Must say I never traveled on those vehicles. Scary stuff on often bad roads.


Karen August 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm

San Francisco’s Muni Bus #30. Old Chinese ladies with bags and bags of groceries elbowing, shoving and pushing everyone out of their way. Old Chinese men with canes that they use to strike back at people that they perceive have insulted them. Crazy crackheads and other junkies rambling to everyone on board about how they’ve been disrespected by the man. Tons of people squeezing in through the backdoor to avoid paying up front. NEVER an enjoyable experience on the #30!


Sarah-Jane September 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I just loved this post and my deepest sympathies regarding the peaches – a peach is like gold here in lovely Lagos (well you need lots of gold to buy one) 😉 I loved going ‘native’ during postings in India & Siberia (can relate to be yelled at by big babushka type ladies and not understanding a word) but even after a year in Lagos I can’t bring myself to climb aboard any sort of public transport mainly because hubby’s company will not allow it but also I am not feeling such a strong need to ‘go native’ here 😉


missfootloose September 8, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Peaches in West Africa, yes they are gold, but you have fresh MANGOES! And pineapples! I lived in Ghana for years, and yearn for the tropical fruit. The imported and transported stuff in the West is not nearly as good. And if the public transport in Nigeria is anything like it is in Ghana — and I’m sure it is — I wouldn’t come near it. Except for rickety taxis, I never got on public transportation there at all. You lived in Indi and Siberia, wow! Two places I’ve never been.


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