Thursday, December 11, 2014

When No One Has Heard Of Your Country, Hometown Memories Are Hard To Share

Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
In Moldova there is a tendency to mix the old and the new, like these old bricks and plastic windows on a building in Upper Ryshkanovka.
By Olga Gutan
Junior Reporter
CHISINAU, Moldova – "Where are you from?"
"Moldova."
"Maldives?"
"No."
"Uh ... where is that?"
I come from a small country in Eastern Europe. Whenever I meet someone outside of Moldova, I have this hope burning inside me just like a candle, that at least someone will know exactly where this country is, without me having to explain that it borders Ukraine and Romania.
With each time I have to explain where exactly it is geographically, the desire to talk about my home city dies a little more, as I know nobody will know about it and I will just waste my words describing it.

U.S. State Department map

Chisinau is a rather mediocre city. Even though it's the capital, it doesn't have any astonishing places to be in, but I love it because I spent the past eight years there, growing up and seeing it grow up with me.
In Chisinau, I share stories with the stars. The sky is really beautiful at night, due to the lack of tall buildings and light pollution. There is where I had my friendships developed and destroyed.
I shared everything I did with Chisinau. It simply became a part of me and it became too painful to even try to remove it.
For almost five years I lived in the part of Chisinau called called Nijneaya Ryshkanovka, which translates from the Russian to The Lower Ryshkanovka. I ended up being so attached to that area that I could almost feel it smell like home, even though it actually didn't smell like anything.
Compared to the other five districts in Chisinau – Buiucani, Ciocana, Botanica, Centru and Rascani, or "Ryshkanovka" in the local slang – Nijneaya Ryshkanovka is pretty green and it isn't as polluted as, let's say Centru, which does mean "the center" and it actually is the center of the city.

Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
Nijneaya Ryshkanovka is a very green area, making it a desirable place to live.
Next to the flat I used to live in, there was a nice stream of water until people started throwing their trash in there and it became a mixture of branches fallen from the trees, bags and other waste. I've heard interesting stories about how people used to catch frogs from that river and blow them up with a straw. I guess this was a rather interesting hobby when people didn't have computers and hundreds of TV channels.
There isn't much you can find to do there, except for some really shady taverns, internet cafes and a few parks. 
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
A old car in Nijneaya Ryshkanovka
People managed to destroy most of the nature that existed there. In one of the parks, you can find beer cans right next to the benches, because there are no trash cans, or used syringes right on the grass. (Moldova, generally, isn't the best place to walk barefoot.)
On the other hand, there is a really beautiful amusement park. All of the carousels are slightly rusty and it's kind of dangerous to be on them, even though people who sell tickets for them are assuring the parents and kids that they are completely safe.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
A syringe found on the ground in a park in
Nijneaya Ryshkanovka. The park is nice,
but syringes are dangerous. Regardless
of the way people use them, they are not
something to be disposed of in parks and
some people have yet to learn this.
The atmosphere of almost-broken carousels, of trees around and generally of colors, is really nice. I haven't been to any city that resembles Chisinau yet. I'm not sure if that's because it's a poor Eastern-European country or because it actually has this unique air. I'd like to believe it's the second hypothesis.
A few years ago, I moved to the "upper" side of Ryshkanovka. My house was in a pretty green area and everything was really beautiful. But as I finally grew up to the age when I wanted to stay out late, I learned that Moldova's street lighting was, and still is, really poor and that Moldovan streets are really dangerous especially when it's dark outside.
It was a five-minute walk from the public transport stop to my house and, when I didn't have anyone to walk me home, I learned to walk really fast. Some people still wonder why am I usually walking so fast.
"Well, if you live in Moldova, you have to learn to survive," I tell them. You either learn to walk fast, or risk getting mugged or worse – and the danger doubles or triples at night.
The upper part of this district was generally more "developed" than the previous one, with a few supermarkets and more public transport. Moldova doesn't have much in the way of internationally recognized places, but I'm going to tell you about a park next to my house.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
A block of flats in Upper Ryshkanovka
The park is actually a small forest that is on the border of the Ryshkani and Ciocana districts. It's really beautiful, because it's diverse. There are certain parts of it designed for people having barbecues or just walking or jogging. Other parts of the park are more like a forest and people usually don’t go there, making those areas kind of "untouched" by humans. Those places are really beautiful.
I used to go there for sleighing or to make snowmen with a few of my friends or cousins in the winter. Closer to where I live, there is another park with a statue to commemorate the victims of the war in Afghanistan.
Most of the time people who come there, forget about the main purpose of the park, but the monuments are a permanent reminder of the atrocities that may come any day.
I went to Gaudeamus High School for a year before I left to study in Hong Kong. My one year of high school in Moldova, though, was crucial in forming myself as a human being. I believe that people are the ones who change a place, so the building of the school didn't have much to do with my change, nor did the classes have much to do with my education. I appreciated the people, both the students and the teachers, very much, because each of them taught me important lessons.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
Kids playing in Upper Ryshkanovka
I would advise a foreigner who comes to Moldova to visit the school, because even though people do not speak 100 percent perfect English there, they would be more than happy to welcome visitors and even take them out and show off the nice places to see in Chisinau.
Apart from the places where I used to spend most of my time because I had to, I also used to go to a few other places to meet my friends or just go for a walk when I wanted to escape the noise of the city.
One of the places I liked to visit by myself is a school called Gheorghe Asachi in the Centre of Chisinau. It has a few benches right in front of it. It's a huge socializing place. When you’re there, you can see young and naive 12-year-olds all the way to 30-year-old bikers or people who simply sit there and read books. The diversity is simply astonishing, considering the fact that Chisinau itself isn't one of the most diverse cities in the world.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
In Upper Ryshkanovka, a view of the sunset from my fourth floor apartment window.
I also loved to visit the museums on my own. I enjoyed trying to absorb and then process the information offered there.
I got a lot out of going to the National Art Museum and to the National Museum of History and Archaeology. I just love how they teleport someone to a completely different space and how when you walk out of them, you actually feel slightly out of synch and have, for a few seconds, difficulty adapting to the reality and to the 21st century.
In terms of culture, I would strongly advise anyone who visits Chisinau to take in some theater. Even though not many Moldovans choose to invest time and money to go to watch a play, our actors are really nice and they have this "middle part" that makes them look alive. They act with their souls and the plays themselves are usually really well-chosen.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
A parking lot in the center of Chisinau, as seen from
the trolleybus.
As for more unusual places to visit, I'd like to mention a few: the field next to Buiucani district, trolleybusses and cemetries. 
At the very end of the Buiucani district, where it's the last stop of the trolleys 21 and 23, there is a field that separates the city from the rest of the urban life that hides behind it. If you are patient and hardy enough to walk, you will soon enough find a cabin built by someone my age, and then you will find a small and remote village.
I honestly believe that place is magical. It's so well-positioned that I just can't describe it. From that field, you can hear the noise of the city, but at the same time you are completely able to realize that you have a shelter from all that noise, that the field somehow protects you from the hectic life. And the sunsets and sunrises on that field are really beautiful and worth seeing.
Olga Gutan / youthjournalism.org
Inside a trolleybus, looking out at the street in the
center of Chisinau.
With the trolleybuses, you just get on one, pay for your ticket and see where it will take you. You may end up in a really sketchy neighborhood or in a place that seems strange to you, but at the same time, there's a really good chance that you might find something you‘ll like and a place where you’ll enjoy spending time.
Last but not least are the cemetries. Even though they are supposed to be the places for eternal rest and the people alive who visit cemetries are considered a disturbance to the dead ones, I believe that the silence in a cemetry is simply amazing.
I haven't been to one for a few years, but I remember when I was a rebellious teenager who just wanted to get a little silence and a little break from the outer world, I visited the cemetry called Doina. It's open to anyone, and you can get there by public transport. When you pass through its gate, you basically enter a different world.
Overall, Chisinau is not the most beautiful city to live in, but if you are able to spend a certain amount of time in it, you will soon enough find the spots that are beautiful and worth seeing. You don't have to look too much for them, you only have to open your eyes and realize that what is in front of you is different from what you may want to see, but that doesn't make it less beautiful.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I certainly loved reading and learning more about Chisinau and Moldova! Thank you for sharing this, I could feel the magic in your beautiful description.