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Shops • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"



With the convenience of Western shops at our fingertips getting what we
want when we want is something that we all take for granted, not only is
possible to buy what we want but there is a lot of it. Our numerous
supermarkets and corner shops are all full of food stuffs a lot of it we do not
know about or use. There is so much of it that we have got into the habit of
putting a date on all items and if they are not sold by that date its thrown
away, we refuse to buy bread that is over a day old and will not buy meat
that is not sealed in plastic and on a tray. An abundance of pre made packet
and tinned food is on offer that would make it impossible to eat the same
thing twice in the same month. Then add to that all the fast food outlets of
which most will deliver, Where would be with out all this? The answer is
simple Moldova.
The shortages does not just stop with food, clothes or cosmetics. Most of the
basic requirements of day to day life are missing. Woman don't even have
the luxury of Tampax. Shops in themselves are very strange, you will not
find any with well dressed windows that are so important in the West so as
to entice the shopper. The only department store in the whole of Belti
consists of three stories of just about nothing. No nice looking display
cabinets can be found full of enticing goods, no carpets on the floor or
heating. The staff never seem to be pleased to see you or are keen to serve.
Most of the metal shelving were full of the same things that could be found
in the market or to that matter any other shop in town but there was almost
no selection.
Meat was sold next to clothes both placed on the counter tops unwrapped
for the buyer to inspect and handle, it was also an open invitation for any fly
to visit should they wish. All in all a great meal awaited the buyer.
Live fish in large wooded buckets were on offer next to the shoe racks, the
smells from one mixing with the other so that all new shoe owners would be
recognisable by the cats following them down the street. You could buy a
wedding dress next to the funeral stand and have a tattoo done next to the
sweets. Most of the main trade was conducted in the centre market where
you can buy just about everything from a spanner to a chicken. Not being
state run like the shops this was the new Moldova, to visit it at six in the
morning would find it as active as at midday.

Village people who would come into town on the morning trains would set
up their pitch and sell their farm products, others would have been out
hunting and would be selling a wide range of furs from mink to dog.
Others would have chickens ducks and cat on offer. Some of the more
business minded people would have gone to Turkey and bought Western
goods, tinned pineapple Yoghurt or soap powder. For a time some one
bought in to the country Uncle Ben's rice and other products, but it never
sold not just because the cost was very high at 10 Lei but because the word
Ben is slang for penis in Russian which I am sure went a long way to
putting people off.
For me this was a place of interest a real experience of the true Moldova of
the culture and its problems. You would see the old wrinkled woman of the
older life dressed all in black carrying her bundle on her back standing next
to the beautiful modern girls with their Western ways. The old would have
to sit outside in freezing cold weather all day to make a few pence, where as
the young look for a way out and a Western husband. The system had forced
both generations into doing what ever they could to get by and it would do
its best not to help them escape. Beggars and Gypsies were every where.
One to ask for help with out stretched hands and a look of despair on their
faces the other just to take what ever they could from you.
The gambling tables were out offering the unintelligent an array of
opportunity to win well needed money with con tricks that have long ago
died out in the West. Three cups and a pea seemed to be the most popular or
so it seemed with the large groups that gathered around the hustlers table,
but it was dangerous to stand and watched as you could be easily persuaded
to play, sometimes it would be hard enough to simply walk past with out
hands grabbing your arm and pulling you towards the table. But it was all
part of the atmosphere and the feel of the place. Those that could not afford
the fee to rent a small place in the official market would simply line the path
on both sides of the entrance in the hope of getting a sale, but this was
dangerous business as soon the police would close you down and take all
your goods, that is unless you know the right person to pay.

This was not done just to uphold the law but to stock up on items they
needed for themselves, some did try to ask for their things back but to no
avail and some of them would end up in jail for their troubles.
One of the side effects of a bad or non-existent banking system is that no
one had much in the way of change especially the store holders as there was
no where to get it from, this always resulted in arguments on both sides of
the counter more so when the shop keepers started to give sweets or matches
instead of money, even though this was only meant to replace a few pence
to some customers this was a lot of money, which they needed not some
sweets. I always went out of my way to have as much change with me as
possible as I did not want to upset the sellers who at the best of times were
It was also impossible to get bags to carry your goods home in. There was a
system to recycle milk bottles with a surcharge placed on each one at about
the same as the cost of the milk itself, these could only be returned at one
government shop in town that was only open one day a week which meant
some times a wait due to the queue of five hours. Sometimes though if the
daily quota of returned bottles had been reached or the money run out the
shop would close down and you would have to return another day.
Sometimes the queue could stretch for a mile.
Flower sellers seemed to be a good business to be in, they could always be
found in the more popular spots in town where 3 or 4 of them would do
business in the same place.
They would spend all day long making beautiful arrangements that stood
out so well against the dullness of their surroundings. For about 5 Lie it was
possible to buy a rather nice bunch of flowers wrapped in pretty paper, and
they all seemed to be sold out of all their stock by mid afternoon. Flowers
were given on almost every occasion that you could think of that resembled
a celebration, one of them being the first day at school that I had attended
myself not so long ago, where every child would bring a flower gift to the
teacher, the most popular ones getting sometimes as many as 50 bunches.
The consequences of no food was a limited diet which for most consisted of
bread, potatoes and when they were in season vegetables.

One of the food substitutes was something that I had never seen before and
was meant as a bread to mop up food or to fill you up it was called
mumaliga. By all accounts it was disgusting and I only ate it once, also you
could find lumps of raw white fat that was sold at ever store and being
cheap it was a quick fix for hunger and survival.


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