Desperate tourists

People leave their homes for different reasons.

We did it and will do it for as long as we will be here. In search for food, for water, for another person, for a lost emotion, for a lost self. In search for a meaning.

In the general understanding leaving home implies negativity. At least this is the approach that is prevailing in Moldova. And it is quite understandable. We leave the country because of hunger. Hungry for vital resources, hungry for freedom, for movement, for communication, for the sky. You can’t understand this feeling, this deeply seeded desire if you have never been hungry for real. Really really hungry and no aleviation in sight.

Real hunger pushes you over any limits. It carves a hole in your gut and keeps carving until you don’t give in.

I left home at 18. I went to Constanța, Romania to study. Little did I know. I just knew that I had to go.This choice ignited a whole chain of experiences I would never have thought possible.My hunger was related to understanding the reason I am alive and how could I get through life in an interesting way. If that is not too much to ask.

I don’t know what being a tourist means or is like. The classic tourist I mean. We have never been on holiday as a family. Because there were no resources for this. On my own, afterwards, as well. The need to honor the contractual assignments I had while modeling was exhausting physically and mentally. There was no time for touristy things. The need to make it is still deeply rooted in me. So, when the holiday season arrives, any season cold or hot, there is nothing in me calling: no mountain, no sea. Just the quite flow of memories, feelings and images living in me.

And I quite enjoy it, I do admit. There is no problem in standing still for me.

My father agreed to talk about a period in his life when he became a certain type of tourist. A desperate tourist, in my understanding.

If I look at the world today, the global situation with the refugees, the on-going migration of people (from Moldova and all other poor countries), the interdictions that still exist in regards to free movement on planet Earth, I have to say that we are all little tourists swiming in our self produced desperation. It goes on and on.

Let’s listen to father. The story is real and it is the story of a man from Moldova trying to live his life in honour. If that is not too much to ask.

Dear father,

1.What was the situation in the country when you decided to go to work in Portugal? What was the main reason?

We faced many difficult situations until now but that period was the first one hitting so hard. Maybe this is the reason why it took us so long to heal from it.

At the end of the ‘90, after the putsch in Russia, Moldova decided to detach from USSR.  In fact, that was the final act of  a 9-10 years  period when the  national consciousness was “brewing”, the declaration of the Romanian language as official language took place, the use of latin writing was introduced, the creation of the first political parties started. Following the massive closure of companies and the war on Nistru, the quality of life decreased dramatically. So for example, if you wanted to buy something, elementary things, you had to go to the town hall, get a ticket, go to the shop and get the product.This is how we got the roof tile for the house, some pieces of furniture as well.

Even if we already had started our small business (*father+3 brothers) things were getting harder and harder.The most grave of all was that the state was not honoring its responsibilities toward the budgetary employees. Olga (*my mother) who was working at the hospital, did not get the salary for at least 5 months.In this way the economic crisis invaded each home.

The situation of our family was extremely difficult because, even if we had started working at the new house in 1992, only 6 years later did we manage to move in. Not even then was it ready, only one room to sleep and the kitchen(*one big wood table), no running water, no road, no gas, just electricity.

I never thought that I would have to leave the country. I took this step out of desperation. Only in this way I hoped to have the possibility to change something.

2.Why, from the family at large, only you decided to leave? Why didn’t your brothers choose the way into the unknown as well?

My brothers did not have problems with their homes.(*We were building a house, with our own hands, at the other end of the town). And at home was very difficult. There were days when we didn’t know how are we going to feed you tomorrow. In those moments I prayed to God for the first time, I had no other hope. And God heard me.
3.Talk about the period before leaving, the preparation of the documents, searching for money etc?

The most profitable at that time were the tourism agencies. We had to pay 700$ for a visa and transport to Lisbon. I found part of the money very difficult  at a 10% interest/ monthly. Other 400$ were lent to us by a Christian, without any interest.I went to Bucharest to ask for a Schengen tourist visa for Austria, on 17th of April 1999. It was valid for 5 days.

4.How was the trip? What were you thinking about?What kind of people were with you?

The trip took three days.The  microbus was over stuffed with luggage. To some of the travellers, because there was so little space the legs swallowed incredibly.In Austria people started to get off. We all were “tourists” having the same destination and aim only that each one was leaving for different countries.All women got off in Italy and only 7 of us were left in the car. We did not get to Lisbon though, as promised, they first took us to Madrid. From there another transport was supposed to take us over, only that we were asked to pay additionaly 300$. I could not accept that deal, I would have been completely broke, so I decided to continue with the public transport.(*Yeah that’s my Dad!)

After having passed Italy, some of the co-tourists were euphoric.They were buying beer and other drinks at the gas stations being also very loud. In France, during a pit stop, the party people were asking to stay one more day. Others, when going across the Alps, probably because of stress and tiredness, experienced psychological disturbances.

They were asking to be left out there, in the mountains.

5.How was it when you got at the destination?

I only had two phone numbers from two acquaintances who were working in the south of the country and I was not sure if they would have helped me.That is why I decided to accompany my colleague who was heading toward Lisbon, having had the promise of a job in a factory.

6.I know that is was very difficult to find a job in the beggining.  How did you survive?What was the most difficult?

The fact that worried me the most was the situation I left behind. Besides having lent the money there were even more to pay each month (*the interest). So, I had to find a way, there was no other choice.

Difficult times, psychological and material pressure, don’t change people, it helps them only to develop their character and intentions in a faster rhythm.

The person who met us finally, after a day and a night of walking around the park and the city centre (* in Lisbon) asked us for money even if he was an acquaintance of my colleague.

Another Moldovan asked 300$ for the simple fact of introducing us to the factory where he was working.At the same time, I also remember the kindness of other people who offered us a place to sleep, food to eat and help in finding a  job.Without asking something in return. (*check the link for more kindness exemples). 

There were no jobs for us. I now understand that it was difficult for the businesses to employ people who were not speaking their language. Maybe only in case they already employed Moldovans and they knew them.

The search took about a month. I only had 100$ left and in order to spare, I lived in an empty house, in the city centre, waiting to be demolished. I ate what was left from my bag from home, but I also bought flour and made a kind of flat bread (turte) instead of bread. Around that house there were a few  fruit trees. Thanks to them I had some fruits to eat. (*Thank you dear trees:)

Father and a colleague soon after the arrival in Portugal

My greatest advantage was that I spoke a little English and there were no issues getting around but there was always the risk of being caught by police and with my expired visa I would have been deported.


7.How was it after the first shock passed? What kind of people did you meet there? What were you thinking about?

After having experienced something like this you start to appreciate any kind of job, you appreciate the kindness of the people and you become an excellent book-keeper if there are so little money to spend.(*Nothing to count!)

In order not to lose time, I found some children books in Portuguese and after a months I could have a basic conversation in this language. (*Bom trabalho pai!) This fact also pushed me to go searching for a job in the south, further away from the capital where all new comers were stopping.

Mostly all Moldovans experienced this kind of situations, even more dramatic. But if they managed to find a job they adapted fast, they worked well and were very appreciated. I remember what a Portuguese acquaintance told me during that time that, at the businessmen request, a law could have been given to legalized seasonal workers because the European Football Championship   was approaching and they needed work force. There were also cases when some of the new arrivals were stealing or did other crimes instead of looking for a job.

8.How were you looking at Moldova from far away?

Of course, after a while when you get to know the environment, you become calmer and things seem possible. But Modova, even if it extenuates us, remains the place where we began life, where we lived many beautiful moments.

And also many unfullfielled hopes.

9.What was the attitude towards Moldovans?

Having been born under a communist totalitarian regim, this first experience outside had a profound impact on my vision on life, how business works and the requirements to succeed.

Due to the fact that I worked with a group of Christian people I was aware of an essential principles – treat others as you would like them to treat you. We were doing high quality work and this is the reason why the bosses were taking us seriously. We were the first choice, over local construction teams even.

Father and a friend under a palm tree!


10.What did you learn from this experience in Portugal about yourself?

Returning home after a few years spent in a relatively normal climate, I knew very well what I had to do, and how. Even if the situation in the country was still devastating, it started to get a little better. But it was impossible to find a job according to my specialty so I continued to develop our small business from where it was left a few years ago. (*Incubator for chicks and ducklings, tulips, handmade furniture, window frames OH YEAH!)

Due to the brief  period of economic upheaval the investment was successful and for a while it was fine.

The decline started with the new economical drop down in 2007.But the main reason for our bankruptcy was the different visions and mentality of my partners (*the 3 other brothers, remember?).I did not manage to impose myself as  leader. The human factor was always the stepping stone for me.  

11.I remember that you wanted to help the family as a whole. Do you think that it was the right decision?

I do not consider the decision to help a wrong decision.It was wrong the way I did it.Developing a business is like building a house-  you must have a correct plan, in agreement with the reality and each participant must have a mission to be fulfilled till the end. That was not the case in our family.

12.What are your feelings now, looking back at this Portuguese experience?In what way did it contribute to your personal development?How did it help us as a family?

Any experience in our life, no matter how dramatic it may seem in the beginning, if we are not looking for the shortest and fastest way out, if our morality is not compromised by materially and if we are not considering ourselves to be l’ombellico del mondo 🙂-it will grow our moral power, it will perfect our human personality. Isn’t this the main reason for our stationing on this earth? (*I hope so, father!)

All the actors playing in our life’s movie, good or bad, are contributing at our formation. Most of the time, the most constant and faithful actor is the family.

Let’s thank all for having played their part so well!


I do thank you, ganz herzlich, father for everything you’ve done. May God bless you and mother.



PS. Coming soon, my father’s “expedition” to Russia. Will find out what he saw and felt and smelt while his, and so many other Moldovans’, search in no man’s land continued.

Take care all 🙂

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