Wednesday, September 28, 2011

IT'S ALL OVER THE FRONT PAGE


Well, I guess in a city with hundreds of drivers who have no concept of road courtesy or in some cases, legitimately earned driving licences, my time to have a run-in with another driver was inevitable. On a daily basis I scream at drivers who bypass the entire queue waiting at the red light to sit at the front of the line (past said light) and screech off before the light has turned amber. Sometimes I even get annoyed at people who simply bypass traffic lights, mount the kerb and then hoof it down to the corner and alight the pavement on the other road. Furthermore, I frequently get annoyed with marshrutka drivers who just stop to let their passengers get off at random spots without signalling and then pull out again as you go to overtake them thus ensuring you have to either speed up to get past or slow down to get back in traffic. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Moldova is not a country of courteous drivers – their trip is much more important than yours and thus they take every opportunity to romp past you at breakneck speed or pure and simply, cut you up and leave you reeling while also using expletives that not even the most Russian of babooshkas cannot fail to understand. 

So on Monday on my way to work, when I passed two separate road traffic accidents within 2 minutes of the office, I did think to myself that I was lucky that in almost a year in Moldova, I had come away scrape-free.  However, as one usually does when one has such a thought, I forgot to touch wood. So an hour and a half later when I was out in the car delivering invites to our VIP reception (in this instance, to our financial partners SOROS Moldova) with our new fundraising co-ordinator, Vadim, I missed a stop sign and drove straight into the path of a Daewoo Damas (see below) coming from my right. For those of you who have been hit by another car, whether it be a minor or major incident, it can give you a nasty shock and so rather than mouth of a bunch of expletives, I apologised to my passenger and pulled over onto the side of the road to get out of the way of the other traffic. This was my first big mistake. You see, rather than pull out of the way of traffic coming behind you or towards you, the trick is to keep your vehicle in the path of said traffic so that when the police arrive you can show them what happened. So despite me telling the driver that it was completely my fault and that I was sorry and would pay for any damage, he still kept the wee eggbox of a vehicle in the middle of Str Sciusev, a street which I can only describe as one of Chişinau's busiest. Logic? Nah.

A DAEWOO Damas - thankfully not a monster truck

Now, what you must also understand is that when something of such a magnitude as a car scrape happens in Moldova, everyone within 100 metres suddenly makes it their business to congregate and ooh and aah at the wonder that beholds them. Indeed, all of a sudden two of the driver’s pals appeared out of nowhere and became involved. Thankfully I had a witness and translator on hand in Vadim as the driver refused to speak Romanian and only conversed in Russian. I also called our executive director to come along and sort it out as he is definitely the right person to have around in a crisis. 20 minutes later, after I had signed a wee scrap of paper saying that the accident was my fault, we went on our way to the traffic police station to report the incident.

Despite this being my first encounter with the fuzz in Moldova, my experience with the police in eastern Europe has been vast. In Romania, I once had my mobile phone nicked in a pub and spent 4 hours the next day at the police station filing a crime report for Orange so that I could claim the phone on my insurance. The crime reference number they eventually gave me was ‘1’ and so I have never had a huge lot of faith in the eastern European police authorities. But perhaps things were about to change in Moldova...

As we arrived at the station, Vadim informed me that this should only take half an hour and that we would be back at work soon. A year living in Moldova has made me slightly more cynical and thus I felt confident in making him a bet that we’d be at least an hour. After being directed to the front of the queue at the police station to file our report in order to claim with the insurance company, we were sat in front of a wee stocky cop who did not look unlike the bloke from Plan B. He was very thorough in explaining the process and sent us off to the ‘Expert Filer’ to get him to write the report and pay £1.25 for the privilege and then return to him. Upon return, he was extra friendly and really went out of his way to be nice and sympathise with the situation. Of course, I decided that this was a very nice policeman and that he was doing everything he could to assist the stupid foreigner. Alarm bells should have been ringing, however I just thought he was being helpful. It wasn’t long before I had my wake-up call as his phone rang and I heard him talking about an accident on Str Petricani which I knew was a large thoroughfare on the other side of town. He finished with the words ‘see you shortly’ and this is when those alarm bells started banging. He got up and told us that he would be back in ten minutes as there had been a serious accident on Petricani and when he did, we would be the first people he would see .

Over an hour had passed and so as Vadim bought me the coffee he’d lost in the bet (albeit with sugar which we had specifically asked not to be added resulting in Vadim almost getting in a fight – a story for another time) we discussed  as to how the rest of the day would pan out. I wasn't sure why the kind policeman had just upped and left but I was assured that as I was a foreigner there may have been a way in which to make him stay and finish our paperwork. Or not (who knows who might be reading this...)

90 minutes after leaving, PC Plan B walked back in and completely ignored us and went to his office. A lot can happen in 90 minutes and so while he was away, a rather large queue had formed outside his office and we were not part of it. As someone entered the office, we protested saying that we had been told we would be next. Plan B just raised his eyebrow, sneered and told us to wait. Eventually we got to sit down and draw a diagram of what had happened on the scrap bit of paper he gave us. He then decided that this bit of paper was ‘not nice enough’ so gave us a bit of A4 printer paper to draw on. Then we were given certain bits of paper to fill in. I had never seen these bits of paper before and since this had been Vadim’s first instance of being in a car accident (so sorry Vadim – only his 3rd week in the job), we were both a bit clueless as to what to do. To cut (an already) long story short, we were told to stop asking questions and if we wanted to ask questions then we could join the end of the queue (which had grown even more) and he would be happy to answer them then. He also chastised us for using a black pen when he had completed the rest of the form in blue. By this point I was almost at breaking point and after almost 4 hours and a huge pile of work to get back to at the office, we just signed what we needed to do and were on our way.

Office 116 - where I spent most of my Monday

My first experience with the law in Moldova was over. Unlike Romania where you were frequently pulled over for no reason at all, I have been pretty lucky (yep, knocking on wood) and hopefully this won’t happen again. I’ve learned to look carefully and stop at every intersection (even if I have right of way) and to perhaps not get too enraged at my fellow drivers as it was my stupidity and lack of attention that caused an accident which could have been a whole lot worse. In fact, with the amount of behemoth trucks driving around Chişinau, we were extremely lucky. And finally, I really hope that guy from SOROS Moldova turns up to the reception next week otherwise I might just get a little bit vexed. 

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