Latest Entries »

I’m a little bit peeved about what I see when it comes to religion and travelling. I’m not going to bring up the topic of the riots going on across the world at the moment regarding that ridiculous and horrible video that apparently went up on youtube (which I have not seen and refuse to watch) because I’m not going to talk about tolerance and peace and blah blah blah in this post. I’m talking about visiting religious sites.

I like to consider myself a respectful traveller. I like to learn a bit about a place before I go. The history, the background the demographics, the culture to make sure that I don’t insult locals with my behaviour, dress or complete ignorance. I also am a big fan of visiting religious sites. I like to see the difference (or similarities) and what influence other cultures have had on what is considered some of the most important architecture and sites in religious countries. When you go into the Vatican, it is expected that your knees and shoulders will be covered. In many religions, women must cover their hair when entering a place of worship or shorts are not allowed. For this reason, when I know I will be visiting a church or cathedral or mosque I bring a long skirt and a pashmina.

A few examples for you:

In the Russian Orthodox church, women must wear skirts (foreign visitors can wear pants) and cover their heads. Many a Russian Orthodox church has numerous large signs posted on the door where you cannot miss them unless you are completely blind saying “no shorts, no tank tops, no pictures, women must wear skirts, men must wear pants” There are pictures to go with these words and they are pretty difficult to misinterpret. Despite all this, everyone is taking photos of the beauty and grandeur of these places. I have been into places of worship where pictures are allowed, which is awesome. I snap away in these places. But MANY of the places I have been on my travels prohibit photos. The Monastery I went to in Kiev had signs every 10 feet depicting “NO PHOTOS” and writing it in about 6 different languages. Despite this, pilgrims (the monastery is a pilgrimage site) were happy snapping all over the place, including in the churches and cathedral. Signs everywhere saying “this is a holy place of worship, please respect it through dressing appropriately, being silent and not taking photos”. I saw people right next to these signs taking photos.

When I was in Turkey last year they required women to be fully covered in the Blue Mosque. Understandable as it is a functioning mosque. Didn’t have something to cover your legs/arms/hair? They would provide scarves and what not for you. Despite this, I still saw girls in the mosque taking the scarves off their head the second they made it inside or sitting with the legs straight out, bottoms of the feet pointing to whomever walked by (a great insult in Islam as the bottom of the feet are considered dirty. I’m sure you all remember someone throwing a shoe at George Bush, Jr.). Talk about disrespectful. You are in a place of worship! You may not believe in a god or follow their religion, but if they came into your house and started disrespecting your stuff how would that make you feel? Do you want them to come into your home and start walking with their shoes on your table or jumping on your sofa?

More recently, I was visiting the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain and I was absolutely horrified. Signs everywhere near the entrance saying no photos, no shorts, no singlets/tank tops. “It is a functioning place of worship so please be respectful.” The inside was absolutely spectacular. I could have taken hundreds of photos inside. Out of respect, however, I didn’t take my camera out once. I was very tempted to take it out and take a photo of a girl wearing a tiny leopard print tube dress. The dress was tight, scant and barely covered her bum. It was horrific to see something like that in a church. I saw people snapping away, people wearing shorts, tube tops, singlets. With the hundreds to thousands of people that go through the Mezquita every day security can’t keep everyone from taking photos, I understand that. But it just really ticks me off that these people can be SO DISRESPECTFUL. I am an atheist and have zero reason to be respectful in any of these places. I don’t believe in any of their notion or ideas on God, I heartily disagree with many of the more conservative ideas on ethics and morals, yet I am often the most respectful person in the place. People, who claim to be of the very religion of the place they are disrespecting are not behaving properly and they are not being respectful and this just drives me up the wall.

So what is my solution? Because since I am ranting and raving about it I need to offer up a solution. In a place where photos (and mobile phones for that matter) aren’t allowed, they should be required to turn them in at security. They can get them back when they leave. Not dressed appropriately? Give them a shroud to wear, male or female. If they need a head covering, give them a scarf to put over their head. If they take it off, kick them out AND fine them. Require they turn in a card or ID with their camera’s and phones as collateral. It absolutely disgusts me to see people being so insanely disrespectful in a place that matters so deeply to their religion or to other people in the area of that religion. Perhaps this is why they don’t allow non-Muslims into most mosques or holy places in Morocco.

Moral of the rant? If you are visiting a holy place, treat it with respect, respect the rules and respect the requests of the institution. You want pictures? Look them up online and photoshop yourself in. You don’t need photos as proof you have been someplace.

Advertisements

When I told people I was going to Moldova most either asked “Which country is that in?” or said “Oh, I love the Maldives!” Moldova is actually a very small country nestled between Ukraine and Romania, is one of the poorest countries in Europe and it shows. I made my way from Odesa to the capital, Chişinau, via Transdniestria (an autonomous breakaway region not recognised as a country by anyone except for Russia) on the train as it is a marginally more comfortable journey than mashrutka and I didn’t think I would get sick on it. The journey was hot and sticky, but scenic and I met a lovely English guy who ended up staying at the same hostel (the only one in the city) with me so we shared a beer and spoke English during the trip.

Chişinau left its first impression on us while walking the 1 ½ kilometres to the hostel from the station. Needless to say they don’t have properly paved roads, footpaths in general off the main road, street lights or street signs so it was an interesting walk in the nearly complete darkness. If this were a walk I had to take in the US I would have taken a taxi, but as it is Eastern Europe and I was with 2 guys the most dangerous part of the journey was tripping over cracks in the road or getting run over by a crazy driver. Heat exhaustion would have been an issue if the sun were still up, but it was still pretty dang hot as the entire region was struck by a heatwave with 40+ Celsius days and 32+ Celsius nights.

My first encounter with the natives was while waiting outside a supermarket for my travel companions when 2 guys came out and asked if I had a bottle opener (in very poor English). They asked where I was from and I told them Australia and they immediately started asking about white supremacy and if we had lots of white people. At least, that seemed to be what they were asking, their English was terrible as most Moldovans have very little reason to speak English. As they were leaving they also gave me a Nazi salute… It’s a pretty closed off country.

Because Moldova is so small you can easily stay in Chişinau, use it as a base of operations and just do a bunch of daytrips, which I had the best of intentions on doing and ended up not doing thanks to the ridiculous heatwave being too hot for even myself and certain other extenuating circumstances. Plus I like to go with the flow and it just didn’t work out. I’ll go through some of the things I intended on doing anyway later though.

My first day in Chişinau I just intended on exploring the city (something that can easily be done in about 3 hours). I did exactly as planned, stopped and had lunch, bought some groceries, went back to the hostel to have a nap and went out later in the evening with a guy staying at my hostel. We were walking to a beer house we had been told about and some guy ran up to us in the street because he heard us speaking English in American accents. Turns out the guy is from California and we invited him to join us for drinkies. What are the odds? We all had an enjoyable evening talking about anything and everything before heading back to sleep in our ridiculously hot soviet apartment room stuffed chockers full of beds.

The next day I fully intended on going out to the cave monastery that I had read about, but after talking to a guy who had gone the previous day and reading a few blogs about it it was apparently a wretch to get to and completely underwhelming. So instead I slept in, did laundry, got some work done, had a nap and wandered a bit more around Chişinau. That night we were joined at the hostel by a group of Romanians who were in Moldova for some bizarre reason and they were all heading out to a nightclub that apparently played some form of punk music so we decided to play Jenga and pre-drink before heading out to the club. Some things I have come to realise is that you can turn ANYTHING into a drinking game and if you are going to drink with Romanians, you had better be very good at holding your liquor.

So we went out to the club and it reminded me of an underground white supremacist punk club (unsurprising as Moldova is so homogenous and there are pretty much only white people here) complete with confederate flag hanging above the bar. Needless to say it made me feel fairly uncomfortable. The first band that was playing wasn’t playing punk music, much to my surprise. They were playing a sort of punkish cover version of old 60’s music. No complaints here! The second band that played was very punk looking and I fully expected some sort of Russian or Romanian or English punk music to come blasting out of the speakers when they started. Nope, it was their version of a song by the Black Eyed Peas who I would hardly classify as punk. They did end up singing a bunch of Russian punk music though.

At some point in the evening we met 2 Belgian guys (at least one was from Belgium) who were also at the club and when we all decided to leave I somehow ended up at a much more ‘upscale’ and ‘trendy’ nightclub playing pop and dance music instead where I felt insanely underdressed. I was wearing flats, board shorts and a singlet with my hair pulled back in a ponytail and every other girl there was wearing what I think were supposed to be dresses, but looked more like strips of cloth that had been ravaged by mountain lions. There were also mostly naked women men and women dancing on a stage. And can I just say, with how ‘expensive’ that place was for Moldova, they should have had western toilets and not squat toilets. What kind of person is capable of balancing over a squat toilet in 5 inch heels? After enough alcohol you can barely stand in them as it is!

When I say this place was expensive for Moldova, I mean the cover charge alone was about $5 and the average daily wage of a Moldovan (assuming they are lucky enough to be gainfully employed) is $10. I bitch and moan in Sydney if I have to pay a $10 cover which I make in less than an hour working an entry level job. The average Moldovan makes about $250-300 US per month and it is painfully obvious. So many people are trying to sell whatever they can get their hands on in the streets. I saw hundreds of people near the train station attempting to sell old clothes, music cassettes, video cassettes, the very occasional cd or dvd, old tool sets, bits and pieces of pretty much anything. There was a slightly nicer market in the centre of the city that sold A LOT of artwork, some souvenirs and a fair amount of jewelry. I found an excellent little stall selling tatted jewelry. I had a lovely attempted conversation with the woman selling who only spoke Romanian and Russian. I found a beautiful pair of earrings (lots of them, actually) and a bracelet that matched a necklace I bought from a random woman on a random walking path in Cappadocia, Turkey. I didn’t buy the earrings, but I did buy the bracelet for myself and something else as a gift for someone which shall remain a secret because it hasn’t been gifted yet. However, I HIGHLY recommend them as gifts. It’s Frivolite Tatting Bijutery and they can be found on facebook or at www.splendid-magazine.md/friolite.html. Oksana speaks English so if you want to order something you can speak to her.

Anyway, back to one of the most impoverished countries in Europe. The 2011 GDP per capita was about $3,400 US which means people live on about $8 per day. I have been to some pretty poor places (Belarus for example) but I have never seen people look so defeated. Most of them speak some Russian due to TransD being a Russian speaking region and they live next to Ukraine, and they all speak Moldovan, which is a dialect of Romanian, but most people don’t speak English. Some of the younger people speak a little bit of English, but the fact of the matter is that they usually have no one to practice it with (not many English speaking tourists) and there isn’t anything translated into English for the most part. Call me a stuck up imperialist American close-minded snob if you want, but the fact is that in most parts of the world, English is the standard lingua franca of business. It’s a language that students have the option of learning in almost every country in the world (and is actually standard now in most countries as required in the public school system) which makes it an extremely beneficial language to learn. The only country I have been to where speaking English was not to my benefit was Belarus. A little German would have come in handy though…

Anyway, the ridiculously low socio-economic status that Moldovans hold along with their general lack of English speaking abilities means that there is really not a lot of options for them to increase their position in life. They can’t get scholarships to study at other universities, they can’t afford university in Romania, I don’t even know if they are eligible as ERASMUS students and they really have very few options. Except for the wine industry (amazing wines and super cheap) they have limited amount of arable land (it’s a small country, most of their agriculture stays in country), they have no natural resources and most of their energy is imported, making things even more difficult for them as issues with Russia and TransD meant that for a while their gas pipeline was cut off and Russia doesn’t allow the import of Moldovan wines into the country. So if you ever see a red wine from Moldova, purchase it.

I look at my life, everything I had, all the opportunities I had and still have. I have been extremely lucky to have supportive family and friends who tell me like it is. I have a family who has been able to provide for me and to allow me to do pretty much every activity I wanted under the sun and was able to help me while I was at university in Australia. I’m happy to drop $200 on a pair of shoes regularly when Moldovans make barely more than that in a month. I look at what these people don’t have and feel absolutely horrible not giving money to that woman begging on the street who has obviously been crippled in some way. I feel horrible for feeling suspicious about those people in the street claiming to collect for an orphanage and automatically assuming it is some sort of scam to get money (not unheard of). I don’t actually know if those people were collecting or it was a scam, but I still feel fairly horrible after thinking like that.

I tend to spread my money around to different charities when I can but previously I have only donated to charities directly aiding those in the US or Australia as those are the places that have a direct effect on me in some way. We want to help those in our own backyard, which is understandable and we always hear about the impoverished in Africa due to war and famine, or the child workers in South America and Asia due to human rights violations, but we don’t hear about places like Belarus or Moldova. If you are interested in spreading your money around a little bit more (if you can) to a country that is largely ignored by the rest of the world please consider donating to Outreach Moldova at http://www.outreachmoldova.org

What I’m reading now: The Time of My Life by Cecilia Ahern, author of P.S. I Love You.

What I’m listening to: In honour of what it felt like going clubbing in Moldova… Summer in the city – Lovin’ Spoonful

 

This is a very good and filling dish and tastes AMAZING with salo. You can also fill it with meat for a non-vegetarian option or fresh cherries or blueberries for a sweeter option. I found this recipe at http://www.funrussian.com.

Dough
3 cups of flour
1-2 eggs
½ cup of water
½ tsp of salt

Potato Stuffing
6 medium potatoes
3.5 ounces of butter
2 large onions
Oil for sauteing
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Mix flour with salt and make a well in flour. Add eggs and water, and mix well. Knead dough for several minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and leave it to rest for 15 to 30 min.
2. In the meantime, peel potato, cut it into big cubes and boil in salted water until ready.
3. Peel and chop onions and saute them in sunflower, corn or vegetable oil until golden.
4. When potatoes are cooked, pour out water, add 1.5 oz of butter and mash them well. Add a half portion of sauteed onions to the potatoes mixture, add black pepper to taste and mix well.
5. Cut 1/3 of  the dough, roll it into a log, and then cut it into small pieces (1 inch wide). Using a rolling pin, roll dough pieces into thin round circles. Keep the rest of the dough in a plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
6. Place 1 teaspoon of potato filling into each circle and seal them by folding in half and pinching the edges.
7. Place vareniki into salted boiling water and boil for approximately 2-3 minutes after they come to the surface. Make sure to stir vareniki to prevent them from sticking together or sticking to the pan.
8. Take vareniki out with a perforated spoon, place them in the bowl, and add the rest of the butter and sautéed onion mixture.
9. You can also serve vareniki with melted butter or sour cream, or both, just like pelmeni.