It’s been a moment that I was thinking to share some of my stories of trolleybuses and machrutkas in Chisinau. Even more so I realized that, now that trolleybuses and maxi-taxi of Chisinau have become part of my daily routine, taking the bus everyday can be very instructing about national identity; like some kind of thermometer that gives you an idea of the blood pressure of a nation. It seems to me that buses are, considering all kind of public spaces, or let say spaces of public use, the one that gather the most incredibly high amount of crazy and antisocial behaviours, and considering what you see, you can have a light idea of how people are living together. If I try to make a recap now of all the city buses I tried in Europe, I would say that Chisinau’s ones are for sure the more crazy ones I ever tried.

Even though their exoticism, compared to western transport systems, make me say that everyone should try to survive in a machrutka, stuck between two babushkas, I still allow myself to give to the eventual future users some recommendations…

1 – How to get in a bus / trolleybus?

I’ll pass the question regarding trolleybuses because I didn’t notice any kind of particularities on this side, even though I noticed that very few people are actually seat on benches to wait for trolleybuses. No, people, especially old women, are vividly waiting on the sidewalk ready to play arms and shoulders to the reach first one the seats available even though they know that someone will probably stand up to give them a chair. It also becomes funny when you try to go out of the trolley and an army of elders are agglutinating themselves in front of the doors, ready to give the assault against you if you’re not very fast to go out.

Moral: if you want to go in, be fast; if you want to go out, be also very fast.

Mashrutkas, rutieras, maxi-taxis… whatever you call them, you should also prepare yourself for an eventual war. It will require from you a great speed, some suppleness and a lot of balance… First you should know that you should never stop a maxi taxi if it’s not to get in it.  I’ll explain later why… So when you finally found out the good number and you see your rutiera coming, you should call the driver with a sign of the arm. Not too early not too late. Try to be elegant! Then once he stopped, as expected, you should be vey fast to get in (unless you’re old) and be very careful to close the door correctly, which is not so easy when you’re half bended on your knees, walking stairs, believe me. Last step: try not to fall or walk on somebody’s foot while our driver is driving off again before you even realized in which kind of jungle you stepped-in… I think after some time walking on some feet, you end up having some kind of extra sense of balance because I’ve never been walked on my feet by anyone… It must be a Moldovan thing because when I see all these girls in high heels going in and out machrutkas or walking on ice as if the world was a fashion podium, I’m amazed…

Moral: be fast, slim and fit and don’t piss off the driver!!

2 – Where to seat in a bus / trolleybus?

So once you’re in, usually you’re looking around to find a place to seat… In the interest of being polite I usually give my seat to old fellows without distinction of gender. Until that day where I was in the trolley n°4 and an old man went in the trolley. I, full of empathy and respect for his venerable age, invited the old man to seat down at my place; though he refused my invitation with a “No thank you young lady” and a polite smile, then he took the seat of another guy who went out at the next station… Though I understood there was a matter of courtesy beyond his behaviour, I shared my surprise with my volunteer friend next to me. She answered me by a story she heard once from a friend about Moldovan manners in public transports. She explained me that according to this implicit rule, a man, whatever his age, should never take the seat of a woman even though she propose him to seat. Question of pride apparently… “Men are men, they can stand; women are weak, they have to seat down”. That kind of thinking… Amused about it, I thought to an old reminiscence of unaware sexism hidden under an inoffensive gallantry. But when I observe the behaviour of some old grannies going to their chairs like a kid running to the mama’s arms, nearly pushing everybody around, I can only feel desolated. It is terrifying for me to see how the fact of having a seat in a trolleybus can become such an important issue in an everyday life. I tend to believe that this behaviour is not only a matter of age… it’s also a matter of how painful and hard your life was… if you look at them you can see how tired they are. Tired of what? Of living? Maybe… of a sad life, of a hard work, of a stupid husband, of ungrateful kids? Well, after all this, for sure you need to seat…

Ghenadie POPESCU, Taxatoarea, 2003, 39x24x16 cm

3 – How to pay in a bus / trolleybus?

Taxator! Probably one of the most awful job ever… Not only she’s (mostly women) stuck all day in a 20m² overheated or freezing cold trolleybus for a shitty salary, but also she must arm herself with courage to cross the often-overcrowded contiguous space, scrupulous not to forget to tax anyone who comes inside. Actually it gives you the chance to see some amazing scenes of balancing art… I’m sure that after some years of this job you can walk on a tightrope with no problem… thought, most of the time, it looks more like a round of dodgem than a bus trip… Not being outdone of traumatic stories about trolleybuses, I remember I was with the same friend in the trolley around 2 in the afternoon. We come inside, seat down next to the door; not so many persons in. The tax lady comes to us. Bad luck I have nothing more in my pocket than a banknote of one Leu and four coins of 25 Bani… She makes a face and start to yell “No, I don’t take coins, I want one Leu, give me one Leu!!” I try to explain that it is all I have but she doesn’t seem to care and continue to yell at me, goes away and comes back mumbling. As an answer to her nasty look, I more or less laughed at her, trying to explain to her that she had no other choice than to take my money or give up on me and for sure that pissed her of but she understood I was actually not afraid by her yelling, than she stopped.
Among other stories, I also have the one when I saw a tax lady, booting out an old, sick and stinky tramp of the trolleybus by a volley of insults and some kick in her bags… actually the lady seemed homeless, disabled and crazy, but nobody cared or even helped her to get in the trolley despite her obvious disability.
It actually reminded me that being poor doesn’t makes you necessarily more empathic to your fellow creatures, but more likely to get you insensitive to other people suffering.

Moral: « Niet babla ? idi peshkom ! »

4 – How to behave in a bus / Trolleybus?

A last anecdote will maybe explain how I feel when I go in a trolleybus or a maxi-taxi. I was once with my colleague and we had to transport her art works made out of plastic bottles from the atelier to the exhibition place. Since we had no car we had to take it by hand and go their by trolleybus. Maybe I don’t even need to explain to you how people stared at us, though I still do not explain myself the scene that followed once we went inside the trolleybus. Actually the trolley was almost empty at this hour, but an angry woman, who was obviously staring at us since we got inside, started to yell at us in Russian. After an unfortunate attempt to make her speak Romanian, a man explained to us that she was angry because of the “to much space” we were taking with our bottles… According to this man she said that “Trolleybuses are not for bottles, but for people”… For myself, I interpret this anger as the signal of distress: a woman that is so drawn in the system she live in, in her own habits and mental images of what is to do and not to do that she feels totally confused when she have to deal with the freedom others to do differently than her. So she’s angry.

Something I noticed here in Moldova is that people can hardly deal with differences, alternatives. Difference, originality most of the time scare them. Things and people are fossilized; fossilized in their habits, attitudes and representation of the past. As there is an appropriate behaviour when you are at the church, there is also an appropriate behaviour for the school, the shop, the party, the wedding, the family dinner, the bar time with friends AND the trolleybus! … All these segments of life are codified in a way and stepping out of the codes exposes you to anger. Behaviours are standardized and freedom is risky choice to dare… That’s why I will continue to smile and laugh in the trolleybus until I get a smile as an answer…

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text: Maud REVOL
photo: Vladimir US