My friend Tony has two great hobbies - learning languages and visiting unusual places. He has just arrived in Tiraspol, capital of Transnistria, and will spend two weeks there studying Russian. Transnistria is a country, but one that does not appear on any map and is not recognised by any givernment. It's an enclave of the republic of Moldova on the Ukrainian border which, though not contiguous with Russia, is occupied by a Russian army. It is a conflict that began with a fighting a disco in a small town and has been frozen since 1991.
I am jealous of Tony's knowledge of languages and much more jealous of the fact that he was there in such times and places as Mozambique when it was a Portuguese colony, Libya just after Gaddafi came to power and Albania in 1979 under Hoxha. The fact that I'm jealous will please him as he is a competitive person and I am glad that I thereby make him happy. However, I shall not envy him Transnistria because I intend to muscle in, by taking a couple of days off work and staying in the same hotel in Tiraspol. I shall arrive in Chisinau tomorrow morning, go to Transnistria Friday morning and shall blog about it.
But I start by copying Tony's Facebook status of today.
End of my second day in Transnistria. My guide told me that i was his first client this year but he was expected things to pick up. He also told me that there were two expats living in Tiraspol, but one, a 70-year old German had recently left. The other one is an American called Tim who runs an unlicensed hostel and is married to a local girl. I met Tim this evening, he looked drunk and washed-out and was with 10 tourists from an adventure tour company lead by an Englishman living in China. This person told me that nine out of 10 of the people in his Group had been to North Korea and so Transnistria was a natural follow-on. He also does tours to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
My Russian teacher told me that there were rarely music concerts in Tiraspol and that performers were mostly local or from Russia. The only international name, Boney M, performed here 15 years ago. Since then nobody has been. She also said there were foreigners who came to Tiraspol to learn Russian and that i was not the first. On average the school where she worked had four students per year.
When all is said, Tiraspol is quiet and friendly and very Russian. They consider Russians their saviours and protectors. I like this place, it is not Soviet but has some of the post-Soviet charm that you found in Kiev before the Orange Revolution in 2004.