Everybody is already in a Christmas craze, shopping for presents, having their hair done for another pre-Christmas party at work and me … me too, but I still needed to write about this incredible journey about three months ago to a land far far away, Moldova. It deserves at least this little ‘omage’.
I still lived in Lisbon when I planned my trip to Moldova. I was selected to referee at a European goalball championship for C division in September and honestly, it did not seem a special destination to me. I really wanted to to to an Asian championship in Thailand this year, but well, this small country was as good of a destination as any, after all, my goalball family is always fun to be with.
My summer was crazy enough already, so I was reluctant to make too many preparations for my trip and since I had my bag, whistle, a pair of sneakers, a direct flight ticket and a passport I only needed to plan my activities after the championship. I decided to take 6 more days to explore the country and just relax. And there was a girl at my work from Moldova. perfect, another colleague said she was very nice and approachable and so I asked her to recommend something to see or do there. “Why would you go to Moldova?” was her first question as she was flabbergasted at the same time. I was equally shocked at the question of a local. I mean, no matter how bad the political and economical situation is in one’s country, people normally like their nature and at least something is worth visiting. Then I had to explain all my goalball story even though I knew that would only confuse her, so she offered to think a bit and get back to me after a few days. Strange, I thought, I just needed a quick brainstorming of a few important places. And strangely after a few days she still did not know what exactly to recommend so I had to ask her about some destinations. Not a big help. I got more advice from forums and my friend Verena. All I expected at this time is a lot of green hilly areas and vineyards, Soviet buildings and some kind of controversy.
“Chance favors those in motion.” James H. Austin
So my departure day arrived and I was quite happy to take a direct flight from Lisbon with Air Moldova. As it turns out, there are a lot of Moldovans living in Portugal, they emigrated for work and climate, I guess. So there are direct flights to Chisinau every day and the average age of a passenger is aroud 50. Mostly Moldovans. My adventure that day did not run so smoothly as planned (or it did, now that I think of it, it could not have been easier!). My passport could not be scanned, so a border controller checked my passport, chit-chatting to me about the reasons for my visit of Moldova. So only boarding was awaiting and just as I was about to leave down the corridor to the plane, the flight attendant stopped me saying: “Your passport has expired in August.” to which I replied: “But we are in August.”
“Well, madam, it is September here.” I was so shocked so I hardly heard her suggestion: “Madam, do you have another document?”
“Wel, yes, my ID.”
“That will do,” and they let me pass to the plane where I met the Portuguese team. I was still numb from the fact my passport had expired and scared of what if they do not let me in the country when I finally arrive. Now I know only that I was veeeery lucky. The next day (we arrived to the Chisinau airport at 5 am) they let me go through with my ID and as I later found out, ID was enough to enter Moldova from earlier 2017.
It was a consolation to travel with the Portuguese team and even better to meet the organizer Konrad at the airport. A tall, young man, much to my surprise, put me in a Transnistrian car with a Moldovan driver and so my adventure continued. I had wished to go to Transnistria, but with my passport being expired I gave up there. I am almost sure they would not let me pass with only my ID, and then again, I did not want to push my luck. So being in a Transnistrian Mercedes was quite enough for me. It was less than 20 km drive to Complex Odiseu, but it took us an hour and on the way to the resort I saw a Russian tank, which was there, as I later found out, for ‘peace-making’. Google maps would show that this distance by car can be done in 20 minutes, but not in Moldova. I challenge you to do it!
The IBSA European Goalball Championship
It was all good again when I met the other referees, some teams and classifiers at the hotel. And as it should be, making jokes at my account is the first step. The second was sleeping some more. And then ordering one taxi for six people. And waiting for them to figure out why seven people don’t fit in a 5-seat car and how to solve this equation. Once we finally got to the centre of Chisinau, we were out of ideas what to actually see in two hours that we had that day so we just sat in a bar and drank beer. Me, I just wanted to taste wine, because I had heard so much about their famously good wines, but the first glass was simply bad.
I soon figured out that my little knowledge of Russian would come in handy. People on the streets and in the shops already looked at you indifferently of that you are from another planet, if you asked them something in English, they were just more annoyed. So, it was a quest – to manage my way aroung with my broken Russian and to learn more. Because all I knew in Romanian, the second official language in Moldova, was ‘mulțumesc’.
When we had out first technical meeting we also saw the venue for the first time. It was a very modern floorball hall, it had music and as it seemed at a first glance all the equipment. But we soon learned that the microphone would be there for the opening ceremony only if the local theatre did not need it and music only allowed when the technician was there. The organizer was supposed to get all the other neccesary things. Who was the organizer? Up to this day I am still not entirely sure. What happens if there is something missing – well, just… improvize!
Finally the teams were classified and we could start with the first game. Before the games started, we knew that we only had 4 rolls of gummed tape. And it was not bought in Moldova (not sure if it was from Poland or Russia). I just had to make sure the substitution numbers were in place and then we were all set. Oh, wait – the organizer did not provide the numbers. Ok, we still had 30 minutes before the marching in started. So, we had to make the numbers ourselves. It was a funny team-building activity. Unfortunately the teams were getting penalties because of our inaccurate work (which was done in 30 min), because we did not have enough pens to write numbers on both sides.
We somehow managed to catch the routine of getting up, eating breakfast, riding a bus for half an hour, cows and goats stopping our way to the venue, playing and refereeing some games and then eating lunch in a local wedding hall of Ciorescu and then again playing some games, and in the evenings finally to relax.
Then the very eloquent and capable, multilingual technical delegate Konrad had to convince the bus driver to follow the schedule, drive to the hotel and get the other teams to the venue, while the driver fought back, saying the bus is not yet full. And a few days later waiting for one of the teams to arrive from the hotel, while the bus was still parked at the venue and the driver sleeping. The driver just did not understand why following the schedule was important – especially with a bus half empty.
A championship full of challenges, out of our comfort zones, but as I like to think of it, a wonderful learning experience for all of us: for the teams, most of which are still in the beginning of their path up, for the organizers, referees and who knows, maybe even for the local community and the disabled sports of Moldova.
Many teams surprised us and themselves, some with a very good performance, some with mistakes that cost them the entry to the semifinals. The Greek coach had a similar problems with his passport at the airport, but unfortunately he did not have his ID and so he had to return home and for the time he was not present in the same, the team’s performance was very low. Once he managed to come back, they won every single game and the championship. There is some food for thought there – how much does a coach mean for the team?
The results were reported on a Facebook page, which is still active here. But there was no live streaming, I think if you read some of my previous paragraphs, you would know why.
An important part of this (and I presume any) championship were the volunteers. The people that seldom get any mention in articles or sports report – but are crucial for the smooth course of the championship. There were some young Moldovan high school students there every day, for the most part doing the job of a goal judge and trying to stay awake by the goal post. I am not sure, however, who learned the most, us from them or them from us – but the exchange was always fun.
The championship had its challenges and perks, but my stay in Moldova was not yet finished, on the contrary, my solo journey just begun.
To be continued…