In-depth report of the 2017 trip by CEEM to Moldova
Thursday 20th April
Arrived at Stanstead at 12.10 for Air Moldova flight 9U0834 to Chisinau. In fact it was a Ryanair 737-400 plane which Air Moldova had borrowed as they were short of aircraft. We had to pay for excess baggage as we had opted to take seed and aid as luggage rather than use a courier this time. I had to pay £42 for one bag and John £84 for two (cash only acceptable!). We eventually took off 45 minutes late and arrived an hour late in a heavy snow storm. The last 30 minutes was through thick black clouds with no visibility. We were met by Igor with 31/2 year old Bogdan and driven to their home to spend the night. We had a meal with the family: Lucia (wife), Rodelica (sister), Ana (14) and Victor (18 months). It continued snowing hard and nearly every tree that was in full leaf was damaged by the weight of the snow.
Friday 21st April
When we woke it was still snowing and it soon became apparent that we would not be driving anywhere that day as all the roads were blocked. The power was off briefly in our area of Chisinau but nothing serious. We received a phone call from Andrei in Burlacu to say that it was bad there too and they had no electricity. After breakfast we decided to explore the area and found that the snow was about 45cm (18") deep. Virtually every tree was damaged with boughs littering the roads and pavements.
We spent the morning helping old ladies home with their shopping and pushing cars out of snow drifts. We encountered a man shovelling his path and said "hello" he waved us into his house and proceeded to show us round and insisted that have a snack and inspect his cellar and sample his homemade wine of which he had 200 litres of red and 300 litres of white. His name was Alexander Tezentii and it turned out his wife had left the day before to work a few months in Italy. He summoned his neighbour Sezjiu Cuglut whose wife was also away visiting relations and we had to inspect his cellar as well, where he had a vast array of preserved fruit and vegetables as well as his inevitable wine vats.
Neither of them spoke any English but Sezjiu's niece did, so whenever we were stuck for clarity he rang her for guidance (about 15 times!).The snow eventually stopped after 36 hours.Igor has started a Soil Sterilisation business and has been trying to get this off the ground which is difficult as it is a new concept in Moldova - at least since the Russians left. We have been helping by subsidising experiments and demonstrations. One breakthrough is that he has treated Ministry of Agriculture tunnels as a paid contract. He has treated several sites for different crops throughout the country and is very interested in adding Trichoderma, a beneficial fungus to the soil after treatment. We donated a further 1000 Euros to help demonstrate, launch and evaluate the system.
Saturday 22nd April
The thaw was beginning and by 11.00am it was possible for us to set out via the city centre to change money and purchase seed at Vadalex-Agro. The vegetable list was: Tomato Gravitet, Cucumber Ekol, Pepper Lotta, Radish Tinto and Water Melon Crimson Sweet. John also bought a range of flower seeds. Igor accompanied by Lucia then drove us to Burlacu. The roads were surprisingly clear and we arrived at 1.30 pm. They travelled on to Vadul lui Isac south of Cahul to visit Lucia's parents.The whole valley had no electricity and Igor loaned his soil sterilisation generator to Andrei. This was used sparingly to save fuel but was a great benefit in the house and for the Seminar.In the afternoon we travelled Hirtop and met Oleg, Angelina, Ben and Madelina. Oleg is a very energetic individual in both his church and growing enterprises. Oleg's two tunnels are 1000 sq m each, both are full of Tomatoes cv Gravitet, and Cucumbers a new coded variety SV4097CV Seminis, The cucumber house was heated with a new gas heater that we had helped with last year but the tomato house used his home made solid fuel boiler which needed feeding throughout the night so for a few weeks he sleeps in the tunnel and catches up with sleep in the daytime. The new system cost 3,500 Euros which is too much to reproduce in the second tunnel. We left him 1000 Euros to put towards a replacement system for the second tunnel. Igor had steam sterilised the cucumber tunnel as a demonstration and planned to treat the tomato house in the summer.Both tunnels had a triple layer of plastic which helped maintain the temperature but affected light transmission.He is also testing varieties for us to discuss at the Seed Seminar and was pleased with Asparagus grown from seed - the first time he had grown it. It had been in the ground and had produced a very respectable yield. I gave him a selection of seeds and John discussed the possibility of growing super hot chillies for export to the UK.We then inspected the new church building had been finished very well but the "Meal Deal" extension had not been completed as they had run out of money. CEEM left 30,000 leu (1,500 eu) for the "Meal Deal building". We handed over their wages and gifts for the family.Back in Burlacu we were initially put in the guest room but it was so cold and damp that we were moved to the sitting room on extendable chairs. As there was no electricity we were in bed by 9.00 pm. Every time I woke up I was cold and added another layer of clothes ending up with a sweat shirt, 2 ordinary shirts, 2 pullovers and 2 pairs of socks!
Sunday 23rd April
Still plenty of snow and no electricity. We walked to the 10.00am service via the road as there was too much snow to take the shortcut across the bridge. The service was led by Ghenardie, with contributions from the teenagers, a ladies group and Sveta's family. I did a short talk about perseverance and John preached on "Who do you say I am?"A major surprise at the church site was the disappearance of Tamara's house next door which CEEM had purchased. An orphanage is to be built on the site by the same team (Gospel Direct) that erected the structure of the new church building. John was not best pleased as we had argued against demolition last year and having paid for the house we should at least have been consulted.After lunch we walked round the village with Emy, Adrian Adrianna and Marius. John and I purchased rubber shoes from the village shop as we had not packed suitable foot ware for melting snow. Several telegraph poles had broken or fallen and wires were broken in many places. We checked out the old Gymnasium, which is falling into ruin more each year, and on the way home were given a lift in a "Burlacu Special" pony cart.We split the 5 lots of seed that we had purchased in Chisinau into 30 packets each with the help of the children. These are to give away at the Seminar together with the seed carried from England.Ghenardie, Anna and their new baby Mattius came round in the evening and Ghenardie prepared a BBQ after first taking three hours to produce the charcoal from wood. John handed over wages to Ghenardie and Anna who have been added to the SNEC payroll.Warmer night with the aid of an additional blanket and only one jumper!
Monday 24th April
We picked up Ghenardie and drove to the next valley to the village of Tataresti where Andrei's brother Dennis is now living with his wife Natasha whose wedding we attended two years ago. Dennis's father-in-law Valerie Mecanu has five polythene tunnels and they had all been flattened by the snow and the tomatoes and cucumbers inside killed by frost. The disaster seems to have resulted from poor structure (metal hoops too far apart) and geography, as snow settled heavily in the valley whereas his neighbour's tunnels on top of the hill were fine as the wind blew the snow off. On the way back we visited Moscovi a Russian village where we had taken part in a service 12 years ago with Pavel and not revisited since. It was "The Day of the Dead" in the orthodox calendar where everyone goes to the churchyard to polish up the tombs and place flowers on the graves. Both graveyards in the village were heaving with people.We stopped off at Taraclia on the way back to visit Peter who is leading the church there to invite him to the Seminar. He lives with elderly parents and has five beehives and raises chickens for some income. A lady called Nina, one of his congregation, has cancer and needs treatment in Chisinau at 3000 leu (150 eu) a time. We left money for her next treatment and some for Peter to buy some more queen bees to increase the genetic diversity of his hives.We held the Agricultural Seminar starting at 4.00 pm. There were five speakers:1. Angela Zimmerman an American volunteer soil scientist based in Vadul lui Isac who explained the projects she has undertaken.2. Igor Hmelic talked about his steam sterilization business.3. Oleg Taralunga described his glasshouse set up and seed he has tested.4. John Law talked about "Possible New Horticultural Activities" including Super hot chilies, Honey, Iris multiplication and Dried fruit following his link with "Edible Ornamentals" at Chawston.5. I spoke about the seed we were distributing after the seminar.Over 50 people attended which was the best attendance we have had, possibly boosted by being a holiday and having no power at home? There was a good atmosphere and plenty of questions. Nearly all the seed was taken.The day ended with a walk up the hill towards Spicoasa and playing "Beetle" with the children.
Tuesday 25th April
Andrei arranged for us to tour the new fruit and vegetable drying facility which has been opened by the owner of the vinery. It has only been working since February and was currently at a standstill due to the power cuts. We were shown round by Zacharia Illich the manager and the equipment was "state of the art" and very impressive. They were in the middle of an order for Belarus converting plums into prunes. The fruit was washed, surface dried, dehydrated, and then stones were removed by hand operated gadgets. This was followed by size grading and packeting. They had a huge heap of plum stones which were destined for biofuel. John discussed the possibility of using this facility to produce dried fruit for export to the UK as well as possibly handling the super hot chilies. Zacharia claimed that they could handle almost all fruit and vegetables above minimum quantities and exports to the EU are possible but any contract needed to be discussed with the boss in Chisinau.Andrei then drove us up to Spicoasa to see the snow in their version of the "Grand Canyon". It was really beautiful - just like Switzerland!After this we attended the "Meal Deal" session for children with poor backgrounds run at the church in the refurbished old church building. They began by settling down to complete their homework aided by Ghenardie, this was followed by a snowball fight before food (soup, bread and a small open sandwich). John then told a story combined with craft about a caterpillar changing into a butterfly then we tried to teach them French cricket with limited success! John handed over a large bundle of craft material. There were 45 present which is about their limit but on Fridays they cope with 70 for a youth evening. Ghenardie and Anna are doing a fantastic job leading this work and the children have an obvious affection for them. We later learnt that Youth for Christ had been supporting Meal Deal financially to the tune of 200eu per month and would be withdrawing funding after May. It was a surprise to us as we thought CEEM were sole supporters and also an extra burden as we now had to replace the shortfall. Our next stop was Chisolia 10 km up the valley to visit Valerie (male) who is a major bee keeper with 120 hives. He is working on a new hive set up which he studied in Germany with hives grouped in 4s and the ability to add layers as needed. He harvests between 2 and 3 tons of honey per year and recognizes three flushes: oil seed rape, Acacia and Sunflower honey all with different characteristics. I managed to bang my head emerging from his workshop and saw stars for a minute or two!The last visit of the day was to Agneta and Anatole in Burlacu. Agneta had been working in Italy to raise money and their house had a distinctly Italian look to it. They were recipients of one of the original NIAB tunnels and have three in total two growing early potatoes cv Minerva and one raising bare rooted tomato and pepper plants for sale. One of their tunnels was badly damaged by the weight of the snow but the crop had not been damaged. Outside their potatoes under fleece were all frosted.In the evening we settled up accounts with Andrei and Eugenia leaving money for wages, Meal Deal and some for the Gromwell seed that Eugenia had collected. This is the crop that NIAB are working with as it is high in omega 3 oil, but they are not quite as enthusiastic as they were initially. Marking plants with wool last year was only partially successful as itinerant sheep tend to eat anything when they are hungry!The electricity had still not been reconnected and this eventually took a week.
Wednesday 26th April
We left Burlacu before 8.30am and Vasilie (Ghenardie's father) drove us to Leova accompanied by Andrei. Andrei's car is OK in the village but no longer suited for longer journeys. We went via Cahul as the cross country roads were not suitable. This route follows the River Prut and the Romanian border and we were pleased to see flocks of returning storks feeding along the river before nesting. We arrived at Leova around 11.00 am and first of all inspected Eugene's house purchase. This property is joined to his existing house and needed because he and Aliona have just produced their ninth child. CEEM are loaning him the money for the purchase and he was very worried in case we had not brought the money (4,400 eu). The building is in a poor condition and will need quite a bit of work to make it habitable. The previous occupants left everything in the house when they emigrated and it could be opened as a museum! We left 200 eu towards making the roof waterproof as a first step and another 200 eu towards improving their present kitchen. His large tunnel was growing tomatoes cv Klas and cucumbers. He currently has 14 goats and 8 kids. Milk yields are low at present but are a great asset in keeping his children healthy. We met Aliona who looked very well despite her fecundity and Sophie, Ghenardie and the new baby Adam (definitely the last but we have heard that before!).We then travelled to Illie's where the dirt roads were suffering in the weather. His giant l 80 m x 7 m tunnel had just produced an excellent crop of radish and was newly planted with tomatoes cvs Izmir, Tolstoi and Panecra with a few other novelty varieties. There were also patches of lettuce, spinach, cauliflowers and cabbage for eating or transplanting. His small, ex NIAB tunnel was growing cucumbers and seedlings for transplanting. Illie has a flock of 21 goats and one unfortunate kid was prepared for our lunch! His house extension was still far from finished but one room was plastered and close to being used. Upstairs was packed with stored items of all descriptions especially clothes. We met wife Pasha and youngest son Elijah whose education was on hold because he failed mathematics and has to retake the exam; meanwhile he is helping his father. We did not see Tabitha the severely handicapped daughter as she was asleep; unfortunately she sleeps poorly at night but better in the daytime which is difficult for her parents who look permanently tired. Illie had collected 450g of a blue flowered Gromwell for which we left 2000 leu. I left most of this with Igor as customs might have taken a dim view of a package which looked rather like a drug consignment. I brought small samples home to be delivered to NIAB and Igor will post the rest if required. John handed over their wages from SNEC and a donation towards patching up his car.Igor was delayed picking us up so went for a walk besides the River Prut and to visit their church building. We were collected at 3.00pm by Igor and VictorAs is traditional on our last evening we took the whole of Igor's family to Andy's Pizzas in the evening - 5 adults and two children 700 leu (£35).
Thursday 27th AprilI
12.30 flight home but John was flying on to Turkey to visit missionaries from his church.The return flight was good and on time, again courtesy of Ryanair. Kate picked me up from Stanstead and we were home by 3.00pm