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New Europe

Day Forty-seven: Chisinau

A play in Biesti 
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The children of the village of Biesti take a curtain call after a remarkable play that highlighted the problem of sex-trafficking, to which Moldovans, including some of their own parents, are vulnerable.
Michael Palin - New EuropeBefore I get too soft, I'm going to look at some of the less savoury realities of life in Moldova, in the company of Tatiana, still in her twenties. A tough and experienced journalist, she also works for UNICEF.

The village of Biesti, two hours' drive north-east of the capital, is in one of the poorest parts of the country and the children here have many problems, including drink, drugs and the predations of sex-traffickers.

It's a little down at heel, but far from grim, with blue-painted metal fences and filigree ironwork decorations on guttering, roof-ends and fenceposts. A stern Second World War memorial commemorates the Russians (and Moldovans) who died fighting the Germans (and their Romanian allies). Opposite it, UNICEF has turned a run-down building into a community house, where the local children can work on computers, read, draw, learn acting and generally meet and talk. Many of them are just plain lonely, with fathers and mothers often forced abroad to earn money, leaving the older children to bring up younger families.

Today, on a patch of grass behind the war memorial, a group of children, with the help of a charismatic local UNICEF representative, are to put on a play they've written about the dangers of sex-trafficking. With the music of Peruvian pipes, Ennio Morricone, Celine Dion and others booming out over a P/A system, they present a powerful tale whose action follows three traffickers who come to the village (always depicted with a white backcloth) where the children do most of the work and the men sit around and drink. By various means they persuade local women to come with them to earn big money abroad (depicted by a black back-cloth), where, of course, it all turns sour and they end up first having to beg and later to sell themselves into prostitution, which generally involves being raped first and turned onto drugs.

These adolescent children play rejection, anger and violence frighteningly well, but they also play compassion and grief with quiet force.

In less than fifteen minutes I learn a lot from them. That much of the work here, sorting and processing tobacco leaves, is poorly paid and dangerous. It demands long hours and can lead to cancer and leukaemia in the children. That most of the sex-traffickers are people from within their own community who have already made some money abroad. That the children are particularly at risk because so many parents, a quarter of the village population, are abroad at any one time, some of them going five or six years without seeing their children. That the women are taken predominantly to Spain and Italy to beg and Russia, Israel, Egypt and Greece for sex. That in this village children become adults from the age of twelve.

As Tatiana wryly points out, the only thing about the play which doesn't ring true is the happy ending.

Despite all we've seen, she says, 'If you ask at the end of the play who wants to go abroad, the majority would say, "I do".'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-seven: Chisinau
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Bieşti
  • Book page no: 120

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