Woman from Moldova

I received the following email today.

Subject: ‘Hello! How’s life?’

 

From Alena

 

 

Hello dear stranger!

I’d like to find a man for friendship and may be more serious relationships later.

You are the one Id like to know. Just want to say that I am from Moldova. This is between Romania and Ukraine. I live in the city of Tiraspol.

I’m 33 years old and in next month will be 34. I’m looking for a man in your country because my cousin lives there with her husband and I plan go there in the next months.

I chose this country because it is very good and pure soul of the people. It would be fine to meet you in person.

I’m sincerely interested in knowing more about you. Dating is not just fun for me, I never play games.

I expect that you are also serious. I’m a lonely woman that wants to find someone that will take care and understand me.

Let me tell you more about myself. I assume that I am a strong woman with goals, ideals and ambitions.

I hope that this letter will help us to write the first lines of each other.

I’ll wait for your answer. 

Alena

 

Naturally I was pleased, in fact a little flattered, that someone from a far country, someone quite unknown to me, should seek my thoughts on such a matter: the subject –

How’s Life? – is deeply philosophical, a question that has engaged great minds since ancient times. With considerable deliberation I began to compose my reply. Obviously the question was compellingly important to my correspondent, for Adela had written to me deep in the Moldovan night hours. Philosophic dubiety was depriving the good lady of her sleep.

 

It came to me that I know insufficient of life in Moldova. My new penfriend deserved better than a half-informed reply. So I googled Moldova. I was in luck: the first of very many links led to ‘Women in Moldova’. I clicked and found myself faced with a picture gallery. Instantly I saw that Moldovan women suffer a shortage of clothing – none of the ladies was completely dressed.

A second glance revealed that all were the beneficiaries of augmentary surgery. Now I began to find my bearings – Adela would be a semi-clad philosopher, who was either a surgeon (hence her choice of this medical colleague as her sage) or the survivor of surgery.

 

I clicked on and read the following: ‘Are Moldovan women easy? | Women of Moldova, marriage, dating …

http://www.moldova.ukrnetia.com/are-moldovan-women-easy/

girl from Moldova Moldovan women do not respect themselves. Whom should woman be to stay at 3 am on the intersection under the traffic lights for 15 minutes…’

Seeking more information I clicked to continue this promising discussion and found my software forbade further access. Odd. Apparently my software is not philosophy friendly. Undeterred, I googled Tiraspol and read the following: ‘Tiraspol, the capital of a country that doesn’t exist: Transnistria

 Tiraspol. Did you know that some countries don’t exist? Well, they do exist, but they are not recognized by the United Nations.’ 

 

 

Now I felt I understood poor Adela’s plight: her country does not exist. What is the meaning of her life? She makes clear her serious nature (“I never play games”). I realised Australia will be culturally alien to Adela. In Australia we only play games: our religion is sport. Sport renders philosophy unnecessary, transcending mere speculation on meaning and purpose. This also made clear Adela’s choice of me, of the roughly 23 million Australian’s to be her life guide. She writes: I expect that you are also serious. Indeed. Just so.

 

Modestly Adela revealed her own moral uncertainty. She wrote: I assume that I am a strong woman with goals, ideals and ambitions. ‘I assume’ suggests deep self-doubt. Immediately I thought of a more suitable guide, Ruby, my four-year old granddaughter. That young lady is most certainly a strong woman, positively laden with goals, ambitions and ideals. World domination would be her initial aim. Just this morning, Ruby asked her mother – quite without context or prior discussion – ‘Mummy, why did Mandela go to jail?’

 

 

I decided to hand Adela’s case to Ruby.

“I lived in the era of Nelson Mandela”

English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...

Nelson Mandela. 1937. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I lived in the era of Nelson Mandela”.

That statement is something I can tell my grandchildren; and they in turn will say to their grandchildren, “My grandfather was alive in the days of Nelson Mandela”.

A person of that calibre does not pass this way every century.

I’d like to share the following article written by Roger Cohen that appeared in the

New York Times 8 July 2013.

Dreaming of Mandela

By ROGER COHEN

LONDON — The South African living for my family was easy. The staff changed the nappies. The houseboys brought the braziers to the right glow for the braai. Two gardeners were employed, one for the roses and one for the rest. When dinner ended the bell was rung, either by hand or by pressure of the foot on a buzzer beneath the carpet. A black servant would appear dressed in a white outfit.

My grandfather, Laurie Adler, and his friends donned their whites for Sunday lunch, preceded by a cocktail of “gin and two” (one third gin, one third Cinzano Bianco, one third Cinzano Rosso and “and full to the brim with ice”), before ambling off to play bowls.

At picnics on Table Mountain, a beret on his head, socks pulled up almost to his knee, Laurie would plunge a knife into the pale green watermelons, making a series of incisions before, with a flourish, allowing the succulent fruit to fall open in oozing red bloom. We feasted and left a trail of eggshells and bitten-out watermelon rind.

And on Robben Island, without watch or clock, Mandela maps time on the wall of his cell.

A particularity of the apartheid system was that blacks were kept at a distance except in the most intimate of settings, the home. They cooked and cleared away; they washed and darned and dusted; and they coddled white children. After the Shabbat meal on Friday night guests might leave some small token of appreciation on the kitchen counter (“Shame, I don’t have much change”) or slip a few rand into a calloused black hand.

Elsewhere lay the Africa of the Africans — the natives as they were often called — the distant townships of dust and dirt where water was drawn from a communal spigot, and homes consisted of a single room, and clothes were patched together from scraps of passed-down fabric, and the alleys were full of the stale stench of urine. I could smell the hardship in the sweat of the houseboys and see it in the yellowish tint of their eyes.

And on Robben Island, Mandela records on a South African Tourism desk calendar the humiliations inflicted by white prison warders.

A relative told me his first political memory from the early 1950s was of a great tide of black walkers streaming from Alexandra township — “like the Jews leaving Egypt,” he said, but of course no liberation awaited. The blacks were protesting against a one-penny hike in bus fares. Moenie worry nie, Laurie always insisted — don’t worry. He had been born in South Africa in 1899, my grandmother Flossie in 1900. They should know.

South Africa was as good a place as any for a Jew to live in the 20th century. A friend of the family let slip a sentiment widely felt but seldom articulated: “Thank God for the blacks. If not for them it would be us.” Jews on the whole kept their heads down; better just to keep stumm. Flossie voted for Helen Suzman’s anti-apartheid Progressive Party and then prayed the National Party remained in power. She was not alone in such genteel hypocrisy.

And on Robben Island, Mandela cultivates not hatred — that would be too easy for the whites — but the power of patience and perseverance.

The blacks were a form of protection. If you are busy persecuting tens of millions of blacks you do not have much time left over for tens of thousands of Jews. For South African Jews, aware of the corpse-filled ditches of the Europe they had fled, the knowledge of the 69 blacks cut down at Sharpeville in 1960 was discomfiting. But this was not genocide, after all. Most, with conspicuous exceptions (more proportionately among Jews than any other white South Africans), looked away.

Why think of a black man in a cell for his just beliefs when you could gaze at the canopy of purple-blue jacaranda blossom over the avenues of Johannesburg? Everything seemed untroubled, unless you caught a glimpse of ragged black men being herded into police vans. Then a cousin might say, “I suppose they don’t have their passes. Enjoy the swimming pools, next year they will be red with blood.”

And on Robben Island, Mandela learns that not even a life sentence can condemn a man to abandon the mastery of his soul.

I have been dreaming of Mandela. An old idea: He who touches one human being touches all humanity. I have been murmuring his name: He broke the cycle of conflict by placing the future above the past, humanity above vengeance.

He reminded us of what is most precious in Jewish ethics: What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man — or, as the Mosaic book says many times, you are to treat the stranger well for “you were a stranger in a strange land.” Repair the world. Be a light unto nations.

The truth is we did not deserve him. We could not even imagine him. But, as I learned young in South Africa, the human spirit can avert even inevitable catastrophe.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 9, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.