The other day, an attractive young woman in a dress and heels handed me an envelope. When I looked inside, I saw it was stuffed full of euros and (Moldovan) lei.
What’s this? Am I being paid by Russian gangsters, the CIA, or some other nefarious group? Nah. The truth is that I now have a “real” job, one that is the most illegitimate bunch of bullshit I’ve ever been involved in.
The Last Honest Man, or How Terry Colby Came to Chisinau
I must admit, it is rather ironic that when I lived in Romania, I did everything in my power to be a net contributor to that country and society. Aside from some much-disputed alleged violations of the rules of my residency visa, I never broke so much as a jaywalking rule or law.
Indeed, I had to come to Moldova to be a true criminal. Mind you, my residency “papers” are quite well in order, and this time there is no dispute about that. Nor have I succumbed to what a few idiots have accused me of, including human trafficking, drug dealing, and (my personal favorite), my neighbor here in Chisinau actually being crazy enough to come to court and accuse me of “forbidding my wife to eat meat”, especially hilarious since she had been a vegetarian a year before I ever met her and it’s apparently the law that an animal must die at every meal in Moldova or else you’ll die of hunger. Ah, good times.
Nope. I’m still not breaking the law. But I do work for a company that is. And it’s really not that unusual. I’m eligible to work here and so I sent out a few CVs (resumes) and got an interesting response from a company that needed a writer. I’m a writer, right? (say yes!) and so a couple of weeks ago, I got dressed and showed up at a real office for a “real” job for the first time in more than a decade.
But, as anyone who lives in Moldova soon finds out, nothing is ever as it appears.
There are literally signs everywhere in this town (in both languages) warning against receiving your salary in an envelope (no picture because my crappy Chinese phone broke). And here I am getting my salary exactly as advertised, cash stuffed in an envelope.
According to the paper my company asked me to sign, my salary is officially something like 3,400 MDL, which is about 683 RON, 153 euros, or 172 dollars. Nice, eh? Working my ass off 40 hours a week for 172 bucks translates to about 99 cents an hour. Christ!
Except that’s not my real salary, of course. That’s just what my stupid company is telling the Moldovan government that I make because it’s the minimum wage. The difference is made up by secret (to the government) euros stuffed in an envelope, pure gangster style.
If that weren’t enough, I’ve discovered to my dismay that my company is partially in bed with elements of the Moldovan regime (I hesitate to call them the “government”) which is about to have a semi-secret conference where all the major donors like the United States, Romania, and the EU are going to agree to give fuck tons more money to this ridiculous excuse of a government.
As part of this, my company was asked (paid) to write up a nice little professional report showing all of the good things that the Moldovan government has been doing. And when my company used actual, real figures from legitimate sources like the OECD and the IMF, my company’s “contacts” in the government decided that the report wasn’t quite glorious enough, so they asked that these numbers be fudged or juked in order to bamboozle donors into thinking everything is peachy and silky smooth here.
Sigh. I realized the other day that we’re a few political prisoners short of being an actual dictatorship or authoritarian state. All we need is for Plahotniuc to develop his own crazy pseudo-religion and we’ll be on our way!
I had nothing to do with that report, thank goodness, and so far I personally haven’t been asked to do anything dishonest (except for the whole envelope stuffed full of cash bit), but it’s been a real eye opener. I’m now starting to see first-hand why Moldova is officially the Poorest Country in Europe™ because literally no one ever does anything the legitimate way here (not that I blame them).
I’m clearly not the only one getting paid with an envelope full of money. Add that to all the businesses operating with no receipts (RO: bon fiscal, Moldova: cec), rent contracts that are bullshit or non-existent, and millions of Moldovans who have no bank account, an economy that’s officially! 28% composed of untraceable cash being sent from overseas (called remittances), and it’s pretty clear that there’s a river of money flowing through here that no official agency, government, or institution knows anything about.
Can’t say for sure how long I’ll be working in my “legitimate” job, but it sure has been interesting so far. And considering that I’m still working my “other” job as a freelance writer, now you know why I’ve been largely MIA from the site of late.
In the past few months, I’ve received quite a few messages from guys (all guys for some reason) who, for one reason or another, got stuck behind the lines in dear old Romania. It seems like my exhaustive post on immigration in Romania and RM has been getting some hits from people who’ve overstayed their bullshit visas and wrote to me in desperation asking for advice on issues that weren’t covered in that article.
All I can say is that, while I am not a lawyer, no lawyer in the history of Moldova or Romania has ever won an immigration case, and I’ve actually represented myself and done a spectacular job (if I do say so myself), so I really am in a pretty good position to give some advice, oddly enough.
If you, or someone you love, is unfortunately on an expired visa or had to tangle with the devils in the immigration/migration department, and my post didn’t answer your questions, feel free to shoot me an email (contact info is at the top of every page) and I’ll do my best to tell you what’s what.
Remember, you only pay me if you win your case! :P (that’s a joke, people)
What can I say? Romania is an amazing country and lots of foreigners want to visit. And sometimes they stay longer than the magical date on their visa and turn into illegal pumpkins at the stroke of midnight. I’m glad to help out any way I can.
But I do note that not a single person has ever written me and asked about similar issues related to the Republic of Moldova LOL. Tourism is pretty non-existent here, and that’s not a tragedy. Yes, there are a few nice things to see here (especially if you’re a devotee of Bacchus :P) but Moldova is a pretty hard place to love.
Indeed, I’m only here because the universe is a strange place full of absurdities, and it still has the power to make me laugh (at myself).
AND NOW YOU KNOW HOW I GOT A REAL JOB!
5 thoughts on “Adventures in Legitimacy”
Many people are paid unofficially = Moldova is a richer country than the official statistics are showing.
Some mistakes that you’ve done here, Sam:
1. “my stupid company is telling the Moldovan government that I make because it’s the minimum wage”. The company is not stupid at all. It’s just the that bloody greed for the money (although the company got a richly paid contract with the government, they still want to elude some taxes). You know that lots of taxes (like retirement, unemployment, medical services etc) are NOT paid for the money that you’ve received in that envelop, do you?
2. All this story regarding how to deceive “all the major donors like the United States, Romania, and the EU” smells fishy. And here is why:
2a. All these entities HAVE their own people (secret service or just desk people) that will consult (it’s their job!) the web pages of OECD, IMF and many other… So you basicaly pretend here that we’re so stupid to believe that the government (that have lots of experience on that field and tons of specialists) asked from your company for that? C’mon…
2b. That envelope might come from some russian agencies (I’m not saying that you’re aware of it). Although it is funny that you’ve enumerated the “losers’ in that perfect “russian” order: “United States, Romania, and the EU”.
3. Whatever the case may be, you’ll probably lose the current job (fail to fulfill any of the supposed tasks)
4. This is for you. Fill in something here if none of the above is true.