The aftermath of our old life in Romania lingers like a bad smell.
As a good friend, who runs a travel agency specialising in Eastern Europe, commented: if I told the following story about any European country other than Romania, people would question whether I was reporting a real situation.
It goes rather like this. Before I left Romania, I sold seven horses to an Anglo-Romanian foundation that aims (we are told) to preserve culture, encourage civic values, and build a hotel that will offer riding and other attractions. The price for each horse was agreed with the director (let's call him Mr A), however (what a surprise) he delayed and the money wasn't transfered into my account before I left Romania. Now Mr A has called me and says that he wants to renegotiate the prices. He intends (he says) to bring a veterinarian in his pay to "value" the horses. Of course the vet will say what he is expected to say, since naturally enough he wishes to work for Mr A again in the future. The fact that vets are responsible for treating sick animals, not assessing the financial value of healthy animals, seems irrelevant when there is money to be grasped.
Meanwhile, the formal legal closure of my old company is in the hands of a lawyer, whom I shall call Mr B. Now, Mr B is a friend of Mr A. Guess what, as soon as the issue of payment for the horses surfaced, Mr B stopped answering my phone calls (my name appears on his phone display when I ring) and no longer replies to emails. Meanwhile, Mr A has asked me "to put a financial value" on his requesting Mr B to continue to represent me. Mr B has all the documents from my old company, and knows that it will be very difficult to engage another lawyer from Britain. Especially when Romanian lawyers are a cozy clique to begin with. Meanwhile, as closure is delayed, tax bills mount.
Both these men are well known figures in Transylvania, yet neither feels the need to behave ethically. Until these problems occured, they were all charm and helpfulness. Mr A's wife (who is English) is looking after the horses, so I hope that they will be well cared for. [Later: sadly, this proved to be a vain hope!] However, Mr A was slow to give his wife money to buy corn, and then claimed that "the horses were thin" (they certainly weren't thin when I delivered them!), so I wonder just what has happened. (Unless, of course, they are being compared to images of fat English show horses!)
Regrettably it seems impossible to transact any sort of business in Romania without the stench of dishonesty.
This is all very sad after spending nine years living and working in Romania. I had a lot of fun riding through the mountains, enjoyed keeping horses and running the riding centre, and most of the time enjoyed working with my employees. Unfailingly I showed the best parts of Romania to guests from forty countries. I did my best to integrate myself into Romanian society. My business supported local farmers, and helped several accommodations as they started up. We supported musicians and craftspeople. I practically contorted myself trying to explain away the at times glaring failings of the system in general and the tourism industry in particular. I forgave a good many foolish and dishonest acts. So most probably it was a mistake to expect to be able to leave without being ripped off.
It was a common trait amongst foreigners working in Romanian tourism to believe that "things will improve shortly". Next year will be better was the motto. Of course tax hikes, government own-goals, burgeoning bureaucracy, above inflation price rises by suppliers and the shaky economy meant that "next year" rarely was better. We tried to trust anyone who appeared trustworthy, as a reaction against so many who manifestly were not trustworthy. Some Romanians were indeed trustworthy, and I could name Cornel (my old horseman) despite one or two lapses, Sorin (the guide in Suceava), Mugur (who has horses near Cluj, and is keeping my dogs until October), Ovidiu (who runs a riding operation near Targu Mures, where the mare Kaluga retired to) and his colleagues, Irina and Daniel in Bucuresti (who helped so many of our guests), Andrei and the staff at Pantravel in Cluj, and Cristi (the vet who helped us so much). Others not mentioned should forgive my memory. However I strain to think of any other neighbours, colleagues or suppliers whom I felt able to trust. Now, again, I have treated someone as trustworthy because I hoped that he would prove trustworthy. Again, my fingers have been burnt.
Really, it would have been better if we foreigners had put our collective foot down in 1990. When we gave out aid to very poor people and orphans, and they went straight to the market to swap the aid for cigarettes, we should have seen the light and walked away. But we hoped that things would get better. We should have seen it as a sign of what was to come. But we were blinded by our egotistical desire to "do good", and now we have paid the price. So have more deserving people whom we might have helped instead.
Still, I have emerged wiser and with new skills. My wife and I met in Romania, and our paths most likely would not have crossed any other way. We have had interesting experiences and good times as well as bad. Those nine years brought blessings and, as for the bad things, some would say that I escaped relatively lightly.