Wandering the World
I arrived at the train station an hour and a half early this morning because I didn’t want to stress if anything went wrong. That meant that I had to wait in the big open area. I chose a seat, recombobulated all of my luggage that had gotten in disarray after the exray machine and started to sit down. Before I could even get my butt in the chair, this gentleman in his 80 came up to me, pointed at my suitcase and said something in Russian. I explained that I didn’t speak Russian but either he had trouble hearing or he didn’t care. He sat opposite me and told me stories for 45 minutes without stopping. At this point I realized that my inability to speak the language made me the perfect listener. I looked into his kind eyes, mirrored his expressions, nodded encouragement and found that I even understood a couple of things. He was talking about cataracts, some kind of knee problem and some kind of gastrointestinal problem. The rest of it went all over my head but I loved the way his ears were bigger than you see on most people, his eyes were expressive and he used his hands to emphasize his points. I also realized that it wasn’t important if I understood exactly what he was saying, he wanted human connection and so did I. Because I am spending most of my days in silence it was nice to have someone to listen too. I don’t know if he ever understood that I didn’t speak Russian but I do feel like we saw each other’s humanity.
So, now I am on to Moldova, a country I couldn’t have located on a map yesterday. It is according to the internet, the poorest country in Europe and when I checked out the map just now, it has no coast line. It looks as if the Ukraine has the coast that would most naturally belong to Moldova. I wonder how that happened and how it affects relations between the two countries.
While riding peacefully along reading a book, my mind relaxed just enough to allow a non peaceful thought in. This thought was that while I had checked that I didn't need a visa to visit Moldova, I had totally forgotten I had to pass through the Ukraine to get there and I had not checked if I needed a visa for the Ukraine. I scrambled to locate my phone but alas, I had not internet so I couldn't check. The train halted a good distance from the border and Russian immigration officials boarded and looked at our passports. My official was a very large man with a serious expression who looked at me and said VISA! I had a Russian visa so I wasn't really worried about him, it was the Ukrainian official I was worried about. He kept repeating VISA though; I just kept looking at him not understanding what he wanted. In hindsight, maybe he was trying to intimidate me into giving him some money or something but then decided it wasn't worth the trouble of trying to make me understand so with a larger than necessary motion, he slammed the stamp down on my passport and left. I thought that would be it, but then he came back a few minutes later and sat next to me in a chummy kind of way, as if I was some sort of lost child and motioned that I should open my purse so I did. The first thing he found upon opening up zippers were my feminine products. He hastily closed that and abandoned the search. Then he asked to see my backpack again he struck gold with my toiletries right off the bat and zipped everything back up. Apparently all of these things were just too much for him and my suitcase went untouched as he quickly left the cabin.
I thought the Ukrainian officials would come on next but we were still an hour away from the border so I had to sweat it out worrying that I would be detained at the border for lack of a visa. It was Friday night and images of having to sit at the border until offices opened up on Monday morning flashed through my mind. Would they give me food and water I wondered. When the super large Ukrainian immigration official all dressed in khaki filled the doorway I was nervous but I tried to play it cool and handed over my passport quietly. He looked at it briefly, stamped it and walked away, and I was left looking at the entry stamp in relief.
I think the next stop is Kiev. Someone just came by with giant meat sticks, they look tempting but must remember, running out of money and a 2 day fast is not that bad. If only someone would come by with a modestly priced meat pie or something.
Last night before going to bed I checked our progress to Moldova and thought wow we are making really good time. I can’t believe that it will take until 7 tomorrow evening to get to Chisinau. Today I believe it. We have taken a very circuitous route through this small but beautiful country. I am happy that I got to see so much from the window. Some of the things that struck me are that spring has arrived here. Everywhere the ground is covered in green and the trees are flowering. It is beautiful after the stark brownness of Siberia. There is also a lot more life going on along the train tracks here. Instead of endless forest, much of the way has houses nestled close to the tracks and I even saw families having picnics. It is the Easter season and people are out visiting the graves of relatives. Houses continue to have outhouses and now they have wells too.
I am beginning to get very thirsty. I have rubles, yen and euros but I don’t have leu. It strikes me how arbitrary things like money are. I am on the same train I bought juice on yesterday but today because we have crossed several borders, I can’t buy anything anymore. When I do get to eat and drink again I am going to savor it. I am surprised by how not hungry I am. It has been almost 48 hours since I last ate and really I am not feeling it much at all. I think it is all a mindset. When I got on this train I knew I was not going to eat much and because it is not in front of me I am not having to resist it. This makes me wonder if the pain of being hungry I usually feel is sometimes not so much a physical feeling in the gut but rather a mental exhaustion of not being able to resist what is available any longer.
I have also almost finished my last book today (Why Buddhism is True). Luckily this book was about meditation so maybe instead of filling my head with more books for the rest of the trip I can practice meditation. It certainly sounds like it can lead to a happier more fulfilled life if one actually practices it. I would love to get rid of the rollercoaster of negative feelings and wants.
Moldova itself wasn’t so great. It was rather hard to find anything to eat and I had to walk long distances for everything making my leg throb. I did manage to get a taxi without being ripped off this time though because when the first driver said he would take me to my airbandb for 16 Euro, I just said no and went outside. They then said they would do it for 100 Liu so I said 50 because that was all I had taken out of the ATM machine. I had no idea how much it was but when I checked it was like 3 dollars which is about right for the length of the ride and the fact that the driver got kind of lost. I was a bit confused as to why none of their map programs seemed to show them where the actual address was and all of the drivers spent a bit of time just trying to locate the address on the map. My phone brought it right up, no problem.
Upon arrival at the airbandb, Tatiana and her lovely husband greeted me warmly and asked if I was hungry. Not having eaten for 2 days I said yes and she found some vegetables for me to eat. About halfway through her husband (who spoke no English) came out and asked if I would like to try some of his homemade wine. He grew the grapes himself and it was absolutely delicious. I still have the rest of the bottle to give to Kerem and believe me, it is hard not to drink it. Then off to bed. The house was a cute 1 bedroom that was very nicely decorated. I had trouble sleeping because the dogs kept barking so I was a bit tired the next day. I did however find the train station on foot, I bought a ticket and I found a small bookstore to get something to read. It felt good to get all of that accomplished.