більше ліхтарі, більш кулемети 04/09/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: customs, eastern european trains, machine guns, medyka, poland, Przemyśl, smuggling, soldiers, travel, ukraine
Four thinly padded bunks wrapped in a rich burgundy vinyl. Top tiers collapsed against the wall to make benches of the bottom which in turn served as lids for storage. A table ruined any illusion of space between the thin walls, and the aisle was crowded by another two bunks with a smaller table which folded to make the sixth bed.
Polish customs officials, railway matrons and a girl wearing a towel around her neck which she continuously soaked in the toilet sink kept us company. Everyone sat on the opposite end of the car, carrying on in heathen tongues while the train slowly began to rattle away from the station. What had been unpleasantly hot outside quickly became stifling, but neither of our windows opened.
As we sat staring out at an empty wasteland women dragged granny carts down the aisle. These burdens, one consisting entirely of tubs of laundry detergent, were scattered throughout the car. Granny cart would wheel past empty, the cycle would repeat. Towel Girl took another bird bath. When I paid my first visit the floor was so soaked acrobatics kept pathogens from infesting my shoes.
One of the railway matrons paid a visit to look over our passports. She figured out Ireland pretty quickly but had trouble understanding that The United States is not England. After a crash course in world affairs and several repetitions of Ireland/America she wandered off.
Industrial buildings crawled into view, affording us an opportunity to truly appreciate their architecture. Our origins were double-checked and a couple third-generation xeroxed immigration forms in Cyrillic and English arrived. Piercing lights scanned us as the train limped into a yard bridging Poland and Ukraine, outside the village of Medyka. Shrinkwrapped sheets and hygienic kits were handed out as Polish customs and the workers fled. We had traveled eight miles in an hour.
Janice made sandwiches to celebrate the setting sun. No one had bothered to turn on the lights and soon we were left in twilight, clawing helplessly at the windows and tempting mosquitos that had bred in the toilet bilge. A Ukrainian soldier found us, barked a command, and pointed to our passports when we waved our arms asking for English. Long stares at our pictures, long stares at our faces, back and forth, waiting for us to make a mistake. He vanished as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving us in the dark with no papers.
Some solider had our passports, some woman had our tickets. If an official decided we needed to pay any impromptu taxes, or if our passports were not in order, there was little we could do. Two men in fatigues appeared and jabbered Ukrainian. They waved their arms when we asked if they spoke English and motioned for us to stand so they could check under our bunks. Janice started telling me about her visit to Auschwitz, how the tourists roam with cameras and houses overlook the grounds. Water was already running low.
A German Shepherd ran past, skidded to a halt and returned to sniff our table. Its minder arrived with a machine gun, regarded us without a word. Through the window soldiers were making their way down the length of the train. Ten minutes later one was inside with a flashlight, said something in Ukrainian, waved Janice off her bunk and had her lift it. He asked us a question staring and awaiting an answer. Two of the railway matrons came to our rescue, everyone walking off together.
Conversation ran blindly through the dark train fighting silence. Two more soldiers passed and waved their arms when we asked if they spoke English. Twenty minutes later more flashlights, more machine guns, up off the bunk again, I open it for them. Twilight had lost to stars but you could still see figures passing outside. The first soldier returned and handed us our papers, everything stamped. He left without a word and slowly the railway matrons and Towel Girl crept from whatever corners had hidden them. Two hours, eight miles, the train began rolling. We unwrapped a bottle of vodka.