Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The Train to Березнегувате: May 25-26
Valentyn asked me during dinner “So where exactly are you going after this?” I told him that I wasn’t exactly sure of the name of the place, but it was a small village in Mykolaivska Oblast where I would be helping out with a summer camp. Valentyn said that he had seen my train ticket lying on his desk and didn’t recognize the name of the city. It wasn’t a place most people in Ukraine would probably know of. I left dinner a little bit early to make sure I could catch my train. Valentyn had drawn me a map of the train station to make sure I would be able to find my way. Once I got to the platform, I asked around where the car number was. I followed the direction people pointed until somebody eventually took my ticket and told me to get on the train. Nobody around where I was in the train car spoke English. I felt a little awkward with my big bulky suitcase. Shortly after the train left, Valentyn texted me, making sure I made it there on time.
After awkwardly glancing at the other people sitting in the compartment for around an hour, people started standing up and making their beds. I’d never taken an overnight train before, so I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I just copied what the other people were doing. When I was lifting my suitcase onto the luggage rack, and older man in the compartment asked me “Помочь?” At first I got was worried that I was doing something wrong, and then I realized I knew that word and he was asking me if I wanted help. After an awkward conversation with many “Я не понимаю”s (I don’t understand) and “Извините”s (Excuse me?), I figured out he was telling me that I could also put my backpack in the compartment under the benches.
Before I went to sleep, I went to the restroom to brush my teeth. The toilet was a shade of grey that I don’t think exists in the US. Whenever the train went around a bend, water spilled out of the tank above the bathroom all over the floor. I brushed my teeth, and then left before I got too wet.
The bed was surprisingly comfortable, and I slept pretty well (especially compared to my red-eye flight a few days before that). My feet hung off the edge of the bed a little bit, but that was fine. I thought it was really nice that they provided us with sheets and blankets. On the overnight buses I’ve taken, they wouldn’t do anything like that.
I woke up around an hour before my train arrived (my alarm clock hadn’t even gone off yet). I got a text from Christina (One of the Peace Corps volunteers I’d been talking to) that she would meet me at the train station and pick me up there. About 30 minutes before my train was supposed to arrive, the train stopped at a station and a guy in uniform came to talk to me. I asked in my best Russian if I was supposed to get off here, and he replied in broken English that it was the next one.
I got off the train at my station, and met Christina and the guy that was driving us into town. On our way into town, I wasn’t sure whether the driver was drunk or if the driver was just trying to swerve around pot-holes in the road and doing a very bad job of it. After a few more car-rides in Ukraine, I eventually learned that it was definitely the latter. On our way into town, Christina translated what the driver was saying for me. He asked what I was studying. I told him politics and geography. He said he hated politics and if he had a gun, he would shoot all politicians (I was already feeling welcome in this town). Then he said that in America, politicians represent the people, which is good, but in Ukraine they don’t.
We got to Christina’s house and her host-mother greeted us and asked us if we wanted tea. Christina made hash browns and cookies and we had a breakfast and then started packing up a few things before we left for the camp.