As I’m not actually travelling at the moment, I think it’s time I finally start uploading some of my travel stories from the past – reliving the glory days, if you will. Where better to start than with the story I told at a story slam. You can find the radio broadcasted version here: http://www.icrt.com.tw/wordpress/blog/2014/11/27/heresay-episode-4-tune-in-thursday-night-at-9pm-for-the-show/#.VJPd3_A0N8
I’m up first on the broadcast.
This is a tale of why you should never turn down conversations with strangers when on public transport while travelling. Within reason of course, don’t follow them down any back allies. One morning I woke up on a shelf, which was my bed, in a third class cabin on a train in Ukraine. It was one of those days, you know? The cabin was a long corridor with shelves about yay across that I was very close to rolling off. For some reason it was mainly Russian Babushkas and their granddaughters who all rose with the crack of dawn and started eating homegrown apples, drinking the black tea with lemon the train provided, and reading newspapers.
Of course, this woke me up. I hadn’t had the best night’s sleep: possibly something to do with sleeping on a tiny swaying shelf two metres off the floor with elderlies snoring in 5 part harmonies all around me. And I was surrounded by Russian. I was addled, and tired, and I desperately needed to find a toilet. So I wandered off down the carriage to where a load of men with bellies and hair poking out of their string vests were standing laughing. And pointing. At me. And my feet. What?
“Where you from?” The bristliest of them bellows at me.
“The UK,” I replied.
“CRAZY ENGLISH!” He shouts down the entire carriage, slapping his friends.
“Shoes!” He points to the bathroom floor, and then to my feet. I’m wearing socks. This makes them crack up, helpless with laughter. “Come, my wife will meet you,” he tells me, and pulls me back down the carriage, ignoring my need to use the facilities. His wife spoke excellent English, which was rare in Ukraine. While she gave me the contact details of their family hotel and pressured me to visit and bring my parents, her husband and his Polish friend told filthy stories to each other, selectively translated by the wife, until at one point the man turns to his wife and says something in Russian.
“He wants me to tell you,” she says, “that we have two sons, who are very nice, and handsome, and earn good money.” She looks troubled. “But I don’t know why he wants me to tell you this as they both have girls…”
So that was how I nearly became a Russian bride, but moving on…
I was on a bus in Crimea, and struggling, as usual, with the language barrier. My host that night, a friend of a friend, was telling me I needed to get off the bus in the middle of nowhere. I put him on to the driver so they could speak Russian, and the driver was, if anything, more confused than me. As luck would have it the woman next to be could speak English and she sorted everything out with the driver. She told me that her husband was ‘Bob Skinner’, and that he was a Yorkshireman, from England. He lives with her and her daughter on their goat farm in the Crimean hillside.
“Other men, they make me do all the work. Bob he treat me so well, he make me feel beautiful, like a woman.”
She stayed with me until I had met my host, because she didn’t trust him (he was perfectly lovely, and that’s another story) and took my phone number so that she could ring me later and check up on me.
Later that night I got a phone call from Bob, who was very excited that his wife had met the first British girl he had ever heard of being in Crimea, and he’d been here for over five years. He really does spend all his days farming goats, with only one other house in walking distance. I have an open invitation to visit and farm goats with them.
As I hope has been shown, the moral of this story is that when in strange lands you should never be put off talking to strangers out of fear that they may be foe, not friends. If life starts to fail me, I can always go to Ukraine, safe in the knowledge that I have a husband and goat farming waiting for me.
(Image from BBC news, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/fast_track/9727345.stm)