Day 2 – TSR…Stink sets in

22 Sep

In heaven. Back in the restaurant car. The Russian babes are back. Just pointed at random Greek and Russian letters on the menu, and low and behold, she serves me rice porridge weighted in cream and butter. Bring on breakfast! Rice, butter, cream are my favorite food groups.

Yesterday, I ordered coffee and cream and got coffee and a chocolate muffin. Today, I order coffee and cream and get lard enriched rice porridge. Starting to like the restaurant car on the Trans-Siberian rail. Wait. Amber/red-head is coming my way with a smile. Look at this… An espresso with three cubes of sugar. I’m in heaven! After this, I’ll be ready to go cruising train cars looking for love…

In the last 24 hours, we’ve passed three time zones and crossed from Europe into Asia. Yesterday, was officially Day 1. I had thought it was Day 2 – because we got on the train late on Day 1 in my world. Nope. Wrong. What I figure is we are on this moving bunk bed for 5 days and 4 nights. Underwear and clothes wise, I had planned for less as did everyone else. Stink factor was just elevated a notch.

Wait. A group of Dutch folks just walked in the car. The Russian babes pushed them away. I’m confused, again. The restaurant car is empty. Not asking questions. Just writing. I told the cook that I liked her rice dish by grunting, smiling and pointing to my stomach. She probably thinks I’m prego and told the girls that I could stay. No matter. The Dutch are out. The stinky American girl satisfied with rice, butter, cream, sugar and caffeine gets to stay.

Right now, the landscape resembles parts of the Midwest. Fields full of tall grass, spots of lakes and yellow trees at a distance. Cows, hay and your occasional person walking along side of the train tracks. We are traveling through Siberia’s farm belt, mine vaults…and concentration camps. Soviets called them Gulags.

I read, back in the 20s and 30’s, Siberia was resource rich but thinly populated. Those who were unenthusiastic about Stalin were sent to Gulag. When Stalin’s terror shifted inward, the Gulag population grew from 30,000 in 1928 to over eight million in late 30s. This is per-WWII people. Over 90% of the inmates died. Gulags continued after WWII and it wasn’t until ten or so years ago, Yeltsin released the last 10 Gulag prisoners.

They say over 8.5 million Soviets died in Siberian prisons. This does not include those killed in WWII, which for Soviets estimates range from 25 to 30 million. Jews killed in WWII is between six to eight million. All Soviets killed during Stalin’s regime are estimated to be 50 million. But, there’s no official count. And, you wonder why they walk around with an “eat shit and die” look on their face. Their history is one of brutality, confusion and mistrust.

Right now. It’s fall. The weather is brisk. We just stopped at Kansk Enis. I believe over a million people live in this town. For the past three hours, I’ve been chatting up Mark from London. He’s been traveling off and on for three years. His “on” period is for 4 months at a time. He’s heading to some place I can’t pronounce or spell to buy furniture to sell it back in London – at least, this is what I heard him say. He is a professional in that his company was responsible for marketing and promoting Vonage. He employed 50+ people in London. Very attractive. Again, when you travel and try to get someone’s “story” it ebbs in and out of conversations. It’s not linear. So, when you look back, you still wonder –”who is this person… what’s his name…and what does he do… and why is he traveling…” It’s amazing if you can walk away knowing all of this.

When travelers meet, they share past journeys and future destinations. Mark’s is sharing his South and Central American experiences. What I find humorous is travelers assume you’ve not been to any places they have been to. And, their experiences are unique. He’s been carrying on and on about his love for Central America for a good 45 minutes. I lived there for a year and traveled throughout those countries. I, too, know the place. I get it. But, I just smile. Why burst his bubble and his passion for tortillas and tequila.

Darion forest, which butts up to Panama and Colombia, is one place that he wants to return. He speaks about the indigenous tribes and the great lengths one has to go through to get there. Now, I really am keeping my mouth quiet for I’ve traveled through this area as well and actually stayed with a family where housing consisted of mud walls dirt, dirt floors, curtain doors and a live chicken for dinner. I remember they gave me a blanket for a bed and waking in the middle of the night having to go to the bathroom. That meant, walking down the hill and squatting under a tree. Screw that. I’ll bust a kidney before I’m walking out there. I could hear Ferrell dogs – or wolves – screaming and fighting over tonight’s food. Dirt floor here I stay… The next day, the family took me to a remote area where indigenous tribes from all over came to touch my skin and cook – more live animals sacrificed before my eyes. No, I did not encounter FARC or drug lords…

As Mark continued on and on, I just smiled. He does have nice eyes. I’ll just stare at his eyes. Let him talk… for I still have not washed my face, brushed my teeth and am sportin’ my PJ bottoms, black boots and peach undershirt with a tank top. No comb either. Haven’t seen a comb in two days.

So, what did I do yesterday? Well, not much. I mean, we are on a train and there is only so much to “do.” I wrote. And, was joined in the restaurant car by my fellow friends. Kiki from Norway and I talked about our love for travel. She’s struggling with the fact that people back home thinks she’s “strange” or “running away” or “selfish” to be traveling for five months instead of “getting on with her life of work, finding a husband…mortgage payments…” She is disappointed in her fellow Norwegian friends for they keep their head in the sand and don’t want to know what is happening in the world. She attributes this attitude to her country’s passivity in that their history is of one of non involvement and passisitivity. They refuse to even be part of the EU, even though they follow all the rules.

I understood what she was saying for I used to struggle with this “unconventional” label for a while. We assume what is good for the rest – or society – is good for the individual. It’s much easier to keep people in a box. It’s much easier to project our wants, needs and urges on others. The fact that I’ve never had this strong need to get married, is troubling for some. A want is a different matter. I would love to get married. Damn, I love a lot of things – But, I don’t need a conventional marriage to have a full and hopeful yet troublesome and adventuresome life. What I find beautiful about people is how our individual decisions can jolt us, mold us and deliver us into being what God wants us to be.




But, when it came to being miffed about my perception that my friends “don’t care” about world affairs, it was my father who had to knock some sense into me. I had just moved back home to Orlando – home of the boy bands and rat theme park – from DC. I jumped into a book club where the majority of the girls were married and had kids. Our book was Kite Runner – story about growing up in Afghanistan. I was ready for a lively discussion about woman’s rights, war, Taliban…foreign policy. A mini-Economist party! Yea!

Not the case. A friend in the room kicked off the discussion by saying, “So, is this true? The Taliban actually exists? And, they actually do this to people?” I could feel my pasty white skin turn to splotchy red. I was angry and mystified at the same time. Where has she been? Did she even know we are at war? She kept on, “And, do women really have to be covered up? Is this a true story? I don’t believe it…” By this time, I was on fire and could not keep my mouth shut. Oh…it was bad. I came across as a condescending bitch. I heard the irritation in voice. I saw my eyes open wide and then squint in annoyance. I saw my hands move and point. This was verbal vomit to the “Nth” degree. I talked about the Taliban. Afghanistan. Their war with Russia. US funding Bin Laden. On and On and On… Finally, someone with more sense than me, distracted me – trying to shut me down – and asked, “so, how do you know this?” I responded, “I read the newspaper.” BAM! Put on the Bitch cape and fly out of the room.

I left angry. How could these women – who are trying to raise sensible, aware children – not know about the Taliban? Bin Laden? I mean – come on!!!


I called my Dad. He will commiserate with me. I needed to talk to someone who will affirm my feelings. All I could think about was I just moved back home to a place where people not only do not read newspapers, but they don’t even read. That’s what I told my Dad. He responded very calmly, “Do you know which school system is “A” rated? Do you know who is chairman of our school board?” I said, “No…but who cares…that is not important…blah..” He stopped me. “No. It is important. It is important to them. They are raising their families. That is one of the most important issues – to them. It’s the same with you and Afghanistan, Middle East policy, war…. Be careful to judge them…They could say the same about your lack of knowledge about the public school system.” SHUT UP Dad. He was soooooooo right. I hated hearing that. But, his words knocked me along side of my head. I ate humble pie.

I shared this with Kiki. She nodded. She heard it too. While it is easy for us to get upset or annoyed at our friends for not having the same passions as us – or curiosity of people around the world – it does not mean that they are any dumber or any smarter or any better. It’s when we become indifferent and no longer interested in anything but ourselves. It’s when false pride takes over is when you have a problem. Pride that leads to our indifference is what kills… It’s questioning systems… Experiencing places..Observing people… Absorbing histories…And, doing for others that keeps us living.

We all shared a beer. Don’t recall the time because we continue to move through time zones. Guess you can really drink at anytime. I just moved my watch forward from noon to 3:00 pm. Happy hour? After that, I came back to our cabin and learned how to play poker and Texas Hold’em from the Swedes. Lost at Poker but won at Texas Hold’em. We were betting with bobby pins.

The vodka crowd started up around 10 pm and I opted out. Our group went to bed around 11:00 pm to jostling and swaying train. I’m surprised how well I sleep.

Full circle. I’ve been typing off an on today – since 8 AM with Mark until now…4 PM. Day 2. My suite mates are all taking naps. My word, they sleep a lot. I’m staring at the wheat fields about to start reading about Ghangis Khan’s daughters. I mean, we are going to Mongolia. I had no idea that Mr. Khan ruled from China to Europe back in the 12th century. Go guy!

I’m still so excited to be here. I’ve changed out of my Pjs into gray leggings. I’ve brushed the teeth. Feeling good. Before I start the book, I’m going back to the restaurant for a beer.

2 Responses to “Day 2 – TSR…Stink sets in”

  1. MaryStuart (sister) 29/09/2010 at 10:49 pm #

    Thank you …thank you …thank you. I miss you and all you have to share and teach me everyday. I am in awe of your brain and your thurst for knowledge. Seriously, I got my ballot in the mail today and I don’t have you hear to tell me who to vote for. Ha! The commercials on TV make me want to burn my ballot. Dad is voting FOR Amendment 4 and I am about to KILL him. He is clueless…..but only about amendment 4! Please, try to talk some sense into him! We are lucky to have such a great dad to feed us humble pie. I miss your dose of humble pie too. I eat is well, that is for sure.

    I love that you are with people who get you and understand and relate to you. Kiki sounds like she is your long lost twin. I like hearing about the people you are traveling with and their background too. Did you ever tell that guy that you traveled and lived in Hondouras? (sp)

    Question…are you tellling people your blog address when you meet them? Do you tell them that you are writing about them? What if they read it, while you are on your long adventure and they are not happy with what you share? Just wondering.

    Thank you for writing from your heart and your feelings. I really miss you! I have no one to get advice or direction on life, and the parents, and my bad timing with talking. You are my rock…I love you, Panda!

  2. susan 27/10/2010 at 11:14 pm #

    yes agree too- thank you for your blog and I am learning much as well, whew- so glad I wasn’t there at the Kite Runner book club- BUT I know I am not the smartest in the group either- ha!