Saturday, April 24, 2004


Yesterday we traveled by train to Kiev. During the trip we had a visitor to our cabin. A drunk Ukrainian man, about 35 years old, stepped in and handed G a Lock blade knife with a blade about 5 inches or so long. And he continued down the aisle. G was standing in the cabin with this huge knife in his hand and no idea what to do with it. Meanwhile I was thinking this was some Ukrainian-train-knife-scam which involves Ukrainian Train Militia busting in and arresting us for having an illegal weapon so I tell G to put it on the floor outside the cabin.

About 3 minutes later the stranger reappears with 4 beers and plops down on our seat, grabs the knife off the floor and uses the blade to pop off the top. He was very aggressive and focused on G, slapping him on the back and asking him such inviting questions like "Are you afraid of me?" etc. The tension in the cabin was...tense.

After a few minutes of this guy speaking in loud Russian, laughing loudly and basically trying to intimidate us, I finally whipped out my newly issued Peace Corps Pink card and all the accompanying documents that basically tell whatever cop or militia that is bothering us to back off. And I begin to lie.

I tell him that we are special guests of the Ukraine Government, that the embassy placed us on the train and will be waiting for us in Kiev. That we are under constant surveilance by the militia. You know, the basic points that you want to get across to assure you don't disappear in transit on a train. This goes on for a while and I finally dragged the guy out of the car to have a cigarette just to get him away from the 2 girls in our cabin. Turned out he was an interesting guy who spoke great English. He is a UN Peacekeeper flying helicopters and has served in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It sounds like he's seen a lot of terrible things. Sure he was obnoxious but I was ultimately glad I met him.

He told me he expected to be in Iraq in about a month so you heard it here first folks.

Reading strangers is always tricky and when you are dealing with a new culture it is even more difficult. Given a choice I will always veer on the side of caution but sometimes you stumble across good, if drunk and overbearing people. And that can be a unexpected surprise.

Add to Technorati Favorites