“What the Fuck was that???” “Yeah man, you just got disinfected.” And yeah, so I was covered in disinfectant because I did not put um my window as I was crossing the beautiful (sunset over the danupe river) border of Romania and Bulgaria. My face, shirt, and the entire train car were covered. Oh well. I was just happy to be in Romania after a very long affair of getting there. See, originally I had tried to get on a bus but I think that I ruined that option for myself. I got in a fight. Over the phone.
So I called the bus company in Ruse, the border town that is maybe two hours from Bucharest, Romania. The women on the line spoke so fast, and when I asked her to repeat herself, she seemed to get really angry. I got off the phone and realized that I was not exactly sure about the information that I received from her. So I called back, and she was all like:
Her: “Mr. I have told you this already, why do you call me again.”
Me: “Look, I am not Bulgarian, as you no doubt can tell” But I am trying really hard to use your language. If you want, we can continue this conversation in English…but I don’t think that you know how. Now, do you think that you could be a little nicer to people who are a little different than you? Your job is to give people like me information, please do not be mean to me when I ask you to do your job. It is what you are paid to do. Will you please talk slower for me.”
Her: “I am sorry Mister, the bus you need leave at 14:00.”
Me: “Thank you!”
I felt so good, like I really accomplished something here: not only does it seem that fluency is really reached when you are angry, I helped change some of the nasty customer service attitudes that are so prevalent here.
I was so wrong.
I arrived at the bus station and quickly found the ticket office for the international company. I locked eyes with HER and we both knew right away who we were to each other. I asked for a ticket and she smiled:
Her: They are finished, sold out. Have a nice day.”
Oh, how happy that made her.
I found myself to the train station, it was 13:00, and there was a train that was scheduled to leave at 14:00, but it was 5 hours late. Oh well. I bought a ticket (8 euro…not bad) checked my luggage for the hours before the train and walked around ruse a bit. Ruse is a beautiful place. Maybe it is kinda boring, but thus for it is my favorite place to just sit, have a coffee and WATCH everyone walking by. It was sunny and nice. And I was happy.
When the time had come for me to get back to the train station, I arrived on the platform and found a flock of Romanian women waiting with enormous bags of Bulgarian bought products: blankets, sheets, socks, cloths ect. I started talking to one of the women, because she spoke a little Bulgarian, and I tried to understand from her why they were buying all these things. I guess I figured that the economic situation for Romania was similar to Bulgaria when, in fact, it is more developed. The infrastructural differences in Romania was clear as soon as we crossed the boarder: the train stared moving faster because the rails could handel speeds not permitted in Bulgaria. The woman, however, stopped talking to me immediately when I started asking her about the products. Oh well.
I was waiting a loooong time for the train to come, and I really had to piss. I started dancing all over the platform, and I knew that as soon as my train would come I could use the on board restroom. Oh but the train was not coming! And I was too afraid to go and use the bathroom downstairs in case the train did! come. So there was this OTHER train right behind me, which was waiting for my train to arrive to leave on the track that MY train was coming on. I knew I could just hop on this train real quick, piss, and jump off. But the problem is, these trains, have no septic system: just plop, piss, squirt on the tracks. But I was beyond embarrassment: I asked the conductor waiting outside the train door if I could use the toilet.
HER: “No, it goes right on the tracks.”
ME: “I know, but, it, I, ok.”
Then I did a little dance for her, so I could express my PAIN with something other than words. It worked.
HER: “Ok, it is a little one, that you have t make, right?”
I jumped on, did my thang and jumped off. The nice conductor lady even watched my bags. How nice. I resumed my pacing on the platform, and a couple minutes later, the conductor approached me and, in a low whisper, said:
HER: “Since I did you a favor, you can do one for me, yeah?”
ME: “Yeah of course, what do you have in mind?”
HER: “Do you have anything that I could…smoke?
And I knew that I had some left over VICTORY brand Bulgarian cigis somewhere in my bag. I pulled them out and she got all disappointed.
HER: “Oh, I thought that since you where American you would have something….. else.”
But she took a victory anyway. Strange, huh? I wonder what she was expecting…..
YES! So I got on my train eventually. And arrived at the big, dark, scary, shadowy GARA DU NORD train station in Bucharest. I felt: big, scared, small, and important all at the same time. I was alone, did not speak that language. Shit: I hadn’t even changed my Euros into Romanian Lei yet. I have traveled a lot since joining the peace corps- Macedonia, Albania, The Netherlands, Germany…but each time I was taken care of. I found a place to change my money…checked the exchange rate on the cell phone to see if it was OK, it wasn’t bad, got some lei and found my way out to the taxis. Now, in Sofia, if you are a foreigner who does not speak Bulgarian you are likely to get entirely fucked over by the taxi drivers. I decoded to have a smoke and just use the time to watch: which taxi drivers were only picking up foreigners? Which taxi companies were Romanians using to drop the off AT the station? What were the differences in the prices? I finally decided on a cab, walked up, and negotiated the price. 20 lei for a 10-minute ride. Yeah, it was not so bad I think. I arrived at the hotel, 21:00.