I’ve always wanted to visit Belarus.
During the last Olympics, I watched in awe as this little country punched way above it’s weight. I looked up it on google maps and wondered if I’d ever get there.
Well I did. At least to a tiny part of it anyway. To be exact, I had a glimpse of it from a train window. We were only passing through, but still I could enjoy some of the countryside on the way to Moscow. The beds were already made up in our family cabin. We’d been served strong Russian coffee and given the nod by the Polish officials. The train rolled over the border and the Belarus contingent climbed aboard. All routine really. We’d checked and double checked that no visas were needed. I handed my passport over to the young policewoman in the doorway. She didn’t return my smile. Once she had all three passports in her possession, the bombshell was dropped. We needed visas for Belarus. Our insistence that we didn’t was met with a stony silence.
The situation hotted up after that. An even younger policewoman was called to explain our situation in English. More policemen and a sniffer dog crowded our cabin. We were to remain in our seats until we reached the next station. There we were told to pick up our luggage before we were escorted off the train by the group of border police. I kept my eyes to the ground in order to avoid the curious stares of our fellow passengers.
“Sit” and “Wait,” were the two words addressed to us by our stern young guard. We waited and waited in the icy station hallway. The entrance and exit were cut off by uniformed and armed youth, just in case we tried to make a run for it. By the time the clock struck eleven I was beginning to understand that we would be sitting on the wire chairs until the morning train for Poland arrived. When our daughter began pacing the hall, I took out my lipstick. I should at least look nice while in detention. My action spurred her into action and she approached the guard who had a smattering of English.
We were on the move again. I lugged my suitcase up stairs and more stairs, while our troupe of escorts kept their eyes straight ahead. The rudimentary hotel had two available rooms. My heart skipped a beat when a guard stopped our daughter at the door to one of them and we were taken to another a long way down the passage. I glanced back to see the young man take his position outside her door and hoped she’d lock herself in. A sleepless night ended at 5.30 the next morning, when we were marched back to the station hallway and the wire seats, to wait for the 7 o’clock train.
When it arrived, we were escorted onto it and our passports returned. The train conductor waved some young men off a bench so that we could sit down. Her smile was the first one we’d experienced for many hours and it signaled the beginning of freedom as we chugged back to Warsaw.