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Thursday, June 28, 2012

the time i saw romania



taken because its been a while since i saw proper night




What’s that feeling though? That cloying, clinging feeling that creeps up on you and creaks past your defences? And it has a smell too, it comes off the stones, it’s carried in the air, with every inhalation you get a whiff of it, its heavy. And its familiar, familiar in the way things are when they are ubiquitous through so much of your life then you go some months without it (they can't honk their horns in Norway it took me forever before I knew why it was so quiet in the streets and even then it was only when I was told by someone about it.) You know what that smell is? That feeling? Its warmth. And am not sure I like it...

You see am in Budapest. My last euro trip this year and for the last you try to go far, as far as possible, see climes unknown. So destination Romania. The travel plans are a thing out of nightmare, leave Kristiansand at 9 in the morning, get to the airport at 3 wait till 9 for the flight to Budapest, get there at 11 wait till 1 for the bus to Romania, 8 hour tip leaving me there at 9.

This is the bus we used to Romania, it’s a matatu. In every way. It waits for everyone to come in before it leaves and stops at every stop along the way. Plus it has the best little luggage compartment. We had some pretty interesting travel companions. A brother and sister leaving in Dublin. A place where it always rains, all day, all night, all month, all year. At one of the stops on the way to the border we talked to the sister and though she said some normal things the way she said them sounded so wise.

"I smoke cos there's only one life, it happens then it’s over."

She prepared us for clubs in Romania that have no designated smoking section which is strange. I think about it and I can't remember whether clubs in Kenya have a smoking zone but I think it’s necessary. she told us the smell of smoke hung so thick it  sticks to every fibre on your clothes, it threads its way in there and if you dump your clothes in the room you wake up to a memory of the club, a little snapshot of the portrait of  smell that turned everything white.

And they have free outdoor water in Hungary, Norway for all its great strides in public service and social welfare is woefully inadequate when it comes to public sanitation. Not a place to pee, not a drink to sip, nothing but environment.

After some more of that shit sleep you get on the road it was border time, I hadn't seen a border in so long. I thought it was because I had been flying around but the truth is the Schengen area is border less and this should have been my first sign of the trouble I was in for. The guards asked for id documents. They took the two Kenyan passports and went away for a while. Then they came back and asked to speak to us. My friend left first, I tried to stand but everyone told me it would be better if I just sat back and waited it out.

It’s difficult waiting while someone else handles the crisis. You have no information and all you see is smoking border guards say all these things over and over and you are not sure what things. My friend stood there as inscrutable as a Chinese. And I waited impatient. Thinking the worst hoping for the best. Taking comfort from the reassurances of the passengers. In the end they told us Romania was not a Schengen country. That we would have to turn around and go back the way we came. The bus driver told us to wait for the bus going back to Budapest.


The Romanian police gave us a ride back to the Hungarian border. It’s a weird thing about border towns. The people mix and begin to become the same, they look the same because of the same climate, there's a healthy amount of genetic mixing, social interaction and economic dependency, so much so that when they handed us off the only difference was that these guys had blue uniforms and the others had red.

We asked the Hungarian guy how to go to Budapest, he pointed to the long lonely road and said west. Nothing else. We began trudging. Trying half-heartedly to hitch hike and been offered a ride by a guy who was working at a highway poll station back to the town where would get a train to Budapest.

It was a tiny town, just 5,000 people. But at this time of the day (8 am) it was more common to find open bars than anything else. The beer was cheaper than the soda and so we had a beer as we waited for breakfast. Then we got on the train back to Budapest.

There was a Romanian girl there who could speak English and so we latched on, we talked for hours about books and japan where she had been. About drinking in Romania versus everywhere else and she agreed that the polish really do take the cake on this one. The vodka filled, practically flammable cake. But I was drifting, it had been 30 hours on the road and my mind wanted rest, I would snap back to hear the ending of a sentence, smile and be generic then try to stay awake.

Finally we were in Budapest. The Romanian embassy refused to give us a visa which meant we were stuck in Budapest for a week. Nowhere to stay, no one to call, just time.