We’d been traveling slowly north east for about two hours when two train attendants came by our cabin. They seemed very confused about the fact that only three of us occupied a space for which we purchased four tickets. They came, asked questions in Romanian and Russian, looked confused and left at least twice. Within minutes we arrived at the border. (Sergei, our translator and friend from the International Mission Board insisted on purchasing the fourth “child’s ticket” to ensure our privacy in the small train cabin. We never thought about that raising concern.)
As we stopped to have the undercarriage (bogies) changed to European width, we were a bit taken back as Moldovan military began to file onto our car. It seemed fairly harmless at first as they quickly made themselves at home in empty cabins on each side of ours. But then, in a gruff tone, a female officer stopped by our cabin and demanded, “Passports!” She looked at each of us then turned to the ten men in camouflaged uniforms behind to say in a thick accent, “Americans!” She tucked our passports in her coat pocked and abruptly left the train.
Immediately my mind flashed back to stories from the Cold War. Within moments another officer proudly demanded, “luggage!” We pointed to the bags completely filling the top bunk. He looked frustrated and walked away. Another officer came and with a thick Russian accent demanded, “Step out of the room!” Over the next hour guards filed in and out of our car. As the bogies were changed, our car was pulled along side of other cars from the same train. Looking from our windows into theirs, it was clear – we were quite possibly the only car to receive this level of attention. We’ve been in Moldova one full week today and not once have we felt uncomfortable – until this moment. What a surreal feeling.
Over the next hour and a half the military went through our entire train car with a fine toothed comb. Every panel was unscrewed by hand, every light fixture checked both inside and out of the car. Carpet was pulled back, and beds pulled apart. A young lady from Chisinau in a nearby cabin happened to speak English. (She just spent the summer as a waitress in Maine through a student exchange program .) I had seen her speaking to the train attendant and other passengers, so I asked if this seemed normal to her. Her response confirmed our suspicion. “Very different, never like this they say.”
Passports have now been returned and we are two and a half hours into the border crossing process. Everything on the Romanian side seems normal. Typical customs check. Typical passport inspection although, the gent sure seemed to look through his notes on me much more thoroughly than either Jim or Bill. You know, I do have an extensive record. I can only imagine 20 years ago how much more extreme this process might have been. Thinking back 40 years to the early 70’s, I can easily see how people might vanish, never to be seen again. Perhaps even from this very train car.
Thank you God for safety and for the amazing country which I call home!