Incident on a Train to Moscow 

I think there have been eight occasions when I have traveled to or passed through countries with regimes unfriendly to the U.S. As a visitor in those countries, you stay out of trouble by keeping your mouth shut and not attracting attention. 

I was booked on a Russian train that departed in the late morning from the third level of the huge Berlin train station. The man on the right in the white short-sleeved shirt was my car attendant. The next time I saw him was on the platform in Moscow.

My on board accommodations were quite acceptable: a private compartment in one of the two sleepers. It had a large window, a narrow sofa that converted into a bed, an upper berth that was folded up against the ceiling, and a small lavatory with a sink and a toilet. 

Having skipped lunch, I was hungry and went into the dining car for an early dinner.  There were only two other customers. For dinner, I ordered a pork chop, which came with a boiled potato and a small salad–everything except a very good bottle of beer was included in my fare.

I did have a brief exchange with the attendant, who was also the cook. He took my order, then paused and said “American?” I nodded yes, pointed to my chest and said, “Hawaii!” The man beamed. “Ha!” he exclaimed. Then he waggled his hips, said, “Hula, hula!” and headed up th aisle to his tiny kitchen at the far end of the car.

I went to bed early and, as always, slept well.  Around 2:00 a.m., I was startled awake by a vigorous pounding on the door of my compartment. I had been told we would be stopped at the Belarus border, so I staggered out of bed, grabbed my passport and opened my compartment door. 

Confronting me in the corridor was a uniformed female officer, billed cap, boots and all. Standing behind her were two young soldiers, also in uniform, both expressionless. Each was holding an automatic weapon. 

The woman barked an order and I handed her my passport with the Belarus transit visa attached. She studied it, checked it against something written on one of the papers on her clipboard.

Then she glared at me and gestured toward the tiny bathroom. I pulled the door open, she glanced inside, handed my passport back to me and with one final glare, took a few brisk steps down the narrow corridor to the next compartment. 

As she stepped away from me, I happened to catch the eye of one of the young soldiers as they were turning to follow her.  It was for just a brief second, but staring directly at me and with just the flicker of a smile . . . he winked.