When I was twelve I took a train with my family from Kiev to Nuev Kajovka (sp?). It was one of the most beautifully impacting experiences in my 12 years of life at that point. I have a specific memory of leaning against the railing in that slow-swaying train car just gazing out the window at the countryside of Ukraine. The sun was about to set and was casting a golden light across the planes where a woman with a handkerchief around her head was walking out across her farm. She pulled her hand from a bag of feed and sprinkled it out onto the dirt in front of her where a group of white geese eagerly waited. It looked like an old, sepia-toned page of a faded story-book. Not quite like the life I was familiar with back home. Car rides to violin lessons. A trampoline in the back yard.
While there are many things about the Western world spreading out into the four corners and making us in some ways more and more the same- a McDonalds boasting its golden arches in Kiev’s city center or a stack of Hollywood movies in our host’s house- it was beautiful to recognize that the world does indeed still contain some diversity. There are still quaint little farms in the middle of nowhere, miles from a McDonalds or a cell-phone shop. There is still a “middle of nowhere.”
I was reminded of this beauty yesterday as we rode for 16 hours across the countrysides of Romania and Hungary. A mid twenties local who had obviously paid attention during his Romanian geography and history classes shared little bits of information with us as we coasted along the tracks. He pointed out which houses belonged to the gypsies and at what point in the Danube a village was submerged under water following the construction of a dam.
I watched horse drawn carts lumber across the little pathways in the smaller villages and marveled to hear that some of the farmers use these horse-drawn carts as a budget alternative to cars. Save for the religious motivations of the Amish, I feel certain there is no one in the states using a horse and carriage as a money-saving alternative to a car.
Why is it that I am so excited by anything I can name as different from the States? Each time I see proof that the world is yet diverse, I rejoice.
Why is that?
Perhaps it feels like more of an adventure to explore a world that will be wild and different than it does to explore a world that is a slightly different version of home. Perhaps that’s it. I feel like an explorer discovering the unknown tale of Romania…when really I am simply hearing stories I forgot from History class or things I missed in the News. It’s not so long ago that Romania broke loose from communism and started anew as a democracy. Did I flip through an old Time Magazine and read about this somewhere in my childhood? The world is so accessible without ever leaving one’s own home.
And yet I prefer the belief that going out and digging up these tales is the necessary work of the explorers like the writings of Lewis and Clark. As though I am telling the world new stories as I explore some yet unknown frontier.
I know that’s not true. There are no frontiers.
But there are still adventures, and I will settle for that.
Our Romanian friend reached his destination a long 6 hours before Budapest, right around when the air conditioning broke in our train car. The last hours of the train ride we bounced back and forth between our stagnant car and the first class car whose air conditioning still worked. We sat on the stools of the first class car’s cafe and hoped the ticket man wouldn’t make us leave.
The countryside rolled on.
Budapest, when we finally reached it, proved well worth our long ride, lit romantically with white lights that slipped along the rippling contours of the Danube’s dark surface.