Text read by Mary Peters

Julia, from Mannheim in Germany, took a train and learned a lesson.

I think that every person who travels the world has at some point found himself in an unfamiliar, perhaps even threatening situation.

For me, this situation arose two years ago in a sleeping car compartment in Kazakhstan. We were racing from Astana through the night to Almaty. I was lying on my berth, just wide enough for me and my rucksack, which I clung to so as not to have my money – or worse – my passport be stolen while I slept. Chrissy, with whom I had ventured on this adventure, slept on the berth above me. There were also two older men in our sleeping compartment – Russians, we assumed.

As I lay there, I saw the lights from the streetlamps flash past. From time to time we stopped in a station. I couldn’t tell whether passengers were getting on or off, because I didn’t hear any noises from the platforms. One of the Russians snored, almost as loud as the rattling of the train. I wondered why I had agreed to go on this trip. When my friends asked me if I would like to travel to Kazakhstan with them, I said yes without hesitation. It must have slipped my mind that I had never been so far away from home and that I do not speak Russian, let alone Kazakh. I knew nothing about Kazakhstan, apart from the pictures and descriptions of the country in the travel guide I had bought when planning our trip.

I felt miserable. I was very tired and wanted to sleep but was too irritated by the situation of sharing such a small space with two complete strangers. They had boarded the train late in the evening and had taken the place of a young family who left the train at the same station. The men had made their beds and went to sleep immediately. The situation was absurd.

By dawn, I had had very little sleep and felt tired, but I was glad because we were to arrive in Almaty early in the morning. I got up and took my toothbrush to go to the washroom. I also took my rucksack with me. After brushing my teeth, I stayed in the corridor of the train for a while so as not to have to go back into the confinement of the compartment. It was interesting to watch the sleepy passengers getting up.

When I came back to the compartment, Chrissy and the two Russians were already awake. One of the men held my travel guide in his hand and looked at Chrissy. I had not expected this situation and could not understand it at first. Then I realised that he was explaining something to her about a picture in the guide. Or rather, he tried to explain something because his knowledge of English was poor, and his Russian was difficult for Chrissy to understand. Chrissy explained to me that he was giving her recommendations as to what places we should definitely visit for the rest of our trip. We learned their names and that only one of them was Russian and the other was actually Kazakh. With hands and feet and rudimentary English and Russian, we communicated and laughed together. They were especially interested in how we had come to the idea to spend our holidays in Kazakhstan.

Today, when I am afraid of an unknown or threatening situation, I like to think back to that trip in the sleeping car compartment. I had been completely unnecessarily and excessively scared, in such a way that it was impossible for me to sleep. In the end, a short conversation and getting to know each other helped me to feel comfortable again. I think new experiences can enrich your life if you take the plunge.

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