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…the people you meet…

July 24, 2015

The first thing I notice travelling to central Europe – the old Europe from behind the ghost of the Iron Curtain – that as a Canadian, how much of our life is lived in a very safe bubble. Sure life events can intrude – cancer, car accidents, unemployment – but these are comparatively small frailties when one is dealing with wars and oppression.

I sit beside a woman who is flying back to Hungary – Budapest – she is an immigration and human rights lawyer who divides her time between Halifax and Budapest. Now in her 60’s she is going home to visit family, and to help fight the growing nationalist intolerance happening there. She gets angry when she talks about how soon Hungarians forgot the troubles nationalism and xenophobia brought in the past. She hates that Stephen Harper tries to nurture similar feelings in Canada. She talks about how Bill C-51 is a wedge – she’s seen it before – used to create political power through hate and intolerance. She worries that her country wants to again tear itself apart.


On the train to Dresden the man sitting across from us introduces himself and his wife. She is a doctor, he a medical technician. They are on their way back to Serbia because their 10 month old baby boy (who is with his grandparents) has become very sick. They had only been in Germany a month, working in a small town in the north (there are no jobs for doctors in Serbia). They have no money yet to fly home, and there is no direct train to Serbia, so they have been on the train for a day and a half. After Dresden they will transfer with us to the Prague train. They will take it as far as Budapest and then transfer to one going to Serbia. But our train to Dresden has been delayed numerous times, so we are all resigned to the fact that we don’t know when we will catch another connection as it is already 11pm.

To pass the time he tells me of the war from when he was a child – how all Serbians are now branded as terrorists – he tells us that they were flat out refused visas to come to Canada (even though we are desperate for doctors) – he describes how the Americans bombed empty mountain sides and then the Serbians watched it on CNN – everyone laughed.

His wife begins to fret about their baby and gets up to pace the aisle for a while. He tells us that she is worried – he shrugs his shoulders – “life” he said, “what can you do?”

Happily they held our Prague connection until we got into Dresden – but we are then separated into different cars. We shake hands all around, they hope we have an enjoyable time in Prague – we wish them the best with their baby.


We are on the final leg into Prague – now 5 hours behind schedule – arriving at 2 in the morning. We are in one of those old compartment trains like you see in the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There is only us and a middle aged man who sits quietly by himself.

About a 1/2 hour out of Prague, in very halting English he attempts to ask us which train station stop is the main train station. We show him from our travel guide. We are all going to the same stop – so we will go together. He is relieved at the idea.

He tells us he is from Iraq. He is going to Prague to visit a brother he has not seen in 7 years. He wants us to know that he is not Muslim. He is Yazidi – from an ancient religion that has it’s roots in Zoroastrianism – his people are being massacred in the war. We offer him useless condolences.

He pulls out a press I.D. and shows it to us proudly. He is a journalist he says with a smile. He asks if we have been to Iraq. “Such history” he says proudly. “Maybe one day you can again come to my country” he says as we get our luggage down from the overhead racks.

Together we figure out where the taxi stand is, and with a wave he is gone.

And as we stand there waiting for another to arrive in the hot humid Prague night, my partner turns to me and says “God we live such simple lives.”

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