One of the joys of this trip has been the people I have met along the way.
First of course there were those on the tour from Beijing to Istanbul, 6 women and one man from Australia, all of a certain age but from variety of backgrounds and a very wide range of social and political views. Our guide was a young Russian woman who had grown up in Kyrgyzstan because her grandparents had been sent there as part of Stalin’s gulag.
The sight which struck me most in the very crowded Chinese railway stations were the large number of men dressed in workmen clothes waiting for trains. I assume they were travelling away from home to work.
In Uzbekistan very many people stopped to ask us where we were from. They were eager to talk to us, practise their English and ask us about our lives. One such group were school teachers from Fergana on an excursion in Samarkand who wanted to know how old we were, how much we earned, what our houses were like and about our pensions. They were also most concerned that our guide was not married and had various prospective partners in mind.
This woman running a market stall with her mother in Fergana Uzbekistan asked me where I came from and they wanted their photo taken with me.
We met another group doing the Silk Road in Fergana. They were with a New Zealand tour group Windows on the World and they had started in Venice and were finishing in Shanghai.
Many people stopped us in Iran to ask where we came from. They were very pleased to see us as Iran has very few tourists. They were keen to practise their English and to ask us how we liked Iran. People stopped to offer to help us and also helped us across the road which I certainly needed. A young student asked us if he could practise his English when we visited,the Shah’s Palace in Tehran. He walked to the palace with me explaining that he was after a post graduate place in an American university. He the walked down along side another member of the group. I think he did this often to improve his English which was quite good.
During the tour we picked up 2 hitch hikers. One was a Japanese student travelling across Central Asia. He needed a lift to pass through the border from China to Krygzstan. I then met a young Chinese girl who had been studying in Singapore and had decided to travel back to China alone from Istanbul. We met her in Sary Tash where she washed her shoes in our hand basin and used all the water. She had over stayed her visa in Turkmenistan and had much trouble leaving that country. We later gave Daniel an IT fellow from Canada a lift across the border from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan. He said he was going to run his IT business from Moldavia.
Once the tour finished in Istanbul I met lots of very interesting people such as the young Chinese girl studying economics at Cambridge. She said she could cope with the work but had trouble with the drinking culture. She had worn out her soft shoes walking around Cappadocia. Then there was the young English woman from a Sri Lankan background who was in Turkey for a conference on Tissue Engineering.
Madeline from Bucharest rescued me by buying me coffee at a train stop in Bulgaria.
A retired Finnish man and I were the only passengers in the 1st class carriage all the way from Budapest to Belgrade. He travelled to Belgrade monthly as he was working on an EU project to help Serbia change their mental health treatment from large institutions to group homes. He said they were using an Australian model. He and I shared a taxi to our hotels.
I shared a train compartment for 10 hours with Yelena a young woman from Canada who had gone there with her mother and brother after her father had been killed in the war in Sarajevo. She was 7 years old when they left Bosnia for Germany and for a time had been illegal immigrants in Sweden. She was visiting her grandparents near Sarajevo.
Then there was Monica, a Lutheran Deaconess from Canada, who I met over breakfast in Mostar. She was there because her group were supporting a Multinational Integrative Kindergarden “Sunicani Most” in Mostar. I then spend the rest of the morning with her visiting the kindergarden where I met some very inspiring woman teachers and saw a puppet show of Hansel and Gretal being performed by the children. An intergrative kindergarden implies the inclusion of a small number of children with developmental difficulties into a regular kindergarden program with children without developmental difficulties.
These are only a few of the people I have met on this trip. I put all these meetings down to travelling alone so that I have shared train compartments, restaurant tables and people often talk to others sitting by themselves.