On Saturday night Samira and I boarded Train 38, an elderly Russian night train from Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia. The train rumbles slowly and casually for thirteen hours through mountains and countryside taking us away from the Caspian Sea heading west towards Georgia’s more European flavour.
The train loaded around 9pm, while boarding the train I made Samira pose for some “getting on the train” shots, the porter who had checked our passports and tickets got a kick out of this, she asked Samira where she was from and if she spoke Azeri Turkish, Samira climbed on board and I followed, the porter pointed to Samira’s back and pointed at my chest and gave me an approving thumbs up and a smile, I don’t know how to say “just friends” in Azeri.
We settled into our cabin and after a few minutes the same porter (Sakena, we later learned) came by and informed us we were in the wrong one, we moved the correct cabin and Sakena hung out a bit and talked with us, she had a very, very small bit of English plus what common Farsi/Azeri words her and Samira could figure out and we got by, she asked if I was Samira’s husband and if I thought Samira was beautiful and informed me that it was time to have babies and that I only have 9 good years left before I am old.
I’m pretty sure Sakena called me “weird” while teasing me but Samira thinks no.
Around 6am Sakena knocked on our door to inform us that it was time to “stand up” for Azerbaijan border control. So very tired but we got dressed and moving a bit, around 20 minutes later Azeri border guards and dogs came on board and started interviewing and checking visas and luggage. The border guards decided that two men from Pakistan did not have the correct visas and started telling them they would have to leave the train. I can’t imagine being left behind in the middle of nowhere on the Azeri/Georgian border at 6am.
Other passengers started jumping in to try and help, with translations between Russian and English and Azeri and Pakistani all flying back and forth, Samira used my internet connection and her phone to find information online showing that the Pakistani men were correct about their visas, I gave her phone to the men to show to the border guards and various phone and radio calls were made.
In the end it wasn’t enough, the men were removed from the train and the mood onboard with the border guards got decidedly more serious with them barking orders and seeming to have lost patience with us all. The guards asked for Samira and took her to one of the cabins for her interview, Sakena came and got me and said “Go, stay close to Samira now”, it was an amazingly sweet and caring gesture, I parked myself outside the interview cabin and listened to see that everything was going ok. Samira’s interview went fine other than some questions about why I had a Russian visa but Samira did not, and why she had come from Iran but I had no Iranian stamp.
Sakena came by again after to check on us and to let us know about the upcoming Georgian border crossing. I think I love Sakena, I doubt any other car in this train has someone as sweet as her working on it. We wanted a photo with her but when our train pulled into Tbilisi Sakena was gone or sleeping already.