The final border Audrey Painter and travel companion Kristina had to cross to get back into Serbia. Below

Part 3: Passport problems on return to Serbia

White Rock teachers share story of tense travel moments while in and around Hungary, in between Prague and Belgrade (Serbia).

White Rock school teacher – and avid traveller – Audrey Painter shares a summer adventure that began with an invitation from a former student.

(Third in a three-part series)

Audrey Painter

Special to Peace Arch News

We were on the daily train between Prague and Belgrade.

Getting on the train for the five-hour return trip to Serbia – with my former student from Semiahmoo Secondary who was accidentally travelling on her mom’s passport – was terrifying.

“What now?” I asked, after four hours of small talk about Budapest.

“Mom says they have a plan,” Kristina, 19, said.

She seemed unsure.

I knew that if a Serbian family had to get their child home from Hungary, they would have a perfect plan. There was a problem. I did not know what the plan was. Neither did Kristina.

(I actually wanted to jump off the train, run via the fields of Hungary to the Ukraine and all the way to Serbia. Instead, I stayed with the child I was responsible for.)

Kristina’s passport crisis would be the station at Kelebia. We had imagined more than a million scenarios, and we were both petrified when the train pulled into this station.

“I could fake sleeping again. You can give them the passports…,” Kristina stuttered.

“No. We each have to give them our own passport. If they arrest you, I have to be able to get off the train to get you some help,” I said.

It sounded like a good idea.

I looked out of the window from the train hallway in Kelebia. They were there: Hungarian Border Patrol.

Back in the compartment, Kristina sat like a statue.

The train stopped. The officials climbed onto the train at the end of our first-class coach. I put my head out of the window to breathe because I was sure I was going to faint.

“Audrey!” Someone yelled from the platform.

It was Kristina’s aunt, Dusica, who spoke no English.

She ran to me at full speed shouting in Serbian. She had a plastic bag in her hand and was franticly talking. Oh, I desperately wanted to understand what she was trying to say.

“Kristina!” I called.

The Hungarian officials was about 20 large steps away from me and the three compartments between us were empty.

“Yes,” Kristina yelled.

“Stay where you are.”

I swung around and looked into Dusica’s eyes. She stood on the tips of her toes and waved the plastic bag to me. I stretched, grabbed it with my right hand and she vigorously nodded.

The bag had a ‘feminine product’ cover. Tampax. I knew it was Kristina’s passport. Oh, what a brilliant plan! (I knew it would be great?)

But, it was too late.

The Hungarian officers were behind my back and one of them tapped me on the shoulder. He held out his hand and accidentally kicked my leg with his large leather boot – he was that close.

I turned my head but not my body and transferred the ‘tampax’ to my left hand, gave one large step and reached into our compartment, holding out the package to Kristina, who grabbed it.

Within a second, I slapped my own passport into the waiting hand of the officer. I blocked the doorway to the compartment to conceal Kristina, and smiled sweetly. My hands were dripping with sweat.

The Hungarians stamped my passport. I walked back into our compartment. Kristina smiled. She had her own passport.

They took it.

The officers flipped through Kristina’s passport and frowned. They tapped on the empty pages. Where were the stamps?

“I do not speak Hungarian,” Kristina said, giving them the sweet smile both of us had perfected by then.

They stamped the passport and left.

Dusica yelled on the platform.

Kristina ran to the open train window and said, “We have to get off of the train here. Now!”

We threw our bags and ourselves off the train at the last minute. I stood in the platform of Kelebia with legs shaking so much that I had to hug Dusica to keep standing. The train disappeared.

It was raining softly.

Kristina and her aunt talked in rapid Serbian. They laughed, hugged and talked some more.

“She is taking us across the border with her car,” Kristina said.

• • •

I will summarize the stress of the next hours. We stopped at three border patrol points where agitated officers from Hungary and Serbia asked why Kristina had no stamps in her passport.

Neither Dusica or Kristina answered. They sat like statues and did nothing. It was marvelous to see.

The more the officers yelled, the more they tapped on the empty pages, the more they demanded answers – the less movement came from the car.

We sat. We waited. There was no talking between us.

Finally, we cleared the final border patrol where a big blue sign said: Welcome. Republic of Serbia.

We were safe!

We arrived in Mokrin late that night. The entire family waited for us. Neighbours and friends gasped, laughed, frowned and looked both bewildered and relieved as Kristina told them about the smugglers and the passport dramas.

Kristina’s mom, Zorica, took me out of the house and thanked me, like only mothers do.

I had no sweet smile or bravery left. I hugged her and cried.

• • •

Early the next morning, Zorica and I attended the morning service in the Serbian Orthodox Church.

I did not understand a single word.

It was an unique old church – closed for 30 years, during the Communist rule. The choir sang. I cried.

Zorica asked if I wanted to light a candle in a church where I knew nothing about their rituals.

“Two, please,” I said.

I lit the candles, to humbly thank God for keeping Kristina and myself safe, on those complicated two days on a train.

I walked out into the quiet streets of the picturesque village of Mokrin. The sun shone and the sky was cobalt blue.

It was summer in Serbia.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wally Oppal says policing ‘too important’ to be left to the police

Oppal keynote speaker at a Surrey Board of Trade “Hot Topic Dialogue” breakfast event this morning

Surrey skater speeds his way to four golds, a silver at BC Winter Games

‘I just really enjoy going fast on the ice,’ says Barnett Liu, 14

‘Urgent’ need for Metro Vancouver homeless count volunteers

Organizers say another 100 people are sought to help in Surrey and Burnaby

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say missing 14-year-old has been found and is safe

Brayden Ritchat, 14, had been last seen in the 10800-block of 141st Street in Whalley on Feb. 21

Rail disruptions expected to continue after new protest sites emerge

Nationwide rail and road blockades have been popping up for weeks

New Westminster woman’s ‘out of character’ disappearance probed by police

She left without telling anyone, prompting investigation by Major Crimes Unit, police say

EDITORIAL: Fraser Health needs to be transparent to fight coronavirus panic

Fraser Health and other authorities are not helping by being vague in recent communications

Riverdale actress rescues puppy from Langley shelter

American actress named her adopted pup Milo

How clean is your favourite local restaurant or café?

Online inspection reports allow consumers to find health hazard of all food facilities in region

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

COLUMN: Forestry no longer close to top of B.C.’s economy

Our reactions to a forestry downturn reflect the past, not the present

Caught on camera: Police release video of man who allegedly stole seaplane in Vancouver

Police say the man broke into the Harbour Air terminal and then got into one of the seaplanes in the harbour

51 health professionals send letter to Trudeau, Horgan panning northern B.C. pipeline

They point to studies about the health and climate change risks from pipeline

Most Read

l -->