On passing a trainload of Syrian refugees…

Posted by on Nov 17, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Our river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest had many extra bonuses, each designed to keep us coming back again and again. And let’s face it – river cruising is a lifestyle that has a lot going for it.

Take the extra special trip from Linz to Salzburg on the Majestic Imperator – the imperial train used by Emperors of the once great Holy Roman Empire when Austria was at the height of its power. We were in the carriage where the Emperor had once sat, and it was renovated to all its previous glory. Whilst on that day trip to visit the birthplace of Mozart and to inspect the setting for the movie The Sound of Music, our train stopped briefly in a station whose name I no longer remember.

It just so happened that on the line alongside ours was another train. It was filled with Syrian refugees, on their way to a new home (well, place of residence, it will be years, perhaps decades, before anything really feels like home should). I looked into the carriage directly opposite mine. A woman, early thirties, but looking as if going on eighty, stared back at me. A young child was at her side.

I felt a little awkward. Ours was a luxury trip – I’ve never been on anything like it before. We were being served champagne and canapes. And our train – well its name, the Majestic Imperator said it all. As I looked at her, I wanted to explain that I’m not really a champagne person… not even a beer person actually. Yes, I probably looked super wealthy and priviledged, but this wasn’t a reflection of my daily life. My usual circumstances are far more modest.

But I don’t think she would have been interested and we didn’t speak the same language and anyway, the windows of both trains were closed, to keep out the biting cold.

I thought I would try to reach out to her in the only way I could. I smiled. I don’t usually think about the way I smile, but I did think about this smile. And I tried to smile in a way that said ‘welcome’ and ‘I am so sorry and so sad for what you have been through’ and ‘I most truly hope that your future will be better than your past’ – but hey, no one has ever nominated me for an Oscar, so I guess it was just a smile.

It was not returned. She just kept staring straight at me. Truth to tell, I am not sure if she even saw me. She must have – we were looking directly at each other in the way you are taught not to look at strangers – but there was not a flicker of anything. Just a haunted staring. And the child alongside sitting mutely – in the way that children never do.

And then the train moved on…

You could sense the impact on our tour group. Definitely subdued. But hey, this was a cruise and a special day out. A few moments later our waiter called out, ‘Anyone for schnapps and gingerbread?’

In the foyer the opera singers who had been seranading one carriage after another, waited paitiently for the waiter to finish and for their turn to begin. A few moments later their singing burst out, ‘The hills are alive, with the sound of music.’  Indeed, they are. I think we had just heard the singing of angels. And good though our opera singers were, it was not them…

One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing Brian.

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