I stood just to the side of the bus, watching passenger after passenger climb off – clowns-in-a-car fashion; we had been crammed in so tight – but not one of the people exiting approached me and introduced themselves as Timi. I had been a little worried when I’d gotten on the bus and no one had tried to get my attention. Where was the girl who was supposed to show me the Transcarpathian bus ropes? But never fear, I told myself. There is barely room for me to set my suitcase down. How could anyone greet me, much less approach me? So I set my worries aside to be dealt with when I got off the bus and concentrated on breathing the close air and keeping myself from falling over on the curves.
I don’t know what the official capacity of that bus is, but we far exceeded it. All the windows fogged up, and I watched us barrel down the road through the windshield, the only clear space of glass. It was only a little after 6 am, and everything in front of us was washed pink by the morning. I tried to imagine how cool and fresh the outside air must be; I got a taste of it when a man opened the emergency hatch for air. But when he closed it again, I felt the breath of 50 people close in again, and I was oh-so-relieved when that hour ended and I could step off the bus and stretch out my grip-tired hands and breathe deeply.
My relief was short-lived. The bus had reached the final stop, everyone was leaving, and Timi wasn’t there. Perhaps I had taken the wrong bus? I probably looked pretty conspicuous standing there with my 25 cent suitcase, bright red and orange clothing, decidedly blonde hair, and wide-eyed confusion (as wide as my deep-set eyes can get, anyway). Standing at the bus stop wasn’t going to help me, though. There was nothing else to do but pick up my suitcase and start walking. (Why did I pack so many books for two days?)
I had been told that I would need to take a bus and then a train to get to Beregszasz. So my logic told me that, had I indeed been on the correct bus, I should in the town where I should catch the train. However, my intuition told me otherwise. Some small part of me recognized the city; and it was decidedly a city, not a town. By Transcarpathia standards.
I followed some people with large suitcases to see if they would lead me to a train station, but the large group kept dispersing until I realized they were not all going in the same direction. I crossed the busy street to a park. I noticed several signs that said “Берегово,” which in Cyrillic says Beregovo, which is the Ukrainian name for Beregszasz. However, Beregszasz is also a district, so I thought perhaps the word was referring to a geogaphical area, not a city. On my way to the park, I stopped by a big blue highway sign with cities and millages posted on it. I read neither Beregszasz nor Берегово on the sign, which seemed to bode well for me. If the city wasn’t on the mileage signs, I was either 1) very far away (which, while possible, did not seem likely) or 2) in the city itself.
I sat down on a park bench to mull things over, which immediately made me more conspicuous as, in Eastern Europe, you don’t sit on park benches in the early morning. Only homeless people do that. But I couldn’t carry my suitcase and my bag and talk on the phone at the same time. And talking on the phone is what I decided I need to do.
Neither of my contacts answer the phone. I sat on the park bench some more. To my right was a broad, stone-paved walkway that looked like it lead somewhere important, so I decided to follow it and see if it offered more clues. I found more signs with Beregszasz and Берегово written on them – offical-looking ones, even better. So perhaps the wrong bus had actually been the right one? The walkway led to a large square that looked vaguely familiar. I noticed a Reformed church bookstore and decided that I would ask questions there. It opened in an hour. Perfect. I’d just hop over to the cafe next door and get a second breakfast in the mean time. The Hungarian Reformed community in Transcarpathia is tight-knit. The house I was to stay in while in Beregszasz was run by the church – the people at the bookstore would know where it was.
It was a plan that probably would have worked, but it ended up being unnecessary. I got a call back from Szabina, one the English teachers I work with, and she helped me get to where I needed to go. I was indeed in Beregszasz somehow. And Timi actually had been on the bus. But she hadn’t recognized me.
By the time I arrived at KRISZ-pont, my house in Beregszasz, it was only 8 in the morning. I felt like an entire day had passed.
(You check out the house here. It’s in Hungarian, but there are a few pictures. The outside isn’t as depressing as it looks. I’ll talk more about it’s function later.)