Nothing to declare

Trying to write an article sitting on a shaky, cracking bus is not the easiest thing on earth, especially when streets have more holes than asphalt and the driver believes to be Michael Schumacher in his most glorious years. Streets in Eastern Europe are not always very different from the ones I can find back home, my beloved Italy, with the sole difference that our drivers like to do gymkhanas to avoid cracks. I have just come back from a wonderful week in my boot-shaped peninsula, so holes and easy going drivers make me feel a bit at home. Nevertheless, looking outside the windows of our Ukrainian-styled bus, covered with blue-gold curtains and giant seating numbers, I start to think about where I am and where I am heading to.

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We left Odessa in the morning, where we waited with our eyes half closed for our bus. “Guys, please be on time tomorrow”, said someone the evening before, but we were not the ones needing this recommendation. Our bus drivers overslept (“it was the alarm clock’s fault” – they said), and when they finally arrived, a bit sleepy though, they only managed to communicate with us through eye contact and head signs. We get into the bus, someone brings in coffee and the atmosphere immediately gets cozy and relaxed.

As soon as we leave Odessa the countryside changes immediately. Kilometers of land, burnt yellow bushes and a single-track road.

We arrive at the border, but before that we take a short pause. When you travel with a group of 12 girls you can’t expect nothing different than a crowd running to the toilet! Also this was an experience. We enter a small room, where a woman behind a wall looks at us through a small window. The toilets are funny-looking, and if you stood behind closed doors, everyone could see you from the shoulders upwards. At least we did not have to interrupt your talks.

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Finally everyone is back in the bus, and we head to the border. “Take out your passports, and put your cameras away”. Hmm, not too inviting after all. Blue-yellow pillars welcome us, and we start waiting for some “go” sign while checking what the border guards do. One of the guards walked past our bus with a wonderful and cuddly golden Labrador. “He is a drug-sniffing dog” says someone from behind, but the dog does not really seem interested in doing his job. Instead, he sniffles at each dustbin and marks his territory, while his owner is busy pulling him back and forth. People on the bus start eating to kick boredom, but unexpectedly our pile of visas comes back, we get our Transnistrian stamp and we are ready to go. Pfiuh!

“Not too fast guys”, and we get held up again. We give over our passes, and someone in the group wonders why a group of students should be held at the custom control. “Do you think that my three Ukrainian carrots, and my cucumber will count as smuggling?”. Who knows, but when the fresh and young guard asks us whether we were carrying illegal duties, we just decide not to answer. “We are a group of poor students, what do you expect us to have?”. The only thing we have is our only, but not lonely guy hidden in the back of the bus. This does not seem to be a problem for them. “Lucky him”, they may think. We get our migration card and we are finally ready to go.

The streets of the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria are way better than the Ukrainian ones, but the countryside hasn’t changed at all. We wouldn’t be even thinking to be in another country if we were not get hold at the border. But maybe that’s what makes these kinds of borders special: they do not aim at dividing territories, but people and identities. In the end, whether you are in or out depends on the perspective you, and people looking at you, decide to adopt. I currently feel myself in between, and I think of those who may feel the same their entire life. Maybe being in or out does not matter after all, but what if it wasn’t up to you to decide?

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