Now that I am back to live in Europe, I take the train much more often than the plane. Here is a reflection on a night train trip I recently made from Milan to Paris, and on ladies only compartments.
I practice Linguistic Empathy and I expect you to do the same. Please bear with me if my English is not perfect.
A while ago I posted this question on my FB wall:
I must go from Milan to Paris: Would you suggest plane or train?
Participation was high. Apart from rare exceptions, my whole community recommended I take the train.
I love trains, and I am a bit anxious when I fly. However, the number of hours it would take me to go from my hometown to the city where my son lives by train discouraged me.
While flying would take me a little more than one hour, by train I would have needed eight or even more. And even if time spent on the train is never wasted, I would still have to find almost two full days for travelling.
So I wondered: how about travelling at night? At night one sleeps (at least, this is what I do :-), and doing it at my place or on a train makes no difference.
Almost. In fact my first thought after considering travelling by night was about the population of the train compartment: what would I do, had I to find myself with five men of different ages and backgrounds?
I have always been a bit terrified at this idea. Not only because when I was sixteen and travelling back from the Basque Countries with a friend, a lousy man started masturbating in our compartment. All of my childhood and adolescence have been marked by events that stirred a natural fear towards men in specific situations.
We had discussed this in my community when I had to decide whether to rent an airbnb room in the flat of a man (this was before airbnb started renting again in the illegal Israeli settlements, reason why we should absolutely never use it!). I remember that some of the women who participated in the discussion (once again on FB) could not understand my hesitation. On the other hand, I could not understand how they could not grasp my uncertainty.
In any case, I felt the same discomfort when I found myself having to decide whether to travel by train at night. Until a lady of my community informed me that there are ladies only compartments on all European trains. I don’t how it happened that I did not know about this option, with all the travelling and living abroad I went through in my life, but better late than never.
I went on the Italian train lines website to buy my ticket and I actually found the option of booking a ladies only compartment: with two, four, or six bunks, depending on the price.
I chose the one with six bunks, to save money. On the way to Paris, it was me and another woman only, a lovely Senegalese who slept at the bottom while I had a bunk on top.
On the way back, the compartment was full: six bunks for six women of different nationalities, languages and physicality. Among them, a very strong lady nonchalantly grabbed my suitcase, full of books and wine, and lifted it above her head like a perfect Pippi Longstocking.
Once all sitting comfortable, we entertained each other telling us the reason for our travels. It was very nice to breath the varied and multicultural atmosphere of our ladies only compartment. We all managed the common space very naturally, and there was a sort of tenderness in taking care of each other. I slept happily, feeling safe.
When we arrived in Milan, one of the ladies had lost her train for Rome because our train was late. She did not speak Italian and was anxious. I went with her to the information point and remained until we were sure she would be able to take the next train with no additional costs. When we said goodbye she hugged me tightly and full of gratitude. I went away with a wonderful warmth in my heart. What is travelling about if not connecting to other human beings?
Hooray for ladies only compartments!