Everyone told us not to take the train.
“It’s not safe,” they said.
“It goes so slow they said.
“It’s not a good kind of crowd,” they said.
But, “it’s so cheap,” we thought.
“It would save us the price of a hostel that night,” we thought.
“We just got off 54 hours of traveling by bus,” we thought.
So we did it anyway.
I boarded the train in the dark. We staked out my sleeper cabin, stored all our bags under my bed and ate cheese and apples and bread while watching out the window at the people walking by on the platform. By the time we got to the ticket station that morning (you can only buy tickets for the day you want to travel on the day you want to travel) there was only one ticket left in a sleeper car, so after dinner we split up, the other to her spot in the economy class.
Fifteen minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, I met my first cabin-mate. She introduced herself; I waved to her seven-month-old son. I met my second cabin-mate five minutes after the train was scheduled was leave. She didn’t talk much. To me, anyway.
The power wasn’t working on the train (which we had heard was usual), so I was rocked to sleep shortly after the train started moving by feeling of the cars swaying on the tracks. I woke up the next morning somewhere between Bulawayo (our starting destination) and Harare. My Zimbabwean geography wasn’t good enough for when my cabin-mated told me where we were that it meant anything to me. I checked on my friend. I looked out the window. I listened to part of an episode of Radiolab. It was just finishing as we pulled into the Harare station.
That was it. No late night visitors trying to get into my cabin. No strangers ducking into the cabin to steal my stuff when I went to the bathroom. No drunken passengers roaming the hallway outside the cabin. The ride was uneventful, but that’s why it worked. It got us from point A to point B and left behind only a minimal amount of fatigue.
Sometimes, it turns out, you can’t listen to what others say.