As the train pulled out of Aleppo Station bound for Latakia I settled back into my seat looked out of the window and watched as the suburbs gave way to countryside. I relaxed, looked round at the other passengers and began to enjoy the train ride. A young girl sitting opposite me kept glancing over at the strange foreigner sharing her journey. I smiled back at her and she pretended to read her newspaper.
After a few minutes I looked up and saw the ticket inspector working his way down the carriage checking everyone’s tickets and as he drew nearer i realised that it was Mohammad, who was in charge of the sleeper carriage on the two day journey from Istanbul to Aleppo that i had taken a few days before.
“Dave, What are you doing here ” he exclaimed. I told him that I was going to Latakia for the day. Mohammad then asked me to wait a few more minutes until he had finished checking the tickets and then we would go to the Staff table at the front of the train for coffee and a chat.
We joined the other members of the train staff and Mohammad introduced me to them. They were happy to be able to practice their English and learn more about the outside world from my point of view. We drank coffee, ate an assortment of nuts and then Mohammad suddenly asked me:-
” Do you want to go and sit with the driver? ” Mohammed asked me.
“Wow is that possible” was my reply !!!!! ”
” Next station, jump out onto the platform and run to the engine and climb up. I will follow you ” Mohammed instructed me.
I prepared my backpack ready for the sprint. A few minutes later the train to Latakia stopped at the station. I alighted and ran to the front, climbed up the short ladder and into the drivers cabin. To my surprise I saw a small boy , who could have been no more than 5 years old sitting on the driver’s lap. This young boy already knew how to drive a train and often came out with his father for the day. As i watched he pulled this lever and pushed another and the train started to move. As it gathered speed the young boy adjusted the controls under the watchful eye of his father. Even when the safety whistle blew the child knew how to cancel it by hitting the ” Driver OK ” button.
“Yalla , lets make coffee ” the driver said. I looked in horror at the DIY wired hot electric hot plate used to boil the coffee in the finjan. It had been hotwired into the windscreen wiper motor, but was assured they had used it many times and was safe to use !!!!! Soon we were drinking coffee and riding along the track. This was the first time i had ever ridden up front on a train and the experience was amazing with an unobstructed view of the line ahead and scenery.
I waved at the drivers of trains going in the opposite direction and can only wonder what they thought about seeing a foreigner in the cabin. One time there was a long curving bridge that i thought might look good in a photo, so the driver slowed the train down just enough for me to take one. Then we made another stop and i was asked if i wanted to try moving the train out of the station.
So under the drivers watchful gaze i followed his instructions and tried to remember what i had seen the little boy do an hour earlier, and to my amazement and joy the train slowly started to move and we picked up speed. I handed control of the train back to the driver. His son fell asleep and we continued on to the next stop where Mohammad and myself rejoined the other passengers in the train.
What an experience that was. Probably the first and last time i will ever have that chance. So remember to always make friends with the attendants when travelling by train as you never know where it may lead !!!!!!