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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Around the World

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(3/2014) This month I made it my mission to find someone at Mount with an incredible story to tell. Initially I was stuck, unable to find someone who had a story that truly captured me. Then I realized that I wasn’t looking for just any story. I needed to find a person who could sit down and tell me 20 stories like my Nanna used to do. A person who could talk and talk and would never get boring because their life just seemed so fascinating. Once I started thinking this way, I knew just who I needed to talk to: one of my professors. Despite his amazing tales, he wishes to remain anonymous. This professor has been to more places in the world than I can count, and his stories capture the attention of everyone in his classes. His stories are so incredible that he truly doesn’t want anyone to think he’s crazy when the story is through. Although the tale that he wove for me is so amazing it’s hard to believe, he spoke with such conviction that it’s impossible to doubt the truth behind it.

When I asked him if he wanted to share some stories with me in depth he was a little confused, but when I explained that I was writing an article, he asked, "Sure, should I tell you about the time I was going from Greece to Germany after a conference in Lesbos, but got stuck in Hungary?" All I could do was laugh because I knew how crazy this story would surely be.

My professor had a conference where he was to deliver a talk focusing on his research on the island of Lesbos. It was the summer of 1990 and the event was scheduled immediately before he was scheduled to begin studying in Germany. The itinerary was tight, but could be worked with; he had his passport and was optimistic about the trip. His first flight was long, amusing, and a little frightening at times as he journeyed from America and landed in Turkey. From Turkey, he took a puddle jumper to the east coast of Lesbos, ready to make his way to the opposite side of the island and complete his journey. This however, is where things got complicated.

At the time, there was only one long dirt road reaching from coast to coast, stretching through windy, mountainous territory. Imagine a path thousands of feet in the air with no guardrails. After a little navigation he finally arrived at the bus station. On the bus were people with their goats and chickens and plants. All sorts of religious knick-knacks hung from the rearview mirror. To add to the terror, he was sitting in the very front seat and the bus driver was looking back at the passengers, talking to them as he was all over the winding road thousands of feet in the air. The entire trip lasted four hours as the bus wound its way through the mountains, stopping at every little town along the way. Despite the initial fright it caused, the trip ended without incident. He arrived on the west coast and he delivered his paper and stayed for three days. The next task on his list was the simple, but deceptively difficult task of flying to Germany.

From the capital of Lesbos, my professor flew into Athens for a short layover. He got off the plane and stepped into the airport where he found a "huge open room. The circus was in town and there were elephants and lions and all kinds of animals in cages and shackles." I know what you all are thinking, there is absolutely no way there were circus animals in the airport, but I asked about six times – there were. After meandering through the sea of animals he prepared to board his outgoing flight for Germany. Well, as fate would have it, the plane left without him. This wouldn’t have been much of a story if he didn’t miss a flight, would it?

He went over to talk to the people at the main desk, using the small amount of Greek he knew to communicate his problem and arrange for passage on a new flight. He had to call Germany and notify the people waiting to pick him up from the airport. He went over to the phones on the outskirts of the airport and they were lined with men in uniform holding rifles. He had to communicate his problem again, telling the armed men who he needed to call, why he needed to contact them, and the phone number. Finally he convinced the guards and had to wait for the number to be dialed for him. He got a new flight for the next day and was finally – maybe – on his way to Germany.

Well, they left out a small detail – or he didn’t hear a small detail – about a layover in Budapest, Hungary. No problem you might say? Just waste some time in the airport you might say? Quite the contrary. Hungary was still a communist country under Russian control at the time, requiring a visa to enter. And his connecting flight was not until the next day. He got off the plane and there were military men forcing the passengers in line into a makeshift plywood area where they took care of customs. Realizing he didn’t have a visa to enter, he was just glad he had his passport. Because of the confusion, and the scary men with rifles, he was lucky to find an American consult working in the airport who told him everything was going to be fine…he just couldn’t leave the airport. So, my professor slept in the Hungary airport that night. He ended his story with, "I finally got to Germany, but I missed the first three days of classes."

In short, I’m glad I got the chance to talk with my professor about the journey of a lifetime, complete with crazy bus trips, hordes of animals, and scary soldiers with guns. Perhaps the greatest realization for me is the fact that this man and his incredible story were right under my nose the entire time.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary