Back in 1993, I was blessed to be able to join a few others on a mission trip to Crimea. It was an amazing adventure. On the way to our destination, we traveled by air to Helsinki, Finland; by small ferry over to Estonia; by train to Moscow; and then on through Russia and Ukraine; and finally into Crimea (which is part of Ukraine).
I remember being awakened in the middle of the night, in some strange looking railyard in the middle of nowhere, by officers opening our compartment doors rather roughly and screaming (literally) “Papers! Papers! We must see your papers!” We were sitting at the border between Estonia and Russia, and we needed to produce our passports, Visas, and whatever else these men asked for.
Search your baggage? Sure.
Ask 20 questions over and over again in different order to see if they could trip you up? Absolutely.
Attack your guitar case as if it held weapons or ammunition or drugs or some other contraband? Go ahead - after all, I’m the foreigner here and it is your country.
All at about 2 a.m., following long flights and tiring boat rides. No problem.
The situation repeated itself at Moscow’s central rail station, and again at several points along the 50-something hour train ride from Estonia to our destination. We were also confronted numerous times at the hotel in Dzhankoy, Ukraine, before finally being kicked out of town for being in “the wrong place.”
After our mission was completed, we boarded a train that would take us through Belarus, Lithuania, and Latvia on the journey back to Estonia. The “knock-knock-throw open the door-barge right in screaming” tactics played out at every border crossing. We even watched as a fancy-looking woman in an adjoining car was arrested and taken forcibly from the train by what looked like military police. I guess her “Papers!” weren’t in order.
I thought many times while on that trip how lucky we are to live in a place like America; able to move about freely from town-to-town and state-to-state, or to visit business establishments or to attend concerts or enjoy plays or athletic events without having to show our “Papers!”
Well, it appears that - as a young poet and songwriter told us so many, many years ago - the times they are a-changin’.
Papers! Paper! We must see your papers!