11. March 2016
Late at night, I lie awake and stare at the ceiling. The first night in my new apartment in Budapest, where I'll spend a semester at uni, doesn't feel quite like I imagined. Thoughts keep running through my head and I have a slight premonition that sleep won't come for a long time. I go through the events of the last few hours.
After my arrival, I tried to find my way through Keleti train station with a huge suitcase and a crammed backpack. The place was beyond recognition: packed with refugees who have been waiting for days on end to continue their journey. I felt like the world's greatest fool, wheeling around a giant suitcase, while the persons next to me had to leave all their belongings behind. Some of them looked desperate and tired. A guy plucked at the strings of a guitar and a group of refugees and volunteers improvised a dance. One of the volunteers sat in a corner, drawing portraits of children. Next to them, a family tried to get some sleep, right there on the floor. One woman wanted to wash herself in the sparsely equipped bathroom facilities. Yet others demonstrated at the entrance to the train station, holding up empty pizza boxes that said «Let us through to Merkel».
All these images buzz in my head, as I'm comfortably lying in my bed. I get up, start up my laptop and comb through the internet, looking for Hungarian NGO's. On facebook, I contact a few friends from Vienna whom I know to be involved in refugee support activities. One of them sends me the contact of a guy who apparently leads an NGO in Hungary. I call Akos right away. In broken German, he explains that his NGO «Age of Hope» usually helps women and children in need. But in view of the special situation right now, they have come to extend their help to refugees as well. We arrange to meet the next evening at the train station.
I'm quite stirred up, but I slip back into bed and manage to fall asleep at some point. Had I known what would happen in the months to come, I wouldn't have slept a wink.
For the next evening, Akos will name me his personal assistant. During the next two months, he will show me how his NGO works and what they do. I will meet a lot of interesting people from Hungary who are campaigning for refugees. For instance, he will introduce me to a club of anarchists who have set up sleeping accommodations on their premises for people on the move. That's where I'll meet people from Ukraine, from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. They will tell me about their flight, about their hopes and fears. I will witness how Hooligans threaten to riot at a game of the Hungarian football team. We will walk the parks of Budapest, trying to find as many refugees as possible, in order to warn them. Another day, after most of the refugees have left and only uncountable volunteers are left, I'll be at the train station, playing with a little Syrian girl. The other volunteers mistake me for her mother and insist on giving me socks (I'm not wearing any), nappies, chocolate and sandwiches. I shout «I'm not a refugee», but no one seems to hear me. The situation is absurdly unreal and I can't help laughing. Besides all this, I will go on different journeys with Akos.
By mid-September, we'll be travelling to Vienna to pick up donations. Journalists are already expecting us, trying to get an interview with Akos and hoping to acquire some information about the situation in Hungary. It comes in handy for Akos that he's got his assistant with him. He doesn't like to be interviewed and before I know it, I'm put in front of the cameras. Both German and Austrian national media are here. I try to answer their questions, admittedly a bit perplexed. A week later, Akos is guest of honour at a charity ball at the university ELTE. All the revenues go to «Age of Hope», and at the raffle we win so many presents we can't take them all home.
There are exciting, sad, funny, absurd and impressing moments ahead! But right now, this first night in Budapest, I can't even begin to imagine how the next months will be like. Don't they say what you dream the first night you are in a new place will come true? Maybe I'm dreaming of my trip with «Age of Hope» to the Hungarian city of Zakany in October. I'll tell you more about that trip >> read the portrait now.