I reposted an article from the Guardian on Facebook earlier this week, talking up District VIII in Budapest. I reposted it because I live in the VIIIth and I like living there. Last week I wrote about my little corner of the universe and was inordinately pleased that the British paper was joining in my modest assertion that the neighbourhood is reforming, shaking off what the paper calls its ‘rough reputation’ and growing into a rather stylish teen.
I’ve had better weeks, so it was nice to read something positive for a change. Something I could relate to. Something in the plus box for Hungary. But for every plus, experience says there’s bound to be a minus – and true to form, the balance was maintained.
A friend of mine, commenting on my repost, told me about what happened to a friend in their salsa class. She (the salsa friend) rents a flat in the VIIIth. One night, a week or two ago, while walking home, she ran into two lads who told her that they could make a great prostitute out of her. Not interested in such a career change, she just ignored them and continued on. She has a good job by all accounts.
Last Monday night (her birthday), she missed the night bus and decided to walk home. While on Baross utca, she was surrounded by six lads, including the two that had propositioned her the previous week. They blocked the path and she couldn’t pass. As they were repeating their ‘offer’, a van stopped beside them. One chap started to undo his belt; another had a knife in hand.Things were not looking good.
A passing taxi driver saw what was happening. He stopped and shouted at the lads who upped sticks and fled. The taxi driver then took her home. He told her that it would be a waste of time reporting it to the police as the most they’d do is arrest the lads (assuming they could find them) for a night or two but once out, they’d find her again. And next time she might not be so lucky. This, apparently, is how some women end up on the streets of Budapest (or further afield). If they fight back, a cut face might be the best they could hope for.
I’ve walked home through the back streets from Baross Utca many nights, feeling safe in the shadow of the big yellow church, without ever giving it a thought. Perhaps I’m lucky not to be a svelte 27-year-old dancer. I’ll think not a second, but a third time before I walk that way again.As the saying goes, one swallow doesn’t make a spring – but hearing this has certainly burst one of my bubbles.
In January this year, four Hungarians men and a British woman were sentenced in the UK for sex trafficking. Apparently 50 or so Hungarian women had been flown to the UK and their ‘services’ offered via websites. I wonder if that’s what the van was for.
I know it goes on the world over. I know it’s not going to go away tomorrow. And I know that Budapest as a capital city has all the faults and failings of any other capital city, to a greater or lesser extent. But this is my district damn it. And the pride I felt in it has lost some of its sheen. [As an somewhat related aside: if any of you missed the ad campaign video to stop human trafficking, it’s worth a watch.]
On the plus side though, I’m truly grateful that the taxi driver didn’t just turn a blind eye and keep driving. He stopped. He helped. He saved that young lady from God only knows what. Perhaps if there were more like him in the world, it might be a better place.
Thank you, Mr Taxi Man.