2014 Grateful 4

Last week started off well and finished well – but the bits in between I could live without repeating. If I’d charted my emotional well-being, my mood, my perspective, I’d have gotten a somewhat erratic line drawing with highs and lows and bits in between. And as the highs and lows were extreme – it was exhausting – and I’m knackered.

Some time ago, when the best of medical minds were wavering about how to treat my MS-like symptoms, given that I don’t have MS, they came up with the bright idea of anti-depressants. Those little white pills would, apparently, make me feel right again. No more pins and needles, no more fatigue, no more legs giving way, no more mind/brain disconnect where my reactions are a second behind my brain’s instruction to the point when I drop stuff and burn myself. Just one pill a day and all this would disappear. Or so they said.

Strangely, I wasn’t at all tempted. I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a medical degree. And I’m not that into a Google-ised self-diagnosis. Many lifetimes ago, however, I did suffer from depression and for two years took those pills and lived in a world that was flat – no highs, no lows. They gave me time to heal, took away the anxiety, the paranoia, the despair. They helped me function. For that period in my life, they worked. And I was grateful for them because I was depressed. Today, I’m not.

The symptoms still come and go and always the recommended treatment stays the same. But I’ve gotten attached to my highs and lows and can’t imagine going back to flatlining where everything was the same. Instead of popping little white pills, I prefer the company of good friends who understand the madness and don’t feel the need to fix me.

WheelSaturday was a case in point. What was to be a quick spin around the Christmas market at Vörösmarty tér turned into dinner at a restaurant I’d not been to before, followed by a turn on the Eye (another thing off my bucket list), followed by some good music and great conversation. Lost in another world on the way home, I missed my stop and ended up in a part of the VIIIth I’d never seen. Walking through the streets of Budapest at daybreak on a cold December morning was all the tonic I needed. To see the world slowly waking and to have the time to pause and reflect on my part in it was therapeutic. To have people in my life who can turn my mood and make me laugh and bring me out of myself when the doubts set in is a blessing. To know myself well enough to be able to avoid the pills and ride the waves – that’s something for which I’m truly grateful.


2014 Grateful 43

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.

17_humantrafficI’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.











Severed tongues and ghettos

I’ve been dreaming a lot more than usual lately. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been sleeping a lot more than usual lately, too. I have a bug and have had it for about 10 days now. It comes and goes and my voice comes and goes with it. So I’ve taken to my bed as often as I can and stayed in it for as long as possible. More sleep, more dreams. Hardly surprising.

Yet two dreams in particular stand out. And they’re topical enough for me to comment on them and to invite your interpretation.

In one, all the Jews and Roma in the city of Budapest were moving en masse into the VIIIth district. Streets leading into the district were being closed off with ornate Transylvanian gates. Those living here will know that the VIIIth is often referred to as the ghetto and that in and of itself is nothing new. In my dream, I was running around trying to convince people NOT to move. And not because I live in the VIIIth and didn’t want to be locked in – that wasn’t an issue. My argument was that they shouldn’t be locking themselves in but rather locking their accusers out. I’m still not sure I see a difference but in my dream there was one – quite a definite one.

IMG_5221 (800x600)The answers I received to my series of whys – why are you moving, why all together, why now – were the same. ‘We need to stand together and face our oppressors as a united group.’ I thought it a little too much like easy pickings – I thought of how easy it is to eradicate a problem or issue when it’s contained. When I tried to argue more, pointing to the ghettos of yore and what happened back in the 1940s, I was told repeatedly that a) I was not Hungarian; b) I was not Jewish; and c) I was not Roma so therefore I simply couldn’t understand. This still troubles me.

It could be a reflection of a conversation I had some months ago with a 30-something-year-old professional in which they asked how long I intended to stay in Budapest. I said it depended on who won the next election. They asked why. I said that I didn’t want to live in a society that elected politicians who talked of putting Jews on registers because they posed a threat to national security; I didn’t want to live in a country that seemed so openly anti-Roma in its policy (and I’m still smarting from the Azerbaijan fiasco). They couldn’t see my point. ‘Why should it bother you?’ they asked. After all, ‘you’re not Hungarian, not Jewish, not Roma – so why should it bother you who is in government? But that was a couple of months ago….

In a second dream this week, I was taking care of two children aged about 8 and 10, boy and girl. They weren’t my kids. I don’t know how I ended up minding them or who they belonged to. We seemed to be living out of the back of a truck which was nothing out of the ordinary as in my dream, buildings were all commercial and static and living accommodation transient.Life was trundling along just fine (surprising in itself!). Then both of them decided, for no apparent reason, to cut off their tongues. Which they did. No tears, no blood, no histrionics. They came to me smiling and handed over their severed tongues, each of which had two overlapping layers. I freaked on the inside but stayed calm on the outside. I found some ice, boxed up the bits, and called the ambulance, managing all this in Hungarian (aren’t dreams great!). My biggest problem was that I forgot to label the bits and couldn’t tell which tongue belonged to which child. It was this and not the cutting of tongues that was causing my angst.

I’m left wondering whether these two dreams are related – whether there is something I don’t want to say or have said – whether I am more concerned than I think about the state of the nation… Perhaps I just need less sleep.

Any thoughts?