The other side of paradise
Whenever we have traveled I am always scanning for the next great photo; the cascade of bright red geraniums, the interesting artistic signs, mouthwatering food, medieval castles and wrought iron work, purring kitties, loyal dogs, majestic mountains, pink sunsets, ethnic faces. I see so much beauty. I am looking for it.
I cannot see the wonders without also noticing the less than beautiful things before me. These “imperfections” are present no matter where you go – the thoughtless ugly graffiti, the garbage spilling out of the full trash can, the impatient BMW driver who obnoxiously leans on the horn when the pedestrians are still crossing at his green light (yeah he DESERVED to get several walkers’ middle fingers – Chris’ among them!), the dog poop, the stench of bum pee, the homeless people.
The homeless people. There are many. They are in every city. They are in Budapest.
We had a fellow sleeping in the threshold of the building across the street from us early in our stay. It was raining relentlessly and he slept there, I’m assuming because there was an overhang, a somewhat dry respite. I thought obsessively about taking him water and something to eat; first thing in the morning, I would look for him. I then noticed that a woman came to bring him food and he had an seemingly bottomless bottle of amber liquid next to him. He smoked cigarettes. One afternoon when he was in his alternate sunny weather location, I looked at him and said hello. He’s a person, right? He deserves to be treated with dignity, right? His response was a Hungarian litany of I suspect obscenities – he was not interested in my hello, he was yelling at me for something – but I’m not sure what.
There are many who tug at the heartstrings of empathetic people using their physical deformities. I have seen two men outside the Central Market sitting in the median facing each other. They are not there every day (and especially not Sundays since the Central Market is not open on Sundays). They are both amputees. One has no legs, the other has only one. They are not aggressive, but are there to collect monetary sympathy from passer-by-ers. There is another older man with a cane lurched out in front of him; he wears dirty clothes and shoes, hobbling awkwardly on his inner feet down a main pedestrian tourist street with his free hand outstretched. If he happens to catch someone’s eye, he puts his hand up to his mouth to gesture that he wants to eat something. When he gestured to an older woman walking next to me she flinched and jumped out of his reach as if a bee has just landed on her. One day I saw him on his usual street and later when I was returning from the market an hour later, he had looped back to the beginning and started his walk all over again.
I have seen old women on the metro steps, people using their small children or dogs as “props”, people rummaging through trash cans for food or cigarette butts, clean cut kids with their hand out trying for some free cash, people with signs apparently explaining why they need a hand out ( I recognize the word “köszönöm” – “thank you”), a few “old women”prostrating themselves on the hard cobblestone street, their hands in prayer position over their heads, and a paper cup in front of them (do you know of any decrepit old person who can kneel on the hard pavement like this for one minute, much less twenty?), people providing music with their instrument case open for offerings. There are people who have simply passed out on the park bench sleeping with their mouths wide open and clearly a belly full of booze. There is even a couple that I have seen repeatedly in the metro station at the stop for our gym; they have a “set-up” on a doorstep and I have seen them spooning here many times.
I am not judging. We never know another individual’s circumstances or story. It is a quandry for me to pass a homeless person by, ignoring their outstretched hand, hat, cup, or instrument case, without acknowledging him or her. I just don’t know how to help.