“No sad, no sad” – My four days in Keleti Railway Station

Author: Noémi Zalavári Original title: “No sad, no sad” – Négy napom a Keletiben
Publication:  hvg.hu  , Photo: MTI  –  Zsolt Czeglédi Date: 16:18 06/09/2015

“No sad, no sad” – My four days in Keleti Railway Station

Civilian volunteer aid workers tell many stories about how deeply they are touched by their contact with the refugees. Our reporter followed the week of crisis in Keleti, where everything that is currently crippling Hungarian and European immigration politics is condensed onto a few hundred square metres. This story, however, is not about the EU or Orban, but about the fate of real people. Noemi Zalavari was there amongst the refugees when they decided to set off to Austria on foot. A very subjective report. 

I arrived to Keleti (Railway Station – trans.) on Tuesday morning. At the time, there were still trains leaving for the West every couple of hours. Then it turned out that the station would be closed, and the refugees started to revolt. I very quickly became friendly with a Hungarian Muslim woman, who spoke excellent Arabic, and had been helping the refugees in the transit-zone for a long while already. They trusted her, and maybe she trusted me.

I spent four days with the refugees, practically non-stop. I saw them go through the most extreme emotions, from euphoric joy to distraught rage and helpless desperation. I spoke with many of them about their lives, their families, and after a while, we even joked around.

They were laughing at me as I screwed up on Friday by not turning up in sneakers, when we set off to Austria on foot, and they were also hoping that the authorities had already taken my fingerprints, otherwise I would have problems at the border. Some of them suggested that I’d be better off marrying one of them: then neither of us would need to walk 200 kilometres.

I know that it would be a mistake to think that just because I met a handful of nice guys and girls, I now have a clear picture about the thousands of refugees and that all of them are “good people”. But it is a fact that I met very few with whom, when our gazes met, we did not instantly exchange a smile.

It tells a lot about not only the individual, but also about the culture, when you give someone poor more bread than he and his family can eat at one time, he instantly tells you to pass it on to someone else, and even a half bar of a chocolate is immediately passed around. When standing outside under the blazing sun, I also started to feel faint, they would not let me be until I drank from their water. From the last unopened bottle of their water supply.

My preconceptions about Arab men also proved to be unwarranted. Even in the heat of the biggest protests, they were very careful with me, trying not to even touch me, and if they did, they apologised ten times. Among those I spoke with, there were many with university degrees or who could not continue their studies because of the war. My unequivocal impression was that we have the “cream” of the departure countries, and our government is demonising an actual social elite here, making them out to be criminals and dangerous parasites.

We can argue a lot about how to handle the wave of refugees coming to Europe. But it is surely not right that in a European metropolis, refugees would have had to survive without food and water, and medical aid, for days, were it not for the volunteers and civilian donations. That they received no information whatsoever, and there were no interpreters.

But most importantly, there was not one person who would tell them, when the gates of the station unexpectedly opened up, that, “hey, guys, this train is not going to go to where you bought your tickets to”.

There are no words to describe how dozens of police just watch them – in the best of cases without a word, in worse cases sniggering amongst themselves – as they rush onto the trains, crying tears of joy. Onto trains which the police already knew were not going to Vienna, but to Bicske (Hungarian collection centre for asylum-seekers – trans.).

About the latter, of course, I had no idea myself: as I watched them flee my country head over heals, pushing onto the trains, I burst into tears against all my intentions. An Austrian female journalist next to me did exactly the same. Then we shared a tissue that we had received from a refugee between the two of us. As she handed it over, she said: “no sad, no sad.”

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