Several weeks ago a young Hungarian man decided to bum rush me – while screaming at me inches from my face – on an empty subway platform.
I was terrified. I spent days (weeks) carrying my apartment keys as a defense weapon should he come at me again in broad daylight. I felt restless at night, reliving that moment over and over.
That was the moment when I had enough of Hungary.
There were other incidents of course, such as the man driving a van backward on the sidewalk of a busy metro platform almost hitting me (No beep beep back up noises. No worker standing outside to direct pedestrian traffic, even though there were three people in the van.) The lady on the tram who cursed at me in Hungarian that we (my children and I) were too close to her inside an already tightly packed tram car during rush hour. Or the security officer at my local ALDI who checked on me (and he still does, by the way) every two minutes to make sure I am not shoplifting a carrot or a bar of soap.
The minor incidents listed above didn’t bother me too much, until the day the young man came too close. He threatened my safety and the people who witnessed the incident said and did nothing.
Up until that point, I had not engaged in many meaningful conversations with Hungarians. They were all strangers, which skewed my perspective.
Then I met Hungarian professors who explained their perspective about their culture, people, and history of oppression and struggle.
Then I met a few more Hungarians while on our travel adventures to Vienna, Slovakia, and Poland. I listened to their stories about their background, family life, and spiritual journey after the fall of Communism.
Then I met a few more Hungarian college students who shared their perspectives about the refugee crisis during a talk with refugees. This was the moment I realized why I had to experience what I experienced on the subway. A young Hungarian female student had been verbally assaulted on the street by someone (who looked like) a refugee. She was visibly shaken as she told her story. You could sense her fears and worries. After the first talking session, I told her that I was terribly sorry that she had to go through that experience. And then I began to tell her and the other female students my story.
When they asked me what I thought about the refugee crisis, I related it back to my experience of living in their country.
That’s when I said that there are going to be a few bad people in this world. It could be the man that she met on the street. It could be the young man I met on the subway. It could be an American. It could be another European. I emphasized that we cannot let fear, anger, and hatred overwhelm us. Somehow, we have to forgive and move on. We have to find peace, love, and grace to see the bigger picture.
Another student shared her story about living in the countryside of Hungary. Her aunt worked as a police officer during the border control crisis last year. They talked about the iconic image of the refugee child being pushed through barb wired fence, saying, “how could do they do this to their children?”
I said, “When you look at that image, that’s what you see. But when someone else looks at that image, they may see desperation for hope and freedom from their oppressors. And yet, another person may see it from another perspective.” And what is said in the news, you have to read it from several different perspectives and sources. It’s a complicated story, and we won’t know how it will turn out until we study it, analyze it, and reanalyze it again.
My conversation shared here is a shortened version of my conversations with the students, but this is the takeaway: I hope the talk with these students was helpful to see the refugee crisis from a different perspective. I hope that we, as a human race, can continue to engage in meaningful conversations to understand one another. And though I started month three with a low so deep that I wished to have flown straight home that very scary day, I am grateful that one sour moment on a subway platform was a way to connect with another person whom I would have never been able to connect with before.
Hey, it’s still not easy living in Budapest, but at least my perspective has changed. And now I can say that I am smiling and saying hello in Hungarian to people on the street again. After all, I am still a Southerner, and southern hospitality is part of who I am. (Nevermind that people think I am Chinese or North Korean, but that’s a whole other story.)
Let’s see what happens next month.