Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Don't judge a city by it's slummiest part

We basically chose to come to Budapest because it was somewhat centrally located and, more importantly, it was cheap.  We read that it was a beautiful city with quite a lot to offer in terms of culture and attractions.  Our friend, Sherrie, told us how much she loved it in Budapest when she came to visit a few years ago.  We didn't know quite what to expect when we got here except that we had read that where we lived, the 8th District, called Jozsefvaros, was sort of sketchy.  But so what?  We lived in what was supposedly the slummiest district of Barcelona (El Raval) and that was a bunch of BS.  We LOVED our neighborhood and the beauty that comes from diversity.  I enjoyed having neighbors from India, China, Morocco, and Bangladesh and our neighborhood wasn't all sparkly clean, but gosh darnit, it had loads of character.

This is not what we experienced our first week in Budapest.  Our apartment is absolutely lovely.  Although nothing will replace our apartment in Barcelona, this one has floor to ceiling windows, which provide so much light!  The lights in our Barcelona apartment were on all the time because all of our windows faced the inner courtyard, which hardly ever got enough light.  The Budapest apartment looked brand new and completely matched the pictures we saw on AirBnB.  The courtyard was a bit shabby, but charming and the view of the Catholic Church next door, covered in ivy, was wonderful.

The view of the Catholic Church next door from our balcony.

Our apartment.

The light!  I love all of the light!

Our little balcony!

However, the second we stepped out of our courtyard and onto our street, you could tell that Jozsefvaros lived up to its reputation.  Our building is right next to some sort of halfway house, so we always are confronted with, well, halfway-house-type people standing and smoking on the sidewalk.  Coming to terms with the realization that we aren't in BCN anymore, and that this place was nothing like L. Frank Baum's Oz, we had a rough few weeks of settling in.

Anything and everything goes.  :)

Don't get me wrong.  I've gotten to know our neighborhood and the rest of Budapest pretty well and it is absolutely beautiful.  There are pockets of Jozsefvaros that are absolutely lovely and we love going there (our favorite thing to do every Wednesday is to go to our local market on Rakoczi Ter and then eat a delicious (CHEAP!) three-course meal at Cafe Csiga).

This is the Rakoczi Ter Market.  It's nothing fancy, but you get cheap produce, meats, cheese, and some amazing home-cooked Hungarian dishes.

Cafe Csiga (it literally means Cafe Snail).  Our very favorite place to eat in Budapest.

We've gotten to know our neighbors, who speak no English, and have conversations over our coffee with the waiters at our favorite restaurant.  We know the workers across the street at the Turkish market and they always give Des a sweet or some balloons.  The cheese lady, Agi, at the cheese stall in the market gives Des a roll of smoked cheese (sort of like our version of string cheese) when we visit her.  We have grown to love the rundownedness of the buildings and being able to see how beautiful they once must have been.  My favorite building in all of Budapest is so run down, it looks partly abandoned.  But when you look up, you can see beautiful windows with colorful flowers in the windowboxes.  It really lifts my soul.

My favorite building in our neighborhood.

Beautiful museum in our District.

One of the nicer streets in District VIII.

The inner courtyard of my yoga studio.

So, yes, we live in a crummy part of the city and that has colored our experience in Budapest.  If we would have lived in Buda, on the other side of the Danube, the "nicer" part of Budapest, we would have experienced something different.  However, I wouldn't have learned several uncomfortable truths about myself.  I have learned that I do indeed carry bias within me, I do judge people based on what they look like, I don't do much (but talk a lot) about the plight of those who are suffering mentally, physically, or economically.  Living here has forced me to look at myself in a new light and realize that for a long time, I have carried around a superiority inside of me because I'm (relative to the majority of the world) well-off and educated.

I'm grateful that my son plays with the neighborhood kids.  His best friend, Csubi (pronounced Chubby), lives in our building, in a small apartment that houses at least 5 adults, plus him and his baby sister.  They are nothing but nice to Des.  When we see a homeless man sleeping on the street, we stop and explain to Desmond in very simple terms, why this might happen to someone.  We see opportunity everywhere to practice humility and generosity and to teach our son that nobody's life is the same, but everybody hurts and loves and laughs and cries just like we do.  Budapest has offered us what no other city ever has: a chance to become better human beings.

Csubi, Des, and Billy celebrating Des's birthday.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Scarlett. It is fun to read about your experiences (and Bill's and Des'). I think we all judge people and places, no matter how hard we try not to. As long as we are willing to challenge the judgement I think it is okay.