Keleti Railyway Station, Budapest.
I am on my way back from work. It seems like any other Thursday evening, calm and quiet. The sun is yet to go down. I'm checking the news on my phone, catching up with the refugee crisis. Beyond the few articles i have glanced through, I am not up to date with the situation. I want to assess it for myself and find out how i can contribute to the relief efforts; I casually start walking towards Keleti.
As i come up from behind the railway station, I am not sure what to expect. I can hear voices though; the Hungarian Police asking the refugees to settle in. It's interspersed with shouting in Arabic. I understand neither but I think there is discord. The chaos starts to emerge as i approach the facade; I pass families camped out on the pavement, women breastfeeding their newborn, men running around trying to get information from the authorities, helpless children looking at each other, unable to get a grasp on what has come to be.
Once I'm inside, it hits me. The scale of the crisis makes my heart sink. There are waves of people, hundreds of them, hopelessly wandering about. Some have been here for days, some have just got off the last train in from the border. No one knows what is next. They are all in the same boat. Ironically, the one's they thought they had left behind. It's not over yet. What was once the busiest railway station in Budapest, now looks like a war zone.
I make my way through the crowds, looking at people, trying to understand their stories. It's the children that catch my attention. Their distressed faces often reveal everything. The trauma and the innocence in their eyes, that deadly cocktail, hits you right where it hurts.
Friends of mine have set up a corner for children, engaging them in crafts and games. They want to keep them away from the despair. It takes a while to find them, as I am lost in the chaos. When I get there, I'm greeted by the sweetest, most innocent smiles. Children, jumping about, playing games from their parts of the world, others taking to artistry. They are excited to see a new face, and i soon become a part of them. I spend the rest of the evening, making cut outs for them to fill up with color. They use my face as a canvas, I'm a cat. I come back the next day to see them again. We play, we draw, we bond and I grow fond of my little friends. The following day I see them on TV, most of them have been allowed into Austria. I'm overjoyed but also a little sad that I won't see them again.
A few days later we head to Roszke, a camp at the Hungarian border. Refugees crossing over from Serbia are rounded up and taken in for registration. We're carrying a trailer load of supplies that we pass around to these people in transit. They're exhausted and scared. There's an inexplicable tension in the atmosphere. There are children around. We are reminded of Keleti all over again. My friend cuts out a crown for a young girl sitting next to us. Before we know it, we're surrounded by 20 children. They want crowns, they want their faces painted; They want balloons, we use latex gloves and improvise. Word spreads out and the numbers grow. The tension is gone, there's joy all around. People are happy to see their children smile, it makes them calm. They're more relaxed now as they queue up and wait to be sent ahead. We see the little crowns popping out from the windows as the buses depart towards the setting sun, hopeful for a better life. We feel content.
The affection they showed us, we'll never forget, it touched our hearts and our lives. Even though we didn't speak a common language, the love managed to finds its way through.