Saturday, July 03, 2004Time Out
While it is unimaginably fascinating and enjoyable to explore the great Eastern European cities and their largely unspoilt cultures, I am finding it increasingly hard to come to terms with some of the things I see. Maybe it is that my life in Britain is and always has been somewhat sheltered and the harsher realities of life have been less visible. Or maybe I chose not to notice, not to think.
The first thing that really saddened me was in Warsaw. At the exits to every Metro startion, there were children in wheelchairs, carrying signs presumably asking for money. Behind them sat their mothers. Six hours later they were still there, but the mothers were behind different children. This must have been one of the busiest and most polluted junctions in Europe and I imagine the children are out there in the freezing baltic winters too. I can,t help but think first of all that their mothers are being very unfair on their children, subjecting them to such unhealthy conditions. It was easy for me to assume that the parents were using their child,s disability for financial gain, but it also imaginable that provisions for disabled people are really very inadequate. It left me feeling guilty. Not that I had done anything, but it wasn,t as though I had done anything good to be born into such lucky circumstances where I could be in such a position to spend so much money travelling for my own selfish enjoyment.
In Germany we observed the whole-punk-drugs-dropout bridage that hang around the exits to every U-bahn station with their rabid dogs. They ask for "Ein bisschen Kleingeld" everytime you walk past, yet they have piercings (not cheap, trust me), freshly dyed hair, nice clothes. It seems so disgusting that people choose to live this clicheed pinkxanarchistxcore lifestyle (terms used sarcasticly) begging for money when they can clearly afford to buy cigarettes and Schwarzkopf. This criticism probably seems very self-righteous coming from Mr Privelaged, but I find it so hard to come to terms with why people choose to be homeless when there are people desparate enough zo put their disabled children on the streets of Warsaw just to have enough money to get through the week.
It was tonight in Budapest that really prompted me to take this Time Out though. Several things.
When reserving our couchette to Ljubjana I noticed a late teen in the corner with a yellow can to his mouth. On closer inspection, it was some sort of lighter fluid which he was inhaling direct into his mouth. I hadn,t seen anybody do that since the early 90s. I don,t know what else to say about that other than that it made me deeply sad. Ut reminded me a little (as did the German dropouts) of one of my favour ite ever films - Christiane F, which looks at the heroin teens in Berlin in the early 80s.
Earlier today I had seen a boy who could be no older than 8, carrying 2 bags full of what I thought to be shopping. He dropped two notes. I tapped him on the shoulder and, using my best traveller-sign-language, indicated that he had dropped them. And I thought I,d never see him again. But as we were walking back at eleven that evening, he was pacing up the same street with the same shopping bags in hands, and a vacant empty expression. How did it happen to him, how can an 8 year old spend his life on the streets of Budapest? I really wish there was something I could do. I wish he had a home and a familu anf love and warmth and some sort of security. There is still a lot to be done here. And the EU structural funds will not hit the problem at all. I wish I had some sort of conclusion or suggestion, but I'm well and truly stuck.