While I’m cooking here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago but it hasn’t been published yet although I had a few attempts to do that but all failed. I think it’s important to look out of our comfort zone and see what is happening. This essay is about a crisis in Haiti well before the earthquake…
Finally I managed to get away from the suffocation the city. Destination is a small town on the Hungarian-Austrian border. Sopron. I have never been in this town before yet I feel something pulls me there. A deep and suppressed thought surfaces; I must move to Sopron. Enough of the dirt of Budapest; I am fed up with the cold and rigid people, the stress that surrounds me every day. I do not want to live there anymore. I would like to be human again and not just a machine. Human who feels and is allowed to feel at all. I have to go to Sopron.
I try to break through the crowded wall of the people burning up in a Friday night fever. Everybody is rushing to get home as quick as they can, they do not take care of others, hustling and pushing each other, wrestling to get one step further ahead. Cars are standing in the traffic and not moving, drivers shouting, honking like it would solve anything. I only have to bear the crowd on the bus and after a 40 minutes trip I finally get to the train station. The platforms are full.
My train is already there. I just have to find my car, my seat and we are ready to leave. There are not too many people taking my train, the coaches are half empty. There is an Asian guy looking desperate, his shoelaces are all around his feet and he can barely carry his two suitcases. He is searching for something; he may have missed his train that left 20 minutes ago. I want to wave at him to warn him about the shoelaces but my train suddenly pulls out the station; slowly at first but a couple of minutes later the miles are just running under the massive wheels. Quarter to ten; we arrive at the ‘Civitas Fidelissima’, The Most Loyal Town. I get into a cab and we drive to the little guesthouse.
They are waiting for me as if I were a distant relative who they were so keen to meet with for a long time. I have a small and simple room. I fall asleep quickly. This is the first night I sleep in peace for many month. I am suffering from a sleeping disorder; I can only sleep three to four hours a night, waking up at least once in every hour. It is because of the stressful life I live.
I am alone now. I have never been here before. I know nobody here. It is a bit scary. I have never spent such a long time alone, far from everything. It seems to be a challenge but I would not give it up. Worst comes worst I would return home the next afternoon.
It’s already Saturday afternoon. I was walking all day in the town; I went to see some interesting exhibitions and museums, local shops. Finally I got to a restaurant. I found something I have not eaten for a long time and I had an appetite for it: French onion soup in a loaf. The waiters are very polite and kind; they’re just standing there waiting to fulfil each and every wish I may have.
The restaurant itself is in a cellar; the arch is reminiscent of old times. Like the whole town. Nearly every house has a plate to make you aware it was built in the XVIII. century or Franz Liszt was a regular guest there. But back to the restaurant.
As I walk down to the cellar and take a seat at the first table I find the waiter welcomes me, gives me the menu and lit the candles. After ordering my soup I take a look around. All the others in the restaurant are Austrian.
Suddenly a little dog appears from under the table opposite me friendly wagging its tail. I start smiling and it seems all the stress, the frustrations I carried were just gone.
The soup is amazing and my waiter asks if I liked the food after every course. I think if I dared to say ‘No, I didn’t like it’ he would kneel in front of me begging for forgiveness.
I feel like a princess here. Everybody is kind and nice and they seem to take care of me, I feel protected. This town is protected. The only harm it suffered was during WWII but actually that bombing made it possible to discover long lost and forgotten ruins of old buildings.
These building are gorgeous. All of them look nice and tidy, renovated like it could have been built a couple of years ago. People are living in these beautiful houses. There is a car parking in the court of a four hundred year old house, the noise of a TV show is coming from the opened window and there is a clothes-line stretching on the baroque loggia.
I have just realized that I am living in an amazing country among great people. I know when I go back to the capital this peaceful island disappears and everything will be stressful and crowded again; rushing through hours, days, people and offices all the time. I know everything is not as good as sitting in this restaurant, yet I know it could be worse. My life is not perfect but each and every day there is a story coming back to my mind that I heard a couple of days ago.
I met Angie while organizing a civil event. She had just returned from Paris where she was a baby-sitter. The family adopted a little girl, Susie from Haiti. This all happened before the devastating earth-quake in 2010 or the floodings, the cholera. Haiti has a long story of suffering. Slavery, dictatorship, an unstable political situation. Poverty and corruption have long been a problem in this country and with poverty comes the lack of education as well. We have all read and heard stories in the news but reality is actually more shocking. Well, at least it was more shocking for me than I could have imagined. Susie was three years old when she was taken from the orphanage and moved to France to be with her new family. The only reason she was able to get into an orphanage was because her grandmother knew the cook in the orphanage but the care was still very poor and there was no food always. She was underweight and underfed. She was on infusion because she simply had given up the will to live. She was only three years old and those three years had already made her think that it’s not worth living. It took many weeks until she started eating and got used to the fact she was given food every day and did not have to starve again. She was given clean clothes every morning and had a bath every evening, yet after a couple of days Angie smelled a horrible and unbearable stink. She wondered where it could be coming from until she noticed it was coming from Susie’s mouth. Susie had kept food in her mouth to store it for when the bad days returned and she did not have food again. That ’stock’ had started rottening.
Although she is no longer afraid of not having food again she still has strange eating habits. She eats the most nutritious pieces first and the least nourishing ones last. For example, if eating soup she has the meat at first, then vegetables, followed by pasta and finally she drinks the liquid. It seems she fears someone may take the food from her while she is eating it.
She attends a good nursery school in Paris, she lives in a good family in a nice house but she has not forgotten where she came from. There is another girl in the nursery school, but her family is not that rich so they could not give her everything. One day Angie found Susie sitting in her room selecting her toys, clothes and shoes. She wrapped them in paper and she asked Angie to help her take them to the school the next day because she wanted to give them to her friend who did not have everything.
The other day they were heading home from school and they had seen homeless people lying on papers on the street. Susie asked Angie why they did live on the street. ‘Because they are poor and they do not have money to live in a home’ said Angie. Are we rich or poor? – asked Susie. We are neither rich nor poor, but we have everything what we need. We have a place to live and we have food to eat answered Angie.
Susie started thinking. ‘I see she said. You know I have not always been rich. I remember when I was poor and I did not have a place to live and did not have food to eat.’
Then she stayed quiet. To make a serious statement like this at the age of five means there are lot of painful memories hiding behind those teary eyes. Three years of suffering have had left its imprints on her life.
The grandmother of Susie said Susie’s mum has several children because people do not know a lot about contraceptives. Girls give birth at twelve or thirteen years old, but they cannot take care of them. Many of them are abandoned or die due to diseases because they do not get vaccinations or they drink infected water or they just die in hunger. Susie had a younger brother. Their mother burnt him because she could not bear to see him starving to death. This was not seen as something unusual in Haiti no matter how terrible it sounds. Can you imagine the despair and devastation which would drive you to kill your own child to spare him from the long and suffering death caused by starvation?
Unfortunately this story is not told to the world because it would not fit into the pink candy world we live in. We talk about the horrors of natural disasters and wars but we ignore the horrors of everyday life, extreme poverty. I wonder what would happen if the millions we spend on weapons, wars, corruption, designer clothes and luxury items could reach those who can help or who do not have enough, who have nothing to eat or they cannot drink contaminated water. Maybe there would not be children dying in Africa, or thousands homeless people would survive cold winters rather than freezing to death, maybe families in North Korea would not live on 4 kilograms of meat for a long and cold winter. Maybe millions of people would survive malaria which is not a terminal illness and most of the time with the right cure, it is not even an especially dangerous illness and maybe Evangeline, a friend from Senegal would not have told me she felt lucky because she only lost three of her children against malaria. Maybe we would be able to treat cancer, AIDS or Ebola because the child who could have discovered the treatment had not died in hunger. There are loads of maybes I could bring up, but the most important is there would not be another five years old child in the world who would say ‘I remember when I was poor and I did not have a place to live and did not have food to eat’.