It was 89 degrees at 2 p.m. on a summer Sunday in Budapest. As we walked around Margaret Island, right in the middle of the Danube River, we passed a grand fountain. The cold water beckoned to us. We were dripping sweat, tired of walking. And all we wanted to do was jump in.
We figured this was probably not allowed and starting thinking about other options to cool down. “I think there is a pool on the island somewhere,” Clara Ruth said. Lauren and I looked at one another with an expression that said, “I’m in if you’re in.”
We raced home and threw on our bathing suits. We had already looked online to make sure the pool was open and check the cost. We were thrilled to see it only cost 2,000 forints, around $7.50 USD. We grabbed our 2,000 forints and our towels and headed out.
We felt silly going all the way home just to go back to the island, but as we sat on the stuffy bus, glistening with sweat, we pictured jumping into the cold pool and submerging ourselves under the soothing water.
Finally back on the island, we ran up to the counter, asked for two tickets, and handed the woman our money. As we were wrapped up in our own conversation, the woman got our attention.
“You need 600 more forints,” she said.
Our hearts dropped.
We did not have 600 more forints. We only had the money we brought. We excused ourselves and stepped out of line to discuss our options. We could either go home, a 30-minute bus ride, to get more money or figure out a way to get in.
“If someone asked me for 600 forints and I had it, I would give it to them,” Lauren mentioned. “Should we ask someone if they have money they would be willing to spare?”
She approached a woman who seemed around our age, hoping she would understand our predicament. I do not do well with confrontation and I never have. I let Lauren talk to the woman for about five minutes while I watched, hoping to see the woman take her wallet out of her purse.
It didn’t happen.
Lauren walked back over to me shaking her head. We tried our luck with another group of girls, also unwilling to help, and a couple of men who did not have money to spare.
We began questioning our strategy and thought about giving up on the whole endeavor until we saw a man with a wallet full of forints, speaking English.
He understood our problem and was happy to help. We were beyond grateful. Our time at the pool put big smiles on our faces, as we laughed about the events that had gotten us there.
When we returned to our apartment, we had quite the story to tell. We made jokes about how had to “beg on the streets” for money. To go to a pool.
It all of a sudden hit us that what for us was a joke was all too real for some people.
I have passed a minimum of six homeless people on the street every day I have been in Budapest. These people typically wear tattered clothes and sport matted hair. They have approached me daily with requests for money or food. I often am shocked at the people’s forward nature. They do not hesitate to ask; they do not start by saying, “Sorry, this is really awkward.” To them, it is just a part of living.
I began thinking about the vulnerability of homeless people. They humble themselves each day to ask for food, water and money – things everyone needs to survive.
Lauren and I “humbled” ourselves and asked for 600 forints to get into a pool. We felt so embarrassed and uncomfortable. Our mentality, however, was the old “we are never going to see these people again” excuse. This was the only time I had ever asked a stranger for money and I was honestly embarrassed.
Most of the homeless people I have encountered in Budapest sit on the same street corners and ask for money from people day after day. They do not have the “we are never going to see these people again” excuse because the same people pass them each day.
Lauren and I could have saved ourselves the humiliation of being vulnerable and asking for money. We could have decided to not go to the pool and go home to our nice air-conditioned apartment stocked with food. However, for many people it is not a choice, it is a means of day-to-day survival.
It is funny how something so trivial as not being able to get into a pool can make you think about the hearts of others and they struggles they face. I have been given a new perspective.