Since we are bookworms, we are not done yet. The first story at the Living Library was stunning, emotional and gave us historic knowledge. Next comes what just can be described as what it is: a drama.
The Living Library is a metaphor in which the books are replaced by humans who have fascinating stories to tell. In our first article, we described the general concept and introduced the Kazinczy Living Library. Following that, we shared the story we read in our first book. It is time to go on with the next chapter.
Csurika arrived together with her translator. Her story started like a punch to the midriff. “I shoveled coal in a factory from the age of 14. As I was under a certain age my parents had to write me a paper that stated that I was allowed to work there.” We were all speechless. She worked shoveling coal for a lot of years and because of the hard work as a child, she still suffers from hip injuries that prevent her using her body pain free in a lot of situations.
Marrying a man who later turned out to be homosexual, only using her to pass on the family name, also abusing her child was the next shocking part of her life that she shared with us.
Her son was hyperactive and couldn’t stay at school without being sent home, the teachers didn’t know how to deal with him, and even offered to the mother that he can graduate earlier so that the school doesn’t have to cope with him anymore.
Her husband threatened her in case she would leave him, he would burn down the house. At some point, her brother moved into the house with them, and the abuse stopped. But she didn’t want to live with her husband anymore and moved out. When she tried to get money from her husband to care for the child she never received anything because he never had any official savings or papers stating that he owns property.
She was desperate and didn’t have anyone supporting her and her son. The time has come that she decided it would be the best if she put her son up for adoption to give him something she couldn’t offer anymore: a house, a stable family and a “normal” life. The family who would have adopted his son lived too far away and she wouldn’t have been able to see him anymore, so she decided to reverse the adoption.
She started working as a cleaning woman but never received enough money to get an apartment big enough for herself and her son. They lived in a flat in which even the toilet didn’t work properly. Because of her hip injuries she had to quit working and they ended up on the streets.
Having no one to help them they met a few homeless people who showed them where they can sleep, where they are not allowed to stay and gave them some blankets and more tips. Desperate to make money, she wanted to try working as a prostitute. “Due to my overweight I was not allowed to work as a stripper, so I could only be a prostitute. I had to buy the clothes and high heel shoes if I wanted to start working. I did not have the money to do so.”
Soon she started to distribute the homeless newspaper (Fedél Nélkül) to get some money and happened to be pretty good at it. She received the distributor of the year award 8 out of 10 years and the 2 years she did not win it was only because she didn’t live in the country. The 2 years of absence were dedicated to find a better life in other countries: she went to Germany where she found a job as a cleaning lady. She was promised a good salary compared to Hungarian standards. Unfortunately, she barely received any money: only a small fraction of the salary promised.
She returned to Hungary but did not give up, she continued the work as newspaper distributer and also got into projects to prevent stereotypes against homeless people. “The government started a project, in which NGOs and homeless people work together in schools to prevent violence and stereotypes against homeless. This initiative started following a homeless got attacked by teenagers in a metro station. The responsible teenager works as a social worker nowadays”.
Csurika does not give up and wants to go to Germany with her son who recently finished his training to become a cook. She hopes to have more luck this time. In the end, she states an important issue for her and says: ”I have never drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, drank coffee or used any drugs.” This last sentence is showing how you can end up on the streets without being an addict, which is a common stereotype about homeless people. It just shows another time how unfair the world can be, and how life is a chain of events we are not always lucky enough to control.
We thanked her for her time and courage to speak about her life so open and wished her all the best for the future. I tried to practice my Hungarian and said don’t give up (“ne add fel”). She wished us a nice day, and went away. She left three speechless people behind who had to think about how much luck they have in their lives.
I want to share this eye opening experience so that more people attend this kind of events and gain some knowledge while losing fear of the people they don’t understand or don’t get in contact with.
And this is exactly, why this project is so important: it contributes to society in a way that we get more active citizens, feel more like one society and don’t talk about “them” but of “us”. We, as a society have to get closer together to fight problems of alcoholism, homelessness, poverty and much more. And the answer to the problem will not be to judge the poor, addicted or homeless people. The beginning of a solution would be to understand what people have gone through, get active and help.
In case you are a bookworm or just like the idea of the living library, which tries to change the written pages of the bigger book of mankind by making small adjustments to its individual views, check out the Facebook page of Kazinczy Living Library where you can find up-to-date information about the events.
EVS volunteer at the Charity Service of the Order of Malta