The Three Iraqis and a thing called 'Hope'
I love a good budget hostel, normally because you have a very high chance of meeting some interesting folks and can spend an evening or two swapping stories. This is exactly what happened during a stay at Budapest Budget Hostel. Except that it was much more impactful on me.
Let me set the scene. This was the second time we were visiting Budapest and on this particular day we had decided to hostel swap from Unity Hostel in the North to a cheap hostel down South. It was hot. Very hot. After a sweltering 40 minute walk with backpacks, we arrived; hot sweaty and hoping for an easy stay. We were shown to our room and as the door closed behind us, it took a while for our eyes to adjust as the light was off and the curtains were closed (it was about 2pm in the afternoon). There seemed to be a fellow ‘hot smell’ in the room which made us feel more comfortable as the sweaty human shaped figures we had just arrived as. As our eyes adjusted they settled on the shapes of three men, well two adult men and a teenager.
And so our story begins….
The three guys, all ironically named Mohammed (yes this continued to cause us problems for the few hours in which our lives crossed paths) and they were from Iraq. Their eyes seemed to wander over us from their beds, particularly at me as i was about to be the only female staying in the dorm with these men and my boyfriend. They addressed Marc, my boyfriend, with a few niceities, having acknowledged that we were British, Mohammed, one of the older guys (see where this three Mohammed thing can get confusing?) then dove straight into conversation with “You and Mr Bush bombed my country.”
At that exact moment all other thoughts left my brain and only one swung in like a tumbleweed ‘ah, crap.’ Now, please don’t get me wrong i am all up for discussing both politics and the impact that the choices of the few have on the many, however, two things were certain.
- As a woman, I was mainly being ignored.
- How to react to something you know is true and potentially volatile; somehow a simply “yes, sorry” didn’t seem to quite fit the situation.
Somehow, Marc managed to answer, after a few seconds pause in which i could see the cogs of his brain working to put the best choice of words in order, “Ah, well it wasn’t me personally, but yes a man whom many of the British people voted for, did bomb your country.” I loved this response, there wasn’t an apology, it wasn’t needed we all knew who was responsible and we knew the reasons why it took place. In this exact instance a friendship was born between Marc and the Mohammeds.
Over the next 24 hours Mohammed (the older one) chose to share his story with us;
Mohammed: A Germany graduate in engineering. A construction business owner. A married man. A content man. A proud Iraqi.
Then war hit Iraq and his life changed forever. The war destroyed his business, the only source of income and with no jobs in Iraq he was down to his last money; apart from the gold band worth 5000USD he had given his wife, as is customary in Iraq at the point of marriage. Something had to be done, there needed to be change and a better life must now be found.
At some point during the long and desperate talks with friends and family a plan was hatched to take Mohammed (the teenage one) to Germany along with his father (the third Mohammed.) A new determination set in. If teenage Mohammed can make a better life in Germany then all will be well, we will give him this opportunity; for him, for us and for the hope of displaced Iraqis.
We met them at the point of three weeks into their journey. They had travelled from Iraq to Greece and from there had walked from Greece to Budapest. Thats a total of 1,475.8 km (917 miles). They walked for ten hours each night, with only one set of spare clothes, and nothing to call home; sleeping in shaded areas as they found them during the daytime. This is incredible enough but in order to remain undetected through border crossing they had to walk in chest-high water, carrying their little belongings (each one had a small backpack) above their heads. Let me just repeat: for ten hours.
After a solid three weeks walking in this manner they had finally reached Budapest, and 48 hours later they met us. They had to rest their feet which were bleeding, swollen and each one was covered in blisters which should have been seen by a doctor. The young Mohammed’s feet were particularly bad; they were black and blue from bruising and so we gave them the first aid that we carried with us and cream which would take down the swelling and perhaps ease some of the pain they were in. Marc gave young Mohammed a tub of E45 cream and watching the relaxation come over his face as he applied it and the grin with which he thanked Marc was beautiful. The three Mohammeds and Marc started laughing.
But, their journey wasn’t yet over. The next day they were leaving to meet with a friend who would then drive them the rest of the way to Germany. We will never know how their story ended, but we know that in the pictures Marc took of them their bravery, honesty and complete devotion to belief and hope will always shine through.
In the last photo i was also instructed to join in; a mere bystander to this story, was welcomed. Instantly overcoming all cultural differences and understandings.
To the three Mohammeds, wherever you may now be in this world, i wish you luck, always. Thank you for crossing our path. Always hope.