Hungary Magazine

Quarantine diaries: “I don’t regret staying in Budapest”

CEU student Murad from Azerbaijan has decided to stay in Budapest amid the coronavirus crisis lockdown

Welcome to Kafkadesk’s Quarantine Diaries, our new segment gathering testimonials from across Central Europe to understand how people in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are living through the unfolding coronavirus crisis and, maybe, give you some comfort to show you you’re not alone in this ordeal. Today, Murad, a Budapest-based student from Azerbaijan, shares his story.

It’s been a month since Hungary decided to shut down operations of schools and universities, leading many foreign and international students to worry about being stranded here. Some of my classmates decided to leave before complete lockdown, and a number of countries, including Azerbaijan, where I come from, sent charter flights for the evacuation of its citizens.

Budapest as “a second home”

Despite all the anxieties and uncertainties, I decided to stay in Budapest. It took me a few days to make up my mind, but I don’t regret my decision, probably linked to the fact that I’ve been living in Hungary for a long time, ever since my undergraduate program. Budapest has become like a second home for me. budapest quarantine

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many hardships. Thankfully, my Hungarian friends and classmates offered a great deal of help to get me through this, and Central European University (CEU) is also doing a great job in assisting and supporting us.

Keeping myself busy and my mind occupied is not a difficult task, as I have many papers to submit and will need to start working on my thesis proposal. And as the epidemic became more widespread, I started taking the time to reflect more closely upon our world and the state of our society.

I just started to read José Saramago’s novel “Blindness”, a fascinating and spot-on reflection of society in times of crisis. The story portrays – almost too well – the situation we’re currently living in. budapest quarantine

In his book, which provides an implicit critique of liberalism where selfishness rules and ethical values appear like old-fashioned remnants of an obsolete era, Saramago skillfully depicts how people’s needs are reduced to their most basic instincts and how many things we value in normal times – money, property, etc. – are not worth as much as we might think.

People rush to panic-buy food without giving a single thought how their behaviour may affect others’ needs, fighting over toilet paper rolls and buying a needless number of masks and gloves, depriving doctors, nurses and healthcare workers of equipment they direly need. Reminds you of anything? budapest quarantine

Coronavirus pandemic as a wake-up call

How governments are managing – or failing thereof – the coronavirus crisis has also been a source of deep personal disappointment. I can’t help but notice that the unfolding crisis has exposed the deeply-rooted inequalities on which our society is based on, as well as the unacceptable living conditions of millions of people who, despite working from dusk till dawn in difficult conditions, are unable to save enough for rainy days, and are deprived of reliable and efficient healthcare services and systems which, today, appear on the verge of collapsing in a number of countries.

What’s even more frustrating is to see how everyone appears to be focused on calculating the “economic cost” of the pandemic. Let’s not miss the big picture here. Covid-19 is a challenge for all of us, but not a challenge to overcome by going back to the old ways as quickly as possible. On the contrary, it’s a challenge to reinvent how our societies function; a challenge to address the looming environmental catastrophe which threatens our ecosystems if we continue on the same trend.

The lockdown has also exposed another scourge of our society: domestic violence against women, which has surged all around the world since the quarantine took effect. I’ve also started to reflect more deeply and feel empathy towards populations living in conflict zones, from Syria and South Sudan to Gaza, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan or Yemen. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to imagine the hardships they have to go through, both in “normal” times and now. Watching, on one hand, videos of people in developed countries violently stockpiling food and toilet paper rolls and, on the other hand, war refugees in the Middle East or elsewhere lacking food and a roof, makes for a heartbreaking and eye-opening experience.

Despite everything, this period has brought some renewed positive thoughts as well. We now have more time to dedicate to our friends and family – albeit remotely – and to take care about the vulnerable populations, like homeless people. budapest quarantine

The best way I’ve found to avoid giving in to anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed is not to read too much news, keep a balanced mind and talk to people staying in the same dorm as I am. I have a thousand questions on my mind regarding what lies ahead, how long this situation will last and how long will it take to put this crisis behind us. But there appears to be only one certainty I can rely on right now: I’ll be staying in Budapest for a while.

Stay tuned for more of our ongoing quarantine diaries segment, Central Europe edition!

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.