What just happened?

I am forcing myself to sit down and write this blog. It is hard to stop to do this when there are toys all over and the dishes aren’t done and I have to figure out what to make for dinner and I have to prepare for Brody’s birthday party tomorrow. It has been a long time since I wrote one, although I have written many posts in my head as I go about my day. The ideas are there and someday I may get them out!

What just happened to the past year? Brody is one and I can’t believe it. The cliches are true…”where does the time go?”

Brody is truly a joy and blessing in our lives.

He is active. He plays and learns and studies and plays some more. He loves to touch the handles on drawers and cupboards. He opens drawers and likes discovering what is inside. He likes to ‘help’ load and unload the dishwasher, which involves taking the cutlery and throwing it on the floor. He can spend periods of time playing in his playroom. He stands up at the shelves and looks at toys. He likes to remove the toys from wherever they are. He pulls himself up on anything he can, coffee table, chairs, my legs, anything.

He loves books. He particularly loves to look at a Winnie the Pooh folding book. It doesn’t really have a story but it has lots of colourful pictures. I can occasionally find him laughing at this book. He also loves books that aren’t stories but just pictures and words. He can listen to us reading these a lot!

He sleeps! He has two naps per day and then sleeps about 12 hours at night. After our harrowing sleeping training/crying it out during the summer, he does so well going to sleep and generally staying asleep, especially at night. Although it was horrible at the time, the sleeping training worked for us. I am so glad we get to sleep all night and that Brody gets the sleep he needs.

Brody loves to eat. He particularly likes lasagna and spaghetti. He eats tomatoes, avocado, most fruit, and meat. He loves cheese! He has recently started spitting out the foods he doesn’t like or doesn’t want to eat at that moment. It is quite funny and adorable when he does this, although I probably shouldn’t be laughing at him.

He plays with the dog, Hamish. He loves Hamish. He takes Hamish’s toys and Hamish takes them back. They get each other because Hamish is always careful when he plays with Brody. And Brody needs to work on being gently with Hamish but Hamish does so well at taking Brody’s ‘aggressive’ petting and love for him.

Up until now, Brody has been our little baby. But now that he is one, is he still a baby? Seems hard to imagine that he won’t always be so little and need us so much. Already he can do so much and he does more and more every day. He even started kind of using a fork to eat his food! Amazing!

And now with another baby on the way, due to arrive in March, Brody will grow up even more quickly. Having a tiny little one around will make him seem so much bigger! It continues to be truly amazing to see him grow up into the beautiful, happy little boy that he is.

Happy first Birthday, Brody! We love you!



A dire situation is worse!

The latest (informal) update about the refugee crisis in and around Hungary:

As of Monday, Hungary closed its borders to refugees. When I heard this, my heart sank. What a way to make a dire situation even worse for so many people. If refugees try to enter Hungary legally, they may or may not be allowed in. If refugees try to enter Hungary illegally, they will be arrested and convicted. Because Hungary has declared Serbia a ‘safe country’, Hungary does not need to allow refugees who come from there into the country. They can send them back to Serbia, even though it is not an EU country. Countries declaring other countries ‘safe’ is done on an individual basis so this is convenient for Hungary.

Almost immediately after Hungary closed its borders, refugees were stopped and camped at the border in Serbia. Many people were still coming to go through Hungary to get to Western Europe. From what I understand, Serbia has much less structure set up to help shelter and feed the refugees. There were people in fields with very little to help them. Now they must take a much longer route to get around to Western Europe – back through Serbia, on to Croatia and Slovenia, and then into Austria. But most countries are closing their borders, so there would be no guarantee that would even work.

By yesterday, the refugees waiting at the Serbia-Hungary border had resorted to violence. And in their situation…why not? I am not a supporter of violence, but I do understand where it is coming from in this situation. See this video from the border! The police are responding with tear gas and water cannons.

And now as children, parents, adults, and babies continue their desperate journey for peace and safety, they are faced with another obstacle. Many will travel long distances by foot and besides injury, illness, lack of food and shelter, human traffickers, they must also be careful of landmines. Landmines are located along the Serbia-Croatia border.

As they journey, Hungary’s prime minister is planning to continue building his fence along Hungary’s border around to Croatia and Romania. He suggests that if Muslims move into Christian communities in Hungary and Europe, then Christians would ‘lose’. Wow! Apparently it is a competition and there are winners and losers in living together in a peaceful community! (Daily News Hungary – Orban)

As part of the new laws regarding refugees entering Hungary and obtaining asylum, there are also laws about citizens and residents helping refugees. Now, from what I have heard if I go to the train station to hand out food or donate items, I could also be in trouble and even possibly arrested. I hope that the aid organizations that are set up are still able to help but since most of the refugees are across borders now, getting the food and items to them has new and very difficult challenges.

How do you continue on? How do you face yet another insurmountable challenge in your journey for safety? What would do you do? These refugees are human beings and they are you and me. As you go to your job each day, they did that at one time also. They taught in schools and worked in businesses. Now they are fighting for their lives and for peace and safety.


What has happened and what is happening now:

It has been just over a week now that the ‘regulations’ were eased and the refugees could pass through Hungary without being registered. The ‘regulations’ require that a refugee register in the first country in which he/she enters the EU. Because of its location, Hungary is that country in this crisis. Up until a week ago, Hungary was either not registering the refugees or it was taking a very long time, and therefore the refugees were having to wait days and weeks before they could move on to Austria, Germany, and western Europe.

When Hungary’s government decided to do this, they also have said that there is an end date for which that will be allowed: Sept 15. As of tomorrow, refugees who enter Hungary illegally, as many of them have been doing, will be accountable to the legal system and will be tried and convicted accordingly. Refugees who enter legally will be taken to refugee camps, where up to this point, have had little to no resources or support except by volunteers and NGOs. They can then be held at these refugee camps indefinitely until they are registered officially.

The Hungarian government has been building a fence on the border with Serbia to contain the flow of refugees. They have also been preparing refugee camps. I wonder why some of these resources used for building a fence and refugee camps could not have been used for providing transportation for refugees to get through Hungary. Why is there such determination to keep them out and keep them contained? All they want is to get through and move on.

Last week the train station in Budapest was a place of movement. Many people were coming in and then heading out on trains. This week brings news of borders closing between Germany and Austria. Which will then have an impact on the border between Austria and Hungary. Hungary is starting to follow through on its threats of closing off the border with Serbia.

Refugee camps are filling up. Shelter, food, medical attention and warm clothing are needed. Donations are coming in but then they must go to the camps with are kilometers from Budapest. So many people are helping.

If you want to help too here are a few options:

Hungarian Helsinki Committee – http://helsinki.hu/en/
This group is providing legal aid to help refugees as they move through the asylum legal process. This will become a much greater need once the border between Hungary and Serbia is closed this week. Refugees will have a very small window of time to apply for asylum, or will be sent back to Serbia. Many lawyers are needed to help process the thousands of refugees in need!!!

Hungarian Maltese Charity Service – http://www.helps-project.eu/…/39-hungarian-maltese-charity-…
This group is present in various locations and is providing medical assistance right on site where refugees are in need.

Budapest-Bamako SOS Refugee Organization –http://www.gofundme.com/sosrefugee
This group is providing assistance of all kinds and we have volunteered with them recently at the border of Serbia where they have a medical tent as well as providing basic supplies.

Refugee Support in Budapest – http://www.gofundme.com/v63cey2c                                                     A group of friends and colleagues living in Budapest helping as best we can.

What else can you do?

Share the word. Talk to others. Read information. Don’t forget. Find out what is happening in other countries – Turkey, Austria, Germany. Ask your government to help. Remember, this could be you in another place or another time.

Disclaimer: I cannot claim to know the truth behind all the actions made by others or governments. I write to share my perspective and to spread the word.


The train left…

Last Wednesday I was at Keleti train station again. It was a very tense and desperate place. Refugees were lined up around one entire area of the station waiting to get on a train. Police were creating a human barrier to keep order. The train was in the station and passengers were boarding. Refugees were getting more and more desperate as time passed. They wanted to get on the train…they needed to get on. Some of them had tickets but almost none of them had the proper paperwork/registration to travel to Austria. Finally, the police line opened and slowly some of the refugees were allowed on the train.

The line of refugees was divided into sections separated by police barriers. The first section got on the train. They were next in line. The next section was growing more concerned…there was some yelling and a bit of pushing. Children were being held up so they did not get shoved around. When more people were allowed on the train eventually, those with small children were allowed on first. The train was delayed, first 5 min, then 10 min. More people were allowed on. And then eventually it was full and it left the station.

With all the tension, I expected there to be an aggressive response from the crowd of waiting refugees. But no, although there was still some noise and frustration, many in the crowd sat down and just continued waiting for the next train. They must have been in that line for hours by that time. Watching all this happen and seeing the faces of the people waiting was sad and scary. But I soon realized that all they want is to be safe and peaceful. Isn’t that what we all want? There was no malicious intent, they were desperate.

As I was standing there on the edge of all this happening, I thought about what my response might be. If I have to wait in line for more than a few minutes, how frustrated do I feel? And then what if on top of the waiting, I was hungry, exhausted, and running away from my home to help save my life and lives of my family? And then what if I had entered a country in which the government and the authorities were difficult to trust and all I wanted to do was get out? What if I just saw a train leave and I had to sit back down on the dirty floor of the train station and wait another 2, 3, or 6 hours? Or maybe I had to wait all night and sleep on that dirty floor? And if I had to rely on the goodwill of strangers for food and water? I can’t even imagine it. How would you feel?


It continues…and so what do we do?

It has been four days and so much has happened.

Last Friday evening I witnessed the chaos at Keleti station in Budapest where there were hundreds of refugees waiting. That night, the Hungarian government provided buses to those refugees and drove them to the Austrian border. Keleti station on Saturday was nearly empty of refugees. It was a completely different scene, with only a few people and many volunteers to help. Perhaps a solution has been found to help all of the refugees to move through Hungary quickly?

However, refugees are arriving at the Hungarian border from Serbia. They arrive on trains but must get off the train at the border. In order to get into Hungary, they must wait at the border.  There are no buildings or rooms for them to wait in, it is just the open air. The weather is starting to get colder. Yesterday, blankets were the greatest need here. Eventually, they are allowed to move on and must find a way to Budapest and then on to Austria and Germany. Some walk, others manage to get on trains or buses. Once at Keleti station in Budapest many have been able to get on trains so there are fewer people staying there now. A few who have not been able to get on trains have chosen to walk to the Austrian border. The people are just trying to get to safety and security. Sometimes they have family members who are waiting for them in Western European countries. Often they have family members who they have had to leave behind. There are children and babies who are being carried by their parents as they walk. It has rained and they must sleep outside along the road. Although, it would be easy to help these walkers by picking them up in private cars, we are not allowed because it is against the law and it would be considered human trafficking.

Needs are continuously changing. Much has been gathered but other items are needed. Yesterday I went to the train ticket office and got gift certificates for train tickets. The train ticket from Budapest to Szeged (a town on the Serbia-Hungary) costs 3500 Hungarian forint or about 12USD. The gift certificates will help those that do not have the money for the train ticket to get to the border and through to Vienna. The money for these gift certificates has come from a fundraiser fund set up by a friend here in Budapest (Refugee Support in Budapest). Money has been pouring in from around the world. It is going to help refugees with basic necessities of food, clothing, and blankets to baby wipes and diapers to train tickets to medical care and attention. In the time it is taking to write this blog post, I am finding out that many things are needed at the border for families who are staying outside in the cold.

Right now, borders are open for refugees without paperwork or registration. The “rules” require the refugees to register in the first EU country they enter. Since there are such high numbers of people coming through, the governments have relaxed those rules and allowed people to move through. It seems that end date for these relaxed rules is Sept 15. After this, no one is sure what might happen. What we do know is there will still be people who need help.

Even now things change every day. From moment to moment and day to day, no one knows when things will suddenly become even harder. I just spoke to someone who has been at the train station almost every day. Yesterday the atmosphere was calm and peaceful and she was able to help some refugees get train tickets to Vienna and Munich. Today she went back and the atmosphere was completely different. It was tense with an increased police presence that was much more aggressive.

Sometimes I wish we could do more. Or know for sure that what we are doing is what is most necessary. What are we doing? Hungarians and expats living in Hungary are donating money and buying needed items. They are going to speak to refugees and find out their stories.  But then today there is a pause…until a couple hours ago: blankets, tents, sleeping mats, and food. What’s next?

Keleti Station basement

As I walked up to the station, it looked quiet and normal. The only difference was the line of police vans and police officers in front. I walked around the corner and down the stairs. I descended into the chaos. It was overwhelming.

Despite the pictures I had seen all over social media, I could never be prepared for the reality of the difficulty and squalor. There were people sitting, laying and walking everywhere. Children were playing with volunteers while the adults sat talking and taking care of their babies. All the while  passengers were walking through to their trains.

I met with the others who were also there to share food and items (Refugee support in Budapest). The children came over when they saw we had some things to give. The adults were a bit more shy but accepted the food also. We spread out and walked around in the hope everyone would get some. Some refused and others took extra. The children were grabbing the marker pens and paper to play with. The items were quickly given away until we had only a few things left.

A tiny baby onesie was of the things we had left. So we went looking for mother and baby who may need it. We walked carefully through the small pathways in between where families and groups had set up their “camps”. There were a few tents, but less than a quarter of the people had this luxury. In the mass of people and activity, a small boy approached us pointing to the onesie. He led us to his mother and tiny baby sister huddled in a tent. It almost didn’t seem real, but there she was. This little baby had already travelled a longer and more difficult journey than most of us can imagine.

Once we finished, we left the station. We left to go to our comfortable homes where we have clothes and food. Something that most of the people in the station could not do after they left their lives behind them.

For the Syrians, after 4 years of conflict and crisis in their country, travelling hundreds of miles to get to Europe and facing extreme hardship in the basement of a train station, I can’t help but think if only. If only, they did not have to leave their homes. If only, there was no war and there could be peace and freedom. If only, there would be a place for them to go. If only, the other countries in the world could have organized themselves so help could be offered quickly and easily.

The refugees are you and me, in a different place and time. They are mothers and fathers. They are professionals and people who work in trades. They are children who love to play with toys and fight over their games. They are babies who need lots of care.





“Go home, Go home…Refugees”

“Go home, Go home, Go home” was all I heard as I was sitting on the bus. I looked around and couldn’t imagine what I saw.

I had taken the subway to Keleti train station for the distribution of food. But missed my stop because the subway was forbidden to stop at the train station. I got off at the next stop at the soccer stadium where a football match was being played in a few hours between Hungary and Romania. I eventually found a bus that could take me back to Keleti train station. I got on the bus and sat next to an older woman who was wearing a head scarf. The woman in front of us was sitting with her little boy and they were chatting away in Hungarian. Then all of a sudden I heard English, which is rare on the bus, so I picked it up right away. The woman in front of me was teaching her little boy to say “go home” in English. After a few chants of that, she continued on with some choice words about Muslims. She wasn’t saying this under her breath but she wasn’t saying it all that loud either. I heard her and others must have as well.

Is this what some people are thinking about the refugees in Hungary?

It is a very difficult situation for all involved. The arrival of thousands of refugees into Hungary does not make it easy for the government or authorities here. I do not claim to know much about politics, I know very little. Here are some things I know: Recently Hungary attempted to keep refugees out of the country by building a fence along the border with Serbia. Clearly this has done little to stop refugees from finding ways into Hungary. Hungary has not committed for all refugees to stay in Hungary, far from it. This is only one of the first stopping points in the EU. Then the refugees register before they must try to  move onto the other countries, such as Germany who are willing to take in and help them. However, the main train station was closed off to refugees earlier this week so they were not able to access any trains to other EU countries.

There are two sides to every situation. Fortunately, I have seen more of the other side. The side where average people are working together to help. Volunteers living in Hungary are working to provide basic essential items: Refugee Support in Budapest. People from around the world are donating money. Hungarians and others are forming organizations and taking donations to give to those who need it. A large group of refugees is arriving in Austria after walking along motorways in a desperate act to go.  People are helping them along the way with food, water, and garbage clean-up.

There will be many more people travelling to Hungary and Budapest to seek refuge in the next few weeks. I am sure many refugees would go home or stay home, if they could. But they can’t, so they need our help. And we are here to help, to offer what we can and make their journey easier. I sincerely hope that everyone I meet in Budapest can share this view with me.


They are right here, down the street

Last night I went to a train station here in Budapest. Maybe you have seen the news about the people who are coming to Budapest from war torn countries like Syria and who are trying to get to safety. If you haven’t heard, check out this article from CNN: Europe migrant crisis or this article from Daily News Hungary: Authorities not allowing migrants…or this one from CBC: Migrant crisis. These human beings are so desperate to get to safety that they are willing to risk their lives. They are dying. Then they are removed from one place, a train station, that they would like to sit down and sleep until they can keep going to get to real safety.

There are several stations here in Budapest where migrants are staying. One of those stations, Nyugati, is about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. There is an organization called Migration Aid who has been helping the migrants as they come. They post a list each day of the needed items of food and other things that are needed at each of the train stations. Niall and I gathered a few things that we had and bought and brought them to the station.

Behind the train station, there is a camp set up. There are tents set up sitting open to let the air in with bedding arranged for the few people who get to sleep ‘inside’. Children are running around. One girl is playing with her little brother and they see Hamish as we walk through the ‘camp’. She smiles and shows her brother. He is a bit nervous of Hamish and hangs back but also smiles. We ask some other volunteers where we can find the Migration Aid office to give our items. We walk past a group of men playing with a ball. Around the corner is a shipping container that has been converted into a storage place for donated items. We hand over the small bag we brought with a few towels and some food. The volunteers thank us and continue moving and rushing around with a million things to do. The refugees are standing around waiting for the things they need. One man gets one of our towels and then asks for a few more for the rest of his family. A young boy comes past with a couple ice cream cones from McDonalds, which is right next door to the train station. He sits down on the ground next to about 10 other men who are all charging by plugging into two extension cords on the ground. Dinner is served at 8pm and after that other items will be handed out. Some volunteers are taking other donated items to Keleti Station, the one that was closed by the authorities. There are many more people there. Eventually, we leave. We walk back past the portable toilets where people are lining up and the outdoor taps where people are doing laundry. We are shocked. We are sad.

As we walk home, I think about how fortunate we are. I am grateful that I can go home to my comfortable bed. I am grateful that we live here where we are safe. I am thankful that we have access to good medical care and facilities. We have access to more food than we will ever need. There are a lot of things I worry about in a day. But getting a good night’s sleep in my bed is not one of those things, and neither is eating a good breakfast or needing a towel.

Those people…the people who we talk about and pray for from a distance…they are right here, 15 minutes from where I live. Maybe you are reading this from Canada or from somewhere else and you have seen the news. You see the stories about that faraway place and those faraway people. You may think, “Wow sad! That is so terrible those people have to leave their home. What a shame.” I thought the same thing…until yesterday. But now, I can walk down the street and help them with a few items. Obviously they need so much more than I can even hope to give. But I cannot sit in my house and think about that news story I read and carry on with my day…not anymore.



Laszlo or Zoltan…Baby Gibson’s name?

There is a list of girls names and a list of boys names in Hungary, about 2500-3000 names on each list. Parents that have children are only allowed to name their babies names that are on these lists. The law is quite strict. If parents try to name their child with a name that is not on the list, they will be prevented from doing so. There is a whole government ministry dedicated to researching and checking names for these lists. Each year about 10 names are added to the list. For example, Laszlo is one of the approved boys names. My Hungarian language teacher’s name is Laszlo and his nickname is Laci (pronounced La-tsi). The “c” in Hungarian is said like a “ts” in English. Zoltan is another common Hungarian name, nickname Zoli.

The Hungarian language is similar to NO OTHER language in the world. It has about 1000 words that are kind of similar to Finnish. Yes, the Finnish language that is spoken in Finland. Hungarian is considered an old Asian language, somewhat like Finnish and Estonian. But it is has been influenced by Slovak languages and languages in Siberia apparently. Today in language class we got a history lesson on the Hungarian language. I also learned that knowing no other language in the world makes it easier to learn Hungarian. Hungarian is all on its own in the world of language and it is not an easy language!

I am currently in my third and final week of my Hungarian language course. And I actually really like it. It is challenging and sometimes confusing. I often wonder if I will ever be able to string together a sentence with pausing before every word. But I am enjoying it. I like using my brain this way. It is much different than the way I have been using or not using my brain for the past 10 years of teaching and the past 3-4 years of doing my Masters.

Class is every day (Monday to Friday) for three hours in the morning. We do written, speaking, and listening activities. We are constantly moving mentally. As we learn new concepts or “rules” about the language, we practice them and get to know them well. Then we have homework to do. Homework includes all the learning and practicing vocabulary and rules done in class. The school is called Budapest University of Debrecen Summer Language School. 

As I continue to learn Hungarian, my biggest challenge will be to use it. I am shy to try using out in public because A. most of the time the person I am speaking to speaks much better English than my Hungarian and B. I don’t know enough to just say whatever I might need at any given moment. So the next step is to practice speaking and using all the things I have been learning.



A Weekend in Barcelona

You may have noticed some changes to the blog. It is getting a new look and a new name. Hope you like it!

Last weekend, I had an amazing time in Barcelona with 3 wonderful girl friends. One of our first stops was the food market with fresh juice, meat, fresh fruit, breads, and other delicious treats.




We some amazing sites in Barcelona on a beautiful sunny day: Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Los Ramblos, Gaudi’s art and the beach.

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What a great time! Delicious food, great friends, warm sun and a beautiful sunset.

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