Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Break: The Beginning

I had possibly one of the most eventful and memorable spring breaks of my life. Something noteworthy happened almost every day, and therefore you should expect ten blog posts from me over the next several days. We begin with…

Day 0 (Friday, April 15th):

Well, officially Spring Break started on Saturday, April 16th, but since I had no classes on Friday, it was already partyin’ time for me! I woke up pretty late, around ten in the morning, and followed my usual schedule of email and Facebook before breakfast. I had to reserve accommodation for the latter half of my spring break trips, and ended up spending the next couple of hours glued to the laptop screen trying to figure out what hostels/hotels worked best. It was only around noon that I realized how fast time had flown by. I needed to take a quick shower, have breakfast and attend Friday prayers at the nearby mosque, not to mention that I had still not packed my stuff for the flight to Rome later that evening. So off I went to complete the first of these tasks.

Thirty minutes later (quick shower, no?), I opened the door to exit the bathroom. Shockingly, the door wouldn’t open more than half an inch. My first reaction was, “Hmmm…this is interesting!” My cool and calm personality was still in control. Turns out that the cupboard right outside the bathroom door had somehow moved in front of the door now, and no amount of pushing and shoving would make it budge. HOW THE GUAN can a cupboard move by itself?!!

Well, if I could only open the door an inch or so further, it would allow me to reach the cupboard and maneuver it back to its original position, setting me free. And so, I tried and tried again and gave it my best shot, to no avail. Fifteen fatiguing minutes later, I came to the bitter realization that I was utterly helpless on my own and would need outside help or divine intervention to get me out of this hole.

There was a window of hope though, literally. I cracked open the bathroom window, and for what felt like the first time in my life, I cried for help: “Kérem, segítség!” I shouted!
“Kérem, segítség!”
“Kérem, segítség! Please help!”
I had to scream for a good five minutes before I finally heard footsteps approaching my apartment door. I couldn’t see who it was from the window, but it sounded like the voice of an old Hungarian man talking to his wife. He said something loudly, addressed to me I guessed.
“Kérem, segítség! Beszél angolul (do you speak English)?” I asked.
He responded in the negative.
“Segítség! Ajtó (door) won’t open!” I tried to convey my message in a mix of Hungarian and English!
The man muttered something in Hungarian which I didn’t understand. But the tone in his voice was reassuring, and therefore I stopped yelling and began waiting for help to arrive. I imagined that, being a European nation, Hungary would have a similar emergency response system as that in the U.S.: I expected the police to arrive very soon.

I didn’t have my watch on me, but I estimated that if the police arrived in the next ten minutes or so, I would still be able to make it to the Friday prayers. And so I waited, and waited. Nothing. I waited some more. But there was no sign of the Hungarian man, the landlord or the police. After spending another thirty minutes or so in a state of anxiety, the reality finally began to sink in. The Hungarian man had never called for help. And given the fact that all of my neighbors had already left for the weekend; there was no one else to call for help. I was tired, cold, and alone. The time for prayers had already passed, and I was beginning to resign to the fact that I might not even be able to make my flight to Rome either. This was a terrible start to the Spring Break, and I would have to work hard now to obtain my freedom. I could now imagine how it must feel like to be locked up as a prisoner, or be trapped in a building after a natural disaster.

So how was I going to get out? The cupboard wouldn’t move, and the door was of too good a quality for me to merely break through it. I concluded that my best bet was to saw off part of the door to allow me to at least reach the cupboard. But of course, there was no saw in bathroom. I knew I had to improvise. I looked around for some sharp object. The first thing that caught my eye was the toilet paper holder. It was shiny and silvery, and breaking it off from the wall might give me a sharp edge to work with. I got hold of it and pulled it away from the wall, breaking it without any effort. Well, turns out this shiny silvery holder was made of silver-painted plastic. How useless!! Broke it off for nothing.

I looked around some more, and then I saw it: the clothes hanger on the door. I checked first to make sure it was truly metal. I disassembled the hanger into its components. One of the pieces had a sharp edge, and I finally began sawing the door.

I was chipping at the wood for approximately twenty minutes or so, but the results were not looking promising. I was putting in a lot of effort, but unfortunately this improvised blade was very blunt and I had barely scratched the surface (both literally and figuratively).

Looking at the progress I was making, I projected that my freedom would take place between four and five days. I had had neither breakfast nor lunch, and I was expending too much energy. I knew I wouldn’t survive for that long without any food. It was at this moment that I was filled with a sense of foreboding. I might actually die here…in Budapest…in the bathroom of my apartment! And then a thought occurred that made me realize the irony of the situation. I always wanted to be able to write my will before I died. And now, God was giving me the opportunity to use this piece of metal to carve my will into the wooden door.

This thought didn’t last for that long. I knew that dying wasn’t going to be so simple. I need not give up hope yet. After managing to create a small hole in the door, I switched from sawing to chiseling. This served the dual purpose of speeding up the door-breaking process as well as creating a lot of racket which might attract the attention of people in the neighborhood who just might be able to help.

Well, the door wasn’t going to give way anytime soon, but the clamor had an instantaneous effect. Imagine an angry looking old lady storming into the apartment complex, shouting at the top of her voice, “WHAT THE GUAN DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!” Well, that’s exactly what happened, except the language of communication was Hungarian.

“Kérem, segítség! Please help! Call the Police!
No response from the lady.

Five minutes of hammering later, I heard a young woman’s voice, “What’s your problem?”
“Please call the police,” I implored.
“Why should I call the police?”
“I’ve been stuck in the bathroom for nearly four hours now, and no one has called for help,” I explained.
“Oh…” She seemed to finally understand what was going on. “Why don’t you call for help yourself?”
Are you kidding me, I thought. “I don’t have my cell phone in the bathroom!”
“Do you know of anyone who can help?” she asked
“Ervin Gyori, the landlord. He has a spare set of keys. He can enter the apartment and let me out.”
“Do you remember his number?” she wondered.
“No! Do you?”
“I’ll try to find someone who does, I’ll be back!”

It was nice to finally ask for help from an English speaking person, but I still feared she might just avoid all the hassle of finding help and leave me to rot just like the Hungarian man did earlier in the day. So before she left, I had a final parting remark. “Please make sure to get help. I’ll pay you if you want.” This was definitely the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever said to anyone trying to help me. I felt like a stereotypical Arab, and it reminded me of one of my friends back at Cornell who often debated with me on the misuse of money by rich Arabs.

Anyhow, it was time to wait again.

“Hello?” It was the same girl’s voice.
“Hello!” I replied.
“I talked to the landlord. He is at a meeting right now. He says he will be here in an hour.”
“An hour?” I had waited for so long already!
“Yes, an hour maximum he said.”
“Okay, thank you so much.” I was convinced now that I was going to survive. Moreover, there was even a chance that I might be able to catch my Rome flight just in time.

From then on, I heard activity in my neighborhood every ten minutes or so. Every time I heard footsteps, I would heave a sigh of relief, expecting it to be my landlord, but every time it was someone else. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes. Time wore on.

And finally! About forty-five minutes since the good news, he finally came. “Muhammed, I will try to get you out.” It was Ervin Gyori, the landlord!
“Well thank you. I’m really sorry you had to come!”

He opened the apartment door, and then saw what had happened. “This will be easy,” he said. Ervin moved the cupboard back into place, and moments later I was finally able to get out! “I thought maybe the door lock was not working, so I had brought all these tools with me.”

“Oh no, it’s just that somehow this cupboard had moved and I couldn’t open the door anymore. Thanks so much for your help. Also, I may have damaged some parts of the bathroom trying to get out, but I’ll pay for the repairs.”

“What did you break?”

And so I showed him the broken items, as well as the gaping hole in the door.

“It’s okay; we’ll figure this out at the end of the semester.” Ervin didn’t look too worried. I felt much better now.

“I have a flight to Rome and I need to get to the airport. Do you know what the fastest way to go is?” I enquired, making obvious the urgency of the situation.

“Get a taxi!” He gave me the taxi’s number. After seeing Ervin off, I hurriedly collected all the laundered clothes I had planned to take with me, and stashed them into the bag I had bought the previous day specifically for this trip. I called the taxi, which showed up in less than ten minutes. It was 5:35pm, and I was finally off to the airport!

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