It’s Sunday morning. Dozens of people in Jeseniova street in Prague take over and sort piles of clothes, shoes and food. Other people load what is already prepared into a van. Packages of bottled water, boxes and bags are testing the van’s chassis. I am having a cigarette and watch that little masquerade.
“Let´s go as soon as possible,” says the petite blonde. “I have to be back at work tomorrow at three o’clock.”
Yet it takes a while before the rented van is completely filled. We set out on the road around noon and honestly do not quite know where. A reporter from Czech Television sent me the contacts yesterday, so we assume it will be the very south of Hungary, checkpoint Röszke, or the Serbian village Horgoš. Maybe Subotica as well.
I recall those places when I went there hitchhiking four years ago. It was summer and hot weather. Today it will be different, but I am not making up any idea in advance. Three of us jump in the car and finally go.
We are swallow up the highway’s kilometers and the road passes as a long journey can only pass. Slowly. In the Slovak Republic I take over the wheel.
A few kilometers before the finish, we are stopped by a police patrol right at a roundabout. We explain to them we are bringing some stuff for the refugees. They tell us to park a little farther away and wait.
No one is allowed to enter the refugee camp. We are told to stay there until morning. We can’t stay here for so long. I park the car; we want to get more detailed information. The moment I get out of the car, a small crowd surrounds me. There are dozens of other cars and drivers. They say I cannot stay here, telling me to park somewhere else.
I do not understand, but I follow and move a few dozen meters next to the bus stop. Again, after getting out of the car, the situation repeats itself, only a different crowd surrounds me and it is a little more upsetting. All of them are Hungarians, based on their language; we do not understand a word of it. But the tone and gestures clearly indicate aggression.
“Five minutes,” I say, we need to get at least some information from the cops – if they will search the van, or what is going to happen at all … “No five minutes, go away!” the voice of one of the locals amplifies the demand.
Ok. We go to sit in the van, discussing what to do next. Röszke is about two kilometers ahead of us, just on this small road we are standing on. It is dark. I am a little afraid of a misunderstanding with the Hungarians; we do not know why they are so aggressive. We decide to go on. Either somebody will stop us, or they will let us pass. Nothing more can happen.
The car’s nose dives into ever darker and denser darkness. I drive very slowly; occasionally a cocooned, almost invisible figure runs across the road from one side to the other. It’s them. We cross the railroad tracks. We are on the spot.
In the middle of the field, encircled by police tape, over one thousand people are shaking with cold, illuminated by the flickering flames of open fires and the police cars‘ lights. I do not see any militant or dangerous individuals, as some would like to suggest to us.
I see hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children, no one to be afraid of. On the contrary, I see mankind, naked and weak, just like you or me. There is an unidentifiable smell of burnt things stinking in the cold air. Despite the slight chaos, we learn what we can bring in and where. Without the NGOs and others who arrived with their cars from all over Europe, the refugees would have frozen here. It is a freezing hell.
We unload a large part of our things. Bottled water, food. The greatest demand is for warm clothing for babies, sleeping bags, quilts and blankets. It is around midnight, I take my camera and I try to take at least a couple of pictures. So I shoot as we go.
I know that the percentage of failed photographs will be great. We jump in the van soon after and set back for Szeged, where we are to unload the second part of our cargo at the railway station.
We are stopped by the police again on our way back. The man is pretty tactless; his female colleague tries to solve the situation in a more comfortable way with her broken English.
I drive back the whole way back practically only by myself, with only a break for refueling. After 700 kilometers, we are home. It is 7 A.M., not even twenty hours after we set out from Prague. I fall asleep and I know I will fully understand what happened no earlier than tomorrow when I will be sorting the pictures.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, thank you to the people from the Autonomous Social Centre Klinika, thank you to all those who brought the things and the food, thank you to those who made financial contributions to pay for fuel.
This article was published in Czech on the website Respekt blog.