Some of you will remember a special visit we had a couple of years ago, from a group of Arkansas university students on a study tour of Central Europe. Their professor, Jayme Stone, knew Michael and had managed to arrange the students' planned two-day visit to Budapest so that they would be able to spend an afternoon/evening at our flat. The students had spent some time before the trip studying the history and politics of the region, and we had asked several students that we knew through the Roma Access Program at CEU to join us at our flat, so that the students would be able to learn about Roma issues first hand and compare that with what they had been reading in books.
However, life doesn't always work out exactly as planned. Jayme, who flew separately from the students, arrived in Budapest right on schedule. The students' flight, on the other hand, was cancelled, and they missed an entire day of their 2-day Budapest stay. Nevertheless, Jayme was bound and determined that these students not miss the opportunity. The students were met at the airport by their tour bus, taken to their hotel, and given just enough time to drop their bags and freshen up, before getting back on the bus to head to Ráday utca!
They arrived at our flat bewildered, exhausted, and hungry, and faced with a flat full of strangers -- and yet, to their credit, they rallied (especially after a bit of Michael's famous fried chicken!) and soon became deeply engaged in conversation with the Roma students and other guests.
The evening was a total success, and we were so glad to have been part of the students' Central Europan experience. Still, it was a nice treat to stumble upon a website that a few of the Arkansas students put together about their trip, where they write:
. . . Budapest became our home away from incredibly far from home for less than twenty-four hours. But you would have thought we were simply meeting old companions if you had been witness to the kindness we were shown by civil right’s activists Michael Simmons and Linda Carranza. No more than an hour and a half from stepping off our very long international flight, we were sitting in their comfortable apartment, voraciously eating fried chicken and lasagna. It was like another world, but with food you were familiar with and people who didn’t treat you as an outsider but as a long lost friend. Besides the much-needed nourishment, the whole group had the opportunity to talk with Roma civil right’s activists from Budapest and Roma youth. Speaking with these people was just so wholly different from American conversation, because we did not even remotely share the same types of experiences, but we were still able to connect and discuss. The idea that many of us began to form through this gathering and by reading parts of Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca is that the Roma, sometimes derogatorily called Gypsies, are probably the most oppressed group throughout all of history. They have no homeland; in the past and present, many of the countries they have even stepped foot in have passed laws restricting their civil rights. The Roma are also stereotyped as thieves, liars, and untouchables. From our personal experience, we know that the Roma defy the labels placed on them, and they need advocates fighting for their equality.
You can also visit our photo album from that day.