Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hungary again

As a child I've spent a few years in the world famous institute for kids with Cerebral Palsy in Budapest. Through repetitive routines and daily activities I became more mobile and independent. Twelve years ago I found myself in the city again, and once more it changed my life and inspired to reach further, although in a different way. I was there only for five days to present a paper I've written for a student conference. The first time I was somewhere, I was abroad by myself, with no one there to help or assist me. The first time I've given my disability, a condition I've spent years dismissing and succeeding inspire of enough thought to research it and build a project around it.Central European University was having a call for proposals on topics related to transformations in the region. Mine was on "Living with Disabilities": How people with conditions like mine were perceived during communism and how if at all it has changed. What legal tools originally lacking were put in place to improve a quality of life. I didn't do an amazing job putting it together I must say. It was a busy year. Just two weeks earlier I came back from America, where I was competing in the finals of  Jessup International Moot Court in Washington, DC. But that time my brother was with me. He got us a taxi, helped me to the hotel, pushed me around town and watched me argue. The US trip was a great success on the academic level, we ranked 12th out of over 200 teams I believe after months of preparation, for years to come the best performance from a Polish team. But personally I felt defeated. What was the use of it all if I can't function by myself out in the real world? This time I wanted to do it right. I needed to try. I went to Budapest alone. I knew CEU, the famous George Soros funded school would most likely be wheelchair friendly. I knew people would pick me up and take me back to the airport. I knew they made special accommodations for me to take a plane rather than the train. I knew that there would be other people there if I needed anything. At the time it seemed stressful and logistically complicated. Most activities, from sleeping, eating to presenting, were happening at one building. All I had to do was get there. A very modeern complex under one roof, part dorm style hotel, part dining hall part school, all I had to do is get everywhere on time. At the time it seemed like a big deal, because I was out of the house, without anyone and I survived. The funny thing was that the city outside these walls was even more inaccessible than Warsaw, but it didn't matter. The only downside was that when the Polish group went out to explore the city they left me behind. That was a sneak peek of what it would be like to be in a wheelchair unfriendly city without my parents or other family members who cared and had the energy to strain their health just to have me included. My mam and dad would have gone out of their way for me to go and have see and experience something there. I did go out one time for some lecture somewhere in town and I took a taxi there. It was the cab driver who thought me how to properly align my chair  at an angle in the corner between the passenger seat and door to properly transfer in and out. I never needed to learn with my dad putting me in and out. That  was one of the most useful skills I've gained, I've just used it an hour ago when my friend gave me a ride. Being at CEU, as short as it was made me feel like I'm living one of the teen sitcoms I grew up on. It made me think I can actually think of doing something like that long term and that I'd manage. It's a very esteem boosting idea. I can do things for myself. I've spent the next semesters writing more proposals but none got picked. Without that preview experience I would not have the courage to even dream of going to America alone. It was short but touched me profoundly. When I told the organizers about my years at the Peto Institute, they were upset I didn't tell them beforehand, because they would've figured out a way to have me visit it. But I didn't. They tried speaking Hungarian to me, but I spoke it no more. Still I left overwhelmed with how warm, fun and curious the student body at CEU was. It inspired me to focus on disabilities rather than ignore it- I've set up the "Active Life" foundation in Warsaw just two years later.

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