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Hostel hell in downtown Hungaria

No Mom, I won’t take drugs from strange men. No Mom, I won’t trust everybody. No Mom, I won’t forget to email. Yes Mom, I love you too. What my apprehensive mother had neglected to ask me as she left me in the Istanbul airport to fly to Budapest was, “Mara, will you be okay if you end up rooming with a stranger who screams in his sleep?”

Though I was not inexperienced with the many comical discomforts that accompany travel – Nigerian soap operas blaring at full volume on buses in Ghana, uncomfortable tuk-tuks in Laos, bug infested grapes in Turkey – I was more afraid to be completely alone than I cared to admit. While my overzealous and adventurous family had braved many strange places, I knew it would be different by myself as an eighteen-year-old girl. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The exorbitantly friendly Turkish Airlines flight to Budapest left me slightly more knowledgeable in Hungarian (a thoroughly useful language, I may add), though no less scared. Hostel life in Europe was rumored to be full of crazy nights and carefree people, and I wanted nothing more than to experience this without my parents looking over my shoulder at my every move.

After paying a 35 Euro fine for stamping my subway ticket incorrectly (there’s a right way?), walking half an hour in the wrong direction, being talked-at for twenty minutes by an old yet impassioned Hungarian woman, and borrowing the phone at a less-than-upper-class 24 hour liquor store, I checked into my hostel. It sure felt nice to have a bed to lie down! True to my word, I emailed my mom to let her know I was safe. My roommates seem nice enough, I wrote. Two Italian men, a nice guy from San Francisco, and a Canadian, eh? I think we are going to go to bed early, I need all the sleep I can get.

After my finger lifted from the “send” button, as if on cue, my chest began to hurt. A strange pain – more like a squeezing – that traveled all the way to my upper jaw. Oh great, I mused un-amused, I must have eaten something strange. In my best attempt to ignore this feeling, I curled into my sleeping bag and let my eyelids fold forward.

Three hours later I was still not asleep. The pain had worsened, and I had incurred a throbbing headache. My sleeping bag had somehow dampened during the rainfall of the day, and the Canadian in the bed next to me either had a life-threatening sinus infection or his nasal passages were smaller than those of a young boy. Though I had a plethora of headache and allergy medicine in my backpack, it was safely locked away across the room, and I had absolutely no idea where I had hidden my key. I was convinced that if I stayed in one position for long enough my body would bore itself to sleep.

This thought was rudely interrupted, however, by terrifying screams from the Italian man in the bed next mine. AHHHHH, AYYY, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, AYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! Startled, I sat up. What the hell is going on? I panicked. Is someone in our room, is there a giant bug on the ceiling, is he dying?!?! The shrieks lasted for another five minutes or so before fading into quiet whimpers and eventually silence. I heard our other roommates shift nervously in their beds, though nobody said a word.

After deeply breathing to suppress my fears, I was even more determined to find the altered state of conscious that is sleep. Time was not passing quickly enough, and this night needed to be over. Just as I had managed to calm down, it heard it again. This time, words were involved. AYYYYYY, per favore, per favore, non farmi del male, no farmi del male, AHHHHHHHHHH! Then nothing.

How I was ever supposed to sleep now was not clear. Instead, I hid under my blankets in anticipation of the Italian bloody-murder yells I knew would come. Sometimes minutes would separate the screams, and sometimes the better part of an hour. By the sixth scream session, my headache was raging, my chest pain had amplified, and I decided there was nothing to do except to find my medicine. My worries about waking up my roommates had been obviously overshadowed, so I noisily rummaged though my bag for my flashlight.

Preparing for the light to flood my senses and increase my headache, I pushed the rubber button on my torch. At the very exact moment the room became illuminated, the man began to scream. What did I do? Is he awake? So spooked, I myself screamed, threw the flashlight at the wall, and huddled in the corner of my bed. Panting and sweating, I waited for the screaming to subside. By this point, my excitement of being on my own had turned to figuring out how I could get home the next day, how much money I was willing to spend for a single room, and the nearest coffee shop for the caffeine I would need in the morning. I spent the rest of the night in the corner of my bed. Needless to say, I did not even try to close my eyes.

At the first sign of dawn, I quietly left my bed, found my key (in my shoe of all places), and consumed inordinate amounts of pain medicine. I left the hostel and explored the city for the day, fueled by adrenaline and coffee. Upon returning in the late afternoon, I saw my San Franciscan roommate. Are the Italian men still here? I asked timidly. He told me they had gone back to Italy that day. He also learned that our screamer had chronic nightmares due to a former life in Japan as an underground video game tester. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, we shook our heads, and then erupted into belly laughs that lasted for the rest of the evening.

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