I didn’t know it was possible, but the bus I took to Beregszasz early Wednesday morning was even more full than the one I had taken on the fateful first trip. There were two other people waiting to get on the bus. The young gentleman with the duffel bag simply could not fit. I myself occupied that final space available on the lowest step next to the door. As the door closed (almost catching my coat), I heard the girl very much next to me tell him in Hungarian, “Wait for the 7 o’ clock bus.”
There’s a 7 o’ clock bus? What am I doing on the 6 o’ clock one?
This bus ride was infinitely more pleasant than my first one, mostly because I could press my back against the door’s window and feel the cool air outside. And I knew where I was going. That always helps.
“Bustling” is a word that is probably overused when it comes to social centers like markets and cities. It’s just such a darned good word. Beregszasz’s morning hours are characterized by plenty of bustling, and, as I left the bus and headed to KRISZ-pont, I joined the throngs walking to work, going to school, and making their way to the market. I found myself wondering where all these people come from; the town’s houses don’t seem terribly crowded or plentiful. There are those communist-era apartment complexes on the edge of town, and Beregszasz pulls merchants and customers from much of the surrounding area. It’s the only bustling place around.
First order of business for the day: put more money on my phone. Cell-phone plans with contracts and packages are not the norm here. Necessary purchases for European mobile communication: a phone (used, new, any brand, plenty of shops), a SIM card (this card makes the phone operational for a specific geographical area, such as a country or the EU; it also gives your unique phone number), and prepaid minutes. My minutes had left the prepaid zone and were quickly approaching not-paid and non-existent, so Nati, one of the girls living at KRISZ-pont, showed me how to reload minutes at a phone kiosk before she headed off to class.
The phone kiosk was located in the supermarket at the center of town. (I think it’s actually a hipermarket, not a szupermarket, which essentially means it’s smaller.) I’ve been consistently overwhelmed by the shopping opportunities in Beregszasz for two reasons. First reason, they are so much greater. The first week after I arrived in Péterfalva, I told my parents that I’d done a little shopping. “Not because I haven’t done very much,” I said. “But because the shops are little.” Think of your bedroom. Then add stock shelves and a counter. That’s about right. The stores in Beregszasz are sometimes bigger, sometimes not, but there are a good deal more of them. And if I want to purchase green tea or a ball point pen, then, by golly I can. The bedroom-sized stores in Péterfalva can only stock so much.
Second reason. Shops of any size are not the only or even primary way of purchasing goods here. Behind the old, concrete, block-like theatre in the main square sits an outdoor market. Walking into that market was like stepping back into Sierra Leone, without the heat. And without a host of other things, too, obviously, but the booths twisted through the brick buildings along old pavement in such similar ways. I very quickly lost all sense of direction as I followed a curve here, a turn there. The paths never met up the way I thought they would, if they met up at all. As in Sierra Leone, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of booths and all the goods so prominently displayed. I think I live under the false assumption that items of this sort—bottle brushes and house slippers, laundry soup and canned peas, cat food, household cleaners, packages of pasta, comforters —could only be sold in department stores like Target, not by individuals behind tables as if at a famers’ market. All these things that I subconsciously thought sprung from Meijer shelves were sold in this incomprehensible labyrinth. I’m quite accustomed to standing in front of a long shelf that sits in a particular shopping section, eying rows of comparable products, considering prices and quality, taking my own good time. I never learned how to scour a market, moving from one booth with shampoo and combs to another booth with nearly identical shampoo and combs and to sort out the differences between them. And how long do you examine and ask for prices before it becomes rude not to buy something? Is it ever rude not to buy something? How do I make sure I’ve seen all the egg prices before I purchase some? How do I get out of here?
I don’t consider one selling method better than the other. I am simply plagued by questions in this new shopping situation.
Some things remain the same in Beregsasz as in Péterfalva. I still frequently hear horses clopping by, though more often on pavement and cobblestones than on dirt. Most people I pass speak Hungarian, even if the signs are in Ukrainian. The Reformed Church bells toll loud and long before a service. Most cars were made before I was born.
The difference definitely comes down to the bustling.