The Fields Are Speaking Pashto

This field is speaking Pashto.

The murmur of strange tongues.

The fields are speaking Pashto here in southern Hungary along the border with Serbia. And Arabic and Dari and Urdu. The murmur of these languages in the shrubs and scrubby meadows, in the trees along the roadside ditches, amid the stalks of corn and sunflower. Everywhere the now familiar sounds of unfamiliar words, spoken quietly, asking “what to do? where to go?—when to make a run for the next hiding place?”

As the refugees stream into Hungary along the railway line that is the lone remaining gap in the razor-wire fence erected along the entire length of the border with Serbia, the many who know some English speak as one: “We no want to give fingerprint in Hungary. We want to go to Germany (or Sweden or Norway or Holland). We no want to stay here.”

The two cops posted at the border cannot pacify the universal fear among the migrants that registration in Hungary will prevent them from moving on to western Europe: these portly veterans speak no English, they have no instructions except to move the incoming masses further down the tracks to a police “collection point” where they will receive water and food and be placed on buses bound for the transit camp down the road. “Álljatok félreAzt mondtam, álljatok félre!” the one cop yells, wanting the big group just arrived to move to the side of the tracks. “We no understand Hungarian,” one of them pleads as the cop begins to gesticulate angrily and suddenly the shout of a word in Arabic which can only mean “Let’s go!” or “Freedom!” and fifty people disappear down the tracks into the dark.

The families and elderly continue to the collection point where they sit for several hours amid discarded clothing and plastic bottles before the big buses arrive to take them away. Whereas: most of the younger migrants strike out across the fields and river flats hoping to reach Austria without pressing their thumbs into ink, attempting to evade the Hungarian police vehicles—cars, jeeps and vans—that patrol the roads and the nearby village of Röszke.

Sitting in a bus-stop shelter at this place during the wee hours of a warm, moonlit night in late August groups of young refugees dash from shadow to shadow under the brown-yellow light of the sodium lamps and ask the lone stranger: “Where we find taxi? We want to find taxi to Budapest.” Sent on down the street toward the city of Szeged some of them return later in windowed paddy wagons transporting them back in the direction of the transit camp, though even those who evade this dragnet have little chance of making the long trip to Austria without being caught.

Awakened from an upright slumber, the rustle of running feet, an ankle-cracking crash to the ground, a young woman in a headscarf, police searchlights, shouts in Arabic and two men climb plank-splitting over a wooden courtyard fence. Ignoring the command to “stop!” they run through the gardens and greenhouses at the edge of the village toward the horizon of the surrounding plain.

The sun is rising. The eastern sky is aflame.

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