Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Strike Update

Negotiations contintue. They cannot agree on anything. I have seen four trains in the past hour. Apparently more are running across the country than yesterday.

It is scheduled to start Thursday. It will only be on Thursday. From 5:00 until 13:00. And only the buses. Then regular service will resume.

You tell 'em guys.

I couldn't help but laugh a little when Ani told me. She told me it is a "special kind of strike. . . Hungarian."

Just because there is no snow does't mean it isnt cold. . .

Nearly every time I walk into the teachers’ room, someone has the windows open, regardless of the weather. Today, had just come back from shivering my way through lunch (the kids opened the window because they said it smelled like cabbage in the cafeteria (which it did). I walked upstairs and wrapped up in my jacket. No sooner had I sat down, one of the teachers, came in, said it was stuffy in here and threw open two of the windows. The windows are big and swing all the way open, which is great in the summer. Unfortunately, it is December.

Okay. The math teacher just walked in, took a look at the windows, glanced around, and is closing them.


It feels like half of the country is either striking or promising to within the next few weeks. It causes general disruption, but doesn't seem nearly as crippling as it could be. A run down:

Airport Strike:
The people who work the security at Ferihegy are striking for what I have only seen listed as "better working conditions." However, the airport has brought in scabs/"blacklegs" to fill their spots. Not so good for the strikers/workers rights, but makes the airport at least function. They are down a few security lines, so things are really bottlenecked, but I think there have only been two airlines cancel flights. Of course the one Jon and I are flying to get to Istanbul is one of them. I dont think they've canceled that particular flight yet.

The Train Strike:
An interesting, pain in the neck mess. The union has been threatening to strike for a month now and it seems finally pulled it off. Kind of. They are striking because part of the cargo system was privatized last year and the union says every single MAV employee to have a part in the sale--to the tune of 250, 000 forint each (That's about 1,200 USD) as well as higher wages.

The train strike is. . .interesting. Having the trains not run in a country where trains are a vital part of the transport system is only bad news. However. . .it hasn't exactly panned out. There are several railway unions, only one of which is on strike (I think). Combined with the fact that like, anywhere, these workers cannot afford to simply stop working, in all, about 13% of the railworkers were on strike. Which basically means trains are running sporadically--but they're running. More in the west than out here, but they show up when they want to.

This was the exactly what Ani said would come of the strike. . .inconvienient, but not much else. Her daughter Dori, told me that the people working on the trains would be grumpy "because they're on strike". . .but that they would go. Ani says eventually, the union will "end" the strike with a lot of fluffy rhetoric about service and ineqity, but without getting anything because everyone slowly just goes back to work.

Budapest Transport Workers:
Meaning the metro, trams, buses, trolley buses, ect are supposed to strike on Thursday. Ellen told me at one point that they are always threatening to strike, and it is usually heavily advertised that the strike will be "next Thursday, April 18, from ten until noon." Once they did pull off a whole day strike and "it was really inconvient" but they were back the next day. So who knows. I'm pulling for the usual two hour lunch break, but they seem at least somewhat serious about it.

Public Service Workers:
Including firefighters, teachers, police, etc, etc, etc. in an effort to make up for an obscene deficit, the government has eliminated the "thirteenth month" pay check in favor of a two week bonus. Being drastically underpaid, these people rely on the checks to simply get by. It doesn't exactly afford any luxuries.

There have been some protests in Budapest and a lot of general outcry. Keeping with the theme, a strike is planned for January 12. And again. . . it probably won't mean much. By law, the teachers have to be at school because the kids will be there. So everyone shows up and just . . . does nothing. So no one is really inconvienced. And the government will more than likely take away the pay anyway.

In sum. A lot of strikes. If the past is a tell--nothing will happen. Ani was frustrated with it all once, saying "Hungarians just don't know how to strike." She told me about how her husband used to work for the Soviet Union and with some Portugese and Italian men and they "did strikes like they meant them. No work was done. Here, it is like they just play around."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I threw a sandwich out of the window today

I told them when I started class to put the sandwiches away.

I told them two minutes later not to eat in class.

I told them two minutes after that that I would throw any food or drinks I saw out the window.

Just had to have that one last bite, didn't you Viki?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A good day for cake

I have once again confounded my teachers with bizarre American recipes. In this case--a fluffy chocolate cake. First off. . .this is not an incredibly special chocolate cake. Relatively easy to make up, one bowl and into the oven. Don't even have to deal with egg whites. Consistently edible.

I messed it up once somehow and it turned out dense and a little bland. Top with a strong flavored frosting and voilá--a Hungarian süti. They liked it. But it was no fluffy cake. Most deserts here are dense. They seem to get their flavor from whatever is on or in them, not from the actually cake-y part itself. So to bring in a fluffy, strongly flavored cake. . .

It is fun watching them try out the new sweet. The teacher's room somehow gets a little extra energy when people bring snacks and everyone takes a second to smile. Especially today, I am glad brought it--gloomy and rainy, restless students--definitely a good day for cake. A few teachers dive right in, a couple pretend they aren't interested, but pick up a piece while walking past.My favorite to watch, Robi, will sit at his desk and watch everyone else's reaction before trying anything. It took a while, but this time, I saw him grab at least three or four (admittably two-bite sized) pieces. Victory.

I brought it in before I started teaching 4th hour and by the time I came back from class it is gone. One of the teachers asked me for the recipe and what it the name of it is. . .I fumbled for a second before answering "umm. . .chocolate cake."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sick day

I went to Vienna this weekend (more on that later :-)) and had a lovely, if very chilly time. Unfortunately, I came down with the mini-plague that had affected a few other CETPers at our lovely Thanksgiving dinner (more on that later too). Luckily, I didn't experience my demise until the last evening I was in the city.

Being relatively ill, of course, made my return trip exceedingly pleasant. Fortunately, the train wasn't too crowded so I was able to lie down in two seats. After I got back to Hungary (avoiding ridiculous roaming charges), I called Ani to ask if there were any stores open in my town on Sundays, as I only knew of one open until 13:00. I had no food and planned on just ordering a pizza Sunday night and going food shopping Monday afternoon. Apparently there is one open until 20:00. What?! Eight o'clock? I didn't even know this store existed. (There is also a kocma next to it that I didn't know about). BUT, it was pretty far away (far for in my town and being sick and cold). She told me she would call Gyuri and he would help because she was not in town.

Soon after I got home, Gyuri showed up to "go shopping." He pulled around his car and we flew at breakneck speeds through the tiny streets to the store. I grabbed bread, milk, and ginger ale and we drove back. He dropped me off, telling me "sleep, palinka, sleep, palinka,sleep, palinka."

Today, I got up feeling quite a bit better and got ready for school. That quite a bit better declined to a stomach ache and headache--bad, but tolerable. When I got to school, Ani asked how I was. I told her so-so, but a little better. She looked at me skeptically. I told her the truth. She asked why I was there. Because someone had told me you had to go to the doctor to miss work and that seemed like a lot of trouble for a little sick. Apparently this is not true. So we went to talk to Gyuri. I was told to go home and have a rest and drink palinka. Ani told me she could do my shopping for me if I needed.

That was my long way of saying that I am grateful for the people I work with, that they go out of their way to help me. At home (especially at Schnucks), I would have been considered well enough to work, no questions asked. I feel bad not being there, especially just having taken a long weekend to cavort about the region. Sigh. Maybe I will try to be productive today. . .right.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Wonderful Sentence

Obama has chosen a Hungarian American, Peter Orszag, as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget Director. She found a picture to show me and was reading another article when she stopped and read aloud:

"'Obama is said to have chosen. . .' That is a wonderful sentence. An imperfect past infintive."

The grammar nerd in me loves her even more.

A Very Újszász Thanksgiving

So a week early (or in Tara's case, a month too late) we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner.

On Friday night, Margie and Tara came into Szolnok where we met Emily and headed to the Cora. It was crowded (Friday evening) and in full Christmas decor. Hungary doesnt have the "Thanksgiving Rule" besides, Santa Claus comes on December 6, so you need to start early.

After shopping and a wonderful dinner, we headed back to Újszász, which was an adventure in itself. There was a man down the car who kept staring at us, then literally shoving sandwiches in his mouth, then staring some more. As we approached the town, he looks at me and says "You are Jamie. You are the English teacher in Újszász." What?!? Not sure what to say, the first thing that fell out of my mouth was the totally impolite (but I feel somewhat reasonable) "How do you know who I am?" He is dating a student at my school (one of my 12 Szandis) and heard us speaking English. He helped us carry our things home. Along the way, we were told over and over again that "Újszász is a fucking dangerous place." Which "is not a laughing matter." If the gypsies heard us speaking English, our "bags would be gone before you can look" and my house would be robbed. I am also to "never, ever entertain in the street." (There goes my night job.) After 20 years of American teachers, you think that if there were to be problems they would have presented themselves by now. While I am sure there is some small truth in the warnings, (where is it really a good idea to cause a ruckus and go for a solo evening stroll?), it is often difficult to find it.

We made it safely home, started a little of the cooking for the next day--potatoes, rolls, etc and had a good chat.

On Saturday, we made a good breakfast and got to cooking. Quickly running out of space in the dorm-sized fridge, we started to fill the front porch. I found a Christmas tree (or two) in the pantry, which went out for decoration. Razzed for mixing holidays, I still maintain that it is Thanksgiving, so I can decorate for Christmas if I want to.

Margie and me cooking

Jeb carving the turkey (breast)
Briggi, Jeb, Emily, and Tamás came, of course with even more food. After a few finishing touches, we got the meal on the serving buffet/the giant desk in my living room: turkey (legs and a breast), carrots, squash, potatoes, fruit salad, rolls, potato salad, homemade stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, apple cobbler, and cookies. We ate and ate and ate. Then sat and sat. Petra came and we ate some more and played Activity.

Table of Wonderful Food

The rest of the night was filled with more of the same. Food and eating and talking and complaning about students. It was wonderful to relax and just enjoy the company of people who use correct prepositions and do things "on", not "at" the weekend.

This weekend, I am headed to BP for another sure to be wonderful Thanksgiving feast with, what I am told, will be nearly 40 people.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It is good that some things are universal

I noticed some papers about to fall out of the printer and scatter onto the floor in the teachers room today. As I hurried to save whoever's papers they were, Adi came up saying thank you and appologizing. She started putting the few pages I hadn't managed to save back in order and sighed "ah. . Shakespeare." She told me it was for her university class and they were supposed to read Hamlet last week "but who has time to do that?" She told me she found a couple of websites that have good summaries of English books--Sparknotes and Gradesavers. I had to laugh and told her that that was one of my survival modes in French classes--usually after attempting to read in French first.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


On October 15, we had an initiation ceremony for the 9th year students. Some schools have nearly a week of competitions and challenges, so I guess my kids get off easy with only one three hour ceremony.

The first thing I noticed when I got to school on Thursday was all of the 9th graders wearing headbands with Chipasz (sparrow). Where at home there would more than likely be a good chunk of students who would rebel against this, all of the students here didn't seem phased by wearing them. The boys tied them around their foreheads (one of my 9th graders declared himself 2Pac and his friends 3pac and 4Pac) and the girls sported hair styles around the white headbands.

When I went upstairs and noticed that Ani, as the head teacher for a 9th grade class, had been accosted and was now sporting a chipasz headband too (though tied as scarf). I made the mistake of mentioning this out loud and was told that as I new teacher, I had ought to have one.
As the teacher in charge walked past Ani asked if there were extras because "Jamie needs one." She was asked if I wanted one. Pause. Glance at me. Yes. Thanks, Ani. It turned into a bracelet that shed on me the rest of the day.

After school, the competition started. The doors were locked "to keep foreigners out." (Give you three guesses about the only foreigners running around Ujszasz.

The competition was painfully long. Most of the teachers shifted between watching the challenged and escaping to the teachers' room.

Well. . .I really don't understand what happened with the formatting, but briefly. . .all of the classes had to perform a skit and a dance. The girls in black are from 9c and did more or less a poms routine. The girls in black and orange are from 9b and did more or less a traditional folk dance in. . .not traditional costumes. The whole class is 9d. Eniko, their form teacher is the aerobics instructor and performed with them, so I kind of feel like they cheated :-P. The other pictures are the lemon eating challenge (with the option of sugar, thankfully) and trying burst someone else's balloon tied to their ankle while protecting your own. Others included waltzing holding a matchbox between their noses. (they can all waltz perfectly), a race wearing rain boots on their hands (?) and all of the grade taking an oath promising to obey the year 12 students and always study, etc. They had to stand with one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them and the other holding the knee of the one behind. Older kids patrolled to make sure they all complied. One kid slipped and an entire class went out.

When all was said and done, 9a won the competition (the prize--a cake to split among the whole class and maybe bragging rights. . .).
After the competition, there was a disco--complete with fog machines, laser show and excessively loud dance music. The teachers stayed hidden in the teachers' room and ate sandwiches that someone had brought. Unlike American dances, where there are often as many chaperones as students (or so it seems), one of the burly gym teachers would go patrol every so often and then come back upstairs to escape. Mercifully, Gyuri decided to stop the disco about 45 minutes early and release us all home. (most of the kdis had left)

Interesting to watch, but also maybe the longest 5 hours ever. . .must say I feel a little sorry for the Hungarian teachers who get to enjoy the initiation every year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grammar Validation for Ani

So. I. Hate. Class. 10.D.
(both halves.)

They complain they do not understand, then refuse to listen when I try to explain. We have reviewed the same sets of vocabulary since the beginning of the year. Yet, somehow, words like happy, shirt, hat, cold are too difficult.

At one point, I must have looked a little dejected at my desk because one of the non-English speaking teachers asked Ani what was wrong with me. When she told her I had just had 10 D. , the teacher sighed, shook her head sadly, and said "Eauhhhh.. . phooey.

I don't know the names of the kids in the class yet because both halves seem to come and go as they please, showing up for either class or not at all. Today was a test day, which I have warned them about for weeks. I had a full class which was particularly bad today.

When I started to grade the tests, only 3 of the students were actually supposed to be in the class. The rest were from the other half or. . .who knows. Ani talked to the super-scary assistant director who said he would "talk to them." (I was terrified just watching him hear Ani's translation.)

Later I mention that I didn't know what to do about the other half of the class' test because "they will have seen it already."
Ani started to answer.
"I've never heard a native speaker use the future perfect tense before in conversation."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One More Reason I Love My Secretaries

I think I've mentioned to about anyone who will listen that my school will feed me 3 meals a week day if I want. I usually only eat breakfast and dinner because I am just too lazy to get up for breakfast at 6:30 when school doesn't start until 8:00. (though I should probably start) Because of the "free" part of this arrangement, I don't really complain about things, even to myself. Usually, the food is good. Especially when the "cafeteria" aspect is taken into account.

Last night, though, was interesting. The usual tub of fresh, delicious bread slices was there. Then, we each got a plate of a whole tomato, two boiled egg, and. . .some sort of processed cylindrical meat. The tomato was wonderful, the eggs were. . . I dunno, boiled eggs. . .but that meat. . .I what I could of it spread on some bread.

One of my secretaries (My school has several two year vocational programs that many students attend after graduating high school) who usually doesn't talk too much unless absolutely forced asks me,
"How do you like dinner at school?"
I told her I generally thought it was very good.
"So what do you think about yesterday night dinner?"
"Umm. . .it was. . .I don't think I've ever seen--"
"Gross, " She cut me off, "I'm not sure what it was. . .processed meat of . . .something."
I laughed and told her I was glad she said that because I was feeling like a really spoiled and stereotypically uncultured American.
"No. Cat food. I don't know. Maybe from a canned cat food."

Monday, October 6, 2008


So, Hungarian keyboards still get me. The z and the y are switched, punctuation is not where it should be, instead there are keys specifically for the multitude of accented letters the language uses. A lot of the figures that are on the number keys that you have to "shift" to get up to @, &, # are mixed around (some bumped to the bottom row of letters that you use "ctrl alt" to type.

I usually find myself just staring at the keyboard about once a day trying to find one character or another. Even if I find something once I am likely to loose it and have to go searching again. My first week I spent maybe five minutes trying to find the quotation marks. I was really proud when I finally did. Shift alt, hit the key, let up, the type the words. Weird, but maybe just Hungarian. Takes a while, but it works.

Today, I was trying to type a quotation that started with a vowel. It would not work. All would get was "ű." By chance I happened to look a few keys down the board. What do I see above the 2? Quotation marks. I have been umlatting every quotation since I have gotten here.

While typing this, I happened to look at the 1 key. Guess what is there. The Apostrophe. I have been avoiding contractions and possesives like it is my job. Until now. In past entries, I have cringd everytime I typed an aprostropheless possesive, but typing "the book of Janós" was too bulky for even me.

I will now be able to contract, possess and repeat things with grammatical ease.

I usually begin each class by asking how they are, how their weekends went, ect. Usually, they respond like little robots ˝I am fine, thanks. And You?˝ which is how theyve been drilled to respond for years. I am a little proud of that I am beginning to get new answers. Usually ˝Terrible˝ or ˝Sick in my head˝ or ˝It is too cold˝ or ˝tired˝ but at least they are not fine, I guess.
Today when I asked my generally good, but very talky (in Hungarian) 9C, I got the standard chorus of ˝I slept, MSN, played WoW, etc. ˝ (pronounced Voav). However, Roland, one of the better students in the class, always saying "ok, we understand." when generally he is the only one who understands, told me " Terrible, terrible, sad. Dead this weekend are two friends in the car."
What do you say to that in English? Let alone to a student with whom I can barely communicate in general. I told him I was very very sorry, but those are the extent of words we share for situations like that. I dont think most of the kids understood what he said, those who did were appropriately shocked.
When the form teacher came in to supervise the class while we listened to a memorial day remberance program for the 13 Hungarian generals who were exected after one of the many revolutions (1849 maybe?), he scolded many of the students for having coats on and Roland for having up the hood on his sweatshirt. While I realize I am no where near as strict as most of the teachers here, usually teachers at home give some leeway for students like this. I am stuck between wondering if the form teacher just didnt know or if it was an instance of the general Hungarian attitude of pessimism--life is hard, bad things will always happen. Get over it and move on.
After the class, a few of the boys stayed to talk to Roland, which made it least seem a little better. But still. . .what was I supposed to do?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Teaching in Szolnok

I have agreed to teach for a language school in Szolnok once a week starting the 7th. On Tuesdays, I will teach two 45 minute lessons--to the same group on the same day. Julia insists it is two 45 minute lessons instead of one 90 minute one--I think it has something to do with the amount of lessons the company signed up for or something. It is just annoying b/c it is all the same to me and I never know what she is talking about.

I will be teaching a group of three women who work for the only European subsidiary of an American company that makes leather car interiors.They are very proud of this. I think they want to be able to better understand teleconferences they have with America. Julia insists that she could only use an American due to accents and rhythm. As Emily refuses to answer her calls, I don't know what she would have done if I said no.

Julia herself is a very. . .pushy woman. Maybe determined is another word. I guess she called the school looking for me and told Ani she needed my number "like she had every right to it." Emily mentioned her being bossy and Ani caught it in the first impression. After one meeting, I tend to agree. Because I am at the business, I won't have to see her but once at the end of the month to talk through how things are going and get paid. She does want me to come by the international school to talk to some of her students. . .always excited to meet Americans. I dont really want to, so Ill have to get used to saying no.

It is a longer session than I thought it would be--26 lessons, which means I must teach through the middle of April. Geh. That was the major sticking point. What if I hate it and they hate me? What if I can not do even basic buisiness English? What if Julia drives me to the asylum? I guess it is too late for all of this now. . .It will be nice to have the extra 15000 HUF a month. Really, I should pretty much be able to live off of that and leave my salary for fun and travel.

Aerobics Class

I dont know whether or not I mentioned it before, but in addition to carrying a shopping basket (so much easier and stronger than a bag) and joining the embroidery hobby circle, I have started to go to the aerobics class taught by one of the gym teachers on Mondays and Thursdays. Although it is held at the school gym, it is open to the public and costs a whopping 300 ft a class. (Around a 1.85 USD), which takes away a lot of my excuses to go.
The class itself is an interesting hybrid of modern and. . .Hungarian. Our warmup usually consists of running, skipping, galloping, or ˝swimming˝around the gym, followed by an aerobics routine that reminds me of everything I hated about middle school ˝Sweating to the Oldies˝. Somehow though, sweating to American pop songs set to disco beats (not to mention a cool-down to Jessica Simpson) with a group of middle-aged Hungarian women and a few of my students is much more tolerable. After a bit, we move to a pilates-something else session that includes more crunches than I care to even think about. I am lucky that there was a yoga mat in my flat, others bring beach towels, rugs, and chair pads. All the same, it is fun, the women are nice, the routines are challenging, and it makes actually do something besides sit in my flat and pretend to think about studying for the GRE. (Plus I am one of the more coordinated and flexible ones in the group, which is a lifetime first--maybe I just go for the ego boost.. . and hey, when I mess up, I can always blame the language)

Monday, September 29, 2008

This turned out sappier than I intened

Not wanting to stay alone in Ujszasz for another weekend, I met Emily in Szolnok and we caught the bus to see Briggi in Heves. The fun included finally finding a thimble (after scouring all of my stores in vain for the past two weeks) and ordering DELIVERY pizza (which was delicious). No crazy antics or tales of horror.

Getting back was another story. . .Caught the bus with no problem and got to Szolnok on schedule. I headed into the train station to catch a train back Ujszasz, picked one that wasn't supposed to be a fast train or an intercity. Went to the platform. . .waited in the cold until it showed up (10 minutes late). Before climbing aboard, I asked someone on the platform if the train went to Ujszasz (just to be sure) and was told that it did, so I found a compartment and sat down.

I saw my stop coming up, so I grabbed my bag and stood up. Well, that train sure went to Ujszasz, but did not stop in it. Wha. . .??? When it passed what I knew to be the next stop, I allowed myself to freak out a little (and only a little) and called Emily who told me that I would be taking a surprise trip to Budapest this weekend. Geh? I didn't mind the extra train-time, but the kontroll has a nasty habit of requiring people have the correct tickets on the train--especially on longer distance ones--something about doing their jobs.

Not wanting to face the more than like non-English speaking ticket-man alone, I called Hajni. . .wasn't so much in the mood for proving my independence that night. I explained the situation and was told how to say "I got on the wrong train" which I never really mastered. Not thirty seconds after I hung up with her, he knocked on my compartment door. I put on my dumb-American face and told him I didn't speak Hungarian as well as what I'm pretty sure were only fractions of other phrases I know even distantly related to my situation. By about the third time I said something related to the fact I don't speak much Hungarian and am an American teacher, he kind of started laughing and told me "Igen. Eterm. " I pulled out my phone and handed him over to Hajni. After a few minutes, they hung up, the man turned to me and announced "okay." Umm . . .okay what. He gestured for the ticket I did have and punched it like you would any normal, correct ticket and began furiously typing numbers into the little machine they all carry. After a bit he showed it to me and said "Keleti. . .Ujszasz. Keleti. . .Ujszasz" ---the trains I could get back from Budapest to go home.

At Keleti, I rushed to buy my ticket home and found the lines at all the desks were incredibly long. So I tried the little kiosk ticket machine. The first try must have been programed somewhere else because it spat out a ticket to . . .somewhere (luckily only 300 ft), but my second go got me the correct ticket. The schedule said my train would be at platfrom 11. The train at platform 11, however, was going to Mohac. . .even I am not dumb enough to get on that one. At 13, there was a long, red train (none of Hungary's trains are long and red) which was going to Arad, Romania. The schedule said it should also work to get me home. To be safe, I put on my best dumb American face and asked the conductor who told me that it would indeed stop in Ujszasz (I made sure to clarify). So, I climbed aboard, figuring it was either home or Romania that night. (A little unrealistic. . .home or szolnok maybe)

I was a little nervous at first on the train ride home. The train did not stop at all sorts of towns. . .bigger than Ujszasz towns. Really, we go nearly 90 km and one of the three stops is Ujszasz. . .? 7000 people. The Kontroll came through to take the tickets (the same conductor that I asked earlier) and he told me Ujszasz was in two or three stations (he said three in Hungarian, two in verybroken English--I think he mixed numbers). To make sure I was okay, he told the two other girls in my compartment to make sure that the English girl does not go past Ujszasz. For the most part they didn't even acknowledge me, but as the train started to slow down, motioned that it would be the next stop. When they got up to smoke, one to told me that they would "look at the place and come back to tell." It turned out that three was the correct answer, so I waited longer. The girls actually went to ask someone to make sure I was in the right spot. The conductor-guy actually came and knocked on my window and gestured that i should follow.

As we were waiting for the train to slow to a stop, he even tried to make small talk in broken English--asking if I lived in Ujszasz (You? House? Ujszasz?) (I mean really, what is a single, non-Hungarian speaker doing going to Ujszasz at 8:30 at night?) I replied in broken Hungarian. He seemed impressed that I am a teacher. Even more impressed that I am from near Chicago (everyone knows Chicago. . .Illinois, not so much). He likes the Chicago Bears. He helped me with my bag getting down from the train and I said thank you and we shook hands and I started walking. As the train pulled away, he stood in the door and waved goodbye to me.

So, yeah. Kind of a lame adventure. Probably more detail than anyone wants to know. However, it was a good experience. It was kind of terrifying being in a a giant city where I knew no one around me and have to negotiate a busy station I had never been to before. (Probably the best place to be lost given the ration of English speaker in Budapest to the rest of the country and that, if necessary, I do know several people in the city who could have helped me.)

It was nice and reassuring to be taken care of so well by complete strangers who I couldn't exchange more than ten words with. From the Kontroll who took the time to look up trains and the girls who were willing to keep and eye out and risk really bad English so I would find my stop and the Conductor who took the time to find me and helped with my (really small and perfectly managable) bag. Everyone wanted to make sure that I got where I was going and that I knew how to get there. In a place where even asking a question at a store can be nearly impossible, these little acts of kindness added up.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week three

This week has gone well so far. . .a few new experiences to say the least.
I was talking to Ani about. . .something. . .and some how we got to the topic of the hobby groups in Ujszasz. There are typical singing groups and dancing groups, but also a embroidery group. I must have made a face or asked an extra question about it, because before I knew it, she said she would call them for me so I could join. . . .so I am now talking to you as the (by far) youngest member of the Ujszasz embroidery hobby group.
Because she had called them, I couldn't exactly back out of going, so Wednesday, shortly before four, I set off to find the cultural house. When I got there, I was quickly ushered into a small, bright room filled with maybe 6 or 8 women at least three times my age.
We gestured, mumbled, and pointed our way through 2 full hours. I learned about the different kinds of embroidery, they looked at some photos I had in my purse, and told me to come watch them sing at the City Day this Saturday. At one point, the lady I was sitting next to me starts showing me how to do a particular stitch forming kind of a line of fancy stitches--Zsinórhimzés--(like the name will help describe it in English--right) and then puts the piece of cloth (maybe large pillowcase size) in front of me. I kept missing something with it because as soon as I would make a move, she would grab the material from my hands and explain what I had done wrong in very labored Hungarian, of which I understood none. Eventually I got the stitch down and was left to continue. After a while of me concentrating on not screwing up her embroidery and lots of very fast Hungarian, my work was inspected and declared ˝super.˝ (soopair). I started to hand it back to her, but a series of labored gestures explained that I was to take it with me, work on it, and bring it back next week. . .homework from embroidery club. I am told that I am to bring a needle and thread next week and I will be given a cloth with a pattern on it to work on--I am guessing I will see a lot of handkerchiefs in my future.
Last night, I went to a teachers house to do an interview for the school newspaper. She had an English student about my age who she wanted to introduce me too--killing two birds with one stone. She picked me up a little before six and we walked to her house. Awkward small talk along the way. We talked about the weather. I said I had never been down this street before. I mentioned that everyone in Újszász has dogs. She said they are for the ˝burglars˝--read Gypsies ˝and they are nice. . .but is important to have.˝
Her dog is a Hungarian breed and is named Dyutcha and just wants attention and is adorable. When we got to her house, she showed me inside and gave me sandals to wear (no shoes inside!) and we sat down. She brought over some freshly made cinnamon-cocoa rolls and put the tea on. When Erika showed up, the interrogation began. Erika did not say so much--I think the teacher scared her a bit by speaking of my native abilities with English-ha! We talked about where I was from. They laughed at Normal. I think somethings got lost in explanation . . apparently I worked at a high school for a while ( I tried to explain that I coached after school speech) and Jon is working on his PhD (why be at school if you are not studying?). Oh well. . .I am interested to see the article to see who I really am.
I asked her to translate the flier the embroidery ladies had given me about Town Day and she translated. . .everything. Painfully everything. Town day is the celebration of Újszász being called a town instead of a village. From what I can tell, it is filled with folk dancing, community choirs and Sister City exhibitions and the Hungarian Idol winner from last year. . . should rate a solid mediocre. However, I was warned that the gypsies like ˝these types of things˝and I should be careful if I go. I do not ˝have to bring a gun or anything˝just be watchful. Still, I may go if I get bored enough or am desperately trying to procrastinate on creating lesson plans or cleaning my flat.
The English student, Erika, was nice enough. Though I think the teacher has dreams of us becoming BFFs. She can show me around the town, I can speak to her in English. I think we have a play date for some weekend in the near future. Who knows?
I also got into a long discussion/veiled argument with her husband who also teaches at the school. It was interesting. He seemed to understand everything I said--the teacher would only sometimes translate what I said, but would only speak Hungarian through his wife. He was fascinated with the idea of "teaching speeches" and wanted to know how it was done? do students read other speeches or only write their own?how is argumentation taught? do you use classics--Cicero, Socrates, etc? don't some people just have the natural talent while others lack all ability? He put all of his challenges behind questions and statements of how things are done here, hedging but also being very direct. I don't know what came of it. . .maybe he just thinks Americans have a weird hang up on public speaking. . .
I also think I may have overstayed my visit accidentally. Hungarians will never tell you to leave, so it's kind of a guessing game--don't overstay, but don't run away so early it is offensive. At one point she sat back and sighed and paused. I couldn't tell if this was an "okay, we're done now" or a "what comes next?" which she had done before. After a couple of these sighs, I made my exit and walked home around 8, threats of Gypsies running in my head--fruitlessly--I as I saw maybe one other person the entire walk home.

This has run on really long, so in closing here are a couple of really unintentionally sweet things my students have written while hating me (i.e. in the lines they've turned in as homework I give them when they speak to each other in Hungarian when I'm trying to get things done)

Q. Response to "You are in Love."
A. "I can feel myself walking above the clouds."

Describe your family.
"I like my family and they are love."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pilgrimages, Gulyas, and Belly Dancing

School has been going pretty well. I am beginning to settle into my classes and find my way around. My biggest challenge is creating lessons that match the abilities of the students. Some of them know rediculous amounts of vocabulary, but will not say anything, so I target them too low. Others have a good knowledge of some English from movies and music, etc, but do not know structure, so I place them too high. The most advanced classes speak nearly fluently--I will have to come up with some very difficult activities and vocabulary for them. . .maybe I will give them some of my GRE words. Right. . . .

The weekends have gone well so far. Many adventures and a lot of fun.

Two weekens ago, I went to Máriapócs to visit Tara. Briggi and I met her in Nyíregháza (about 40 minutes awasy) and walked around the town some. We walked past a musem that had a little of everything. . . some Picasso, Dali, more Durer than you can shake a stick at along with the requiste history of Hungary displays. After enjoying a lunch of gelato and Fanta, we headed back to Máriapócs for the night. We got there, oogled at Taras house--actually a duplex--with THREE bedrooms, two bathrooms, a new kitchen, and a garden (we volunteered her to host Thanksgiving (shes Canadian)). After a bit we headed over to the famous Greek Catholic church of Máriapócs. There is a paintin of Mary that weeped several times there. Actally, it is the place. The Austrians took the painting when they heard about it, but several years later the devoutnes of the town was so impressive that they were given a replica of the painting. Within a decade or so, the replica weeped. So it is a pilramage site. There was a pilgramage going on that weekend, so there were tons of people and lots of pomp and ceremony. A ways down the street, there was a festival going on with food and nicnacs and baskets and honeycake rosaries (which kids seemed more interested in eating than praying with). We walked around in the heat and sun before heading back to Taras for a non-too healthy dinner. The next day, we tooled around the festival a bit more, tried to drown out the never quiet church bells, and listened to the chanting.
Additional Lesson Learned: When riding long distances in the swealtering heat at a busy train time--spring for the extra supplement and take the air conditioned, spacious Inter-City trains.

This past weekend was also a blast (assume the week between was more or less what I described above).

Friday evening, the teachers at my school had a cookout dinner at the school. When I got there, Ani wasnt there, so I was a little nervous. Luckily, one of the other teachers who had never really talked to me was there and speaks pretty good English, a bit later, Ina showed up too, so I had two friends who could go past simple introductions. While salads and the meat were prepared, the desserts were just left out in the middle of the room. . .bad news for this girl. There were so many amazing things it would have been a shame not to try them all. I went into the kitchen with the intent to help, but instead was stopped by a normally quiet older teacher who declared ˝It is cold (it wasnt). You need drink˝. Before I knew it a shot of hazi-palinka (homemade) was in my hand. I smelled it and must have hesitated a little too long because my director came up behind me saying ˝no! all at one!˝ and demonstrated. Never a fan of shots in the US, my first shot was 1) In Hungary 2)at my school 3)with the principal 4)homebrew brandy 5)at 4:30 in the afternoon. Well, at least it is memorable. . .About 5 minutes later, a shot of honey palinka was pushed at me. Strong stff. But delicious. The director kept trying to offer me shots all night, but by then I had mastered saying no without a smile (maybe is yes, no with a smile is also yes). Dinner was wonderful with all sorts of fresh salad (a treat this late in the year) and chicken and bread. The only other note is my apple cobbler that I made for the party. Admittadly very ugly (the crust didnt rise at all), no one was really sure how to approach it. I just figured it was being saved for dessert, however when someone asked me what it was, I realized it really must be some bizarre American mystery food. Several teachers thought it was potatoes--others some kind of meat!

The next day, Tara, Briggi and I headed down to Szolnok for the Gulyas Festival (they had shown up the night before in unnaturally pleasant moods.) We met Emily and went to her famed second hand shop. I bought 2 shirts and a jacket (genuis me only brought a winter coat) for just over 1400 Ft. We headed over to the festival and walked around a bit before sitting at the main stage to watch acts which included
1) Traditional Hungarian dancing (no surprise)
2) Little girls doing the CannCann
3) Singing, dancing nuns who ripped off their habits and became rapping grandmothers (maybe an old womens´ exercise group--I prefer to believe they were real nuns)
4) Small childrend dancing to a german drinking song.
After a bit, we went to find Emilys boyfriend Tamás and Jeb. We ate delicious Gulyas cooked in a pot as big as a car and went for a walk where we discovered a mini Renessance Faire. Tomi started talkin to one of the groups about the weapons and we got a private sword (and mace and knife) fight show. For the rest of the afternoon, we just sort of hung out around the main stage, more of Emily and Tomis Hungarian friends came and went. We drank beer (Im not such a fan of American, but this is not so bad) and watched bad acts. Atilla ˝bought˝one of the belly dancers that were being auctioned off to raise money for. . something (even they didnt know what). Mainly she just sat with us and Atilla bought her a drink. After a while, the other belly dancers were done with their ˝masters˝and came to join our table too. . .four for the price of one. I dont know how it really came about, but when Atillas dancer was leaving, he talked her into doing a dance on the table.
We sat a while more, drank another beer and went to get dinner at Kassai, one of Emilys favorite restraunts. It seems to hold strong to the Hungarian theme of meat with sour cream, a startch, cheese wrapped in more meat. Nonetheless, delicious.

We took the train home and sat around and talked for a bit. (whenever I leave Szolnok, I always freak out that I am on a train going the wrong way becase the station turns me around so much. Even after checking the departure board and asking, I still was nervous--luckily it was the right train). In the morning, I fed them the rest of my banana bread--delicious, but after a week, I am glad to be done with it and we made a pancake breakfast. Hungarian pancakes are crepes, so having fluffy pancakes from a mix was a real treat.
After breakfast, we went outside. It was a beautiful day, one of the first that really felt like fall. We went to find the castle I was told was in my town. Sure enough, at the back of a somewhat dilapidated, but beautiful park, there was my castle. More like a giant mansion, but you know, I am sure that it was a stylish castle when it was built. I also have an empty concrete swimming pool in the middle of a clearing in the woods.
After seein Tara off, we went in search of the other castle (Yup, there are two!) but to no avail. We did see cows, free range chickens, and a very angry German shepard (behind a fence I wished was 18 inches taller).
After walking with them to the station, I sat around, thought about being productive and failed miserably. More to do tonight. On an upside, the rain that was supposed to happen all weekend held off until today. It has not stopped pouring, but better now than at the festival. Also, I am going to begin taking all of my weekday meals at the school! Talk about virtually elminating expenses!

So. . .that is that. . .much longer than I intended, but I am caught up. Into week three!
I think I will just hang around close to home to save money, plan lessons and relax. Maybe I will go down to Szolnok and go to Tesco or Cora with Emily. Exciting, neh?

Friday, September 12, 2008

There may have been corn puff in my soup today

Okok. . .lets try this again. I had the majority of the message typed out before the weekend and it all disapeared. So. . .shall try again.
I am half way through the second week of school here and I am beginning to settle into the routine, I suppose.
School opened last Monday with a school opening ceremony. Many schools have their ceremonies on the weekend before school starts, go on for several hours and require the students to wear uniforms or suits. Our director isnt such a fan of this pomp, so the students and teachers just wear black bottoms and a white top. The students line up by class in the ceremony hall and all of the new teachers stood on the platform (four others and myself). They opened with the most dirge-like national anthem Ive ever heard. The director said a few words and introduced the new teachers. Im not really sure what was said. I just stepped forward when I heard ˝tanár amerikai.˝
Classes went well overall last week. Many of the classes had much less English than I was told they would, others have studied English for 14 years. Most are very talkative.. . .threatening homework seems to work nicely to curb that though. As does confinscating phones, mathbooks, and sandwiches for the rest of the hour. Even having to write 5 lines for homework was treated like the end of the world.
Had a few minor mishaps last week. My internet went out three times in one day. Gyouri fixed each time before finally rolling his eyes and declaring ˝Crazy computer. New router.˝ and replacing the whole router. My computer still didnt connect, so I brought it to him. He fiddled for a while, called Vista stupid (I agree) and it worked. Getting back to my apartment, my key would not turn in the door. Back to school I went. One of the other English teachers helped me translate to the secretary who sent over a couple of maintaince men armed witth several screw drivers, pliers, wire, and WD40. After fiddling with the lock unsucessfully for about 5 minutes, they sprayed WD40 in the keyhole, fiddled a minute longer and kicked my door which promptly creaked open. Told to wait a minute longer, they went to get something and came back with a whole new lock! As an added bonus, my gate, which I previosly could not close all of the way now will both close and lock. (Everyone has gates here and fences around their houses. The director told the teachers before me to always close the gate so the gypsies would not steal their bikes. They said they would lock them on the porch. The director said it did not matter--so long as the gate was closed, the gypsies would stay out. One more note on the different perceptions of property and privacy, I guess. While I dont know about the theiving potential Ujszaszs gzpsies, I still find it very interesting.)
Last Wednesday, Ani and I went to Debrecen to attempt again to register with the police. The office was on the complete otherside of town, so it was a treat just finding it. When we finally got off the bus at the end of the line, there was nothing but tall fences and barbed wire. . .we were by the largest refugee camp in Hungary. Eventally, we found the registration office. One of the secretaries had told me that I would not need a passport photo to register. . .I did. Having left all of mine at home, we set off in the 95 degree heat to find a photo shop. An hour later we returned, filled out the paperwork, and applied. I got the residence permit--now am a legal resident of Hungary. Yay!

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Scary Part is in Like 20 Minutes

Well. . .so far, so good.
Surving the weekend, we are into the first day of school.
On Friday, Ani took me to the police station in Szolnok to register. Unfortunately, in the good Hungarian manner, the rules have recently changed and no one was alerted. So-- at some point this week, we shall go to Debrecen, a 2 hour train ride to register there. It was a good opportunity to just talk to Ani. She told me about Dori, her daughter who goes to Emilys school in Szolnok and her 11 yerar old son who ˝pobably isnt smart enough to get in.˝
When we got back, Ani showed me around the school. The director (who claims to not speak English, but seems to follow everything perfectlz) heard that my internet was not working, he fiddled with my computer for nearly half an hour trying to fix it (to no avail). A bit after I got back to my flat, I found a note from a previous teacher that said turning the router on and off in a room behind the teachers lounge often fixes it. I set off to find Gyuri again. When I asked an assistant director where he was (his English matches my Hungarian, so this is a real treat), he said he had gone home. Before I could say anything else, the Assistant Director had called Gyuri and he was on his way. He actually came from home (granted 2 blocks away) to fix my internet connection for the weekend! I was very ratefl for this as it allowed me to prep lessons and call home.
Friday night, Emily called and invited me to Szolnok. I managed to order a train ticket in butchered Hungarian and headed the 20 km back to Szolnok. She showed me her old flat, which she is in the process of moving out of--which is both very nice and directly across a narrow street from a prison. Eventually, we met her friend Petra, a Hungarian teacher at her school and her boyfriend Tomas for dinner. Although it was delicious, Hungarian dishes seem far from our definition of healthy--turkey stuffed with bacon, cheese, and mushrooms:-)
Tomas and I chatted as we walked and Emily ran to the ATM. He told me my boyfriend must love me very much to let me go so far awaz and asked questions about school salaries that seemed kind of close. At orientation, we were told that the Hungarian language is very forward (there is no word for please, for example, except in the most formal, almost graveling of sitations). What is said is often very blunt, but is often simply translated from Hungarian. Something to get used to, I suppose. It was just interesting to see so early.
There was a festival that night along the river, so we went, sampled wine and (at Tomas´ insistance) watched a Doors Cover band (which we were reminded time and time again is a TRIBUTE band.) Anyway, let me assure you that you have not heard the The Doors until you have heard a Hungarian cov--tribute band attempt. Tomas insists it was wonderful, Emily and I are not so sure.
Saturday I spent bored around the flat. . .beginning to unpack, etc. . .I really need to give the place a good deep cleaning. I am saving this for bored weeknights after school. Right. . .
Yesterday, I met Ani again, for what I thought was going to be lessons in using the electronic gradebook. However, it turned out that this is the first year thez are required to use it and she didnt reallz know either.
That afternoon, I headed to Szolnok and went to Cora with Emily. That afternoon, we went to Petras for dinner. . .I forget the name, but delicious--sort of a saugage, potato, onion stewy thing. I even ate the coleslaw. We sat outside and talked and drank wine. The more people that showed up, the more Hungarian is spoken, the less I understand. Nonetheless, it was nice to sit outside and enjoy the evening.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My first day in Ujszasz

Well, a day into this whole adventure and I have survived so far. Fair warning though--this Hungarian keyboard and I are not good friends yet, so excuse any typing errors.
Újszász is. . .small. Emily wasnt lying when she said my town of 7000 would feel like less than Heyworth. The school I am teaching in is really nice. It is freshly painted and updated and each teacher has his or her own computer at the desks in the teachers room. We can get lunch for free every day in the cafeteria, which so far hasn't been that bad. HUGE servings though. Potato casserole with sausage and boiled egg and a chicken and noodle type soup and always bread. I can eat there for free during the year--supposedly breakfast and dinner too if I ask in advance.
Ill have about 21 or 22 classes each week--often seeing them only once each week. Classes here are divided into grade and then letter according to what they are training for--college, railway, logistics (Transport), etc. Those letters are often further divided into advanced and beginner. I'll have at least a couple of classes who have never had English before, which was told probably wouldn't happen. . .should be a challenge, no?
My contact teacher Ani is a very soft spoken lady who has a daughter taking an English proficiency exam in budapest tomorrow and who loves Johnny Cash and western movies. We went to register in Szolnok (15 minutes by train) today with the foreigners' office, but they changed the rules and now we have to travel to Debrecen, over an hour away next week. On the way back to school, she pointed out several of the little shops along the way. She says that there is a farmers' market tomorrow morning, so I may go try to find it.
The rest of the teachers are all so nice and patient--willing to combat my lack of Hungarian with very strained English. Apparently my letting Ani introduce me at a teachers' meeting yesterday was a good step. One of the assistant principles jokingly asked my marital status (watch out, Jon.) only to receive a good scolding from the school director. When he found out that I liked to bake, he told Ani that once a week should be enough :-)
My flat is amazing. It is attached to the school and has both the internet and cable tv. . .I have a feeling CNN International and I will become very good friends this year. The ceilings are really high and there are giant (and new) windows. The kitchen is a little small, but is more than enough for me. The livining room is giant. . .furnished with 2 twin beds, two desks, a cabinet and some chairs. I found a note from a teacher before that said she had turned the beds into a couch (they are very low to the floor). The biggest problem I had was the internet going out. Last night i could use AIM and Skype, this morning nothing. After trying to fix my computer to no avail, the director actually came back to school from home to re-set the router for me when I found something saying that that sometimes works. I am so grateful he was willing to do that. It's not like I need internet all the time, but it is nice to know that I can call someone at home if I need to.
Tonight, I think I might go down to Szolnok to avoid sitting home all day. I was supposed to have an interview with a teacher for the school newspaper (ha!) but that has been moved. I should unpack, I suppose, but I will want something to do after school one night. . .justification for procrastination. . .almost seems legitimate.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm here!

So. . .after being here a week, I guess it is about time that I start this all.

Save for the airport losing a bag of mine, the trip went as smoothly as it could have. (The bag showed up late the next night, so all is well).

Overall, Budapest has been absolutely wonderful. The other teachers in the group are from a real mixed bag of places and ages--from a 70 year old retired school teacher (and member of Sinn Fein) to folks in their 20s looking for an adventure (and escape from grad school for a bit)--some of whom decided to do the program like 2 weeks ago.

The first few days, we sort of just explored the city--nothing too touristy, but fun all the same. Visited the mall. Bought cheap gelato (which is EVERYWHERE). Played chuchu (foosball) and didn't suck too much. Finding out I'm much more happy with European beer than American--which is good being that pubs seem to be a prime social place.

Orientation has been a whirlwind. We are in classes from around 10 until 6 at night that are all jampacked with tips and advice. We've been given history, cultural differences, teaching tips, and a crash course in survival Hungarian. . . while I've mastered the most basic of the basics language wise, it will still take some serious work to become comfortably independant with it.

I did, however, have an unintentional conversation in Hungarian. In the grocery store, an old lady came up to me with a package and asked a question pointing to it. I started to say "I don't speak Hungarian" which starts with Nem or no. I got no farther than that word and she said "Nem, oke" and walked away. I guess it was a yes or no question. . .whatever the answer was, it became no. . .

Last night we took a "stroll," which led by Brigi became more of a hike up the hill to the Citadel. Although it was quite the stroll, the views from the top were wonderful. By the time we finally got to the top, the city and the bridges were lit up beautifully. . .too bad I have no batteries for my camera.

Tonight, we have a closing dinner at a Hungarian resteraunt before our schools pick us up tomorrow. I've been told great things about my flat and my town, so I am pretty excited to see it. . Then in just a few short days the school year will start. Once I get Skype set up in my flat, people should be able to call the local number ( a 309) and have it ring through to my telephone. . . and since incoming calls are free. . .I hope to hear from you!

I know this hasn't been the most cohesive message . . .perhaps I should have started blogging earlier to avoid a general rush of everything. Regardless, I'm having a great time and am excited to see where I'll be living for the next year.