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.