Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
We arrived in Kosice around noon and set out to find lunch. Funny, but the first sign that we saw upon exiting the train station was a billboard for McDonald's. Reagan was very excited by this and begged me to take her there for some "normal" food. So we hoofed it to Mickey D's and I got this great picture of my favorite Slovakian word.
Then we took a walk to the other end of the main street area, looking in shop windows and snapping more pictures. Next thing we knew we were being confronted on the sidewalk by a very ticked off police officer. He yelled at me in Slovakian and got out his ticket pad. He kept asking for something, but it wasn't one of the 20 words I had written down on my sheet of notebook paper. Something told me he wasn't asking what flavor of ice cream we wanted. Then in English he asked for our passports. Ummmm.... what? How did he know we were foreigners??? Who told!!!! So with my heart in my throat I fished our passports out of our backpack and handed them over. He proceeded to start writing a ticket out on his ticket pad. Seriously? Seriously! Is this going to happen in every single country I visit? I handed the camera to Reagan and tried to get her to take a picture of me getting yet another ticket, but she was too scared to do it. From what I could gather (considering that I do not speak Slovak) we had crossed the street against the light. He wrote 2,000 on a pad of paper and held it out to me. This was about four times as much as I had pulled out of the ATM. I gave him a look like "are you crazy???". He put a line through the number and wrote 500 next to it. Then he circled it. Are we bargaining? Do I get to write a number too? He shoved the ticket and our passports at me and demanded that I pay the fine. Sigh. All of my money gone. It took us two hours in Slovakia to go broke.
The next day Reagan and I got up very early for two reasons: 1.) we wanted to get as far away from our hostel as fast as possible (it was the scariest, grossest place I have ever been in... we slept with the lights on) and 2.) we wanted to see how much fun we could pack in before our train left for the day. We grabbed a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs with onions and toast stuffed with ham and cheese, and then climbed on a bus that took us way up into the hills. There I accidentally had us get off on the wrong stop, but as serendipity would have it, the "wrong" stop was actually at the base of a trail that you could hike into some beautiful hills. So off we went.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Anyway... moving on to more important things. I am officially sick and tired of teaching my classes the Cupid Shuffle, so by the time my fifth class rolled around today I decided to take the whole class to the ice cream shop instead. We all got gelato cones in various rainbow colors and then I gave them their assignment for next week and dismissed them for the day. It's kind of nice not to have any ground rules.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
So I decided to order a pizza in Hungarian and special order it.
You all have experienced my "special" ordering in restaurants, which usually consists of me making a list of ingredients and having the server determine if my special request can be cooked or not. I have not done any of my "special" ordering in Hungary because my language skills are so inept. But for some reason I got brave. I ordered a medium pizza with sajt, sonka, gombas, hagyma and zold borso. That would be cheese, ham, mushrooms, onions and green pepper. Only not. I screwed up the pepper part. Instead of green peppers I ordered green peas. Oops. Sigh. So close.
Then we decided to venture over to the grocery store to stock up on a few staples, but lo and behold Sparrrrrr was closed. Of course, it is Sunday after all. So we went across the street to the yucky grocery store, Penny. We don't like Penny. Their meat coolers have blood all over them and the selection there is not good. We picked up a few random items, primarily junk for Reagan and coffee for me, and went to the checkout line. Our checker got us all checked and showed me the total. I handed over my credit card only to have her shake her head no. Huh? The sign on the door said that they accepted all credit cards. So I started pointing at the door and she started scolding me in Hungarian. Ummm.... nem? She came over to the door and pointed at a hand written sign that I am going to assume said that the credit card machines were broken. Denied.
So we checked our groceries back through and then we had to play hide and seek with them through the store returning them to their shelves. Oh the joy. Just another day of ticking off the local Hungarian folk. Happy Sunday!
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Well, last week the lesson planning was easy because I basically did the same unit in all 22 of my classes. I brought in the dvd of The Cat's Pajamas (my boyfriend's group) and my students watched bits of the video and then wrote fan mail to the Cat's. (1st and 2nd grade just got to watch and dance). My students were wildly enthusiastic listening to the awesome styling of my favorite cruise ship group. They were also really excited to know that my boyfriend is a musician and that he would be coming to meet the students in three short weeks. The fan mail they wrote was very cute, and I captured one of my first grade classes dancing to "Mustang Sally". Next week I am going to have them learn an American group dance (you know, the kind of "line dancing" you would see at a wedding). I will definetly make a video!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
So apparently the zoos across the world have a different philosophy on safety than the United States. Reagan and I took the train to a town about 40 minutes away called Nyiereghaza to visit the zoo that they have there. This was by far the coolest zoo I have ever been to. The enclosures were very, very large for the animals and the layout of the zoo and the vegetation there was beautiful.
Regarding the safety issue... none of the enclosures had safety fences or trenches in front of them. None. If you want to, you can touch any of the animals at the zoo. Lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, monkeys... It is entirely at your own risk, and you are expected to have the good common sense NOT to touch the lions, tigers and bears. Oh my!!! The cool thing is you can get right up close and personal with all of the herbivores and touch animals that you never thought you would be able to touch. On the downside, we saw a three year old almost get his arm taken off by a tiger.
Bonuses: actual toilet paper in the bathrooms, super fun little kiosks all over the zoo selling cotton candy and other carnival treats, a play area with ring tailed lemurs and monkeys, fun farm animals that reminded us of home.
Drawbacks: scary signs posted everywhere with pictures of maimed hands, goat poo on our shoes.
An excellent time all around!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Okay, so I have tired of trying to trace backward over all of the days I missed due to lack of internet, so I am going to write about today and yesterday instead. Yesterday Reagan and I were shuttled off to Miskoc to finalize some paperwork with the immigration office. It had something to do with my landlady and getting paid, but I was not able to get any more information about it than that. So we went to a depressing immigration office that reminded me of every welfare waiting room that I have ever seen in a movie, and we sat. And we sat. And we sat. Over an hour later we were ushered into a room where official looking men and women had on uniforms with little scarfs knotted at their throats. Very intimidating. I was pushed into a chair by Adrienne... cougar that she is... and they began all rattling away together in Hungarian.
Then Adrienne asked me for a number of things that I did not have. Specifically a different passport photo than the Triple A office had given me back home, and our passports. Prior to leaving for this trip I had asked Adrienne if I needed to bring anything and she said no. I asked "Are you sure we don't need our passports?" Nem. Okayyyyyy. Now there she was asking for the passports. It did not matter anyway though, because apparently half of our paperwork was wrong or missing as well. The immigration officials then informed Adrienne that if this is not cleared up by the 22nd, which gave us 4 business days, we would be deported permanently back to the United States effective immediately. Sooooo.... we will find out tomorrow if my school cleared everything up. I swear, I was put in the most backward inefficient town in this country.
On a different note, my students were quite funny today. I had them watch a dvd of my boyfriend's band and then write "fan mail" to the group. Some of them grasped the concept, and others wrote letters that only make sense to them. Ah well.
My night ended with my first aikido class. Yes, I was asked to join an all male aikido class that is held every Tuesday and every other Thursday. I am game to try new things, so I agreed to come. I showed up dressed in a tank top and yoga pants, and the master wanted to know where my gi was. Ummmmm..... I guess that did not make the cut when I was trying to stuff 10 months of my life into 3 bags.... not to mention I do not own a gi.... They let me into the gym anyway. I was the only girl along with about 15 men/boys. The ages ranged from 6 up to 50, with most being my age. Three of my students were in the class, a first, third and eighth grader. The first and third graders were excited to see me, but the eighth grader avoided eye contact.
I was then led through an hour and a half of pretty brutal full on contact. The men were literally flipping me head over heels onto the mat. Chops to the throat, piercing pain on pressure points that dropped me to my knees, pinning me down and bending my limbs until I cried uncle. It was great! I'm totally going back next week.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Still Playing Catch Up...
On our first Saturday in Szerencs we were invited to a party at Adrienne’s house. Her father was turning 60 and she kindly opened her home up to Reagan and me. We arrived at her home with a bottle of wine as a present for her father, and were led to the back patio where they had three grills going and a multitude of culinary options. Chicken, pork, shishkabobs, and grilled veggies were all blazing away on the barbeque. The table was set with a number of salads. Now I should mention here that the salads in Hungary are nothing like salads in America. Picture every salad at every meal you ever go to resembling coleslaw. Swimming in sauce or pickle juice. They do not do the fresh veggie thing here. It is very unhealthy and very foreign to me. I can take stuff like that in small doses, but I simply cannot eat platters of cabbage and pickle juice.
We were instructed to sit down and eat. Apparently the other people who were there had been eating already. Her father had not arrived yet, but one of her sisters was there, along with her boyfriend. Reagan and I sat down and had a bit of chicken and some of the “salad”. There was also a bowlful of tiny biscuits and a tray of drink choices. We finished eating, and all of a sudden they brought out three different desserts and insisted we try all of them. So we took little dollops of each and sampled them. Then Adrienne’s father and mother arrived, along with her other sister and her husband, and their grandparents. At that point about ten more dishes were brought out and everyone started eating again. There was catfish in a red oily sauce, potato pasta cooked in cottage and sour cream, the shishkabobs made an appearance, grilled veggies, and cake. They insisted we try everything… and here we thought the meal was over. Adrienne just kept telling me that Hungarians love to eat and we just had to get used to it. So much food and sugar! It is no wonder they are all moaning about their weight and the number of kilos that they want to lose! This is simply not for me. I don’t eat unhealthy food like that, and I don’t eat all day long, and I don’t eat those kinds of quantities. So unnecessary!
Adrienne also insisted that I drink this horrible raspberry honey schnapps, even after I told her I don’t really care for alcohol. She insisted. Poured the drink into a goblet and shoved it in my hand. So I politely sipped the nasty fire water and then tried to hide my glass behind some other junk on the table. Reagan and I were both in panic mode at that point wondering when they were going to stop making us eat and drink. They are so welcoming and gracious, but so pushy and bossy as well. It is difficult to be polite and refuse. I don’t know what the boundaries are yet. It is so hard to determine what is the right thing to do!
Laszlo and the Cauldron Dinner
Sunday, day four of Szerencs. Today I woke up feeling trapped, depressed and unable to crawl out of bed. These are not normal feelings for me, so I blamed it on the fact that we did not have access to the outside world because of our lack of internet, and the major inconvenience of our toilet still being broken. Did I forget to mention that? The fact that we had to walk over a mile into town to use the facilities was becoming a bit of a problem for me. Our house was smelling like raw sewage and we were having to time our bathroom activities to our forays into town. Reagan and I spent most of the day moping around in bed watching movies on my computer until I finally got up, showered and we headed into town to do a bit more walking around and to find some lunch. We visited the castle grounds again, and walked the full length of the downtown, as well as the outskirts of Szerencs. I would say we put in about five or six miles total. Then we decided to try to find some lunch, except every place we went to was closed.
We stepped inside of a pub for Reagan to use the bathroom, and I inquired in halting Hunagrian to the customers gathered in there where the nearest open “etterem” was. Not a single word of English in the house. However, they were determined to help. One man pulled me over to a map on the wall that showed all of the streets in town. He used gestures and pointing and showed me a restaurant that looked really far away. Then he mimed out the motions for driving. I shook my head and did a little walking thing with my fingers to show him we were on foot. So he shook his head and let me know it was too far. Then he took me by the arm and led me out of the pub and down the street. We used my book to introduce ourselves to each other, and I learned his name was Laszlo. I was able to tell him that I am an American teacher and that I would be teaching at the Rackozi school. He got very excited about that and tried to ask me a bunch of things that I did not understand. Then he walked us to the other side of town (about a mile and a half), and showed us a little pizza place that was open. “Koszonom, Laszlo, viszlat!” (Thank you, Laszlo, goodbye!)
The pizza place ended up being amazing and I deciphered the entire menu while we sat there. I now know the words for all the different pizza toppings. Yay me! After lunch we had to hurry back home to change for the Opening Day ceremony. Adrienne was going to be picking us up and we had to dress up for the ceremony. On the walk back home we ran into Laszlo again and he wanted to ask me something about being a teacher. I thought he was asking me to tutor him, but I was not sure, so I called Adrienne to translate. It turned out Laszlo wanted to hire me to teach his daughter English. Adrienne made arrangements with him to call her back later in the week so that we could set things up. Very cool! I will have my first student soon!
The opening day ceremony ended up being very much like an assembly at any American school. Songs, readings, etc. Pretty exciting considering I was made to sit by myself and did not understand a single word. On the way back to the car we were told by Adrienne that we were invited to this family's house for dinner and that we had to go. We walked into a random backyard and there was a cauldron half full of brown sloppy looking stuff with leaves floating in it. I told Adrienne we had just eaten pizza two hours before that and we were not hungry, but she insisted on putting (and I am NOT exaggerating) about two pounds of this gnocchi type pasta stuff with sour cream and cottage cheese in it on my plate and then ladeling three heaping ladlefuls of the brown slop on top. I hefted my overflowing plate to the table and gingerly began to pick at the food.
Needless to say, it was an interesting experience. They also forced me to drink some local wine that tasted like liquid sugar, and then set a crate of grapes next to me and insisted that I eat those as well. Sigh.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
On day two in Szerencs we were picked up early in the morning by Adrienne and Fanni and we went to the school that I would be teaching at. I thought that it was the ONLY school that I would be teaching at, only to be informed that I would be teaching at three different schools, and one of them is in the next village, which is a 4km walk one way. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to walk, however walking two and a half miles one way, carrying a laptop bag and a change of shoes is not my idea of fun! Especially once winter hits… So yes. Three schools, grades one through eight. Two towns. One girl. Ta da!!!
After touring the school, Reagan and I were left to amuse ourselves for the rest of the weekend. From what I could tell the town does not have much of anything to do in it. Limited shops, restaurants and entertainment. But what the heck, I am game for amusing myself, so we decided to hike into town and see what kind of fun we could find. We walked the mile and a half to the downtown and began wandering in and out of the shops. For starters, let me just tell you that things are extremely expensive here. We went into two different toy shops, and their Barbie dolls were around $30 dollars each. Food is the same. I bought a cucumber that was $4, and fabric softener that was $12. They really need to get on the Euro. Like yesterday. Second, all of the signs and everything are in Hungarian. No surprise there really, but what surprised me was how very little the people spoke English. Virtually not at all. Lucky for us I carry a little translation book with me everywhere I go, so I was able to point out words to them and communicate that way.
We walked the whole length of the downtown, which consists of many gelato shops (that also have coffee… real coffee, not the crap we serve back home), a few different pubs, and various shops that were similar to American convenience stores. The town also has a public swimming pool, which is indoors, and a mineral bath. The bath is warm water, and people go there for its healing powers. At the bath they also have a salt cave, where the air is pure and is supposed to cleanse your lungs. I don’t know how I feel about the bath. You all know how weird I get about public swimming pools. Hair, band aids, kids peeing, etc. It all grosses me out.
Next stop, the castle. The castle is fairly small, but well preserved and quite beautiful. The grounds surrounding it are immaculate and are covered with walking trails, benches, flower gardens, and a pond that has a pier and lots of fish and frogs. It is very, very pretty. The castle gates are always open, and inside of the castle there is a small information center, (where they do not speak a lick of English), and in the upstairs part there is a library. We headed into the library to see if they had any books in English. A long shot to be sure, but what else did we have to do? So we went up to the front desk and asked the ladies there if they spoke English. Panicked looks came over their faces and they all shook their heads no. So I got out my little translation book and pointed at the word for book, which is konyv, and the word for English, which is angol. One of the ladies nodded and led us over to a shelf in the back of the library where they kept their books in English. I would say there are about fifty books on the shelf, and it is a very odd selection. Ninety percent of the books are classics: Twain, Dickens, Kipling, Steinbeck, Austen, Shakespeare, Poe, etc. The other ten percent are a grab bag of crap that they must have had donated to them, such as five books out of the Sweet Valley High collection.
So I picked up “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger (another fave), “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” by Charles Dickens, and a bilingual copy of “Just So Stories for Little Children”, by Rudyard Kipling. Reagan picked out a hodge podge of books and we headed back to the front desk to obtain our library card.
Since the ladies at the front did not speak a word of English I had to mime out us checking out books. I showed them my name and the address at the school and kept pointing at myself and saying the word for teacher, which is “tanar”. They nodded and then with worried looks consulted each other. Finally they conceded that it would be okay for me to check out books. They gave me a card to fill out, and through the use of my translation book we figured out what needed to be written on it. Then they mimed to me that the books would be due in 3 weeks. Success!! Our first business interaction with Szerencians!
After that we decided to go home for awhile and then come back into town later that night for dinner. We went to a pub that was open and had outdoor seating. It was around 8:30 by then, so lots of people were inside the bar, the smoke was thick, and the “townies” were lounging about wanting to see and be seen. The outside tables were crowded with people a bit younger than me and the teenage set as well. They kept coming and going on mopeds and motorcycles. We opted to sit outside with them, rather than face the billowing clouds inside the pub. In case I did not mention before, everyone smokes in Hungary. Everyone. There really is no age restriction on when it is okay to start, and earlier that day we had seen a little boy around the age of 8 or 9 professionally chuffing away on a cigarette outside a store. We were floored by this, but it is really quite normal.
We managed to successfully order hamburgers, sans mayonnaise and cabbage, please! Then we went outside to eat. Aside from a stray dog joining us for our meal, there was really nothing else eventful to report. Another day done in lovely Szerencs.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
So I have had to be absent from blogging, emailing and basically all forms of communication for the past two weeks due to lack of Internet access. I will try to pick up where I left off… this is going to be super long. On Thursday morning, Reagan and I waited in the lobby of the hostel along with all of the other teachers, for our school contacts to come and pick us up. It was a little bit unnerving, I must admit, waiting like that and watching the other teachers leaving one by one to start their new adventures. Around 11 o’clock our host teacher, Adrienne and her daughter, Fanni, arrived in a hired van to drive us to Szerencs. Adrienne and I had been in touch over the summer, and she was kind enough to answer questions ahead of time for me about the school. She was very businesslike when she arrived, ushering us out the door in a hurry and telling us what to do. I have since discovered that this is just the way things are done in Hungary. Their language is more blunt and matter of fact. Foreigners often think they are angry when they are talking, when in fact they are not. It is interesting to observe the differences in Americans and Hungarians. The body language and tone of voice is completely opposite.
Szerencs is a three hour drive from Budapest, so we had plenty of time on the drive to get to know one another. Adrienne and I have quite a bit in common. She is 35 years old and works two jobs, plus goes to the university to get her degree. I think her schooling is comparable to mine, and what she is working on would be like a master’s. She is a single parent, and Fanni rarely sees her father. She also has a boyfriend who works in another country, although in Europe another country is like being in another state. They see each other every three or four weeks.
About an hour into the drive we pulled off at a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. It was a buffet that the driver recommended. When we went inside, the man at the register showed Adrienne what everything was, and she explained it to us. There were many trays of meat, desserts, soups and pickled vegetables. Not a fresh veggie or piece of fruit in sight. Everything was swimming in a sauce or brine, and most of it was unidentifiable. Adrienne pointed at the first soup, “Goulash”, the second soup, “cow stomach”, the third soup, (and here she stopped and started to stammer…), “it’s how you say… the cock, his male parts, the cock’s male parts, that is what is in the soup”. Ummmm….. excuse me? No. Nem. Uh uh, no way.
So Reagan and I dined on all the other stuff at the buffet. Not the best, but not the worst either. Nothing to drink but soda, and not diet either. Now those of you that know me well, know that I have a very strict philosophy on beverages in general. I will never drink in calories what I could instead eat. I will not waste 180 calories on a coke, when I could instead eat a granola bar. This is a non-bending rule. You have all seen me turn down about a million glasses of juice, hot chocolate, beer, wine, soda, etc to avoid the empty calories. Now I am stuck in a country where every meal is punctuated by endless offerings of calorie and sugar filled crap. Every place you go, they whip out the two liter bottles of coke and fanta, (warm I might add… ice and refrigeration are foreign concepts here). You are obligated to accept. To refuse would be rude and an indication to your guest that you are unhappy with their offerings.
Then we arrived in Szerencs. I must admit, I was both excited and terrified to see our new home. We drove through a very small town, comparable to Fort Atkinson, and turned onto a street called Szabadsag. This means “liberty” in Hungarian, and it was actually one of the few words that I knew. It had to be a sign right? I mean, it was a sign, technically… but a sign that this would be a good start? Here’s hoping… We drove about ¾ of a mile up the road and stopped in front of a cute little house that was shaded in the front by two big pine trees. The front doors were wood and the windows were a metallic gold glass. The house was guarded by a swinging red metal gate that had to be unlatched to get into the house. I was already impressed, because I had thought we were going to be placed in one of the communist style apartment buildings that were dotted around town.
We were met at the door by a representative of the school, and she showed us our new home. We went inside and the front room is a large space with a couch, dining room table and a television on a stand. To the left is a large bedroom, nearly as large as the one I had back home in my condo. To the right was a smaller bedroom with a futon in it and a desk. The bathroom is divided into two rooms, a toilet area with a sliding door, and the rest of the bathroom which has a sink, shower stall and a washing machine. No dryer. Driers are rare in Europe. Everybody hangs their clothing to dry it, so of course tucked away in the corner was a drying rack. The kitchen is set up alley style with a counter, sink, and small stove. At the end of the alley is a small pantry and a refrigerator that is the same size you would see in a college dorm room. There is also a microwave and a toaster.
The school rep then showed us how to light the burners (gas stove requiring us to put a match to it), and attempted to light the oven but could not figure out how. Sooooo…. I guess we do not need an oven. Then everyone left us alone to get settled in our new home. We thought that we would venture into town to see what was open. The nearest stores and restaurants are about a mile and a half to two miles away. No problem really in the warm weather. So we walked. It was easy enough to find our way back into town. There really only seem to be a couple of main streets. The problem is, things close down very early in this town, and every place we stopped at appeared to be closed, in Spar (the Hungarian grocery chain, pronounced “Shparrrr”). We ran into a group of teenaged boys on rollerblades and I asked them if they spoke English. This apparently was hilarious to them, and they kept us standing there getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while they made me say Hungarian words and then laughed at my bad accent. Ugh. Bratty teenagers, same all over the world.
After a few minutes of teenage abuse, Reagan and I excused ourselves and went into the only open store “Penny”. This is like the el-cheapo grocery stores back home…Aldi? Super yucky selection. We settled on a package of spaghetti noodles and Bolognese sauce. Then we walked back home, cooked the food, watched a movie, went to bed, yadda yadda yadda. The only thing to report beside that was the fact that our toilet did not flush. Correction. It technically flushed, but nothing left it except the water. Toilets are different here, and ours is especially archaic. Hard to explain. More on that later. Soooo…. That was day one in Szerencs!!!