Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scrape Me Off the Floor

No day is drama free in the lives of the wandering duo. Today we spent the entire morning camped out in a medical facility getting Reagan's foot operated on. (Badly infected ingrown toenail). First we went to the local doctor. His office was in a tiny room that had plywood tacked to the walls and stackable patio furniture for chairs. His desk, reception area and filing system were all piled into the same room as the exam table. He had Reagan sit in a picnic chair and show him her foot. Then he declared the case too difficult for him to solve and sent us to the "hospital" in Szerencs. On the way there I got yelled at once again by Adrienne for not having our passports with us. Seriously, she is getting on my last nerve with her mixed messages. First she tells me that I never need to carry it in Szerencs, then she yells at me for not having it with me. So we drove the two minutes to get the darn passports. Sheesh.

Next stop.... terrifying medical facility. We walked into what can loosely be described as communist and borderline third world. All of the tiles on the floor were cracked, ceiling and walls peeling and coming apart, flurescent lights flickering in and out, dirty chairs arranged in the middle of a dirty room full of dirty people. I wanted to take pictures to be able to accurately document this, but I thought Adrienne might start yelling at me again. Our name was called and we were taken into a room that instantly horrified me. The table was uncovered and had stains on it. There was a bucket of bloody rags and bandages under the table. The sink was grimey and in the middle of the procedure room were four desks shoved together where the doctors and nurses sat, ate and did whatever. The floor was filthy and had clearly not been cleaned let alone sanitized. There was plaster all over the place from casts getting set. The equipment carts were dirty. And on and on. It was literally the filthiest place I have ever seen. Yet this was normal. And the infection in Reagan's foot was so bad at this point that I was starting to fear that it would go into the bone.

Adrienne and I had to pin Reagan down to the table when the doctor put two needles into her foot. She was crying and screaming hysterically from the pain. I don't know what the doctor did, but by the time he was done with the two anesthetic shots, Reagan's toe was covered in blood. I have had this surgery before, and there was zero blood on my foot. It also did not hurt the way Reagan was hurting. I did make sure that the needle the doctor used was a fresh one, newly unwrapped from a sealed needle kit. They did not however clean the table or cover it, and they did not wear gloves. All they did was swab her foot with iodine.

Then Reagan had to lay there and let her toe get numb. Next thing I know I am waking up on an examination table in some other room with my feet being held in the air by one doctor, while a nurse lays wet towels on my head, and another doctor is slapping me in the face and yelling at me in Hungarian. Apparently I had finally abused my protein intake enough that my insulin levels got all out of whack and I went into insulin shock. The stress from worrying about the surgery for Reagan and seeing the dirty hospital caused me to put myself unconcious. A team of doctors had to carry me out of there and revive me in another (dirty) room.

While I was knocked out Reagan successfully had her surgery with Adrienne holding her hand. Unbelievable. Now Reagan is as happy as a clam with a giant toe swaddled in bandages, and I am frantically researching protein options to get myself back on track. I have known for a couple of weeks now that my hypoglycemia was getting out of control because I have had tremors in my hands that make it hard for me to hold things. Now I am carrying almonds with me everywhere I go.

Just another day in the life.... I will say this much though, the medical staff was very kind and did their job well. It just was not a sterile or sanitary environment to be practicing medicine in period.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Bit of Trouble.... A Ton of Fun!

Hello Slovakia!

Reagan and I ventured over the border this weekend to check out our neighbor, Slovakia. We took the train to a beautiful city called Kosice (pronounced Kassha). It is a two hour train ride from Szerencs. By the way, the train station in Szerencs is adorable (see picture to the left). These buildings are one of the main things that I love about Eastern Europe. They are quaint and the United States has nothing even close.

Anyway, Reagan and I got up early on Saturday morning and walked the 1.5 miles to the train station to catch the 8:47 departure. We had nothing with us but a small backpack with two shirts, toothbrushes, our passports and a bottle of water. We arrived in Miskolc (a city in Hungary that is about 37 km from Szerencs) and waited for our departing train to Kosice. I successfully purchased all of our train tickets, using the proper words for one way and round trip. The ticket lady did not look at me crazy at all when I spoke in Hungarian. Maybe my accent is getting better? We only got yelled at once during the train rides, and that was because we accidentally sat in the first class section when we had purchased second class seats. Whoops! The ticket checker was nice enough to let us stay where we were and did not drag us by our ears to the proper car with the other miserable second class travellers.

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.

After lunch we headed toward the square in downtown Kosice. One block in and Reagan and I were totally in love. The buildings were reminiscent of cozy paintings of romantic couples roaming the streets of an unknown location in Europe. Literally, every daydream I could conjure up in my mind about Europe was all balled into this one tiny strip of Slovakia. From the cobblestone streets to the majestic cathedral, I was head over heels.

After taking a number of beautiful photographs, Reagan and I decided to visit the wax museum that is right near the cathedral in the square. Don't get the wrong idea. This was no Madame Tussaud's. This wax museum was based on the historical and religious figures of Kosice since, well, the beginning of Kosice!

When we entered we were greeted by a woman who spoke nothing but Slovak (shocking!), and I was fortunate enough to have written down the right Slovakian phrases to be able to ask for two tickets and to pay her the proper amount of koruna. She then handed us two folders that had papers in them describing each wax figure. It was translated into English, but it was quite clear that a non native speaker of English had translated it. Interesting none the less. I found the history fascinating. Reagan on the other hand was quite creeped out by the glassy stares of the saints and royalty posed in menancing grandeur.

Next up was a visit to the musical fountains, which are a small, small scale of the fountains outside of the Bellagio. Speakers are rigged all around the park and the fountains put on a show to odd musical selections by such singers as Amy Grant, Celine Dion and Frank Sinatra.

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.

Anyway.... after that fun filled moment we walked away from him and when he wasn't looking I snuck back and took a picture of his car. Hahahahahaha!!!! Jerk. He probably spent it all on cappucino and girly magazines.

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.

We walked half a mile (according to the pedometer that I always wear), and we came to an observation tower. I love these things. Reagan had never been in one before, so we hoofed it up to the top and took in the beautiful view over all of Kosice.

After that we headed back to the bus stop and got back on the train to go to the zoo! Yes, another zoo where you can roam freely and touch animals that zoo keepers will not let you near in the US. I hand fed a zebra and held hands with a monkey. It was great.
After the zoo, Reagan and I headed back into the hills for an amazing bobsledding ride that went straight up and then winding down the hillside. It was great fun.... we rode three times! After that it was time to head back to Szerencs. We had a lovely time and we will look forward to our next visit to Slovakia.
Until then, dovidenia!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Take Off Those Crabby Pants

The past two days have been attack of the crabby pants at my school. The kids have all been teasing each other and acting squirrely in class. I have had to beg, plead and coddle the "niceness" out of them, and I must say it was exhausting. I think I had five criers in the past two days in my first grade classes. One of the criers was also a fighter, and spent the entire lesson smacking the girls next to him and avoiding eye contact with me when I scolded him. Finally I had to take a chair and put it facing the door and make him sit in it. All was well until I turned my back and he disappeared. I found him a minute later army crawling under the tables to get to the back of the classroom. Sigh. Little stinker. The funny thing is he is one of my favorites. He is so darn cute. (See picture.)

In other news, this student from my fifth grade class at Boyai has invited Reagan and me to come to her house to visit. I gave her my phone number so that her mother could call me to set up the visit, and before I knew it the kids had all passed it around and copied it down. For the past two days my phone has rung nonstop. I do not use my cell phone at all unless it is to call Adrienne or to receive a call from Brian, so I just shut the darn thing off. It is a major annoyance. I don't even know how to set up my voicemail because all of the instructions are in Hungarian. I wish I had never even got the dumb thing. And now all of the elementary school children are going to be calling..... great!

So.... tomorrow morning Reagan and I are setting out for our first venture outside of the Hungarian borders. We are taking the train to Kosice, which is a city in Slovakia. Lo and behold, the language is once again different, so I have spent the past hour looking up necessary phrases in Slovak so that we can communicate once we get there. And by necessary phrases I mean: hello, goodbye, bathroom and ice cream!

This should be interesting. Don't worry, I have sent my itinerary to Brian in case we disappear. However, I think all will be well, and I am taking a camera with a newly charged battery to document our fun. All we will be carrying with us is a small backpack with toothbrushes, change of underwear and a shirt, money, passports and a notebook. If all goes well you will be hearing about it on here Sunday night. Until then.... Dovidenia! (Slovak for "goodbye")

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Put More Clothes On and Pass the Gelato...

This morning my flat was approximately 97 degrees and the temperature was rising. I was sweating while I blow dried my hair. Yuck. This caused me to dress in clothing that was suited more for summer than the fall weather we are having, but man I was roasting! I put on a skirt that went right below my knees, a short sleeve shirt and sandals. I also brought with me a hooded zip up in case I got cold. Boy oh boy did I get lectured when Adrienne came to pick us up. "You are not dressed well enough. You will get sick. You should have socks on and be smart about the weather." This went on for the entire drive to school until I finally said, "You know, Adrienne, you don't actually get sick from being out in the cold, you get sick from bacteria and viruses in the air." That shut her up.

However once I got to school I discovered this was not going to be just Adrienne's issue. I got stared at by all of the staff and several of the teachers approached me and touched my bare legs and commented on the chilly weather. This is coming from women that wear see through white pants with black thongs every day along with their Dudley Moore hairstyles. You are commenting on my clothing? Seriously?

I got the last laugh when the weather cleared and it turned out to be a sunny, gorgeous afternoon in the high sixties. So there. Na na na na na.

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.

Speaking of gelato... the gelato shop that we frequent has the most to die for cake selection ever. There are beautifully arranged and prepared and are super inexpensive. You can get a slab of sugary heaven for about 150 forints, which is roughly 90 cents in American money. So strange. I am really loving this whole currency conversion thing by the way. Every single day I have to see what the dollar is being valued at. Every single day it changes. It seems to always be roughly within 10 - 15 forints of what it was the prior day, but it throws me when I am trying to figure out what I would be spending in American dollars.

Anyway... back to accounting homework. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Random Ponderings

Today I learned several things:

1.) The electricity will go out in the city only on the days when your fridge has been freshly stocked and when your lesson plans are dependent on the use of your laptop... which does not have a freshly charged battery.

2.) Week four is the week where the kids feel comfortable enough to greet you at the door with their most favorite American swear words. Today I got greeted with "Shut up teacher, you motherf*#ker!" (Said with a cheeky grin and anticipation of coming praise). Praise NOT given.

3.) My daughter is a boy magnet. At least five boys professed their love to Reagan today. Yippee horray. I told them that I was the only person who got to draw a heart around Reagan's name. Back off you little hooligans.

On another note... I took a bunch of pictures in Szerencs today until my battery died. (Apparently it was a day for dead appliances.) I wanted to capture some of the gardens in Szerencs before the cool weather killed everything off. Szerencs is a gardener's paradise. Every house has a garden in the front of flowers... typically rose bushes, marigolds and zinnias. In the back is where the food gardens are kept. Sweet looking little vineyards ripe with fresh grapes, tomatoe plants and many other vegetables. Fruit trees grow in abundance here, and it is not unusual to get smacked in the head by a plum as you are walking down the street.

The other thing that is in abundance in Szerencs is the stray animal population. Reagan and I counted about eight stray dogs and cats on our walk from Szerencs to Beckes today. There is not a single day that goes by that you don't see a handful of stray kittens, puppies, dogs and cats roaming the streets. Some are friendly, others not so much. All are covered in fleas and ticks. It is pretty heart wrenching. We have learned through trial and error that it is usually best to stay clear. Even the cutest dogs can have a mean bite. Kind of like men..... Hahahahahaha!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Most Important Lesson They Will Ever Learn

Today my classes learned a very important lesson on American culture. I taught them how to do the Cupid Shuffle and I taught them the meaning of a verse, chorus and hook in a rap song. My seventh grade class moaned and groaned their way through the lesson. This is what I anticipated, since they are just wayyyyyy too cool to do anything like dance in front of each other. Then my second graders were just wayyyyyyy too ADD to concentrate for more than five minutes on the dance (and no, they did not get the verse, chorus and hook portion of the lesson). My fifth graders on the other hand absolutely loved it!!! They thought this was the coolest thing ever and they not only mastered the dance, but they insisted on having dance offs with each other. All was fine until the teacher next door came storming in and yelled in Hungarian for a full minute and then stormed out again. Whoops. Apparently my shufflers were a bit too loud. Oh well, I get to play dumb whenever anybody gets mad at me because I don't speak Hungarian!!! Hahahahahahahaha!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pizza and the Big Fat Denial

So Reagan and I went out for pizza today, which has become our Sunday tradition. This is the one thing you can get in Szerencs... since there are no restaurants. Just this one pizza place that is 1.5 miles from our flat and a bit out in the country. The pizza toppings are a bit different here than they are in the States. Ham is the big meat, and they put it on everything. Pepperoni does not exist, instead it is some kind of salami.

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

Shake It

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

Pet At Your Own Risk

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

Deportation and Sweaty Men

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

Party Like You Are Hungarian

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

Catching Up Part Two...

Library Cards and Hamburgers

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

Catching Up

Catching Up

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!!!