Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hol Van a Mascka? (Where is the cat?)

So about three weeks ago a local family bestowed one of their kittens upon Reagan. (Much to my surprise). There were a couple of problems with this: a.) I was not sure if we were allowed to have pets. b.) We had no supplies for a cat. c.) It was covered in fleas. Upon discovering the fleas on the kitten I instructed Reagan to put the kitten outside. Surprisingly enough the kitten remained and soon became our outdoor cat. We named her Princess Buttercup (pronounced Preenceesss Bootercoop by the local children) and we kept a towel on the front step and a food bowl. The kitten was ours. This little mascka would come when we called it and it was sweet as could be.
Three days ago Reagan and I were headed down the street to go to the grocery store and Princess Buttercup was chasing us down the street, crying the whole way. She ran behind us for two whole blocks before turning back for home. So cute, just like a little puppy! When we got back from the store we called for her, but she did not come. Nor did we hear her familiar meowing from afar. I looked around and saw a shape in the road behind me. Sure enough, Princess Buttercup had been hit by a car and was lying in a puddle of blood. It's strange. We only had her around for a few weeks but I still keep looking for her each time I walk past our front door. Sorry PB... you were a good little mascka. Reagan will miss her very much. :(

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Adventures in Eger-land

Eger: A fairytale setting.

My friend Christie came for an overnight visit so that the three of us could go explore another town in Hungary. Around noon we set off for a town called Eger that is roughly an hour and fifteen minutes away from Szerencs. The train ride there was an adventure, with a change of trains in some unprouncable town in the middle of nowhere. Here is the snazzy conductor who helped us find the right train. Don't you just love his cap?!

When we arrived in Eger we hopped on a bus that took us toward the Centrum. Nearly every town in Hungary has one of these, and it simply refers to the city center, which is usually also the downtown. This is the site that greeted us as we stepped off the bus (see photo #2). Fall trees and a beautiful building in the background.

We headed toward the buildings and stopped to snap a few photos before descending down a steep flight of stairs in front of the building in photo #3. At the bottom there was a door built into the side of the hill and a sign advertising tours of the underground wine catacombs. Of course we had to go!

It was about a 30 minute tour spoken only in Hungarian of underground tunnels that were creepy enough to film Saw VI in. The walls were all wet and in some areas little bridges had been built to keep our feet out of the mud and standing water. The guide gave us a printed sheet in English that explained everything we were being shown.

After emerging from the chilly wine tunnels it was time to head down the cobblestone streets of Eger in search of some Forros Must, (proncounced: fourosh moosht), which is a mulled hot rose wine. It smelled divine and tasted like a mixture of nail polish remover and robitussin. NOT delicious. At least it warmed our hands!

Next we hoofed it up the hills of Eger to view the castle. This was one of the prettiest castles I have seen so far in Hungary. They are all preserved so well. This one was especially interesting because they had people dressed in costume roaming the grounds brandishing weapons and playing instruments. The costumed wanderers were kind enough to pose with us in pictures and even let Christie blow on their horn. It was very Narnia.

For dinner we went to a Hungarian restaurant that had finnom ennivalo (delicious food!) We ordered baked brie with cranberry garnish, greek salad, lamb goulash, baked eggplant with spicy mushrooms and peach chicken. It was quite delicious!

On the train back to Szerencs we had a random man with a flashlight help us find our way in the schedule. People are so happy to help! On our second train we made friends with a cute Hungarian guy named Janos (Jannie for short "Yannie"). He is also an English teacher and he lives in the same town as Christie. Now we have a new buddy!

The next day it was pumpkin carving time. We walked into town and visited all of the grocery stores to try to find a pumpkin (turk in Hungarian). Not a single pumpkin was to be found. Then the little neighbor girl that we had with us told us that her grandfather has pumpkins and he would give us one. Her grandfather lives right next door and his menagerie of animals wakes us every morning. Goats, roosters, chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats. Oh my!

So we went to the "farm" and selected a pumpkin. Perfect size, perfect shape, perfect color....gray? Yes. Not a single orange pumpkin in the plot. Instead it was a ghostly gray color unlike anything I have seen before. Odd.

At home I selected our longest dull knife (our knives are so dull they might as well be spoons) and went to work hacking away at the pumpkin. It turned out soooo cute! We put a candle in it and put it in the bathroom with the light off so that we could see how well it glowed. Adorable!

After that it was time for Christie to head back to her own town. Great trip

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back to Reality

Hello world! I have been out of touch for three weeks due to a jam packed schedule and traveling to Ireland, England and Budapest. My boyfriend, Brian, from America, flew out to Hungary on the 13th and came to visit Reagan and me in Szerencs for a week. He was nice enough to visit all of my classes and to perform his musical talents for the classes. The kids went crazy for him. They crowded around him every single time they saw him in the hallway and demanded his autograph. It was great. I am sure when classes resume after our fall holiday that they will still be talking nonstop about my celebrity boyfriend from America!

After being in Szerencs for a week, we boarded the train to Budapest and headed to the airport. We were on our way to Ireland to spend three days exploring the green hills and the city of Dublin. Ireland as predicted, was amazing. The weather was decent... rainy at some points and chilly, but it is autumn after all. While Brian recovered from some of his jet lag and slept in, Reagan and I went on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Dublin. I know some people are not a fan of these tours, but I love them. I think it is the easiest and most efficient way to take in a new city, especially in a new country.

We hopped off at the Guinness Storehouse, which is the original Guinness brewing site. It is an amazing tour, so if you are ever in Dublin I highly recommend it. The grounds of Guinness are enormous. They even have their own hospital! The interior of Guinness is very, very cool. You get to go to a tasting laboratory and sample the brew of the day, and then at the end of the tour you are on the top level where there is this great open area and a huge round bar. There you get a pint (for the adults) and a soda for the kids. Amazing!

Next up... a tour of the Museum of Modern Art and then the Kilmainham Gaol, which is one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Ireland. It has a very tragic history and it was amazing to see the horrid conditions that prisoners were forced to endure. Brian met up with us again at this point. After the Gaol we sat on the rest of the tour to see Trinity College, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin Castle, Dublinia, St. Patrick's Cathedral and a handful of other historic sites.

After the tour we went to see a Blues Brother revival show. It was a great ending to our first full day in Dublin. The show was quite funny and Reagan is now a big, big fan of the Blues Brothers. She is chomping at the bit to watch the movie.

The following day we went on another bus tour... this time a half day tour to the countryside of Bray. We wound along the coast and up into the hills of Ireland and ended at our destination point, the Powerscourt Estate and the Gardens, ( This was by far the most amazing garden that I have ever been to. Fountains, statues, Japanese gardens, a pet cemetery, rose gardens, fish ponds, and beautiful hills as the backdrop. Just look at the pictures! Ireland really is green!

That night we went to a traditional Irish pub for Irish grub, music and dancing. The dinner unfortunately sounded and looked better than it tasted, but the music was lively and the pub was as Irish as could be. Next stop.... London!

In the morning we got up and repacked our bags to head back to the Dublin airport. We took a short one hour flight across the water to England. We were going to spend two days in London before heading on to our next destination. We arrived at Gatwick, which unfortunately was not located as close to London as I thought it was. We sat on a bus for over an hour before we got to the tube station, where we had another 30 minute ride to our bed and breakfast. There we were greeted at the door by our friendly host, Daisy, who showed us to our rooms. The rooms were quite pleasant and clean, and Daisy was very accommodating.

After dropping off our suitcases we took the tube back into the main part of London to grab dinner and to take in a few sites. When we emerged from the underground we took in the grand sight of Big Ben lit against the night sky. It was lightly raining (in true London style), and it was pure magic. We just stood there laughing in the rain taking in this famous and wonderful sight. It was perfect. Then we set off across the river Thames to see the London Eye. If you have never heard of the London Eye, you should certainly google it.

This is such a fun attraction to visit. It is the biggest, most amazing ferris wheel that I have ever seen. Instead of being in cars, you are in capsules that hold 25 people and a full rotation of the wheel takes 30 minutes. You can stand or sit and get a 360 degree view of London. We did it at night which made it even more special. You could see Big Ben, London Bridge and numerous other landmarks.

After the Eye we went to dinner at a super cute restaurant around the block where we dined on soup, steak and amazing dessert. Then it was back to the b&b for some much needed shut eye.

Day two in London: We made a mad dash back into the city to reach Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. We got there promptly at 11, a full 30 minutes early for the "show". We watched the two guards that were stationed there march back and forth with military precision in their steps. The uniforms are great... black fuzzy tall hats and crisp uniforms. The palace and the statues in front of it are quite the sight to see. We started getting antsy when 11:30 came and went and all we saw were eight of the Queen's guards come by on horseback. Brian got on his phone and googled the schedule and we discovered in the fall that the changing of the guard only occurs on even days. We were there on an odd day. Bummer.
Not to worry! It was bus tour time! We went and bought our passes for a London tour bus and hopped aboard to take in the town. London is not quite as scenic as one would expect. The city is very dense and the streets are narrow in some places. The buildings seemed very crowded to me. I did however like the old apartment buildings with their brightly painted doors, and of course the typical historical buildings were all very majestic. It did not have the same charm for me that Budapest does though. Anyway, some of the sights we took in were: St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge and the Tower Bridge.

Our departure point from the bus tour was at the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a fortress that consists of a castle, prison, place of execution, arsenal, royal mint and jewel house. We saw where people were hung, a collection of the royal family's jewels, artifacts from the castle (amazing gold dishes that you could fit inside!), weapons and more Beefeater's guards. It was a massive structure. Quite impressive to say the least!
After the Tower we hopped onto a river cruise so that we could see more of the famous sights via water. On the River Thames is a huge battleship that has been turned into a naval museum. We went past the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, the Eye and numerous other sights. I have to stop and write about the London Bridge for a second. Were you aware that the London Bridge is not the bridge we all know and love with the amazing architecture that London is famous for? No. That is in fact called the Tower Bridge. The London Bridge is a plain brige with nothing on it. Just a flat bridge with a walkway. I know. It's shocking. Look it up!

After that we headed off to the main tourist area to get a bite to eat. We had dinner at a fairly swank seafood joint called, Fish. I ordered traditional fish and chips with mushy peas. Reg's had crab cakes and Brian ordered a tuna burger. Delish! Back to the b&b to pack, sleep, wake and catch the train back to the airport.

Travel, travel, travel. Tube, train, plane. The plane took us back to Dublin where we were to catch another flight to Budapest where we would wrap up our journey. Exhausting! We arrived in Budapest and found our way (via the metro) to our next hostel. Our host was a very charming man named Leslie, who basically handed over the keys to an entire flat and told us to enjoy. We will! It was late by this point so we decided to call it a night and head out in the morning.

October 23rd. This is a date with major significance in Hungary. It is their national holiday and it is apparently a day where Hungarians and skinheads gather in public places in Budapest and protest and demonstrate. There have been shootings in past years, so all quiet citizens of Hungary stay locked in their homes until the rioting has ended. Knowing this we decided to keep our adventures to the early part of the day and stay in safer neighborhoods at night.

We headed downtown to Parliament, which never ceases to amaze me. It is truly the most beautiful building I have ever seen. All of the roads were already being barricaded in anticipation for the riots that would happen that night, and hardly a soul was on the street. Nearly all businesses were shut for the day... including restaurants. We did luck out and find an amazing Italian place tucked away on a side street. Truly the best pizza in my life! The cappucino and chocolate cake was not half bad either!

After that it was time for yet another river cruise! We boarded a glass boat called the Danube Legend and got prepared to take in two hours of Danube sightseeing. The boat was roomy and full of people from all over the world. The people on the boat were the only people we really saw that day since the streets were empty! After the boat tour we walked across the bridge to hike up the "mountain" to see the Citadel. The Citadel, also known as Gellert Hill, is an long hike through woods to see various statues depicting moments in history. This is one of the most beautiful and striking historical sights in Budapest. The hike is well worth it. The view from the top of the hill allows you to see all of Budapest.

After hiking back down the mountain, night was falling and we decided to play it safe by not being in historical areas, as this is where the protestors were gathering. We headed instead to a nearby shopping center (stores were closed) to see a movie. What movie did we see? Why High School Musical 3 of course! Reagan was in heaven. Brian and I were glad to relax. Everyone was happy. After that we did a bit more sightseeing via a tram and then headed back to the hostel.

And this concludes our week long journey all over Europe! More adventures soon, as tomorrow morning we head off to Eger for the day with my friend Christie!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rants, Raves and General Musings

I find it very interesting the various ways that I am greeted by my students in Szerencs. Here is a list of ways that I have been greeted so far this week:
1.) Hello!

2.) Szia! (hello)

3.) Goodbye! (used as hello by the confused)

4.) Chocolem (I will kiss your hand)

5.) Good morning, miss! (said at all times of the day)

6.) Guten morgan! (by the students taking German)

7.) Shut up, teacher, hello! (by the very confused kids at Beckes)

Some of the students run up and hug me around the waist. Others sneak up behind me and poke my sides. Some linger shyly at the outskirts of the group until I speak to them. Many bring me treats... bits of food or random crap that I think they have found on the street. 90% of them have a rote question that they ask every single time they see me. These questions vary by four: "What is your name?", "How old are you?", "What is your favorite animal?" and "Where is Reagan?"

Since I have hundreds of students I have made them pose holding a sign with their name on it so that I could take their picture and memorize their names at home.

Here is my rave for the day. I was quite impressed with the language skills of two of my eighth graders today. While pretending to not understand the assignment or a word I was saying, they forgot for a minute and started insulting each other in English. One boy called the other a peasant. The second responded with "f*ck you smelly pig"! The first, "You are a foolish boy!". The second, "You are crazy and stupid!" I walked to the back of the room and congratulated them on their vocabulary. I said, "You have now saved me from having to cover the English lesson on insults. You have it mastered. Now do your assignment."

On to my next class, which is one of my favorites, but also one of my naughtiest. This is my fifth grade class and they are a bunch of rowdy little boys. The girls are all very quiet, but the boys love to torment me in a good natured way. Today we talked about advertisements in magazines and I gave them the information they needed to make their own. One boy drew a stick man with a very large.... part. All the boys thought that was soooooo funny. So I asked him to bring the drawing up to me. Then the boy got kind of scared that I was going to get angry. He set the drawing in front of me and the other boys were giggling in anticipation. I looked at the picture. I looked at the boy. Then I grabbed my blue marker and drew a large pair of shorts over the bottom half of the man. Problem solved. They all thought that was great. They will not get the best of me!!!

Here is my rant for the day. Racism is an issue that I have always had a problem with. My friends and colleagues know better than to use racial slurs in my presence. I have worked with, gone to school with, been friends with and even dated various races. Ethnicity is a non-issue for me. So it is really hard for me to listen to the ranting in Szerencs about the gypsies. When my students found out that I had pizza with the gypsy children, they were all in an uproar about it, telling me that the gypsies were dirty and no good. The boys in my fifth grade then informed me that they are skin heads and they beat up the gypsies, sometimes with bats and sticks. What to do? I can try to share my thoughts and feelings on the topic, but between the language barrier and their own overwhelming hatred, it feels like a lost cause. I wonder if that is what the gypsy children feel like... a lost cause. Is this really the best it's going to be for them?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lessons in Pizza

My internet has been down for two days, so I am playing catch up...

Last night Reagan and I walked to the pizza place to get dinner. We usually do this on Sundays, but Reagan was sassing me yesterday on the walk to the restaurant so I turned around and walked back home. Made her eat ramen for dinner. Hahahahahaha. So last night we headed out again. Right when we were crossing the street by the pizza place someone ran up behind me and grabbed me around the waist and squeezed me really hard. I turned around to see this little gypsy girl hugging me and smiling up at me. (She is the girl in the brown shirt in the picture). She goes to my school, but I do not have her in my class. None of the gypsy kids get to be in my class at Racozi, which is baffling to me since they are the most eager to learn. The gypsy kids here are what the mexican kids would be back home. Painfully poor and very much segregated by the community at large. I adore these children. I am amazed that everyone else can't see what I see when I look at them and talk to them.

So anyway, this little girl did not speak any english, but I indicated that we were going to the pizza restaurant and asked her to come too. She told me that she had to go tell her mother and would be right back. (Yes, my hungarian is getting good enough that I could understand her!) So we went in and sat down and then she came running back in. I asked her in hungarian if she was hungry and thirsty and she said yes. So I asked her if she would like pepsi and pizza and she said yes. Then I saw out the door of the restaurant that two more little children were outside and I pointed at them and asked her if they were her brother and sister. She said yes and I told her to invite them in. So the other two joined us. They were Szandi, girl age 11, Alvin, boy age 12, and Domi, girl age 5.

So we spent the meal with me speaking to them in whatever Hungarian I knew and they taught me a few words and then I taught them a bit of English. Domi was extremely shy and just kept peeking at us but would not say anything. The other two were chatty and friendly... very excited to be there. I ordered the largest pizza they had, which is not very large at all, a large salad and pepsi for all of the children. The woman who runs the pizza place was very amused, and quite pleased with how much my hungarian has improved since we started coming there. There were also two men in the restaurant who sat and watched us and listened to our conversation. I think they were trying to figure out why two americans were sitting there with a bunch of gypsy children.

The food came and I doled it out to the children. The pizza was only eight slices, so I gave each of us one and then the children split up the rest. I made all of them take a bit of salad as well. The kids devoured the food very quickly. It was obvious that they were quite hungry. After we finished I asked if I could come to their house to meet their mother. It was dark out by then, and they led us down a dark street in a very poor section of town. They took us into a unlit backyard where a group of teenagers and men were loitering. I felt like I was in "Dangerous Minds". I greeted the group in the yard as formally as I knew how, and they answered me with the proper formal greeting "chocelum", which is what men and children say to women. It translates to "I will kiss your hand".

Then the kids took me into their house. House is a term I use very loosely, because it was a two room shack, easily the poorest home I have ever been in or seen. There was a kitchen and a room that had three beds in it. That was it, the whole house. The father came in and I introduced myself to him, and he offered us refreshments. The hospitality is a form of pride in this country, but for me to accept anything from them would have meant robbing nourishment from their children's lips. They clearly did not have money enough to properly feed, clothe or support the family. I politely declined and told him I was the english teacher and that I wanted to meet him, but that we had to go to the store. So we said our goodbyes.

I know that the children had been embarrassed to show us their home, but I am very glad that they did. For one, it was a huge eye opener for Reagan. She finally understood how badly some people are forced to live. She has always been very open to people of all races, but now she sees the disparity in income and lifestyles that can come from the racial differences. She expressed her concern and gratitude after we left their house. Both of us were very glad that we had been able to provide a meal for the children. After all, we got so much more out of it than pizza.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lunch With Shania Twain

I am on intimate terms with Shania Twain now... or so it seems.

Today Reagan and I were picked up at 11:00 sharp to go spend the day at my student Aniko's house. Her father, (a painfully polite and quiet man who spoke zero English) collected us and ushered us into the car with impeccable manners. Then we were driven to Aniko's home where her mother, Susan, and brother Szalton were waiting.

We were given a tour of the house and then put into the living room where apple cake and beverages were presented. "No" and "nem" were not answer enough when pressed about the choices of palinka, champagne and some unidentifiable bottle, so champagne it is!!! Then we were led to the dinner table where a spread of food fit for a party of 25 was beautifully arranged across the table. Two kinds of chicken, pork, salads and potatoes were offered. Of course in typical Hungarian fashion, the portions we served ourselves were not enough and Susan snatched my plate from me and piled on more. "Eat! Eat! You are in Hungary! Eat!"

After lunch we were taken back into the living room and Susan went outside to a basket on the porch where four squealing kittens were huddled together under a mop bucket. She brought one inside and the kids delighted in holding the squeaking bit of fur until all hell broke loose out on the porch and the other kittens revolted and went searching for their lost mate. One kitten took a wrong turn and tumbled off the porch into a muddy puddle below. Mind you, these kittens were 3 weeks old and were not even old enough to be held by clumsy children's hands, let alone forays off into the wilderness. Time to put the kitten back?

Then we were taken upstairs, where for 3.5 hours we were shown a very odd picture collection that the children were keeping of Shania Twain. Hundreds of photographs of Shania had been clipped and placed into shoe boxes and stashed around the room. What made this even worse was that we were asked by the various family members if we had heard of every single song of Shania Twain's, and then they proceeded to show us every single song of hers on You Tube. Once was not enough for the small boy. He needed to show us his favorite songs two or three times on the computer, and then again on his cell phone.
The next treat the kids had lined up for us was to have us autograph several dozen of the Shania Twain photographs with our names. Because we are American that makes us almost a country star.....???? At least pick a country star with a good voice and fashion sense! I mean, come on, seriously? Shania Twain? Put away the leopard skin stretch pants and crop tops. We know, we know.... you feel like a woman. But you look like trailer trash!

After the 3.5 hours had passed and it did not seem like Shania was going to get a well deserved vocal break, I told Susan that I had an exam to take and we needed to get back home. It had been 5.5 hours since we had arrived there and I was not certain what was going to happen next. There might have been an upcoming collection of the Spice Girls and I wanted to avoid having to hear lyrics that involved "zig a zig and say ahhh".

The family led us back downstairs and filled a huge grocery bag up with food for us. Then they brought out a large lovely gift bag and presented it to us as a present. Inside were two beautiful baskets full of chocolates and a bottle of wine from a local winery in Tokay.

This family is the sweetest family that ever existed. They were very proud to show us everything that they knew about America and to encourage our feeble attempts at speaking Hungarian. We had a lovely time with mom, dad, Aniko, Szalton and Shania.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sign Me Up!

Well, as predicted not a day goes by without something happening. This something happens to be a great something. When I got into the car this morning Adrienne informed me that the school received a phone call yesterday from a school in a town 50 km from Szerencs wanting to know if they could hire me to teach English. They want me to come several days a week and teach at their school as well as the other three I am teaching at. This would mean a second salary and a private driver to and from the town. Sign me up! The second salary will be a big help financially since my resources are running dangerously low, and it will also be a nice time filler. How cool is that?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Uneventful Day

Today was drama free and highly uneventful. Only a few things to make note of:

1.) The electricity was out in our town again today. This makes for a fun bathroom experience at school since the bathroom is a windowless cubicle that is pitch black when the door is shut. Adrienne had to be my "door girl" while I used the facilities and then I swapped favors. We are bonding.

2.) I met with a government official that speaks English so that he could help me publish an ad in the town newspaper to advertise my tutoring services. Hopefully I will get a good number of pupils to help fill my afternoons and weekends.

3.) A student approached me with a plastic basket on her arm today with a cover on it. "Look Miss Lawrence"! Inside was a huge hedgehog that she had caught out on the playground. Apparently these run wild here...??? Interesting.

4.) The townspeople go all out when someone gets a minor toe surgery done. We had two visitors yesterday dropping off food. A huge
bag of fruit: bananas, apples, oranges, peaches and lemons. And then a lovely apple cake from the other neighbor. I love this little town!

Other than that I have some fun pictures of my students that I took this week. I'm sure something random and crazy will happen tomorrow.