Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bolodog Nevenapot

October 11 is the most important day in Hungary. Actually it isn’t but it is an important day for me, because it is my (Briggi) name day. It is like a second birthday, when you bring cookies and cakes, and people give you flowers, gifts and good wishes. My name day was very happy, although a little bizarre.

Earlier in the week I met Etelka. She is another English teacher, who I had emailed with, but had been out sick. So shortly after I met her, she told me that on Saturday there would be a marshmallow roast, and would I like to go? Being tantalized by the prospect of marshmallows and in a yes-mood (which gets me into trouble, see the Hike of death in Gyula.) I quickly agreed to go. “Good,” she said “because Lozsi (our principal) wants a teacher from our school to go, because it is on school grounds and our students are invited.” I paled slightly “Ummm…there aren’t going to be any other teachers there?” I queried. “No, I can’t go, and it is a reunion of an English camp” she replied. So I got the language camp co-coordinator’s phone number and was told the time and place to show up, and that of course it was OK if other American teachers came. I quickly SMS-ed a bunch of teachers, using the same bait with which I had been caught, asking them to come.

Most people had plans or emergencies, but luckily two awesomely cool girls, Lauren and Lyla from Budapest did show. I baked them cookies as a thank-you. The three of us, armed with a basket of chocolate, cookies and Bolero vitamin juice tromped off to school. There we waited. And waited, and waited. I saw two of my students walking by our mini campfire and us; they glanced at me and ran away. Then Elteka and the Eger co-coordinators showed up. Turns out they were a religious group who ran the camp out of their church in Eger. It was interesting to chat with other native speakers, and Vivi, another student showed up with her mother. There was awkward conversation and smores for a little longer, then the two boys showed up again, and Vivi and the two boys conversed, and the conversation remained at a semi-awkward level. About half an hour later the students had gone, and the people from Eger had decided to follow suit. Etelka had only stayed about half an hour or so. So Lauren, Lyla and I were left alone on the abandoned campus with the remnants of the fire and the directive to wait for the groundskeeper so that he could lock up.

We did the most natural thing to do when one is stuck on campus. We checked out the dozens of random abandoned tractors that decorate my school’s campus, took strange pictures of each other and ordered pizza. I am a pizza ordering addict. I will admit it. So when time came to order the pizza, without a menu, I could recite about half of the types of pizzas from memory. Another sign that I order pizza too much, is that when I called they asked for my name, and when I replied “Briggi” (which is a Hungarian name), they knew the street, number and floor without my prompting them. After our pizza in the park of the school grounds, we left and walked to my flat. Having nothing else to do that night we did a pub crawl of Heves. All three pubs that I know of, two of them thanks to a facebook message from Jeremy. Unicum, which up until now I had been calling the red-shutterd kocsma, is hopping on a Saturday night. In fact it is crawling with my students (which we realized after we ordered), who all harassed me on Monday because they saw me drink a beer.
The girls and I sang and danced under the chestnut trees, because the gazebo reminded Lauren of the Sound of Music. We also called one of Andy’s buddies that we had met the last time I had been in Budapest, who promptly scolded us for not calling him before 9pm, and told us that next time we were getting together to give him warning. Chastened, the girls invited him to hang out next weekend with them in Budapest.

The next day we chilled out, made French toast, drank fake kir royals and watched oodles of French music television. I also conned Lauren into cutting first my bangs (which I can not do, because I do not have a mirror) and then into cutting my hair. I love it. It was all in all a strange and relaxing weekend.

The sad lament of Finom Oscar

All that was left was a bloody sploge, some feathers, and a couple of choice inedible organs. This was all that was left of Finom Oscar on Monday morning. The No was devastated, now who would she chase down the streets of Heves, his ruddy orange feathers gleaming as he ran? Who now would protect her from rabid bugs on her way to school? And when she had had a bad day, who would she yell “you will be soo tasty one day” to? Only a month into life in Heves, and Finom Oscar was by far her favorite chicken.
But the gruesome death of her favorite chicken was only the beginning of an extraordinarily strange week.
During the week she began to put two and two (hopefully incorrectly), and is vaguely uncomfortable with the 11-D police class. Training to be policemen, the class is dominated by boys, boys who stare at their American teacher. Not the ‘I’m bored, stop speaking to me in this language I don’t understand’ stare that she gets from most of her classes, but a new and disconcerting one. They smile, and stare while they smile. L from BP suggested that the No should report them to their Homeroom teacher. However, the No has nothing concrete to report, no evidence that they tried to lift her skirt or pin something on her, just that they stare at her. This is not a reportable offence, because in Hungary it is not an offence at all. Men stare at women all the time. In fact, the No catches Attila and whom she thinks is the 11D homeroom teacher Zolika staring at her all the time. Perhaps they are just being friendly, like when one of the quieter and dignified 11 D students (who never smiles), popped into a classroom, gave the No a giant goofy grin and waved then ran out again.

They also may just like their American teacher because a few weeks back she did not bail out on the Stork day. Storks bring new things, so in Hungary they half welcome and half haze incoming ninth (and in our school seventh) grade students on the stork day. It involves public acts of humiliation and is run by older grades. Our school does things a little differently; they also haze the new teachers. Surrounded by a crush of students and some other teachers, the No was swept towards the gym. However she was stopped by a number of her 11D students, who were in charge, and decorated with eyeliner on her arms. Suitably resembling an artist’s canvas, she walked into the packed Gym, and was informed that she would be singing a solo of Madonna’s version of American Pie. Not knowing the lyrics, the No instead gave a slam poetry style recitation of ring around the roses. The students did not get off so lightly, and ran egg relays, swore oaths while standing on one leg, and had to pack into ‘nests’ that were so small that they had to hoist the lightest student on their shoulders just to fit. Giggles and smiles dispensed with, the Stork celebration was abruptly over and everyone went home.

The rest of the week the No awkwardly dealt with weeping students in two classes. Her pin-curled hair trying to eat anything not moving fast enough, watching Chicago in three of her classes, made applesauce out of a giganormous box of apples another teacher gave her, gobbling sweets from a package one of her awesome cousins sent, and added to the lies about her imaginary boyfriend/husband/roommate/buddy/mortal enemy Joe.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Attack of the Rabid Slugs, chickens training for sprints, or where are my classes?

This week, the weather turned frigid, and the No still suffering from hill-rolling related rashes on her arms, shuffled around her unheated apartment. Only the third week of September and already she was wearing a third of her clothing at any one time. The rainy conditions brought out the slugs and snails. On her Monday journey towards the school, the No resembled a Russian ballet dancer, as she jumped and skipped around avoiding attacks of rabid and blood thirsty slugs.

The third week in, and the No still got lost on the way to her classes. It is not that she cannot find Room 108, or 224, but for each class there are three different possibilities in her schedule. The fourth and fifth weeks were not much better, and the No has heard that because of a returning teacher, everyone will get a new schedule as of November 1st.

I have visited Budapest both of the last two weekends; the first for a wine festival in a surrounding village and the other weekend to visit friends. Budapest throws into sharp relief not only the difference between the city and country life, and also the changes in myself.

When first landing in Budapest from Minneapolis one of the first things I notice is the complete lack of skyscrapers screaming competing to be the first to pierce the sky. There is more sprawl, but as most of Budapest was built at the turn of the nineteenth century the buildings are ornate and short. Coming in from the country four weeks later, I am overwhelmed by the busy pace and my inability to see the sky. Buildings looming overhead, and the multitude of neon creating a false dawn mess up my internal clock and make me feel claustrophobic.

One of the other big changes that I notice is the amount of English spoken. When arriving in Budapest, it seems as if there is very little I could understand and getting lost as the streams of language swam heavily past my uncomprehending ears. Now returning after living out of the city, I am almost queasy with the amount of English being spoken. Everywhere I go I hear tourists and expats, trying to listen in to all of their conversations makes me dizzy and my head hurt.

However probably the biggest difference is that I have yet to see prison-breaking chickens running sprints down the streets of Budapest. Nor have I seen tractors causing traffic jams, or public transport beeping at sheep and cows to move them off the road. While Heves and its surroundings may not be heart-stoppingly beautiful like Gyula, or breath taking like Budapest at night, the little things warm my heart.


Chaotic beginnings aside, the weekend was lovely. Most of Friday, Johnny Walker and I skipped lessons in order to register in Eger. There, while waiting for the necessary new stamp in my passport, we found Tara. Together we rode back to Heves, and the geography teacher, after scolding me for not calling my colleagues when Tara was lost, showed us which bus we should take to Szolnok.
Cups of tea and scoops of ice cream later, we packed up and hopped on the bus. Emily, laughing at our bus antics, met us at the station.
That night T and I met some of Emily’s friends. We just chilled out, and I was kissed on the hand by some old guy, but in retrospect, at least he let go of my hand right afterwards, unlike the last guy who kissed my hand.

At the festival the next day we watched nun/rapping grannies and small children dancing to drinking songs. Later we met Jeb and Tomi. Together we ate a plethora of Gulyas and wandered through the stalls. Tara and I had a hill-rolling race, and although I won the battle, I lost the war. I rolled the fastest and the farthest, but Tara managed to find the section of the hill without stinging nettles and poison oak.
Later we met up with Attila, who ‘bought’ a belly dancer at a ‘slave auction’ for roughly $5. Despite only buying one, our table managed to collect all of the belly dancers, and Attila convinced one of them to dance on our wobbly table.
After the slave auction, a singer preformed old, and according to the Hungarian speakers, cheesy love songs. It was pretty fun, and Attila and I danced, because neither Emily nor Tara would dance with us.
All too soon the festival was over and we were whisked away to Ujszasz and J’s place. The next morning awesome J made us banana bread and pancakes. We wandered, found a castle, which had been converted into an old-folks home, and went back to J’s for lunch. Sitting on her kitchen floor, eating thick sliced bread covered in various condiments and Hungarian sausage, was peaceful and delicious. Then all too soon had to catch our respected means of transportation home.

Heves – a passionate little town that no one can get to by bus.

I, the No, have a love/hate relationship with the bus. Mostly I hate it, with its sweaty riding, the inability to get up and walk around and go to the bathroom, the gimlet glares if you bring out a roast chicken and palinka (all of which are perfectly acceptable on Hungarian trains). So when I discovered that the train station is way outside and on the other side of town, but the main bus terminal lies tantalizingly just a minute up my street, I thought I would reconsider my old enmity.

So I bleary eyed left for Mariapocs, early one Saturday morning. I’ll admit it; I would not have looked forward to the five-hour journey even on a train. It went smoothly enough, I gracefully switched onto a large comfortable bus in Kalpona. I made it to Nyrighaza and other than an intense need to use the loo the ride had gone well. I met J and T and we wandered through Nyrighaza and later through the beautiful pilgrimage town of Mariapocs. We watched weary pilgrims process past us, and listened to the chanting of the faithful.
But all too soon our weekend was over, and it was time to face the beast…otherwise known as Public Transport in a Foreign Language.

Earlier in the weekend I got the beep beep of a text notifying me that I had less than 300ft on my phone, but had not found a place to recharge it. So, 5 hot and sweaty hours later on the bus, I should have not been surprised by the fact that I missed my stop.

I knew that I was supposed to get off in Gyongyos at 6:23, so at about 6:10 I began to look for a bus terminal. 6:23 came and passed as we stopped at small stops, but I was not too worried, as the bus had been 15 minutes late, and so I gave it a couple extra minutes. Then we passed the TESCOS, and I knew there was trouble. In my previous stay, I had visited Sara in Gyongyos, and we had walked to the outskirts of town and gone to the TESCOS, so when I saw it, I knew we had almost left Gyongyos.
In a panic I turned to the guy behind me and asked where the Bus terminal was. He replied that we would be there in about an hour. “The Gyongyos terminal?” I asked. “No the Budapest one”

Frantically, I texted Emily for help. She saved me on the phone front, which allowed me to call everyone I knew in Budapest asking if they knew if there was a bus back to Heves. No answer, no answer, no answer….until finally a returning teacher, who I had met at orientation answered. He did not have Internet however, and suggested I call Hajni, our amazing program director. She was able to find two buses back to Heves that night.
Later as we got off of the bus, the man who had sat behind me, asked if he could help me find my way. Turns out he was a student returning to Budapest from a weekend at home, and he very kindly found the platform I was to wait at and walked me there.

So after my Budapest adventure, I was a little hesitant when T, was to take the Bus to meet me in Heves. I warned her of the Gyongyos stop, and was assured that she would not be going through Gyongyos, but would be arriving at about 9pm.

At about 8:45pm I got a phone call. “Are you already here?” I asked groggily waking up out of quick nap. “Nooo,” a faint voice called over the phone, “I got off at the stop, to change buses, but my next bus is not on the list at all. Do you know where Dekt is?”

Not having Internet, I could not help much. So as I called Emily, who knows everything, T called J, who had Internet, No longer a tri-fecta, we worked as a quadfecta trying to get our friend out of Dekt.

An hour and a half later of chaos and frantic text messages, our efforts to get her to Heves by Bus had failed. Our program director had found her a place to stay in Eger, and T had new advice for all CETP-ers trying to get to Heves: “never go into Dekt.”