Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey is for the birds

The No's heart pounded as she joyfully ran from class, out the door, out of school and onto the first bus out of Heves and to her second CETP Thanksgiving of the week. Jumping on the bus, bag and basket balanced precariously she reflected on the similarities of her baggage between this Thanksgiving trip to Budapest, and the one on Saturday to Ujszasz.

Saturday in Ujszasz was low key. Morning bus into Szolnok, where the No wandered the brand new and exciting AutoBusz station before meeting Emily and Tomi and catching a taxi for ujszasz. Margie, Jamie and Emily the major cooks of the lunch outshone themselves with an amazing feast. And the next day Tara and I ate bagels with Cream Cheese.

Thursday in Budapest was a tangle of maybe 45 Americans and Hungarians. Chatting, food, wine and occasionally dancing were also great but not particularity low key. Our hosts Ellen and Jake were warm and amazing as always. There were people the No had never met, and enjoyed meeting, in particular Angry Balint, and people she had not seen in a long time.

Like many Americans, the No ate too much, and has reflected on what she has been most thankful for this year. Dramatic and disastrous as it has been, with many small problems, one thing has remained constant and that is the love and support from her friends. This was never so evident as in Lauren and Lyla's post-T-day care of the No, who spent lots of Thanksgiving upset at the world. Even after her return to Heves, they checked up on her, and invited her back to BP for a relaxing and fun weekend, including renaming ourselves at bowling and tossing me my forgotten pan out of their third story window.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Concetben

5:30 rolled around on a Monday night and in the middle of east Enders, my doorbell rang. It was one of my neighbors upstairs picking me up to go to a concert at the music school.

She introduced herself as Maria, and reminded me to shut off my lights, close my closet door and grab my jacket. We walked out into the pitch-black night, and there in front of the block of flats, was a tiny little car. My knees hit my chin as I squeezed myself into the front seat. Before I even had time to buckle up Maria, who by the way is well over 60, was off like a shot. Knees at my chin, and being pushed back against the seat by the velocity of our break neck speed, our conversation was stilted, mostly because I did not want to distract her, and restricted to my 6 or 7 pat phrases in Hungarian.

The concert was lovely, and the entire row I sat in consisted of more of my 60+-year-old neighbors, or as I am pretty sure I heard my private student, who had invited me, tell her director the “Kolozsvari crew.”

During one of the speeches by the Flutist the entire hall broke out into a beautiful folk song that showed off the pentatonic scale of the traditional Hungarian music. Throughout the concert, Maria would randomly turn to me and pat me on my thigh. Sometimes I think that there is a sign above my head that invites Hungarian-speaking women over a certain age to grab me. In Transylvania, my newly met elderly host mother walked home with her arm around my waist, and hand sliding around my lower back. One of the teachers at school routinely grabs and holds me by my waist whenever she wants to talk to me. Everywhere I go, I am petted and touched.

During this concert I also experienced what has been called the Hungarian clap. Simultaneous clapping in complete unison. It was a little bizarre.

Maria dropped me off at the front and went to park her car. I started making myself tea and changed into my jammies, when my doorbell rang. It was Maria, who jabbered something at me in rapid speed Hungarian. Seeing my lack of comprehension, she pushed past me, through my messy kitchen, and into my newly cleaned dining room and pointed out the window, repeating the word for rain.

I finally understood that she wanted me to take in my giant carpet, which I had flung over my balcony in an attempt to air it and get some of the dust out of it. The two of us struggled to pull my giant floor sized rug up from over my balcony and roll it back onto the floor. I thanked her, and she darted back out of my front door.

Happy Thoughts

There is a blog by Clare, called three beautiful things, that I love. Whenever I am homesick, grumpy or having problems in classes, her idea helps me put things in perspective.

Beautiful things so far-

Vivvi shouting 300 and waving a paper spear through the streets of Gyula

Tromping home grumpily to find a large bag of Nashi pears hanging on my door.

Being invited to folk dancing class

Jamie permitting herself to be my dressmaker's dummy, as I get people's opinions on a shirt I am altering.

Pumpkin pie for breakfast

Bagels with Cream cheese

My new green shirt/ dress

Being called Tanar-nennyi accidently be a seventh grader as he bolts out the door on Friday

Warm tea in Tranylvanian mugs

Unexpected dance partners

The sight of my principal pounding his non-existant beer belly in competition with the live band at Folk dancing class

Ticking new things off of my Culture shock bingo board

Playing activity

Monday, November 10, 2008


The Nő walked into a class full of very large and very loud eighteen year olds. She got stares and exclaimations of confusion as she crossed to the desk, thumped down her books and waited for silence, hands on hips. Slowly, some of the students realized that the crazy american teacher, was not in their room by mistake but in fact was teaching them.
Quick buzz around the room, cell phones confiscated, and notebooks out, the Nő set the class to work on answering some introduction questions, and write down their own questions for their new teacher. The Nő deftly feilded the normal "what are your favorite colours? and "where do you live?" questions, but stumbled over the "How long are you staying?" and "How many kids do you have?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?" The Nő doesn't remember ever asking her teachers these questions.

One kid tried to wheel and deal with his new teacher, offering assistance in exchange for a 5. Another student told his new teacher that Gábor was hot. The Nő giggled internally, as the mirror translation does not mean the same thing in english as it does in Hungarian. This was evident as Gabor replied with much indignation, that No he was not hot, he had a girlfriend.

Today in 9b, the Nő's imaginary friend Joe, had a so-so break, because he broke up with someone, but is hot, and has a new boyfriend.

Friday in 9d the kids discussed their breaks and made their teacher blush. Not for the first time has the Nő cursed her pink cheeks.

And in 11d...well they are another kettle of fish.

All in all, the new schedule will be just a busy, frustraiting, hectic, crazy and strange as usual. The Nő is glad to be back.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New Schedule, New Beginning

Monday morning I walked in to school refreshed from break, and excited to start the day, or at least see the other teachers. There sitting on my desk were three objects that I had not left there. One was a package from my fabulous mother, full of enough goodies that I will gain 200 pounds and have a diabetic shock if I eat it all.
The next was a letter from Austria, addressed not to me, but rather to the other non-Hungarian Briggi.
Finally on top was a small white slip of paper with my new school schedule. The return of two teachers has meant an entire overhaul of the daily plans. Not only are my classes in a completely new order, I have two entirely new classes. I look forward to another couple of weeks of getting lost, and trying to figure out how Week B has 23 classes, while Week A has only 21.
Coming back to school after a blissful two-week break, reminds me how much I appreciate and missed my kids. As crazy as they behave, and as much as they do not listen, forget their homework, and complain about working, it is all worth it. Helping even one student further their education, or understand something just a bit better, makes the bad days worth it.

Stuff we have done: (or holy cow, actual teaching stuff)

The monster mash: Used it as a listening exercise in two ways - as a cloze activity and as an action activity. Assign key words with an action, and when they occur in the song, students must make the action. This is better for younger students, highly energetic students and Saturday school.

The song/movie line dialogue: Another teacher from Szolnok suggested this activity, and so far it has worked really well. Have students write a line from a song or movie, and then collect them. Randomly hand them back to Students in groups and have them create a dialogue using these two lines.

Past Simple review dialogues: Asking students to discuss their break, write sentences on the board. Then circle irregular verbs and box regular endings to create visual difference, and go through regular and irregular verbs. Then ask about our example character…my crazy friend Joe’s break and then ask the students to box or circle the verbs. Then have them create short dialogues using at least six verbs, three regular and three irregular. This is meant as a review activity, not as a means to teach the difference.

After Obama's win on Tuesday, I now have a new name: HalloBriggiTanarnő has been replaced with ObamaistheWinnerBriggiTanarnő. Well at least in the hallway as I search for my classes.

No, I am not a late-enrolling Train student: Adventures in Szombathely

The bus ride back to Budapest was full of the chatter of future plans. I happily dozed through last minute planning, as I had already arranged a visit to an old university buddy now teaching in rural Austria. So decamping from the bus, Lauren, Lyla and I smsed the guys, to arrange a last minute dinner party.

Gergo and Andy showed up, and the five of us ate Lauren and Lyla’s amazing dinner until late in the evening. So when it came time to wake up, I decided to take the later train I had found, instead of an earlier one. This turned out to be a mistake.

I arrived at Keleti and was immediately panic set in. There were ticket inspectors all over, and I had forgotten where to buy international tickets. Dazed, sleepy and panicky I bought a ticket to Jennersdorf where I would have to catch a bus to the village. I found the train to Szombathely, hopped aboard, found a seat and settled in.

I got a little suspicious when we passed Tata, and asked the girl sitting across from me if the train was going to Szombathely. She said it was, so I settled down. A few hours passed, and I looked at my diary with the connections written in it. I realized that I was on the wrong train; I had not taken the correct train from Keleti, and would miss my connection to Jennersdorf. In a panic I called Emily and Jamie. Between the two of them they broke the bad news, I would miss the last bus to the village by 10 minutes. So I decided to spend the night in Szombathely, explore a bit, and then head on to Austria. I dialed my friend’s number and got a strange garbled message. So I decided to remove two of the numbers and try again. This time the call went through, but was answered not by my friend, but rather by a harassed sounding Austrian woman. Mostly harassed because I tried twice more, and each time she sounded crankier.

So I walked into the Tourinform at the spacious and modern train station, where I was informed that it was unlikely that I would be able to find a hostel, because school was in session, but I should try number 23 in the catalogue. Hoping against hope I called. They had a free bed, but I would have to get there within half an hour. So armed with a map, I fought my way through the twists and turns of medieval street planning, and found it.

It wasn’t until I walked in that I realized that the Hostel was actually the MAV dorms. The courtyard had miniature train tracks and MAV paraphernalia. The porter was confused at first as I was obviously not a train-driving student. Later one of the secretaries came in, rapid fire Hungarian and several stamped papers later, and he was ebullient. Speaking slowly, clearly and slightly louder than normal, as if to someone hard of hearing, he walked me to the stairs and handed me the key to my room.

Later I explored the city, and crashed.

Erdély or Transylvanian travels

The buzz of four phones going off at 4:30am forced our eyes open, and our bodies drowsily out of bed. The four hours of sleep, not nearly being enough to greet the day in any sort of joyful manner. However, our holiday had begun. Bundled to our eyebrows with backpacks and winter gear, Lauren, Lyla, Rob and myself trekked to the opposite side of Budapest to meet the bus. Arriving in front of Eotvos Kollegium, we looked expectantly for a bus, and were met with a largish van decorated with a water motif. Soon enough the nineteen odd people had boarded and we were off the Debrecen to pick up the rest of the party.

Twenty-one Americans, our fearless leader Hajni, Marika our guide and Attila our crazy driver packed into a bus that couldn’t fit a herring more if we had tried. Of our six-day whirlwind tour of Hungarian speaking areas of Transylvania, most of it was spent packed into the bus. Herrings crammed in hopping from village to city and beautiful mountain peak and back to village.

A quick summary of events:

I fell in love in Torocko, the first village where we stayed. His brown eyes and large ears, effortless energy, while Tara and I shared a room with a wood burning stove and he slept on our doorstep. In the morning he walked us to breakfast, then chased the cows walking themselves to the town center. Hajni told me he was a Transylvanian Hunter.

We were greeted every night, and unlike many of our companions not at breakfast, with shots of strong palinka.

Seeing Art Nouveau with a Hungarian folk art twist.

Stalking the streets around Dracula’s birthplace

Watching Hajni stammer and then refuse to translate an excessively dirty and inappropriate folk song, whilst the folk singers stared at her daring her to repeat what they had sung.

Climbing the Rakozi Var, and staring across the boarder of old (pre-1920) Hungary.

Eating a “snack” which accounted for more than three people would eat in a normal meal (there were actually two courses to the snack, along with the obligatory shots of palinka), then two hours later eating a main meal.

Staring at spires of ancient trees emerging out of the water of the Killer Lake.

Learning Folk dances at the rose-hip festival in a tiny village without streetlights. Not having enough willing men in our company, I learnt the male part, whilst Hajni danced the counterpart. It was the difficult stamping and spinning one. Later, bemoaning the fact that I had only danced the male part, Lauren offered to dance with me, but only if I asked in Hungarian. Borrowing Peti’s contribution to my Valami fontosat dictionary, I asked. Instead of a yes, I was met with a demand to ask if she, pretending to be a boy, had a girlfriend. I did, and was then told that because she could not lead, I would have to be the boy.

Our bus, being predominantly full of girls, was stopped by the Romanian police, and checked to see that we were not being transported for human trafficking.

Drinking the wizened blueberries from the bottom of the blueberry palinka.

On Sunday night, having a last minute dinner party with Andy and Gergo, when I tried to convince people I was a grandmother, and the guys told us it was cute when we tried to speak Hungarian.

And finally my favorite, our fearless leader, suffering from a cold announcing that her alternate major in university, had been witchcraft and that if any of us would fall into a stream and die, that she would come after us in the afterlife, and ‘GET US’

Quiet Weekends

Alone for the weekend, I went to a Jazz concert then to the Student disco on Friday night.
As I watched students run the DJ booth, and marveled the dancing. I chatted with the teachers chaperoning the dance, and went home. Saturday was the first of the working Saturdays. Experience had shown me that students are extra squirrelly on Saturdays, so for the most part we had Halloween parties and listened to the Monster Mash. One of my students in 11 a offered me gerbils which she had brought to school in jam jars, and provided distraction during the Halloween party. I declined, and spent the evening visiting another teacher and her daughter in a neighboring village.