Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I am a Spanish TV star...

So Alfonso notices that there is going to be a show following Spanish expats in Budapest on TV. He makes a note to watch it. They show the baths, parliament, etc. Then they show Hero's Square. Who does he see in the background?

Me! And Lyla! And, apparently, two old ladies pointing at us and shaking their heads, not amused by my photo in which I "support" the spire in the monument.

When we were there, we noticed there was a car with a camera crew. We figured it was Hungarian news or something. How weird that it was for a Spanish TV show that Alfonso just happened to watch?!?!

Also, we got a new water heater today! I washed my hair and can now run my fingers from root to tip for the first time in 5 weeks. Whoo. Naturally, we celebrated this by having a hip hop dance party in the flat while cleaning the disaster left behind by their installing the thing essentially with a buzz saw and a hammer.

Class is going really well this week. We switched up the format a little bit now that second grade has to learn to read and write in English. So Balint teaches them the spelling and I... play games with them. No more playway (my sort of annoying curriculum) with second grade for ten whole weeks. Glee. Instead we play four corners, bingo, memory, etc. so they can practice the words and I force them to say "three" instead of "bree" and "one" instead of "vone." A trained monkey could do my job but I like it a lot. First grade is still rolling with the playway, but at least they are starting to know a few key phrases and things. So that's better.

Class is going really well also. Megyek ostalyban ket nap, hetfo es szerda, es tanulok. Beszelek es tanulok. Nagyon jol van. (I go to class twice a week, Monday and Wednesday, and I learn. I speak and I learn. It's very good.) I'm still terrified to speak to collegeauges other than "good morning" but soon I will try. Soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Briggi said "Let's go to a wine fest."

So Lyla, Ashley, and myself were like "sure thing, wine fest sounds good."

First, Friday night. A bunch of us went out to celebrate Eliza's being in Budapest for the night. The night began at Mr. Sörözo's, a bar were beer is 145 forints for half a liter and the sixteen year olds rule the joint. Lyla and I walk in after everyone else has been there for a little bit to find our friends surrounded by 16-18 year old Hungarian boys, teaching them innappropriate things in English such as:

That's what she said!
Jaeger bomb, Jaeger bomb, Jeager bomb bra?
In exchange were were taught innappropriate things in Hungarian such as:
Horse f***er
go f*** your mother

Then we went to a salsa club and danced awkwardly alone in the corner. There is photographic evidence of the awkwardness. It's seriously in the top five of awkward photos. It was a weird night.

So Saturday comes and we go to fetch Briggi from the train station with something of a headache. We then proceed to take two metros to Ferenciak ter, where we wander around lost and confused looking for the bus to the southern Volanbusz station. We find our way there just in time, run to catch the bus, and head off to the wine fest in Etyek.

This bus is FULL. We are crammed in there like sardines, driving up mountain roads and speeding along the highway. There is a woman next to us with a map of the highway, and luckily Briggi can communicate to her in German, so we sort of figure out where we are supposed to be heading. We get off the bus, wander for a bit, and find our way to quite close to where we are heading.

Where we are heading is the wine cellar of Briggi's family friends, the lovely, lovely Csibi family. (Cheebee) The father, Tomas, comes to find us and brings us in. We meet his wife Judit and son Andy, as well as Andy's silent friend Petey. Then we are brought down to the cellar, where we are shown the freshly pressed must (grape juice) and the wine aging in barrels. Tomas demonstrates how to use the stealing squash (a sort of pipe) to take wine from the barrels. Then the tasting starts. We are given... many samples of many different wines. Just at the right moment, when the room was starting to feel very dizzy, Judit calls us back upstairs, presenting us with a beautiful spread of meats, cheeses, and breads. We eat until it is not possible to eat any more, then go for a walk around the town.

In the square we see a small child making plum jam (which people eat with spoons from a bowl) and hear some heavy-metal-folk music. No, that's not a mistake, that is what it was. More walking. More wine. Folk music, and dancing, and having historical and cultural facts explained to me when I asked questions, and often when I did not. All of this due to the very generous hospitality of the Csibis. We are sent to catch the bus with full plastic cups of pinot noir rose, and Andy and Petey lead the way. Back to Budapest, thankfully this time on an express bus.

We go home, eat some dinner, and swing by our acquaintance Monika's farewell party. Then we are invited by Andy again to go to a party at a friend's home. We arrive, and are passed around the party like small children by concerned (and wasted) Hungarian 20-somethings, all making sure that we are comfortable and entertained. All of whom speak perfect English as well. We stay there for several hours and are then walked back to the night bus.

I know that it is not possible to do justice to this day in a few short paragraphs on a blog. But I really wish I could. The whole day I was awash in a spirit of good will and hospitality. The whole day, nobody yelled at me or rolled their eyes when I attempted to speak Hungarian. I was fed, spoken to with respect, and happily shown where I needed to be. I felt genuinely happy, and actually comfortable and un-awkward, for an entire day. And that is about 30 times as long as I have gone without feeling out of place since I arrived here. I know that I am in Budapest and it's the "big city" and people are naturally cold. But I cannot even explain the relief I felt in my heart when I had a day where everyone was just... nice.

So... the next time you see someone who is confused, or lost, or alone... be super nice to them. Maybe this way I can karmically repay the Csibi family for their awesome, awesome kindness.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

wine fest video blog!


Anyway, in the video we mentioned that we were afraid of falling down the stairs after the wine fest, where we were served triple portions for speaking awkward Hungarian, briefly molested by Austrians for a photo op, and received little neck carrying pouches which held our wine glasses perfectly. Awesome.

Happily, no falling down the stairs and dying happened. Yay! Rather, we followed the wine fest with a house party, where there was ranch dressing (!!!) and bottles and bottles of wine. This was followed by a troupe of Americans and one Hungarian stumbling through the streets of Pest in an attempt to arrive at a bar that didn't suck. Sadly, no success. On the plus side, this took so long that we were able to take the metro home when it opened at 4:30 AM.

I feel sort of like I'm two different people. Mild-mannered weekday Lauren goes to work, plays with kids, makes the handsign for scissors, attempts to study Hungarian, makes salads and packs lunches, and goes to sleep by 11. Insane weekend Lauren spends 3-4 times as much money as weekday Lauren does in less than half the time, yells expletives loudly in English in the middle of a metro station, falls up stairs, eats only bread, and does nothing but sleep and prowl the city until it's starting to be sunny out. Ugh. Must find someway to reconcile these two personnas so that weekday Lauren is less lame and weekend Lauren is less... just less.

It's chilly today and that makes me sad. I'm not ready for it to be all sweaters all the time. I want more sun. Lyla and I are considering going away this weekend... warmth?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lauren has been a busy girl

1. I have signed up for language courses. They will be 2 hours, twice a week. I will start as a "beginner 2," which basically means I can order food and pay for it already. I paid in advance for four months of lessons to force myself to stick with it. Because Hungarian is a super-difficult language that makes me mildly insane, but I am also tired of being mute and illiterate. Illiteracy is balls. Therefore I must torture myself into learning the blasted magyarul. I am also forcing myself to type this on a Hungarian keypad. The y and the z are reversed. This is also difficult. Must learn.

2. 1C makes me insane. The kids literally run around the classroom screaming. And I cannot yell at them effectively. So basically I go "No! Not good! Not good! Not happy!" Today one of the kids did a handstand on his desk. My poor heart leapt from my chest, but luckily he did not fall and bust his head open. Because I wouldn't have known what to do. Especially not what to say.

3. 2C, on the other hand, is the light and joy of my life. They speak English! They respond to prompts and commands! The "class leader" Eric's father is American, and all the kids want to speak English just as well. They're earnest. It's lovely.

4. 2B and 1B are nice as well. Not as lovely as 2C, but very nice. I think I would like 1B a lot more if I didn't have to spend the entire lesson going "scissors" "pencil" "glue" etc. while making handmotions. I mean, it's definitely not their fault, but I can't wait for them to start speaking little sentences.

5. I imagine life now as a giant game of charades. "Open your book" comes complete with a handsign for a book and the opening of my arms. "Sajnos nem értem" comes complete with an apologetic grimace and shrug. To the porter, "kérek a kulcsat, angol terem élső emelet-et....?" (Please, the first\second floor English room key), always said like a question, unsure still if emelet-et is the correct thing here, comes with the act of my hand turning an imaginary key. I step onto the bus and glance quickly around for a seat, opening my book in front of my face and glowering.

6. This week, thanks to the lovely "Playway" curriculum the school uses, I have taught the 2nd graders the following essential items of English language:
listen to the racoon
get across the river
can you teach me to swim?
sailing is great fun
(my favorite) there's something in your mouth! it's a frog!
Thanks to my speaking, I have taught them "goofing off," "lazy," and "a few\a couple."

7. Hungarians will blow their nose anywhere, in any situation or company, and as loudly as they feel necessary. I'm running with this, especially considering that I have caught my first case of the sniffles.

8. I have not yet had goulash, but I have had 2 burritos and 3 servings of General Tso's chicken since arriving in Hungary.

9. Today my acerbic colleague, who is the source of much of my day's entertainment, opened the windows for me in the classroom I would be using for 2B. As much as I may mock this lovely individual, he's one of the only people who is ever actually nice to me, and it's mostly only a defense mechanism due to my own feelings of uselessness at work. God, must make a list of things to remember. It will be miles long.

10. I must cook dinner or something for Bill. I harrass the poor man daily with questions and comments, and ask him to make great sweeping generalizations about Hungary. Thank God he exists, rides my bus, and sits across from me at my "desk" or I would be even more confused and lost.

11. Lyla and I went to Ikea and got soupbowls, big pillows, and shiny placemats. Whoever said you can't buy happiness was full of it. I bought a huge amount of happiness at Ikea, and it only cost like 3500 Forint.

12. ő ű What the hell is that symbol? Currently I call it the "power umlaut." But what is it?

Monday, September 8, 2008

My address

So, I thought some people might like to have this. It's my school address, the only place I really feel safe receiving mail, so, yeah... just don't swear on the envelope or whatever. Mail will be reciprocated! I think I'm the only teacher at school who hasn't gotten anything yet. :( Haha just kidding! Or not? Send me love.

Lauren McCawley
Krudy Gyula Alatános Iskola
1037 Budapest
Gyógyszergyár utca 22-24

On a happier note

in Hero's Square
the Chain Bridge
the town of Szentendre
Lyla and I in Szentendre

"Hello. My name is Lauren. I am American. I speak Hungarian very poorly but I am learning. I think Krudy Gyula is a beautiful school and I like it a lot. That's all. Thanks."

^Saying this in Hungarian today at the parent-teacher meeting resulted in my literally jumping up and down outside the school, phoning both Alfonso and my mother to brag on myself, and hi-fiving the man from the fruit stand.

I went to Debrecen this weekend, ostensibly for a jazz fest. Of course, my planning was off and I heard not a single note of jazz. Whoo. It was, however, a splendid weekend. I danced, drank, slept in a big puppy pile on the couch, and interacted with other human beings in a relaxed and normal way. Not a single old lady yelled at me, and I met the lovely Sucry, Ali, and Edit, who greatly improved the weekend. AND I saw Jupiter through a telescope powerful enough that I could see its surface patterns.

On a side note, I get yelled at almost daily by old ladies. I don't understand this, because in America old ladies love me. Usually I just sort of cower and say "Nem ertem, es sajnalom nem ertem." "I don't understand, and I'm sorry I don't understand." It is awkward.

I have decided to make friends with an older American guy at work (older being 30ish) who speaks Hungarian and is genuinely kind. This makes me feel sooooo much less out of place in the teachers' room. Though I'm hoping that the news of my triumphant use of Hungarian spreads and I am looked at more nicely.

We are having folks over for dinner tonight. I cooked some tortilla. The flat will be stretched to capacity. Speaking of, I think I might be able to put up a picture! These are of the flat: the hallway, the main room, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the stove. I am also totally "stockholm syndome-ing" the flat. I think it's cute and homey! It's not full of bugs and smelling of natural gas! No! I love it!

Hi Lyla! My bed is the one in the corner.

Look, Mom, the gargoyle is out. He protects the window.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I wake up at 6, still a little confused as to where I am. I stumble the ten or so steps across the flat to the bathroom, make toast (which involves matches and open gas fires), pull on some respectable-looking clothes.

(My dad just called... hi Dad!)

Then I stumble down the 8ish flights of stairs, using 3 keys on my way out of the building. I breathe in a snap of cold air, and walk the few minutes to the metro. Catch it, and cram myself into a corner, closing my eyes to avoid the "awkward public transit eye contact." 7 stops later, off and up into the sun, trotting a little bit to catch the number 60 bus. Sweet, a free chair! Damn, an old lady right behind me! Again, cram into a corner and zone off.

Down the stairs off the bus, inevitably whacking someone with my bag or elbow. I'm awkward. Down the stairs to the school, around the flats. Jo reggelt to the woman watering her grapes. Up the stairs to the teachers' lounge, sziastok to the group. Gather notebooks. Wait awkwardly for the bell to ring, surrounded by conversation in Hungarian. To class. My acerbic Hungarian teacher partner informs me what we are doing today. I wonder when I will get to decide that myself. Teach, planning period, teach teach teach.

The first graders throw their hands in the air repeatedly with the frustration that I do not speak Hungarian. I throw my hands in the air with the frustration that they don't understand the phrase "sit down." Ah! Animal pictionary! Excellent, and somehow the 45 minutes are filled.

Back to the teachers' room. How were students? Oh, they were good. The boys were a little crazy.

Gather stuff quickly and flee. Headphones, bus, metro. Errands? Back to the flat. Lay.

I'm quite overwhelmed. I'm happy, and doing ok. I'm just overwhelmed. Must learn Hungarian.

Funny side note: Imagine, if you will, having to maintain a serious face and NOT LAUGH while a colleague explains in all earnestness to a group of children that they "like everything to do with balls." Twice. Because I somehow pulled it off.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Hello all, sorry this will be short, but internet is sketch. We're currently stealing it from... someone.

School is awesome, the kids are cute and they're taking good care of me. Also, I'm a legal resident now! Awesome. Just got the stamp today.

And now I must go to bed. Because my night-owliness is not helping with my 6am wake up calls. Will try to write much longer tomorrow.