Friday, February 27, 2009

I chopped it all off!

Actually, I really like it. It's light and easy, and I've been told by everyone that it is very cute and flattering. I feel sort of sassy with it. And yes... the hair will be getting mailed away to kids who need it this week.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

musings of adulthood

I have been thinking a lot recently, for various reasons, about the concept of adulthood. What makes a person an adult? Fifty years ago, people turned eighteen, got married, had kids, and were suddenly adults. That’s certainly what my parents did: married, army/nurse, work work, kids. Bam, adulthood.

Nowadays the equation is trickier. Most of us, or at least most of the people I know, go to some sort of secondary education. Almost nobody gets married right out of high school. A few take the leap after college, but even so, the vast majority of people I actually know are nowhere near marriage, and even further from children. I’m one year younger than my parents were when they had me, older than they were when they started trying to have children, and the concept of being that responsible for another living being frankly sends me into a cold sweat.

So, as we put off marriage and children, the question becomes when do we “grow up?” And how?

I live on my own, support myself, have a full-time job that requires a college degree, and do very well at it. I plan my days so they are full of fulfilling/money-earning activities, I cook dinner, wash dishes, pay rent. I’ve been doing this madness for a year and a half now, but if you were to ask me (in a nonprofessional situation) if I consider myself an adult, I would laugh and bark, “God, no!”

Most of my friends from college are in, objectively, the same life situation as I am. They are working, or studying, learning how to budget on their miserable salary, trying to have some fun when they can. Of course, they are doing it in America. Despite the fact that their life is essentially the same as mine, I feel that if you were to ask them if they consider themselves to be adults the answer would be a resounding yes. Not all, but most.

So what makes me still shy away from the dreaded a-word?

Is it fear of responsibility? A few weeks ago I think that would have been my conclusion, but the simple fact of the matter is that I love responsibility. I love being the person to plan something, split a check, write a test, whatever. When people need me, I am happy.

Is it a fear of making a decision about my life? Surely this is a part of my psyche. Societal dictates, no matter how much you are aware of them as such and try to resist them, are so deeply ingrained into us that you can’t help but feel them pushing on your brain and heart every single day. As a “smart” woman, am I wasting my life traveling and teaching? I know that there are many, many people who would say that I should be acing some grad program on my way to totally rewriting tax law and thus saving mankind. Or some such thing. And that can put an impossible pressure on me to do that, to stop frittering away my youth. But the simple fact is that I honestly, honestly, do not believe I am doing any such thing. Knowing a little bit about the world outside my race, class, country, language, personal history can never do anything but help me. Living in a country where I don’t speak the language has forced me to learn to love myself in a way that I think nothing else ever could, because the simple fact is that I spend most of my time alone. It has forced me to become resourceful and persistent. And it has forced me to accept that there are just some things that I cannot do, or even understand. I am not worried that I am not on my own right way.

Is it Hungary? Here, people start life later. They usually don’t even graduate high school until they are nineteen or twenty years old. I must admit that it does take some of the societal pressure off of me when my colleagues exclaim “Twenty-two years old and already working for two years?!?!!” In another way, Hungary provides me with a sort of buffer to so-called “real life.” Here, I have found a deep internal peace and happiness. Of course, moving away from home, first to California and then to here, also means that I can only see my family twice a year. It cost me my best friend, and I cannot blame her… I left. It means that I cannot see my friends from home who know and love me, or go on their trips with them. It means I will go a year without holding my dog. This calmness inside of me has not been cheaply bought, even if my journeys have also brought several other frankly amazing people into my life.

Is it naiveté? I don’t think it is. Especially after last year. I know that I cannot save the world or even really help her. I know that no matter how hard I try to change the things I view as wrong or unjust or harmful, I really cannot. I know that I can fail, even at something that I pour my entire soul into. I know that there are people that will dislike me for no real reason, and some who will dislike me for very good reasons. I know that the person you love most in the world may be unable to forgive you. I know that you can love a boy with all your heart and have him do the same and that might still not be enough.

Despite knowing all this, though, I refuse to accept it. Or maybe those aren’t the best words, but to be honest I don’t know any that are better. I will not change the world, but I will put love out into it. My smile might be the thing that someone needs. My foreignness might allow my students to express themselves in ways they didn’t know they could. Every time I embarrass myself by doing something American that they don’t do here, it doesn’t matter, because if I do it out of love and joy, then I am simply bringing some goodness into a person’s life that they wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

Because in the end, there is enough stress and anger and sadness and grudge holding and ugliness in the world. Knowing this, understanding in my head that I cannot actually do anything about it, does not mean that I have to understand it in my heart.

I spent this weekend with a very dear friend whom I haven’t seen, or even really spoken to for any actual amount of time, for three years. Three years ago… I can’t properly express how afraid I was of life, or the impossibly detailed and rigid plans I made for myself to avoid actually living the thing. As we chattered away nonstop at each other, as I explained my past three years and what I had taken away with me, as I explained how happy simple things like snowflakes and raspberry beer and fluffy blankets can make me, he asked me what happened to the strident professional dreams I once had. I laughed, and then fell silent. After a moment, I replied that I wasn’t worried. In a line stolen from Briggi, I told him that “happiness is living life in the present simple tense.”

Maybe the reason I feel younger than I ever have is because I find myself open, vulnerable and hopeful, fascinated by all the little things around me. I find myself unwilling to accept that happiness hinges on my salary, my resume, or who I know. Or maybe this is adulthood, or my adulthood, and society has just tricked me into believing that it must feel some other way. I don't expect that I will understand it any time soon, and that is absolutely okay.

As for “running away from real life”… real life is a series of beautiful moments, strung together with the mundane, that sting your eyes and pull the air from your chest.

So, if you excuse me… I’m going to go try to find another one.

La frágil existencia milagrosa y casual,

la vida más pequeña vale mil veces más
que la nación más grande que se invente jamás. ~lodvg

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tomorrow is my six month anniversary with Hungary.

This is, well, right. Thank God for this funny little place.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Oh, my goodness. Yesterday, there was maybe an inch of snow. This morning, I woke up and Budapest was a snow-covered, heavenly paradise. Which means that I walked to work with my arms outspread to prevent falling, but it was so beautiful.

Interesting fact: Hungarians, if they bother to salt sidewalks, do so with table salt. Not rock salt. Table salt.

Today was my last formal Hungarian lesson, and I am not going back. Rather, I have two private lessons per week lined up with a lovely Hungarian teacher. In two weeks, she has taught me proper conjugations and the past tense. I think this is fantastic, as I was becoming rather bored with the slow pace of the formal lessons. I will miss the social environment, for sure, but as many of my fellow students and I have actually become friends, I know that we will keep in touch.

Also! My housebrother from Spain, Julian, is coming to visit me this weekend! I'm super psyched.

Also! I survived my day without Balint perfectly well. The kids were angels. Their test results were very mixed, however. 2C rocked it, 2B basically bombed it. Which is funny since they both receive the same teaching. So strange.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

one and one half kilograms of ketchup

I feel that the photo speaks for itself.

Bringing American Back

So, I live in Hungary, right?

Despite this rather fundamental fact, the other fundamental fact is that I continue to be quite American. I try to be culturally sensitive, and appreciate and blend into the local environment. But very often this past week, I find myself saying... well, f that. This has led to me taking part in the following activities:

Trotting through Pilango park today, kicking fluffy snow into the air.

Teaching the children to catch snowflakes on their tongue.

Having an impromptu latin dance party in the schoolyard, powered only by my tiny iPod speaker. The kiddies can shake it!

Admitting to a Russian girl and an Austrian boy (of the 25ish years old variety) that I have no idea what to do with techno music. My admission included my pumping my arms in the air while chanting, "What do I do with this? I'm American and impossibly awkward!" and then singing a little techno beat. I was sober.

Bringing a 95% cooked paella into work to give to Balint so he can cook it tomorrow. His grandma died, he's missing work tomorrow for the funeral, and, as I explained to him, "When people have a death, you bring food. It's just what you do."

Teaching Edina the "I would forget my head were not attached to my shoulders" song that I constantly sing to myself in the middle of the staff room.

Laughing really loudly on a very crowded intercity train.

Informing someone that they need to be quiet, because America is just different from Hungary or any other tiny country, so their theories don't really apply to us. And they don't understand our situation any more than I understand theirs.

Fitting two adult girls onto a twin bed.

Throwing my student's juice box into the trashcan after she kept drinking from it in class.

Tomorrow, my students are taking a test. I've already cleared it with their classroom teacher and Balint that if they cheat, I will take it from them and rip it in half. Hungarians, on the other hand, don't seem to really care that much about students cheating, as long as they can cheat well!

America might not be perfect. Americans, though... we have some damn fine qualities, if I may say so myself. Now if only I knew anything about geography! ;)

Also... tanultam a múlt idő! That's right... finally, I learned the past tense!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I am listening to the new album by La oreja de van Gogh, with their new singer. It is weird to hear what is distinctively La oreja music with a different voice attached to it. I'm sure I'll get used to it. Yes, I know this last paragraph made sense to absolutely nobody beyond me.

I spent this weekend chilling here in Budapest. It was Margie's birthday, so we celebrated that with Mexican food, coffees, and cake. It was a great time. Then on Sunday there was a mangalica festival, celebrating the low-in-cholesterol hairy Hungarian pigs and their delicious pork products. There is one picture that I absolutely must share with you. It actually made me and my whole group stop and stare.

Ginger? Definitely her hoofed cousin.

The weather is schizo right now, beautiful and sunny one moment and snowing the next. It is nice, at least, to have a break from the rain and a little bit of sun.

The school week is flying by. It definitely helps that they seemingly randomly decided to give us Thursday and Friday off, so tomorrow is Friday for me! I plan on doing something very relaxing and fun on Thursday; I just haven't decided what yet. I have to do my afternoon job on Friday, and then it's off to Koszeg for a lovely Valentines weekend with many of the CETP girls.

I had my first private Hungarian lesson today and it was super. We did verbs. I love conjugating stuff.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inappropriate giggling

So... Hungarian teachers are really strict. They seriously YELL at first graders for the tiniest things. This means that the smiley American teacher sometimes has trouble disciplining her students, because the fact that she could never scream at them lessens their fear of her somewhat. As a result, I've been trying to be a little more stern in class. Definitely not yelling or whatever, but just a little bit more stern.

This week, that all went to hell. Because it was, apparently, make Lauren giggle inappropriately week at Krudy Gyula.

It started innocently enough. I looked at a kid's work, and declared it "Super!" Suddenly, the entire class burst into the chorus of "Super Trouper" by Abba. What else can you do when this happens? Side note: since this has continued to happen everytime I've said "super" for the rest of the week, it has rapidly become less giggle-inducing. Abba is haunting my life.

The unit in second grade this week is "Are you scared?" This has resulted in a really obscene amount of illtimed laughter.

"Loren, are you scared of the terrorishtak?"
"What... terrorists?"
"Yes!" the boy in question mimes stuff blowing up, a helpful confirmation
"Um, no, not really."
"Sweetie, I'm in Hungary."
"... mi?" (... what?)

"Geri, are you scared of sharks?" I ask my tiniest student.
"No. I'm not scared of anything," he carefully reads off the board.
"Nothing?! What about a hungry bear?"
Another student helpfully chimes in, "Bear does not want eat Geri. Geri too small. Bear does not want to eat small Geri if bear is hungry."

And so on.

My one group of first graders had just lost one of their class behavior points for generally acting like monkeys rather than children. As I was scolding them, the one girl made such an angry, pouting face that I just burst into laughter during the middle of the word "bad."

My most ridiculous second grader was leaning against the door of the classroom when the door suddenly opened and he flew out, falling and doing a tumble to land on his stomach. At least I managed to check that he hadn't broken himself before laughing for a solid minute, and then another one when I recounted the story to Balint.

Most impressively, these lines from a story in Playway 2, in which a beaver gets his tail stuck under a log and a family of racoons save him. I have an idea to help the beaver. Push! Push! Mmm, that's good. Great! These basically added up to my crying, literally crying, in the staff room because I was laughing so hard when I read the teacher's guide.

And yes, Mom, I know that last one is a little bit piggish.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Eger, some really random occurences, and my first "gypsy experience"

Friday night Lyla and I attended a concert on the A38, a former Ukrainian stone freighter ship that has been repurposed as a club/small concert hall. There, we drank impossibly strong Caiprinhias, bounced around to a Hungarian band called small cow that featured a stuffed rabbit "singing" about the joys of being a bunny, met a Spaniard (and told him his town sucks) and a Colombian, got absolutely drenched in other people's beer, and bounced around some more. Great fun.

Lyla and I before heading out.

On Saturday I traveled to the marvelous city of Eger with the marvelous people of CETP. What is Eger, you ask? Eger is a small city twoish hours away by bus. Eger is a castle. Eger is taking your life into your hands climbing an ancient Turkish minaret that consists of a partially-lit, shoulder-width spiral staircase. Eger is delicious potato palacsinta (crepes) stuffed with various meats (including liver!) ragou. But most of all, Eger is wine. Wine for forty to eighty cents per deciliter. Thus, Eger is also dancing in the street. Eger is swearing at people rightfully harrassing your friends- who are rolling around on the ground screaming in German. Eger is running laps around the bus station. Eger is all this and more. Eger is also beautiful.

Tara in the stocks at the castle while everyone else is far too cool.

The beautiful city, as viewed from the castle wall. On an interesting side note, this was the worst-planned castle ever: it was built halfway up the hill. Good job, boys and girls.

The previously mentioned stairs of death in the minaret.

A goulash party all ready to go: just add fire and cauldron of soup!

Briggi and I being goofy on the castle playground.

So after a marvelous weekend I return to Budapest and to "normal" life. Monday was normal, very busy, with the fun addition of first grade parent nights, which I somehow stumbled through. Tuesday seemed like it was going to be a normal day as well, until the second grade parent meeting started at 5:00. First, I was sitting in the staff room a few minutes prior being all punctual and American when I overheard a very serious debate about the merits of ketchup versus mayonaisse. As I sat there and went, "Seriously?" in my head, the debate was actually translated for me. Then Balint and I headed up for the parents' meeting, where we basically made British English vs. American English jokes for twenty minutes each. I headed home giggly, Lyla and I finally caught up to the current point in Battlestar, and fell asleep.

Wednesday has been the strangest day of my life in Hungary thus far. In a good way. It started innocently enough. I was buying my breakfast from my normal pastry shop on my morning commute, and the saleslady smiled at me. I suspiciously smiled back. Then she handed me my pastry and said, still smiling, "Goodbye, thank you, have a beautiful day!" Yes, a Hungarian saleslady was openly friendly to me.

But wait. It gets better. All day long, my children were charming and perfect. In a good mood as a result, I decided to spend one of my planning periods writing their upcoming test. Balint had been complaining about having to give them another test, so I figured I would just write the thing up, and sure enough, because I am a native speaker, the whole thing took like twenty minutes. When I gave it to him, there was such a fluster of excitement that I became rather embarrassed. I said I was just happy that I could finally do something to help since I never can because of the whole language-barrier thing. The response was, and I quote, "But you are always helping, with your ideas and scheduling and making the children have fun!" Yes: a compliment on my work, AND on my bright shining face.

BUT WAIT. I leave work and head off to Wille's for my private lesson. On the bus, there are no seats, so I cram myself into a corner. An old lady, a neni, gets on. Of course nobody offers her their seat, so I try to offer her my corner, which is at least sturdy. She declines, and calls me sweet. Somehow we wind up in an entire twenty-minute long conversation, her very slowly and clearly, me with a lot of mime, which become somewhat harder after she takes my hand to hold it. She also, of course, tried to set me up with one of her grandsons, because matchmaking is the official job of nenis. That, feeding people, and being really scary. But not this one. I have acheived the unthinkable: a Budapesti neni was incredibly nice to me, and suffered my Hungarian for twenty minutes.

Yes, yesterday was bizarro day here in the BP.

I got to Wille's a bit early, so I wandered and took some photos of the fog.

A war monument to the heroes of WWI and WWII in an elementary school yard. Interesting to remember that Hungary was on the wrong side of both of those.

The road I walk down to Wille's from the bus, on which the sidewalk is a series of flat steps.

Water droplets on tree branches. Pretentious, but pretty.

Something I haven't really talked about on this blog is the gypsy phenomenom here in Hungary. Basically, the gypsies exist as a marginalized society, somewhat due to cultural choices they make and somewhat due to prejudices against them. You can recognize them pretty easily because even in Budapest they dress in a very distinctive, colorful, old-fashioned style. And they have a lot of children. Now, the vast majority of Hungarians hate the gypsies. Imagine the image of Mexicans in the United States, but infinitely more perjorative and without the American political correctness filter.

Personally, I'd never actually had an encounter with gypsies, until this afternoon on the tram. I'm sitting there, head resting on the glass, when I overhear a pretty major commotion behind me in the car. I turn, and there are four gypsies: an older man and woman, and a younger woman with a baby. The older woman is smoking, something very forbidden on public transit here. The commotion is happening because a few people are telling her that it's not allowed, and she is refusing to listen. Within seconds, the whole situation escalates to the gypsies and several people all shouting obscenities at each other at maximum volume. The gypsies got off at the next stop, otherwise I am sure there would have been a physical altercation, and the two groups continued to scream and swear at each other until the tram doors closed and the tram went on its way. It was pretty scary overall, and something that I never imagined seeing.

Since I know the gypsy story took down the tone of the post, I'll leave you with this, the most ridiculous ad I've ever seen, now plastered on billboards all over Budapest. Enjoy.

Why yes, that is a dude apparently doing interpretive dance in shiny green satin pants, a see-through spangled shirt unbuttoned to the navel with matching green satin trim, a belt made of sequins, and tap shoes. Why yes, everytime I walk to work now I do, in fact, have to stare at his left nipple for the entire route. What I understand least of all is how this is supposed to inspire me to purchase easy-install hardwood flooring.

Bencelita Bath Day

Bencelita got a bath, and the results were adorable and must be shared.

Yes, Bencelita does "talk." Funnily enough, she can speak Spanish, but only to Lyla, and French, but only to me. Her Hungarian is quite awful and her English is slowly morphing from American to weird-Euro-hybrid. She also has a rather bad attitude and tends to swear at us. No... Lyla and I are not bored, not at all. Why do you ask?