Now, I have mentioned many times here on this blog, on the phone with some of you, and adnauseum with my friends here in Hungary how very cold Hungarians can be. It's not that they are unkind, it's just that they are very often just not kind, especially here in Budapest. I know that a lot of this comes from being in the city, and that the rest is just a cultural difference that should be viewed as nothing more than an interesting phenomenon. However, day after day of nobody smiling back when you smile at them, nobody asking you how you are, nobody ever complimenting you or your work, and being scowled at by salesclerks, waiters, and fellow-transit riders can become emotionally exhausting. As I once explained it, I know this experience is making my emotional self stronger, but just like any muscle... the training can leave it sore and tired.
However, living in a somewhat gray world, literally due to the depressing winter sky and figuratively due to the scowls, only serves to make flashes of sun through the clouds all the more warm and bright. So here, ladies and gentlemen, are my sunspots.
Dinner parties. More than ever here, I will spend hours cooking and invite everyone I know to come eat the food I've prepared for them. Usually only a small fraction of the people invited actually show up, and we all crowd into my living room, usually sitting on the floor, and eat, drink, talk, and laugh. Expats tend to cling to each other for companionship and understanding, and that is especially true when the locals are less than inviting. So we pass around plates of dessert, complain about scowling metro nenis, smile widely, laugh loudly, and pat each other on the arms and shoulders. And then I send everyone home with leftovers (with any luck), and Lyla and I tidy up and head to bed, happy and feeling connected to the world around us.
Bencelita. I know she is just a rat. I know. But when I come home and she is standing in the corner of her cage, holding onto the bars with her little front paws, then runs over to the door when she sees me... it melts my heart. Her neurotic behavior and food-thieving activities are also highly entertaining.
My private lessons. One is with a pair of Finnish siblings, who are sweet and conscientious, and who have the most adorable mother in the world. I am given sweets and sodas, and quite generously overpaid. Most amazingly, they compliment my work and tell me that they are happy they found me because now both of their children are being more successful at school. It's amazing how much a simple "thank you for your help" can ring in your ears. Another is with a group of Hungarian cousins in their late twenties. Basically, I can't believe that I get paid to just hang out with these people and occasionally correct their grammar or suggest a different turn of phrase. The last one is with Akos, the art teacher at my school, and we essentially play with different types of art and talk about what we're doing. I'm really impossibly lucky to have stumbled into these situations and very often feel like I learn a lot more than I teach in these lessons.
Magda, the porter at my school. Every day, Magdi neni asks me if I am doing ok, and pats me somewhere on my body. She compliments my clothing, and then dramatically reveals new necklaces or earrings of her own for me to coo over. Every so often she will pull me into her little room, shut the door, and then show me photos of her family, pointing out the people in them. She also listens to my Hungarian without becoming frustrated or bored, and usually understands what I am trying to say. Magda was the victim of the famous "water chicken" being used to say "duck" back in the fall, and she understood it! And she smiles.
The sound of gas escaping as I open a bottle of coke lite or fizzy water, always a special little treat for myself. The first sip, as the little chemical bubbles sizzle on my tongue and down my throat.
Ethnic food. While Budapest is disadvantaged from the countryside in friendliness, it wins with Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Indian, and- my new discovery- Uzbeki food. All of it delicious, and spicy, and full of vegetables. Last night Lyla and I went to the Uzbeki restaurant and ate spinach stewed in garlic and yogurt, a salad of apples, cucumbers, green onions, and tomatoes in pomegranate dressing, a spinach and feta tart, and lamb stewed with various vegetables. It was all delicious, and simple, and amazing.
Eger, and the sometimes beautiful, but always interesting and mouthy wines it makes.
Eta's langos weekend this past weekend. Eta, Briggi's colleague, invited a pile of Americans she barely knows to come to her house to learn how to make langos, a savory fried bread topped with garlic, sour cream, and cheese. She also filled us with wine and sauerkraut-and-sausage soup, and she and her lovely daughter Szandi then orchestrated a massive board game evening, where we laughed and insulted each other and made up the rules as we went. It was remarkable, and enlightening, and I left feeling full, tipsy, and in love with the people around me and the world in general. Being invited into someone's home for the only the second time since arriving in this country moved me no less than it did the first time, back in September. In fact, it probably moved me even more. Thank goodness for generously-spirited individuals and human kindness.
My colleague Bill, who took excellent care of me when I first arrived in Hungary, continues to do so whenever I need him, and grants me at least one massive belly laugh per day.
The cashier at my breakfast pastry stand, who smiles, talks to me when there is no line, and always wishes me a beautiful day.
Balint, and his insane-workaholic-running-around ways, and his awkward attempts at kindness and helpfulness. And the funny face he makes whenever the loud and talkative American blows into his room and overwhelms him... at least twice a day.
My bed, which may actually be a settee, but which is impossibly comfortable and welcoming after a long day on my feet.
Contact from home. Whether it be comments here, my mom's daily emails, new photos on facebook, or an actual phone call or letter (though those are definitely the best! hint, hint ;)), they all make me feel happy and loved and unforgotten over here across the ocean.
Lyla and my fits of rage at absolutely nothing, and fits of giggles over even less. Spritzer evenings watching esoteric television programming and kevetching.
Actual, literal, brief glimpses of sun, either through the clouds or on the rare afternoons when it decides to actual come out and play.
My recently purchased tickets to Athens and Istanbul.
CETP weekends, where we all get together in some town, consume unreasonable amounts of food and drink, laugh, dance, share teacher stories, and fall asleep on top of each other.
Cheesily uplifting songs in Spanish coming on my Ipod during my commute.
My students. Levi complaining about moving to the front row (he can't pay attention elsewhere) and then grabbing my hand to keep me even closer to him during the lesson, or running up to the board to show me his creation of a spider with cat ears and dog tail (while we're studying furniture words), or explaining his ideas in the most ridiculous Hunglish imaginable. Lili, Satci, Fanni, and Csenge demanding at least three handshakes from me before they can eat their breakfast. 1B Gergo dancing around in the hallway, rather innappropriately, while shooting me finger guns and winking. Fifi squeaking "I'm angry because there are no ponies!" in her tiny Fifi voice. Kriszti's "HunnnGARian apple is.... ALMA!" every day. Liza resting her head on my shoulder during tutorials, and then demanding I help her jump. Tobi's declaration that you go to church to avoid doom. Csongor's very serious statement that "Hungry bear not want eat tiny Gere." Going out to the school yard to fetch children in from recess to have tutorials, and them all running up, begging to come (though I suspect the sticker they receive at the end of tutorials might have something to do with it). Benedek's daily, rather psychotic "Good MORNing!" Balazs blushingly showing me his battle cards. The stack of drawings in my box of ponies, rainbows, and hearts. Lilu putting her hands on her hips and "hmph"ing when she doesn't get her way. Dorina screeching. Choruses of "Beautiful Lauren" and "Lessunk a par!" (Let's be partners, ie. hold hands for walking between classes.) The fact that every single one of the boys' skits must end with a machine gun battle and both of them dead on the floor after a very dramatic fall, regardless of the topic at hand. Bach Botond's continual reference to himself in the third person. Bori regularly managing to hide behind me for a minute or more before I notice. Atilla yelling "rock and roll!" and head banging at the sound of any sort of music. Meeting around 47 stuffed animals a day, and being offered, often by the animal, tiny bits of food. Most of all: how smart, creative, funny, and generally good sported about their teacher not understanding a good 50% of their blabbering they are.
Oh! One more... you!