Monday, December 21, 2009

Catch up!

So in the past few weeks I have gone hunting for bunkers in the Hungarian woods.

Lyla and I spent about 7 hours baking cookies.

It's snowed... a lot!

The children have put on Christmas shows.

We've learned songs.

And in about 7 hours, I'll be on a plane headed for America. Well, headed for Frankfurt, but THEN headed for America. It's been a year... I wonder if America will remember me?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Speaking out

So, I live abroad. I've been here for over a year, and could see myself staying a long time. This is full of amazing difficulties: buying groceries, going to the doctor, finding my way... it all takes much more work than it would at home. And I'm happy for these difficulties, because I believe they make me a better and more patient person. Beyond that, though, there are other questions and issues. And one that has been bothering me this weekend is: at what point do I earn the right to speak out against things that strike me as unfair?

Just as some background information: in Hungary children join a class of about 25 students in first grade. They remain in that same class until 8th grade, with some small adjustments if a child moves in or out. They have one main teacher for first through fourth grade, and a second for fifth through eighth, and their other teachers remain the same during those two periods as well. This certainly has some benefits for the children, as they develop close, family-like bonds with their classmates and teachers. It also has, in my opinion, the disadvantage that they do not learn to meet people. I think this can stunt their ability to welcome and effectively work with new people in life.

At the beginning of the school year we had a new student arrive in one of my third grade classes. All the children were rather unwelcoming to her, and I believe as a result, she became rather conflictive. About two months into the school year, her family moved across town and she switched to a different school. Apparently she is very unhappy there and her parents are considering bringing her back to Krudy, but are unsure because they know she wasn't really welcomed the first time. So somehow it was decided that the class should essentially "vote" on whether she should come back. This was kept "anonymous" by having them put their heads down while they voted. The majority of the children voted against her.

I, and every other American/Canadian that I have mentioned it to, was appalled by this. For one, I was upset that these sweet kids could vote against someone's happiness, against giving someone a second chance. Mostly, though, I was upset that the teachers could effectively encourage the children to express such ugliness. How could the children be given the idea that they have the right to decide whether one of their peers should be allowed to return? And when they chose intolerance, how could the teachers not have taken that as an opportunity to discuss kindness, and such basic concepts as treating others the way they would want to be treated?

Never mind the fact that the children certainly discussed the results among themselves afterward, now feel unified in their dislike of the girl, and should she actually return, will certainly tell her that they all voted against her. That the whole class doesn't want her there. Because children are cruel until they are taught not to be. Children are a blank slate, and I believe that as a teacher it is partially my responsibility to socialize them into decent human beings.

Now, the controversial part of my blog that will surely get me some angry comments from my Hungarian readers. I see things in Hungary that frankly astound me. The treatment of gypsies, for example. I've witnessed a gypsy get on a tram, and everyone gets up and moves away from them. The word that means the equivalent of "faggot" is a hyper-common word, and is treated as no worse than "damn." I've watched my 2nd graders toss the word back and forth at each other and receive no harsher admonition than "don't use bad language." In my mind, faggot is not simply bad language, but something hateful, ugly, and even threatening. I have several students of different ethnicities, and they all adopt a Hungarian name to use in school because using their real name is considered to be too difficult for everyone around them. I myself have been harassed, even sworn at, shoved, and threatened by crazy individuals for being a foreigner, while everyone around me did nothing to interfere.

Now, please notice that I in no way consider this to be a Hungary-exclusive problem. There is ugliness, intolerance, and fearful hate everywhere. The difference is in the reactions when I speak out against such things. In America I am "allowed" to mention the unfairness of the injustice I see. Maybe people will call me a bleeding-heart, but nobody ever questions my right to talk about what I see. In Hungary, however, whenever I mention that something is unfair, I am immediately dismissed. I'm told that I don't understand, or that I'm seeing things that don't exist. While nobody ever says so exactly, the clear implication is that as a foreigner, I have no right to see something as unfair, and should probably just be quiet now.

So when this "vote" happened by the class, and I expressed how disgusted I was by the whole thing, I was told I was overreacting. When I mentioned the fact that the student in question was half-black... oh, now I was just being hysterical. Surely the comments I had heard about her skin, or the texture of her hair, hadn't ever happened. And maybe, maybe I was misunderstanding them. They did occur in Hungarian. But even if I didn't speak a word of the language, tone of voice exists and is pretty universal. I was told that I was seeing connections that could never exist. Don't think that there are race issues here.

I love my life here. I really, really do. I also understand that I cannot, and never will be able to, completely understand how things happen in a country where I wasn't raised and socialized. I understand that in moving to another country, I put my voice into a coat check of sorts, to only be taken out when I could somewhat understand what was going on around me. But to be told that the issues I see don't exist, to have my opinion (and thus my worth as a being) totally discounted, to be totally denied even an honest discussion... how will I ever be able to understand?

I am starting to seriously wonder when, if ever, I will earn the right to have my voice back.

Middle Ear Infection

So I have a middle ear infection. Silver linings!

1. I got myself a hazi orvos, finally. And did the whole going-to-the-hospital thing by myself, without major stress or any tears!

2. Pain pills and major antibiotics.

3. No working on a Saturday. Whoo!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I particularly like where they claim Vitamin C.

Hungarians are very proud people; one of the ways this is commonly manifested is through a desire to claim everything as being invented by Hungarians, or at least people of Hungarian descent. I've always wanted to somehow explain this to my non-Hungarian readers (aka, my parents and grandma). Happily, this video does it for me, with a very catchy song that I highly enjoy as an added bonus! So enjoy while Hungary claims to have invented everything from the ballpoint pen (actually true) to Vitamin C (dubious).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Taste of Home

I'm borrowing the name of one of my favorite series of cookbooks for this post. I guess I must be ready to go home because I wanted nothing more than to cook America for dinner. So, I did. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, crudite... and mixed nut brittle to finish it off.


I must admit I was a bit scared to make a dry caramel, especially since the only appropriate pan is quite dark. It turned out fantastic, however. I just melted a cup plus a bit of sugar until it smelled like caramel over medium heat. I removed it from the heat and added about 2 square inches of butter, cut into little bits, let that melt, and then added a cup of toasted nuts and a dash of salt. The mixture was then poured onto a greased cookie sheet, spread, and allowed to dry. It's like eating delicious glass.

A photo of a sleepy Bencelita hugging my thumb is always a nice way to top off a post, I think.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


On Saturday night I went to see Zombieland (hysterical and awesome, by the way, except for the OH MY GOD ZOMBIE CLOWN terror at one point). As Woody Harrelson mowed down zombies with a giant SUV and a sub-automatic, Lyla leaned over to me and whispered, "This is why zombie movies can't be shot in Europe. Can you imagine trying to kill a zombie with a Peugeot?"

Seriously, though, think about it. Tiny cars, limited access to weapons of any sort, virtually no access to guns, full cities, everyone constantly on public transport, and the tendency to kiss everyone you see on the face. The plague will spread like wildfire and there will be no way to escape. The zombie apocalypse will just totally destroy Europe!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A long weekend in Belgrade

Belgrade is not a particularly beautiful city. I don't think that anyone would claim otherwise. It is, however, an interesting and vibrant place full of loud, friendly people, bizarre history (some slightly rewritten), and a lot of energy. I think I'll let the photos do most of the talking for me.

These are batons given to Tito during the youth races every year. I particularly like the one with an anatomically correct heart on top.

Tito's grave
At Tito's grave compound there was a small ethnographic museum filled with gifts he had received from other countries. Rather quirky inscriptions accompanied most of the items. This is my favorite.

trout and Swiss chard for dinner

a statue near the citadel

the view of the Danube bend from the citadel

Lyla and I in front of the juncture of the two rivers

taking a rest on a bump in the bridge leading to the fortress

Why is there a giant watermelon? You clearly haven't lived in Eastern Europe. The correct question is: why wouldn't there be a giant watermelon?

some of the massive display of weaponry at the fortress

itty-bitty tank

a bit of the F-117 bomber shot down during the "NATO aggression" in 1998

the streets of Belgrade

a church spire

I ordered the "something something-style" and received a giant slab of meat in butter-cream. Happily, it was delicious!

the new Orthodox church- said to be the third biggest in the world

This photo is for Weasel: I attack a chandelier shop.

in front of the church during the day

the old artists' district of Belgrade, with the walls painted to resemble various buildings, courtyards, and alleys

a stop for a snack at a chocolate shop, where we got delicious hot cocoas and Lyla got a giant slice of a cake that tasted EXACTLY like a turo-rudi

some street art

the view of the city from a bridge crossing the Danube


We celebrated Thanksgiving a little bit early, on Saturday the 21st. About fifteen people came to partake in the event, including several Americans, one Canadian, a few Hungarians, and a Brit. Lyla made delicious little pumpkin (or, as availability demanded, butternut squash) tarts and I prepared the turkey. Everyone else brought sides, drinks, and such. The food was all delicious, fun was had by all, and we managed to all talk in one big group for the majority of the party rather than clique-ing off. And our neighbors didn't even call the police on us. Everyone left in the evening feeling a bit sick and slightly drunk... a great Thanksgiving success if you ask me.

Toasting to the success of the meal, in espresso cups, while Bencelita attempts to swim in the hazi palinka.

the turkey after coming out of its brine

rubbing turkey is a messy job
(and that sentence sounds oh, so wrong)

the beautiful little tarts
(Watching Hungarians poke at pumpkin pie is one of the greatest joys of Thanksgiving here. The concept makes them genuinely nervous. They honestly poke at them.)

ItalicBencelita wants in on the Thanksgiving action. Scott later fed her about a pound of turkey, don't feel bad for her.

the spread

Scott and Anna load up on food.

I feel this photo perfectly captures its subjects: Laci, Balint, Mate.

Productive Lazy Sundays

Every so often Lyla and I grow weary of traveling, adventuring, and so forth. Whenever this happens, we wind up having very productive lazy Sundays in. We clean the flat. We get work done. But most importantly, we cook. We cook up absurd amounts of food that we are then able to eat all week long. Today: eggplant cream, liters of sauteed veggies, a kilo of dried beans, oatmeal raisin cookies/muffins/minor baking disasters, and pork mole.


~400 grams of pork loin, cubed (bone in is best)
3 peppers
2 tomatoes
1 red onion
5 cloves garlic (all veggies chopped)
1 can diced green chiles (rinsed)
1 80 g can tomato paste
1 cube turkey bouillon
2 tbs paprika
2-3 ounces dark chocolate
1 tbs cinnamon
2 pinches red pepper flakes
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Saute veggies in a bit of oil until they start to soften. Add paprika and green chiles. Add about 2 cups of hot water and bouillon cube, plus tomato paste. Once water is simmering, add chocolate in small hunks and cinnamon. Add pork (and throw in the bone, if you have it), plus pepper flakes. Allow to simmer until meat is cooked and tender, and sauce is thickened. Remove bone before serving and serve with rice. It makes about four servings.

This mole is quite mild in flavor, because Lyla doesn't like very spicy food. It does have a slight heat. If you want to kick it up a bit, add some diced ancho chiles or chipotles if you have them. If you don't (I didn't), some diced jalapenos in a bit of their juice is also very tasty. A small spoonful of sour cream on top is also yummy.