Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ghost house

My walls are white.  My cupboards are empty (ish).  My pantry is stark.  I have a small pile of clothes sitting on one shelf, and the rest are packed away into three (ARGGHH) suitcases.  My belongings are gathered, boxed, and tidied.  A few precious glass pieces are separate in a little gift bag, ready for me to hand carry them to America and then back to Spain.  Mo is sitting on my bed, ready to be hand carried as well after the trauma that was Christmas when he was almost lost.  My pictures are down, neatly tucked into my carry-on bag.  My post card collection is down, neatly packed into a small box.  Almost everything that isn't coming with us was given away last night, and what wasn't will be placed on the corner soon.

I've already said goodbye to several friends, and will say goodbye to a few more in a few short hours.  I'm going to Kecskemet tomorrow to say goodbye to a few more.  The last few I'll see next week, and then I'm gone.  And while that was certainly very real for me... it's the starkness and whiteness of my flat that is getting to me the most.  It's like I never lived here.

I worry that it will be like I never lived here.  It's arrogant, but we all want to feel like we've made a difference in the lives of the people that we care about.  But I've moved a lot.  I know the promises that are made about keeping in touch are rarely kept, not through anyone's fault, but just through the hustle and bustle of life.  I know it's never quite the same.  I know that it's normal and natural, a part of life, of growing up and away.  But I don't want to lose these people.  I don't want to lose this place.

My flat is so white, and I feel sick inside.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Since August 2008...

visited 21 states (9.33%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Not shabby, if I say so myself. Most of these countries I visited only briefly, staying a few nights in one or two cities, but others (Hungary, Romania, Poland, the Ukraine) I explored more closely, visiting several cities and towns. I've been really lucky to see these places, meet these people, and taste this food. During the summer I promise to write something of a "highlights reel."

Meanwhile... one suitcase packed, with great success. I think I'll have an overweight bag, but I think I'll be able to keep it to two checked bags as well. Whoo hoo! There is something simultaneously terrifying and thrilling about condensing all your belongings into such a small space. My life is portable, and that makes me free.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forest School

Pénzesgyőr's fields

So I spent a week camping with my students a few weeks ago, and I have yet to write about it. It was definitely an interesting week! To spend so much time with my favorite class was a gift, and I learned a lot more about many of the children. There were most certainly trying times, but it was worth it for sure.

Monday we left from school, me running up to the chartered bus at the last minute due to public buses attempting to ruin my life. Piling on the bus, we headed off. I brought my dinosaur puppet, Spike, with me and the kids were excited to talk to him and take turns animating his dinosaur adventures. Midway, the other bus carrying most of the fourth graders broke down, so we had to stop and wait for them, then put as many as possible onto our bus while they waited for a new bus. So the two hour trip eventually turned into a four and a half hour trip, and we finally arrived in Pénzesgyőr around one. Unable to check into our rooms yet, we ate our sandwiches in the yard, surrounded by goats. Then we managed to check in and headed off for a hike, which wound up being essentially through mud (mud was a big theme of the week), and included drinking water from a spring, which was quite cool. After finding a swarm of flies that looked like bees and learning about some nature, we headed back for dinner. Then we inspected the (naked, of course, to further freak out the American) children for ticks and headed off for bed. It being the first night, of course the kids were not feeling sleeping, and I eventually resorted to stealing one of their head lamps and sitting in the hall, putting it on the "blink" setting whenever a door opened. They would shriek and dart back into the room. I felt evil and it was awesome.

heading out on the hike

Taking a rest and eating some sandwiches near the spring. Gyöngyi, the head teacher for 2B, the class I am the assistant head teacher of, and I were in charge of 2B for the week. She doesn't speak hardly any English, so I got to practice a lot of Hungarian. Here, she asked me why I wasn't eating a sandwich. I replied that I didn't have a sandwich, and she reacted with shock. I could only answer that I wasn't that Hungarian yet.

cutting a path through the fields

Tuesday was a big day. We woke up, ate our bizarre magyar breakfast, and headed out for the first of three hikes. First we went bug watching, I guess you could call it. The kids were given a giant white net, like in cartoons, and sent running through fields, sweeping the net like maniacs. I'm very sad that I didn't get a picture of that. There were a few busted faces, but they had a lot of fun with this and found some interesting specimens, which they then learned about from the guide. It was actually pretty cool, and all the kids got rather into it.

In the afternoon, we went on another hike, which was probably the most trying moment of the trip for me. We were with the incompetent guides that afternoon, and they led us (bear in mind, these kids are 8!) on a 10 or so km hike in 40 degree weather under blazing sun. The guides also went very quickly at the head of the line, leaving me to guard the back of the line and Gyöngyi to bring up the rear. Small problem: it was so muddy, every several steps one child or another would get their shoes stuck in the mud and become trapped. I pulled them out, dug out their shoes, got pulled face down into the mud. At one point I was laying in mud and had no choice but to pull myself out using stinging nettle. I was covered head-to-toe in the stuff. Finally I caught up with my group of 8-10 children to where the guides were chilling by another spring, and discovered that they were allowing the children to throw rocks at each other. After putting a stop to that, I had to insist that one of the guides go back to look for Gyöngyi, who was nowhere to be found with her group of children. I washed off myself and several tiny ones in the spring, and about an hour later Gyöngyi finally arrived with the guide who had gone to find her. Needless to say we were both quite tired and irritated, and insisted the guides take us back to the pension in the more sane direction.

After dinner, we played football in the pension's goat field, and then headed on a night hike. And this was most definitely the best moment of the trip: standing with my awesome students in a field in the deepening dusk, surrounded by silence, breathing in fresh, humid, grassy air, and watching the stars come out. They pointed out constellations and told me the Hungarian names, and I told them the English ones. I kneeled down to be at their eye-level, a falling star burned across the sky, and several of them leaned their heads on me. I thought my heart would explode from the immensity of it all.

a bug

learning about bugs

pretty trees

Wednesday was a much more chill day. In the morning we went bird-watching, and the local ornithologist (I just spelled that right on the first try!) had nets set up waiting for little birdies. So we talked about the process a bit, and then went and fetched the birds from the nets, which he then placed in little cloth bags to calm them down. One by one, he took them out, tagged them, and then showed them to the children, demonstrating their markings, wing span, and the like. It was fascinating, even in Hungarian. The birds were also, for the most part, remarkably chill about being held. Finally, he let all the children pet the bird and then we set it free. The birds didn't like this part much, but at most just pecked and fluffed. There was a moment of distinct tragedy when one little bird, who barely moved during his inspection, did not fly away when thrown up into the air. Rather, we watched him go up, and then come down. The guide put him on the ground near a tree and pulled out the next bird to distract the children. The real kicker is who got to release this poor bird... yup, you guessed it. Yours truly. I am a bird killer.

In the afternoon we made bracelets and several of the girls turned little scraps of leather from theirs into "creatures," then sat on me and had their creatures serenade me with many famous Hungarian songs (including Himnusz, the anthem), only this time consisting only of the sound "Meeee." It was one of the most surreal things ever.

angry face

I've never seen them all so focused.

poor bird, pet by so many children...

Thursday was the big day, starting with us catching both a bus and a train accompanied by 75ish children. Dirty looks, to say the least. We then went on a basically day-long hike, including crossing a stream 9 times. Which the kids loved, and we teachers basically hated, because we had to stand in the freezing water for twenty minutes each time and help the kids across. But the location was certainly beautiful, at least. Then we headed into Zirc and the town's museum, basically a house of death. Seriously, I have never seen a place so dedicated to taxidermied animals. They were not content to have one red butterfly on a pin, but rather had 30 red butterflies on pins, next to 30 blue butterflies, 25 green beetles, and so on. The stuffed animals were equally extensive, and there was also a mammoth skeleton. So it was a little strange, but again... the kids liked it. And I guess, go big or go home, right?

All week I had a lot of fun talking to my fellow teachers in my awful Hungarian over coffee after every meal, and I think they got a big kick out of my Hungarian exclamations and explanations as well, such as when I tried to explain that I had had a chat with the boys that "no means no" after they harassed one of the little girls too much, because "femenista vagyok." It was nice to chat with them and laugh in Hungarian, and I felt really accepted, even if I could tell they thought I was totally cute. I'm fine with it... you know what? I am cute, especially in Hungarian!

That night we had a campfire, and sang songs in English and Hungarian. It was a little weird to have a camp fire and not be able to sing my normal campfire songs (the English is too much for them), but still really fun. There were also no marshmallows, being that they don't really exist in Hungary outside of the expat stores. It, as campfires always do, made me feel nostalgic and unsettled. Campfires make me feel simultaneously hyper-connected to the people around me and utterly alone in the world. Luckily, I was with pretty cool people so I could make eye-contact with them and come back to myself. I also led one call-and-response camp song, and heard my fellow teachers audibly laugh-bark at certain points, so that helped too.

the stream



the bird cabinet in the House of Death

Friday we pretty much packed up, and headed back to Budapest, brown and covered in bites and nettle rash, exhausted, and with all of our belongings covered in mud, but happy. I am so happy I got to do this with the kids and with my colleagues, and wish that every teacher could.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rest in Peace, Kis Patkányom

I came home from Forest School on Friday and Benci was, for the most part, ok. I walked into the living room and she jumped up onto the bars of her cage to greet me. Her feet were curled and she sometimes slid while climbing, but we spent one last great weekend together.

On Monday she was a bit slanty. On Tuesday she was more so. I knew that she had suffered another stroke, but since she had recovered so nicely, and actually quickly, from the other one I wasn't too worried. Last night she was breathing really roughly and weakly, though, so before bed I put her in her little sleeping sack and brought her into bed with me so she could stay warm.

This morning she was gone. She was curled on her side, her eyes closed, and actually looked quite peaceful. I am happy that she went that way, and with me. We went to the park and had a little burial, and planted a flower above her. We left a little stone, too. "Bencelita: ambassador of rat-kind."

We would always make Benci "talk" when we had her out of her cage, and she always had such an attitude. She referred to us as "her bitches" and when we would pay her some compliment, she would always add to it. "You're so fluffy and szép!" we'd say. "Don't forget okos!" would be her "reply." I like to think this was actually her little attitude, and that she knew how awesome we thought she was.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And I'm off!

I leave tomorrow morning to go camping with 2b (and 4a and 4b) for the week. See you all on the weekend!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What a week.

My weekend was super, spent at two different friends' homes being stuffed to the gills with food and presented with small, thoughtful gifts to help me remember Hungary when I leave. As if I could forget it! I also accidentally wound up biking about 40 km on Saturday, so I was feeling nice.

Then the rain rolled in on Sunday. Not a problem. I was sure I would get over the rain. Monday went well enough... just end of year tests for the kiddies, so it was like it wasn't even a work day. I gave some lessons, managed to not be totally stupid in my Hungarian lesson, and cooked us up a delicious Memorial day dinner. Balint came over so we could get some work done, so I fed him, and the three of us (Lyla, Balint, and I) chatted for awhile. It was really nice, and I felt sincerely happy. I sat down to do some grading on the couch, first opening Bencelita's door so she could come out and say hi.

After a few minutes I noticed that Benci hadn't come out of her house, so I started calling her and clapping for her to come. And she pulled herself out of her house, but she looked funny. As I was walking over to her cage to see what was up, she lurched awkwardly and fell off the second story landing of her cage in her attempts to come to me. And my baby was gone, and a totally different rat was in her place. My best guess is that she suffered a stroke, because she kept falling onto the same side.

Tuesday I was a wreck with the stress of the little ratty, and kept crying in the staff room. It was very much nem jo. I had Balint write out directives in case I needed to have her put down, knowing I would lose my ability to speak Hungarian, or any other language for that matter, should I be forced into that situation. Wednesday morning I took the little girl out, and I was one hundred percent she died in my hands. I felt relieved that she was no longer suffering, but when we got home she was alive again, and sad. We resolved that we would take her to the vet on Thursday during the evening hours.

Yesterday we got home, and Bencelita was back. Don't get me wrong... she had a stroke. At best she can crawl, she's a bit floppy, and her head is sort of angled now. But she is eating, drinking, crawling around a bit, and, most importantly, her eyes are filled with her old attitude again. So I am now the owner of a convalescent rat that must be spoon fed baby food. I'm actually fine with it.

My work week was, of course, super-busy. End of year is so insane here in Hungary... it's like the end of each term honestly sneaks up on all of my colleagues, as they all run around in a panic at the things they just realized they have to do. Every term this happens, and every term I am confused. So I've been doing a lot of grading and marking and so on, recording things, deciding the grades, sitting in interminable grading conferences all afternoon on, and the like. Now it's finally over. After my last lesson today I just sat quietly for a minute. My last actual teaching hour at Krudy. That is still super weird; I can't believe how my time is going.

The kids. I've told them all that I won't be here next year. The 3c girls wailed, the 3d kids were primarily just excited to hear me speak Hungarian, 3b was stoic, and the second graders continued to grab my legs with cries of "Don't leave!" I have received mountains of drawings and handmade little gifts. Edit and Balint have both been awesome as well. I can't even believe how much I'm going to miss the funny little place that is Krudy Gyula Altalanos Iskola. If you ask me, I haven't spent two years living in Hungary, though all that has been great too. I've really spent the last two years living in that school.

Today I walked into 3c for my last lesson with them, and they were lined up waiting for me. They then all sang "My favorite things" from the Sound of Music. Somehow I kept it together. Today one of the girls gave me a note that said, simply, "I can't wait to see you. Come home soon." I looked into a pair of eyes, and the attached mouth said, simply, "please."

How lucky I am to have more than one "home."