I celebrated my birthday during the last English camp in some small towns outside of Budapest. Birthdays, etc., had come up in various conversations (and, quite truthfully, I might have manipulated those conversations … ) and the news passed along about the date of my birthday, so the day was generally known. As much as I don’t like big hulla-balloes, I was glad that my birthday would not go by uncelebrated.
I woke up bright an early at 6:30; my host family is made up of early risers, probably because the parents must commute into Budapest each morning. There were 6 people in my host family – Ernő, Csilla, Bogata, Fábian, Lidia, and Rozina – and they were each a delight. Csilla spoke quite a bit of English even though she’s only been learning for a few years. I was the first native speaker she’d had contact with. The rest spoke varying amounts, all the way down to little 5-year-old Rozi who could only coyly mimic my own English.
First thing in the morning, they played their traditional family birthday song – a cute kids’ recording with “Boldog Szuletesnapot” in the chorus. They sang along to the cd, wishing me good health and a long life. Afterwards, we sat down to a breakfast of bread, ham, peppers, tomatoes, muzili, and tea. Breakfast is always a more subdued meal than supper. The evening meal is fill with conversations – most in Hungarian and some in English for my benefit – and plenty of laughter. Csilla usually would translate the humorous Hungarian conversations for me. Two nights before, after I’d been attempting a little Hungarian, Rozi decided to tell me some Hungarian jokes and teach me a Hungarian tongue-twister. It goes like this (remember that gy is pronounced something like jdy – nearly impronoucable for an English speaker): Meggy mog vagy vagy vad meggy mog vayg. Which tranlated means: you are a sour cherry pit or you are a wide sour cherry pit. I had practiced it enough by my birthday to be mostly correct even if not quick.
After breakfast, Csilla took Bogi and Fábi to the train station where they would catch a train to Váchartyan, the location of the English camp; the family lives in nearby Erdőkertes. My second night with the family, I’d had a good deal of trouble saying Váchartyan correctly, and it was a long practicing pronunciation process before I finally got it right. By that point, I was so happy that I said the name several time in a sing-song voice, dancing all the while. The children were very amused by this, and whenever the village was mentioned or there was a lull in the conversation, they would look at me, swing their arms about and sing, “Váchartyan, Váchartyan, Váchartyan!”
Eric came to get me in the van, and we arrived in time for the daily morning meeting and prayer for the teachers. Aftwards, it was across the courtyard and into the church, where we began the day with singing and devotions.
Sam and Danielle played and sang “Happy Birthday” for me, and after devotions, the pastor and camp leader Barnabás lead the students in a Hungarian song of Aaron’s blessing which they sang to me in honor of my birthday. And one of my students gave me bouquet of roses. And my fellow teacher gave me a present as well.
Zsuzsa is her name. She’s about 30 years old but graduated from college at the same time I did. She’s been teaching English for the past year and was at the camp to serve as a translator – primarily for my class because it was the lowest level. We’d gotten to know each other the day after I arrived in Erdőkertes – a Sunday – when Barnabás took the whole group out to Visegrád, an impressive castle on the other side of the Danube. There was a Medieval Festival going on at the time, so we saw the jousting and sword-fighting displays as well as walked around the booths. I’d never been to a festival like this (not even a Renaissance Festival in the US, which I hear is quite different from this anyway), and it was fascninating to remember that this land has lived the history these people are reenacting.
Some of the booths were selling emboidery, and Zsuzsa found the traditional Hungarian house blessing, or Házi Áldás, in red emboidery, something she’d been wanting for a while. So she eagerly purchased it and rejoiced on the good find all the way home.
Can you guess what was in the present she gave me? The same Házi Áldás. I was blown away by her generousity. “I only want to give presents that mean something to me,” she said. Only give when it is a sacrifice. This seems to be the Hungarian attitude in general. The love each person showed me on that day and each day embodied the same kind of sacrificial love as Zsuzsa’s.
The day of lessons went very well. Our group of beginners were only numbered 6, but they were eager and energetic, so it was a joy to teach them. I tried to spend most of the lessons playing language games and activities to solidfy the vocab or concept I introduced at the beginning. It was a lot of fun planning those lessons and executing them as well. I really enjoy teaching, I think.
After the camp had finished, we teachers went into the nearby city of Vác to walk around for a while. My favorite moment was walking up to the enormous Catholic cathedral as the bells were ringing, watching the pidgeons fly across the square in the golden-hour light. Vác is a quiet city along the Danube, with children playing in the fountain in the main square and a lovely park along the river.
After Vác, the official translator for the camp invited us over to his house for a bit of watermelon and wine. The day had cooled down, and it felt lovely. I was quite late arriving back at my host family’s house, so they had already eaten dinner, but they had a bouquet of sunflowers, a box of marzipan chocolates, and cd of Hungarian music to give to me for my birthday. A few evenings previous, Ernő had showed me his traditional music collection, and Lidia and I had danced to it in the living room. The evening of my birthday was more subdued than the others, and I spent it talking to Csilla and Ernő about travelling and growing up and the beauty of life.
Before I went to bed, I read three birhtday letters packed for me by friends back home. Kathleen, Carina, and LaSheena – I will have you know that I was laughing outloud on my bed, with the contents of each letter strewn all over, wanting to cry with pure joy. I felt so loved. (Carina, I read the one with the ridiculous travelling card.)
And so, my birthday came to a close. It took me a while to fall asleep in the hot, summer air, but I didn’t mind.