I’m here!

Guess what.

The world’s still round.

It is still impossible for me to fall off.

I’m here!  Here has just been changing so frequently that I haven’t been able to update anything.  Things are still a little hectic with English Camp starting up tomorrow, so until I get another moment to sit down at the computer, I offer you this video of Szebi and Cinti from a rather unsuccessful tutoring session a few months ago.

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Updates

I’m sitting in the teacher’s room, and everything is quiet.  Everything except the hum of the computer.  Everything except a sudden, slow crescendo of raindrops on the leaves in the orchard outside.  Our land is parched for rain, and all too soon the rain drops get quieter and I see the sunshine again.

The students are in the assembly hall for a historical program.  I started off with them, but after the third person finished talking and there was no sign of the end, I slipped out. Hungarians do love to talk.  And I think I would like listening better if I could understand what they were saying. Cue creeping guilt about my Hungarian skills …

Things are coming to a close.  This is the last week of school here in Péterfalva, and I taught my final classes in Beregszász last week – with Daddy’s help.  He strummed a borrowed guitar, and hordes of preteens and I huddled around my computer to sing songs in English.  Preparations for graduation are underway, which include everything from finishing the construction work on the school grounds to letting second-year Agi practice doing my hair for the graduations ceremony.  May is a time for turning.

Here’s a snapshot from Dad and Nolan’s visit:

This is a view from the top of the castle in Munkács, a city 45 minutes north of Beregszász.  The castle dominates the city, perched on top of old volcanic rock and drawing every eye with its Hapsburgian yellow.  But the wonderful thing about castles in this part of the world is that it’s so difficult to decide what is worth looking at more – the castle itself or the map of a view laying on every side.

We three had a lovely time.  My favorite moments include the wine tasting in a cave (though I use wine tasting loosely because we were poured a nearly full glass every time; never have I consumed so much alcohol in one hour), singing worship songs with the students, trying to convince various people that we were, indeed, not hungry, watching them play basketball with the kids in Péterfalva … And perhaps the part that stands out the most is my Dad and brother watching bewildered and somewhat helplessly as they got a taste of what I meant when I said that my middle schoolers in Beregszász are exuberant.  There is no appropriate metaphor for energetic 12-year-olds.  Some things simply must be experienced.

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So this is why I haven’t written

Currently my Dad and brother are visiting me.  This is how I feel about that:

 

 These next few weeks are filled with comings and goings and endings and beginnings, so we will see how regularly I am able to maintain this blog.  School ends next week, my friend Kathleen will join me for a trip to Croatia, we’ll have English Camp in Péterfalva … and in 6 very short weeks, I will find myself on the other side of the ocean, for good.  (For now.)

On Friday, the second-year students were the only ones left in the school for the weekend, and we all went on a short excursion to the river to roast bacon, skip rocks, and sit around the fire.  The weather was a mite uncooperative, so we also spent some time with our blankets over a heads, waiting for a rain shower to pass.  It was at this time that my hiding-under-the-blanket companions taught me how to eat un-shelled sunflower seeds.  People here eat them the way we eat popcorn in the US.  The seed hulls litter the sidewalks, I hear their crunchiness while we watch movies, and they are most certainly a necessity for a river outing.  I tried eating them early on in my stay, but I found that the work necessary to get the hull open was disproportionate to the reward of the seed.  Cleary I didn’t know the proper technique.  It’s still a difficult process for me, but I’m improving, and maybe one of these days you’ll see me eating sunflower seeds like the rest of them.  I’ll be sitting on a bench on the sidewalk outside my gate, watching the sun move across the sky as I crunch and chew and scatter.

Posted in family, Hungarian traditions | 1 Comment

Annamaria

I originally wrote the following for the Ars Longa North American newsletter, but there wasn’t space for the entire story.  So I offer it to you here.  It was several months before I could write about my experiences with Annamaria; the burden of abandonment – even at this level – is strong.  My guilt is even stronger knowing that I have not been able to visit her at all this year.  I suppose we cannot be all things to all people at all times, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to try.

This past weekend, several students went with English teacher Szabina for a
retreat and discussion time in the mountains. These students were those who had
faithfully visited some of the young orphans in the state hospital. Every Wednesday
afternoon, about 5-10 people make the trip over to Szölös, giving up the entirety of
their day’s free time. The children they visit at the hospital are young, all under the
age of three; some are truly orphans and some were abandoned by their parents.
The babies receive food and clothing and a crib and sometimes even a name from
the state, but our students go to offer something just as necessary to survival. They
go to hold the children, to bounce them up and down and kiss their foreheads, to
play with them, to laugh with them, to call them by their names

I had the privilege of visiting the hospital 3 or 4 times with the group of
students. I became especially attached to one of the children, Annamaria;
Annamaria was 3 years old, but developmentally she was like a child barely 1. Her
speech was minimal, but her energy was insatiable, and we played many games of
wrap-the-baby-doll-in-a-blanket or catch-the-falling-juice-cup or run-out-to-the-
hallway or press-your-face-to-the-window-and-watch-the-birds-in-the-trees-
outside.

Annamaria could always sense when it was time for us to go. She could see
the others putting the babies back in their cribs, she heard the change in our tone of
voices, and she struggled as I took her shoes off. When I placed her back in her own
crib, she would bury her face in the mattress and begin to cry, not a tired toddler
cry, but a desperate wail, so painful that each time I almost cried with her. Her tears
were an accusation, reminding me of all the things I could not do for her.
These students who come back every Wednesday have an incredible amount
of courage. They give pieces of their hearts to these babies and listen to them cry
every week when the visit is over; the children cry because they feel abandoned,
and the youth come back every week and brave that accusation of abandonment.
They give what they can and enact Jesus’ commandment to love the “least of these”
in whatever way possible.

Posted in spirituality, stories, youth | 3 Comments

Odds and ends

Non-lengthy things I want to tell you that, when added together, might be lengthy:

A) The past few days have been chilly.  The pastor’s wife tells me this is because it snowed a foot and a half in the mountains, and the wind blowing down on us from on high is tainted with chill.  It finally warmed up a bit today, but the nature of the concrete houses here means that indoors is several degrees behind the warming up outdoors.  That’s not great, of course, but I don’t mind too much as long as I’m not still going to bed like this:

              

[me and necessary sleeping accouterments ; do note the bottle full of hot water; circa November and February]

B) Cooler weather aside, spring and summer aren’t going anywhere, and the animals are back out to pasture.  This means dodging cow pies in the road again and listening to sheep bells.

C) Construction projects have resumed as well.  Transcarpathian people are more comfortable with transience than American society in many ways but especially regarding building things.  There are no construction companies here; every man knows how to mix concrete, use a level and plumb line, and lay tile.  They build when they aren’t farming or otherwise working, and this means that construction projects often take years to finish.  The center of the school compound has been a pile of bricks since I arrived, and only after the ground thawed did any more work on the new pavilion begin.  They’re re-tiling the floor in the kitchen/dining building this weekendas well, and this has rendered the only door to the kitchen inaccessible.  The students are gone until tomorrow, so the cooks don’t need access to the kitchen, but they usually leave some food and tea around for the porter and me on these solitary weekends.  Any time since Friday that I have wanted to enter the kitchen, I have had to enter through the serving window in the dining room.  See exhibit a:

D) Another cold weather anecdote: the cold snap has brought trouble to farmers, killing newly planted tomatoes and cucumbers, even those well-established in a greenhouse.

The other day, I had a theatre lesson with the girls in Beregszász, finally.  We’d been on a hiatus for about a month, what with worship services and Easter break and my trip to Kiev.  We decided that there just wasn’t enough time left to pull of the skit we had been working on, but the girls didn’t think that was any reason to stop meeting.  We’ll just play theatre games in English until the end of the school year with no greater purpose than our own enjoyment and a safe space to practice conversational English skills.  After the lesson, the girls shyly and eagerly (how do middle school girls create that combination?) handed me a bag of new cucumbers from someone’s garden, telling me that these veggies were very dear just now.  Dear and delicious and a generous gift.

Posted in boarding schools, food, spring, weather | 1 Comment

Walking with Cintia

When the weather warms up in Transcarpathia, it is impossible to stay still.  The world just needs to be walked in.  Cintia shares that belief with me, and, now that it’s actually light when I walk to her house for tutoring, sometimes we go walking before jumping into English games.  Anything involving the outdoors and Cintia also involves flowers.  We pick handfuls of wildflowers.  Cintia tears flowering branches from the trees, often violently, but with such a grin of achievement at the end.  There is not a forget-me-not or a pine cone or a rose that escapes her notice.  They all go into a bag/basket/our hands.  I showed her how to make daisy chains.  Cintia showed me how to suck the nectar out of the purple flowers.  We sing sometimes, maybe “Old MacDonald” or “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  (She always wants to sing that song.)

Once we visited the derelict amusement park.   Cinti tried to convince me to join her in the ferris wheel buckets, but my cautious, self-conscious adulthood won out against my curious childhood.  This should not happen.  But it did.  Cintia’s lively insistence and the park’s dilapidated stillness posed quite the contrast.  It was like looking at a poem.

One of Cintia’s friends joined us for another walk.  I wish I could remember her name.  She wasn’t as accustomed to my halting Hungarian as Cinti, but we spoke very expressively with our eyes, especially when Cinti lingered to put one more flower in our bursting-at-the-seams hands.

Posted in friends, Péterfalva, photography, spring, walking | 2 Comments

Húsvét

Easter.

After I woke up on Easter morning, I walked down the dirt road behind the school and cut some blossoming branches from an unidentified fruit tree (I’m sure someone can identify it; I just can’t).  I put them in my room and hurried to the church as the bells began to ring.  In my clothing choices I tried to balance my own spring-ish and Easter-y desire for breezy colorfulness with the formal black and white and sparkly Transcarpathian sensibilities.  I certainly combined the two, but I’m not sure the result was all that admirable.  Oh well.

The church service began with a baptism, and a tiny, wailing András joined our Christian community.  After the singing and preaching, we took Communion, Easter being one of six times of the year that Reformed Hungarians take Communion.  Every space in every pew was full, and the large congregation snaked around the circle from the bread to the wine glasses for over 5 songs.

After church, I got a ride to the nearby village of Almás, a community in the middle of a tiny Ukrainian peninsula surrounded by a sea of neighboring countries.  There is only one road to the village, and it is rutted and pock-marked and barely two lanes.  Ibolya, a young history teacher at the Péterfalva school, lives in Almás with her parents.  I rode there with her aunt and uncle and cousins and would be staying there until Tuesday.

When we arrived, everyone exchanged greetings, and Ibolya’s brother approached, making some sort of my gesture at my shoulders.  At first I thought he was religiously devout and making a kind of cross symbol, but as a whiff of perfume reached my nose, I realized what had happened.  Hungarians have a tradition at Easter time which goes back to their pre-Christian era: boys and young men travel about their village to all the women, young and old, and sprinkle them with water or perfume. The women then give eggs or other treats to the boys.  Historians say this is descended from an old fertility ritual.  I’d been told many times about the tradition, but it caught me off guard the first time it happened.

The next day I was much more prepared, and the perfume sprinkling (squirting?) took place in a much more orderly fashion.  Troops of little boys (and some older) were invited inside, sprayed perfume (and sometimes air freshener) on me and Ibolya wherever they could reach most easily (usually about stomach height), and then ate cake.  The smell that soaked into my shirt and gave me a very strange headache is one not likely to be replicated again, ever.

Easter lasts for two days in Hungarian Reformed culture – Sunday and Monday – so not only did we have a huge meal after church on Sunday, we feasted on the left overs and even more fresh food the next day.  I did a little visiting around the village with Ibolya on Monday, and at every stop we were encouraged – no, commanded – to eat.  I always took less than I wanted, but lots of plates of less than you want adds up to a lot more than you want.  Even if it is all very tasty.

The Easter reveling (which also included very forms of hard liquor, mind you) did not sit well with my stomach.  Without giving too much information, I would like to say that my discomfort was increased by the fact that the only toilet available was an outhouse.  I have no qualms with certain aspects of an outhouse.  I just don’t like that it’s out of the house.

Tuesday, with a recovered stomach, I learned how to dye eggs with onion skins.  Here are the results, along with the UFT (unidentified fruit tree) branches gathered Easter morning.  The directions are simple: put a whole slew of onion skins in a pot of water and bring to a boil.  Take some sort of fauna – parsley is especially nice – and place it against a clean, white egg.  (You could use a brown egg, but the effects won’t be as striking.)  Pull a piece of old pantyhose tightly around the egg to hold the leaf in place; secure it with string.  Place the eggs inside the pot, under the skins, and boil for about 10 minutes.  Remove and unwrap and tada!  Beautiful, edible, hard-boiled eggs.

It was a neighbor to Ibolya who taught me the egg-dyeing skill.  She came into the tiled, pink summer kitchen with me and Ibolya’s mother, and we sat around the table as the eggs boiled, eating stuff cabbage and talking about cooking and Easter.  The neighbor lady later brought me a rag-rug and a chair cushion she’d made.  And after the egg escapade, Ibolya’s mother taught me a little of the Hungarian embroidery that has for so long fascinated me.  She gave me two unfinished kerchief patterns to take back with me and work on.

Hungarian hospitality knows no bounds.

While we’re on the subject of Easter/spring/new life/etc., I’d like to update you on the progress and growth of Princess Leia.  Her lonely, single bloom gave way to a crown of flowers.  I water her a little every day, and she reaches for the sunshine at my window, but I think it’s the naming that keeps her happy and healthy.

Posted in churches, food, holidays, Hungarian traditions | 3 Comments