Monday, April 28, 2008

End of first week

On Thursday, we had to move from this hotel to a town about 5 kilometers outside of Hodmezavasarahely to a municipal owned B&B. This was a large lodge type place located on the Tizsa River with many bedrooms. This is a place that the guests of the municipality stay. It was very quiet and peaceful with fishermen fishing at all hours, birds chirping early in the morning, and mosquitos out at night! There was a common room which we gathered in to visit before dinner each night, and a computer that worked occasionally.

So, on Friday and Saturday we took cabs in to our schools. This actually was kind of nice, as I was able to get a better picture of the layout of the town in my mind. Since I did not have English classes at my school on Friday or Saturday, I joined Terri at her high school on Friday and then Annie D. at her elementary school on Saturday. The teenagers here are the same as everywhere else: I had a hard time engaging them, and the larger the group, the harder. I did ask them about music some and the most popular group was "Children of Destruction". I definately prefer the younger ages. I have not had a chance to work with adults, and don't think I will, as my day is quite full with the assigned school. We have just 3 more days of classes, as Thursday and Friday are holidays (that's why we taught on Saturday this week).

Yesterday, Sunday, was our first day off from school. For those who wanted, there was a tour available to the Puszta, or a ranch on the Great Plains. Actually, we are located on the southern plains of Hungary, which is part of the Carpathian Valley. It is heavily planted with rapeseed - or canola plants. There are greath swaths of heavy yellow blossoms across the fields.

Our visit to the Puszta was fantastic with a wagon ride, apricot brandy tasting, a horse show and a wonderful traditional meal with a gypsy band playing. I have posted pictures on the photo page:

I am obviously having a hard time keeping up with the writing, but will catch up I hope over the next few days.

Hmm, spell check still isn't working, so my poor spelling is here for all to see!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Politics and economy

Along on our program is a gal, Annie D, who grew up in Budapest and then left at somepoint and now lives in Canada. So, this is quite the experience for her, and lucky for us, as we are getting her impressions of the changes from the time she grew up to the present. She has been back before, but I don't think for this length of time, and usually just to visit family. Through her, we are having a number of conversations about the politics of the country and of the economy.

One thing I have noticed, is that the change from communism to democracy is referred to as "the changes". Szoltz, our municipal liaison, also refers to it this way. Hmm, I wonder what he would think if I told him what "the change" meant to all these women in this group!

There have been recent changes. First, the schools in this area have consolidated. Some have closed and many teachers were laid off. Teacher's salary is very low and now they have larger classes and longer schedules. However, what I see are classes of around 20-25 (at the most) and school goes from 8am - 2pm. The teacher I am with does not get a prep period, as she is taking a university English class and must work extra hours daily in order to have Friday off for the class. We see conflict between the students from the different schools. Also, all education used to be free, and just recently (twenty years after the changes), tuition is being charged for university, although from what I gather, it is still quite low.

Secondaly, the hospital is now charging what I understand is a nominal fee. Again, this has just changed. Doctors are not well paid either, and they are leaving for Germany, Switzerland, Australia and the US.

Both the schools and the hospital are operated by the municipality. Szolts has told us that the hospital will change again soon to either be free or reduce the cost due to the anger of the people for having to pay.

On the other hand, dental tourism is on the rise! When we arrived here, there was a woman from Ireland who had come to have dental work done! Last night we had a law and economics professor come to dinner with us. She talked about how this is a growing area in Hungary as they have joined the EU.

They are not saying when they will switch to the Euro, as the economy must meet certain criteria before they can switch. I don't know what all the criteria are, or the difference from what it needs to be, however this is not going well, and they really don't expect to switch by January 2009, as I have read in many places.

The professor said their unemployment is around 10%. They pay unemployment insurance, have government employment service, and have child labor laws that require one to be 16 years old before working. (Anne B. asked if there is much of a black market for younger workers, and was told there is not.) From 16-19 years old, there are some restrictions on power equipment, driving, etc., however, not on the number of hours a youth can work in a day or in a week, etc. They are required to be given more holidays though. (Yes, I asked all of this as she teaches labor law.)

Apparently, due to the low wages and high living expenses, many young people put off getting married, or starting a family, as they can not afford to establish their own place. (Again, a bit of resentment, as housing was free before the change.) However, I see teenagers with all the latest in clothing: baggy jeans, t-shirts with American brand names or sayings, baseball caps and stylish jackets for the boys, while the girls are wearing jeans (very tight) and the latest styles in tops. (I've also noticed the 6th grade girls are already wearing high heals and hose!)

In the morning on the way to school, I think we see more people on bicycles than we see cars going by. However, most of the cars that we do see are new. I have seen a couple of really old box style cars that remind me of the old Volvo stationwagons, but I doubt that is what they are. (I will try to get pictures.)

At the restaraunts, we are not the only people taking our evening meal, so many people have the means to eat out. Anne D. explained that her brother and his wife who live in Budapest, both have good jobs, and they do not cook. They eat out every evening. So, I think the range of "weatlth" really varies.

On the politics side, Anne D., Milt and one of our other interpreters have argued that they were not communist, rather socialist prior to "the changes". I find this interesting, especially after reading James Michener's book, "The Bridge at Andou" which talks of the Russian communist regime prior to 1957 and the revolt of 1957. Now maybe they became more socialist after that, but they were definately communist prior. So, I have some more reading to do to understand this.

(For some reason, the spell check is not working on this, so please forgive my mis-spellings!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Link to my photos

This page has all my photos. I'll try to load more every few days and may expand some of the albums, such as Construction, etc.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday - 2nd day of teaching

Time is flying with little time to myself. Having to write this in bits and spurts.

On Sunday we met with our teachers. Heni came to meet me and another gal, Eileen. We talked about about the school and what we would be doing, but ended without a real clear understanding of how it would all work. Heni arranged to pick us up from the hotel to take us to her school on Monday.

We climbed into the car with her husband, 8 year old daughter and all their stuff and headed off to school. It wasn't too far, and we walked back to the hotel after school. It took us about 20 minutes to walk back. We work with two teachers each: my teachers are Heni and Anika. Next week I will have a different teacher. The first day was quite busy with classes four of the six periods. I had the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades and basically introduced myself and talked about Alaska. I showed some pictures and answered questions. Although the 7th and 8th graders have been studying English longer, the groups I had were the lower groups and they were also embaressed to speak, so their English was not much better than the 5th and 6th graders.

Tuesday's classes were a bit better as I had the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th. Here is what I wrote in our team journal about my day:

What a wonderful day! Again, everyone was excited at breakfast to head off to school, and were feeling more comfortable about what to expect. Unfortunately, our walk to school took longer than anticipated and Eileen and I were a bit late. I felt the difference between this day and the first: more students came up to talk to me and the teachers in the teachers room were much more comfortable with us and enjoyed joking around. The highlight of my day at school was sitting with Ferenc during math class, taking the math test, and having Ferenc check my work after! (I had 100%!)

One of the most interesting things for me is the difference between British and American English. I was aware of the differences in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary, but did not realize there is also a difference in grammar. It took some adjusting to listen to the teacher instruct students to say, “Susie has got a sweater.” Instead of “Susie has a sweater.”!

I don’t know if two days makes a habit, however both days after school I have stopped at the Fisherman’s restaurant on the way back to the hotel and enjoyed visiting with Milt and Annie D. – I hope I haven’t given away a secret! I enjoyed the local fish soup the first day and a bite of Annie’s fried fish and potatoes the second.

Our evening program was a visit to a local vineyard for wine tasting and goulash soup. The dining room was quaint with pottery on the walls and the backs of the wooden dining room chairs painted with a flower design. We tasted six wines ranging from a light white through a cabernet and then a grape juice. I definitely preferred some over the others, but I dutifully drank each portion served to me. The goulash soup was heavy in vegetables, beef and a delicious broth seasoned with caraway. As is standard, bread was served, sans butter, for use in soaking up all the broth.

As each day has been, this day was quite busy. I have found that I need to sneak away for a break in the afternoon to have some time to myself, as I am usually so tired when we return to our rooms in the evening, I go right to sleep. Friendships are developing between the team members as we share our experiences in the classrooms, give advice on possible solutions, and commiserate about the typical teenage behavior! I am looking forward to further developing relationships with the students and the teachers at my school.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday, April 20, Global Volunteers

Today was a very laid-back day, meeting up with the group at the airport and then riding in a van to Hodmezovasarhely.

Got up early to catch the mini-bus at 10am back out to the airport. It was raining which didn't seem to slow the city down one bit. Yesterday was a planned transit strike, so comparatively, it was quite busy this morning. In fact, I wondered if my clock was wrong because at 6:30, the square across from the hotel was quite busy -- even saw tourists taking pictures! Ok, I like to get up early, but out sightseeing at 6:30?

Upon arrival at the airport, there were already two volunteers and the team leader, Milt, who is also a volunteer. We waited as more volunteers arrived. The last person didn't arrive until 3:30, so I and two others had to wait at the airport while the first van left with those who had just arrived. (The three of us that stayed had all been in Budapest a few days, so weren't as dead tired as those who had just arrived.) Waiting with us was Szolts, the municipal employee from the Mayor's office responsible for the Global Volunteers partnership. We had a fun time talking to him about the workings of the program and the mayor's office and cuss words!

There are 11 women and no men on this team, other than the team leader. The oldest is 90 years old and I think I am the youngest. About 3 or 4 are retired teachers, one has been on about 20 volunteer programs with Global (!), and most have not been in either a volunteer program or in Hungary before. Half are from Canada, including a travel agent who was raised in Hungary and emigrated to Canada. She made the travel arrangements for two of the team members as well.

I hit it off with a gal from Colorado, Annie, who is a retired federal worker and is traveling through Europe for three months. She just came from an Italian Language School along the Italian Coast, south of the Cinque Terra. The other woman who stayed at the airport is Peggy, and she is from Alberta. She just spent a week at the Gelhert Hotel and Baths in Budapest - and I think paid about the same for her hotel as I did mine!

The countryside on the drive down was very flat with some fields of a yellow flowered plants and a number of sheep herds. The driver did not speak English, so did not get much of an explanation of things.

After arriving here, we had a bit of free time and then dinner together at the hotel. Milt went over the schedule for the week, but I am not going to repeat it here as he was very clear that it is not set in stone and there are a number of decisions to be made. What is different than expected though is that Thursday, May 1 and Friday May 2 are holidays. So, we will teach on this coming Saturday, have just Sunday off, and then teach Monday through Wednesday. This on top of the change to another village about 5 km from here (supposed to be quite picturesque and inspirational for artists and poets) for this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They probably could have picked a better two week period for this program, but really no big deal to me.

Walked around a little after dinner and got a little lay of the land - all flat of course. Will head to the market in the morning to check out the goodies and probably pick up a few fruits and veggies, although all food is included. Last nights dinner resembeled chicken cordon bleu, with mashed potatoes and a salad. Had a glass of red wine with it -- will have to write down the names of what I am drinking cause there is no way I am going to remember.

I am sharing a room with Annie and we really lucked out. I said something about snoring while we were still at the airport, so Milt put us in the room that is really for a family: a single door into the room and then two bedrooms with their own doors, with a shared bathroom inbetween. The hotel is a small family run place, and there doesn't seem to be many others here. They do have free Wee-Fee, as the desk clerk called it, which of course is nice.

Friday, April 18, 2008

First Day in Budapest

I arrived a day early for the volunteer program so I could adjust to the time difference. Not so sure I'm getting on the right schedule, but have caught up on some sleep. There was a planned transit strike today, so I went on a two hour tour around the city and then walked along the Danube and along a tourist shopping district. I finally got my camera software loaded onto the lap top and am figuring out how all this works. You can view today's photos at:

Some observations:

Grafitti everywhere! Even in the nicer sections of the city. It really struck me to begin with, but soon it just blended in with all the other signs that I couldn't read!

This isn't tourist season yet, but still plenty to go around! I heard many languages being spoken and multiple languages by individuals. Reminds me that I only know one language.

It is definately spring here and with it is the confusion of whether it is warm or cold. I saw people today dressed for the cold with down coats and scarfs and people walking around in short sleeves. It was sunny this morning and it called for rain this afternoon, and it did cloud up pretty good before I absolutely crashed around 4 this afternoon. Don't know if it ended up raining or not!

Smoking seems to know no boundaries! Elegantly dressed elderly women, young adults, construction workers and bums all smoking as they walk down the street. But, actually not as many people as I had expected.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On my way

Sitting in the London airport awaiting my flight to Budapest. I have a few hours before boarding. The flight over wasn't bad: I was in "World Traveler Plus", which means I had standard legroom. The flight wasn't full and I was able to have a whole row of 4 to myself! Watched the movie Juno and didn't sleep much!

Met a young man who is in an aviation program here in London who was visiting Seattle for a week to visit Boeing. He was quite excited about his visit to the Boeing Air museum at Boeing Field. Met a lady who is heading to Rome to meet up with her daughter and then will travel to Budapest together. She had done no research, leaving it all up to her daughter to plan as she had been quite busy at unlike me! I couldn't help it; I lent her a book on Hungary as we awaited the flight!

Later, Margie