Monday, September 23, 2013

Thad becomes Ted

A little over a year ago, I was driving a group of Augie international students to the movie theater and said that one of their options was a movie called Ted.  Seemab Hassan, a student from Pakistan, said, "It is a movie about you! Ted!"  

As usual, the "th" sound in English is tricky in other languages.  So once again, I am Ted.

Nations, States, and Borders

A Reformed Pastor living in Budapest, Dick Otterness, shared this video on facebook and I thought it worth sharing on here as well.  I like what this map is able to show for several reasons:
  •  Hungary, and really all of central Europe, are situated as they should be, in the center.  Too often we think of Hungary and other central European neighbors as being situated much further east.  There's good reason for this, part of which stems from lumping these countries and their politics into the Eastern Bloc countries and thus adopting a strictly west/east mindset.  We also like to separate more developed, powerful western European countries from the rest in our minds.  
  • Despite fewer "colors," or nations of people as they are, that exist on today's map of Europe, many of these national identities are alive and well among inhabitants of each colored area today.  
  • Building on the last point, this shows how many histories, economic systems, ethnic groups, and historic feuds have been put together in the European Union.  With 28 member states, their motto is, "United in diversity."  One big happy family, right?
  • Speaking more specifically to Hungary, the boundaries of the Hungarian empire show very few changes for most of the last millenium.  And then suddenly the sovereign borders shrink during WWI.  Know that Hungarian people and Hungarian nationalism continue to exist outside of the borders of the state which contributes to this feeling that they are still a mighty kingdom, just living in a smaller space.  Hungarians are very aware of their powerful history in Central Europe and how that changed in the early 19th century.  
  • Last, I like that the map shows constant changes in borders.  It's hard to imagine the conversation in the U.S. when we acquired Hawaii and Alaska in 1959.  Where will our borders change next?  How will borders in Europe change?  There's always talk in Scotland and in Catalonia of separatist movements, to name just two.
Food for thought.  

What's in a name

The nearby city of Nyíregyháza, and the even closer town of Nyírtelek, both share the same prefix Nyír.  After looking at at map of the area, several other villages share this word in their name as well. 
Uncle Tim asked what this means, so here's the answer: birch tree.

I have yet to see thick birch groves, but apparently it's an historic part of the area.

So while I have a hard time remembering my days of the week and different words for foods, I am making progress on Hungary's vegetation.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A few words on books

Both as a way of taking some time to decompress, and to read some things in English, I'm working through three different books, all of which offer something of relevance to this experience and beyond.  

Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca.  The book is both a first hand account of the author's travels amongst various groups of Roma, as well as a thoroughly researched report on modern gypsies, their past, and their lives in a post-Communist Europe.  Fonseca's writing is complex and enjoyable.  Her own observations from years of research and listening and questioning are helping to affirm some of the things I'm discovering in my new home.  150 pages in, I can safely say that I can relate to 80% of what she writes about.
A note on the word gypsy: A had previously understood the word "gypsy" to be a derogatory term for this complex ethnic group.  As Fonseca and I have both discovered, the two terms are used interchangeably among many Roma and non-Roma.  Some prefer one term over the other.  I have not yet encountered anyone who is offended by one term or the other, but that day will probably come.

Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria.  Considering my roots in South Dakota, I'm not sure that I could be reading a better book alongside Fonseca's account of modern gypsies.  Deloria's account of a young Sioux Indian women gives a similar account of an ethnic group that has faced harsh persecution and injustice in every sense.  I didn't know that this book existed until a few months ago when my boss recommended it as a book that significantly influenced her thinking when she was in college and led her to pursue improved assistance and access for Indian people in South Dakota.  

And Grace Will Lead Me Home by Rev. Dr. Paul Rohde 
Paul first gave me an unpublished copy of this book when I went to Norway a few summers ago.  Norway was (and is) a plush oasis compared to eastern Hungary, and I didn't fully appreciate the meaning of the book in 2011.  But now, after turning to the book for some inspiration and some guidance on journaling this experience, I can say that I have felt the full range of emotions and reactions that Paul anticipates most pilgrims will encounter.  Thanks, Paul.

Also, a shout out to Jake Bury for sharing with me his top 5 articles of the summer, which I might have more to say about on here later. 

"Wherever you are, be there"

In some ways it seems strange that it’s already September 21st.  Ever since August 1st, when I was done working in Sioux Falls, I’ve been on the move.  Settling permanently into a new place takes some time, and some growing pains.  I haven’t done that since...well, since I started at Augie 4 years ago.  And for as much discomfort that that transition brought, I’d say things turned out alright.  In addition to hearing from family members, nothing makes the day better than hearing from friends back at Augie and at home. 

In another way, it seems hard to believe I've only been in my new home for less than two full weeks. Each day has brought new people to meet, new places to go, and new challenges.  
As Pastor Paul relays in his book "And Grace Will Lead Me Home", Augustana Professor Richard Swanson says, "Plan carefully, and plan for your plans to change."  I had previously thought I'd be living in the small town of Nyirtelek and working each day in the predominantly Roma village of Gorogszallas.  As it turns out, I'm living in Gorogszallas with a Roma host family who has been extremely welcoming.  They have a modest home and have graciously given up their living room and made it my room.  On the back side of the living wall is a small fenced-in area with a few pigs, sheep, chickens, and ducks.  I felt pretty out of my element at first, but I'm beginning to feel more at home.  My host Mom, Agi, is a great cook and seems to be constantly preparing for the next meal.  The father, Sandor "Sani", drives the transit van for the church in Nyirtelek.  Their son, Sandor "Little Sani", is 19 and has been similarly welcoming - and he's eager to practice his English!
Language: Other than a handful of school children who have had minimal English in the Hungarian schools, no one in my village of Gorogszallas speaks any English.  This complicates simple things like arranging transportation or setting a meeting time, and more complex things like trying to establish a relationship with my host family and their neighbors.  My Hungarian is coming alongslowly but surely.  Each complete sentence that is both spoken and understood is small victory!
Ruth Grinager, a family friend, tells her classes "wherever you are, be there."  For the last two weeks I've been focusing on being present in the village and trying to get a feel for the "new normal."  I continue to find new ways to engage with the people around me.  As it turns out, everyone wants to know English and so far I've been able to teach one beginner lesson in Gorogszallas, as well as help a few students with their English homework.  That looks to expand in the next few weeks with more opportunities in Nyirtelek.  My work at the Children's House in the morning has been a bit slow, but still a good change of pace.  
My access to internet in the village is not quite what I'm used to at home, which is also somewhat refreshing.  This makes staying in touch somewhat difficult.  As this is a blog and open to all, it does come with a filter.  If you have questions about anything in particular--perhaps something I could blog about later--drop me an email:
Take care, and thanks for reading!    

Our last night in Balaton before heading to Gorogszallas

Monday, September 2, 2013

A few words on Seamus Heaney, and other news

Late last week, a Nobel laureate and artist of words Seamus Heaney passed away.  I vividly remember reading and writing about his work in Dr. Looney's class, particularly his poem "Digging".  More on Heaney, and "Digging" here.  

Heaney once remarked, "I always believed that whatever had to be written would somehow get itself written." These words resonated with me again on Friday and over the weekend as I thought about how I'm sharing my experience through written words.  There's a lot to be said and shared right now, and I haven't done a very good job yet.  But gradually I'll write what I can--descriptions, reflections, other musings.

So here's a very brief update of several notable things thus far:

Hungarian Lessons:
Vagyok Thad.  Beszelek Angolul es egy kis Magyarol.  or My name is Thad.  I speak English and a little Hungarian.

 Late at night, studying Magyarol

Learning a new language with 3 hours of instruction each day is challenging but fun.  It makes me realize how much I miss being in school, but also how much I don't miss homework.  Ironically, all of my high school español is coming back to me now and confusing the whole process.  Hungarian is easy when it comes to tenses; there is a simple way to express past, a simple form for future.  Other forms of grammar are delivered through suffixes to the original word instead of many separate words.  With 4 days to go, we should have the tools to help us continue building vocabulary and listening for more complex forms of speech.


Bratislava skyline - St. Martin's on the left

Hungary is actually our third country so far.  We landed in Vienna, hiked along the Danube in Hainburg, Austria, and continued to Bratislava where we spent four days with our coordinators, Miriam and Jeremy, and their family.  Miriam is the pastor at the Bratislava International Church which we attended on Sunday morning.  The congregation looks different every Sunday.  Some expats from around the world attend to hear a service in English; some travelers seek out the church on their way through Bratislava.  The eclectic mix of people and stories made for a great fellowship hour at a cafe next to the the church.  

Bratislava is one of Europe's smallest capital cities with just half a million people.  We stayed within a small pocket of the city--albeit the most beautiful and historic pocket of the city.  For centuries, Bratislava was an important city for Central European politics.  11 Austrian and Hungarian rulers (for a time joined as the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were coronated at St. Martin's Cathedral in the heart of Bratislava's Old City.  Across the Danube, we could see well over a dozen communist-era apartment blocks which have since been painted to conceal their dreary gray color and gloomy history.

In Bratislava, we met up with about 20 English teachers who are now scattered across Central Europe and also work through the Lutheran church.  Several of the teachers living in Bratislava share an apartment with an incredible view!

 Sharing a meal with Lutheran English teachers from one of the best rooftops in Bratislava

Lake Balaton:
During our language training, we're staying at a Lutheran conference center on the north shore of Lake Balaton.  The lake is 147 miles in circumference, and is the largest fresh water lake in Central Europe.  It also happens to be a beautiful place to spend two weeks before we head off to our work sites.

View of Révfülöp, a small village on Lake Balaton

Day trip to Balatonfüred