Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Visiting other YAGMs

In late May and early June I was able to spend time with the three other Hungary YAGMs. In total, we’ve probably spent less than a month of our lives together, but we’ve become good friends and I’m glad to have people here to share this experience with! Life is great with great people!
Throughout the year we’ve heard stories from each others' lives in our different towns.  Each of our sites is so unique to its area of Hungary, and of course each of our jobs and routines come with its own sets of people and places.  So it was especially good to meet some of the characters and see the setting for the narrative of this YAGM year in different sites.  

Roman mosaics along the Amber Road

In May I visited Chelsea in Szombathely - a city of 80,000 in western Hungary, just 10 kilometers from the Austrian border. We explored Roman ruins from the first century AD along what used to be the Amber Road trade route from northern to southern Europe. Fascinating. 

Soviet-era public art perched above the city of Szombathely 

We went on a long walk with an old women Chelsea has befriended this year. Actually, I think Chelsea would say they befriended each other.  The women fled Hungary in 1956 during what turned out to be a failed uprising against the Soviet occupiers.  She then spent the next 56 years living in the United States where she earned a PhD in piano performance.  She spent time living and teaching in Bemidji, MN.  “Minnesotans are just good wholesome folks; they come from good Scandinavian stock,” she told me.
I also spent time at Chelsea’s school meeting her students.

 Visiting Chelsea's students; here we're most likely working on the "th" sound 
En route back across Hungary I went to Budapest where all four of us had a final meeting with Bishop Fabiny of the Hungarian Lutheran Church. He and his team have been very attentive to us this year and we appreciate it.
The second weekend of June I journeyed to Szarvas to visit Ole, my favorite Canadian. He and I conquered the town by bicycles making stops at the county museum, canoeing on the Körös River, visiting an independent Roma congregation, having ice cream with his boss and pizza with his host brother, shopping at an outdoor market, taking a selfie (more on that), eating fruit right out of his co-teacher’s garden, and playing soccer with some of his students.  It was a great weekend at Camp Ole!

Selfie with Ole at the geographic center of the former Kingdom of Hungary

A plaque at the historic geographic center that says quite a bit about Hungarian nationalism:
Hungarian Creed:
I believe in God
I believe in a homeland
I believe in a divine eternal truth
I believe in the resurrection Hungary

About that selfie: Ole had recently learned about a historic site along the river marking the geographic center of the former Kingdom of Hungary.  Before the 1920 Treaty of Trianon in which Hungary lost 70% of its territory, the Kingdom existed as a behemoth of a state between east and west. Remember that Hungary was founded in 896, so the place we visited stood at the center for over a millennium.  

Where is the historic center now? Go 76 miles northwest of Szarvas and you’ll be in the small town of Puszavacs. Drop that factoid at parties and impress you friends!

Meredith making some new friends at the Görögszállás Children's House

Finally, in mid-June, Meredith from Piliscsaba outside of Budapest came to visit me!  We did the 50 minute walk between my house and the train station 3 times (one way three times) so we had plenty of time to talk and take in the village life. We also caught some great sunsets.  Saturday we went to Nyiregyhaza, the nearby city, in hope of catching some sun at an outdoor pool and thermal bath.  Friday evening we sat outside and had a long talk with both of my host parents.  Given out language skills, we definitely couldn’t have had that conversation in the first half of the year, and maybe not even in February or March. Progress!

In such a new place I find that I’m always trying to build context by connecting the people and ideas I find in different places. Hungary is a fascinating place to do this. And it’s great to do this with friends spread out throughout the country!

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