They are right here, down the street

Last night I went to a train station here in Budapest. Maybe you have seen the news about the people who are coming to Budapest from war torn countries like Syria and who are trying to get to safety. If you haven’t heard, check out this article from CNN: Europe migrant crisis or this article from Daily News Hungary: Authorities not allowing migrants…or this one from CBC: Migrant crisis. These human beings are so desperate to get to safety that they are willing to risk their lives. They are dying. Then they are removed from one place, a train station, that they would like to sit down and sleep until they can keep going to get to real safety.

There are several stations here in Budapest where migrants are staying. One of those stations, Nyugati, is about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. There is an organization called Migration Aid who has been helping the migrants as they come. They post a list each day of the needed items of food and other things that are needed at each of the train stations. Niall and I gathered a few things that we had and bought and brought them to the station.

Behind the train station, there is a camp set up. There are tents set up sitting open to let the air in with bedding arranged for the few people who get to sleep ‘inside’. Children are running around. One girl is playing with her little brother and they see Hamish as we walk through the ‘camp’. She smiles and shows her brother. He is a bit nervous of Hamish and hangs back but also smiles. We ask some other volunteers where we can find the Migration Aid office to give our items. We walk past a group of men playing with a ball. Around the corner is a shipping container that has been converted into a storage place for donated items. We hand over the small bag we brought with a few towels and some food. The volunteers thank us and continue moving and rushing around with a million things to do. The refugees are standing around waiting for the things they need. One man gets one of our towels and then asks for a few more for the rest of his family. A young boy comes past with a couple ice cream cones from McDonalds, which is right next door to the train station. He sits down on the ground next to about 10 other men who are all charging by plugging into two extension cords on the ground. Dinner is served at 8pm and after that other items will be handed out. Some volunteers are taking other donated items to Keleti Station, the one that was closed by the authorities. There are many more people there. Eventually, we leave. We walk back past the portable toilets where people are lining up and the outdoor taps where people are doing laundry. We are shocked. We are sad.

As we walk home, I think about how fortunate we are. I am grateful that I can go home to my comfortable bed. I am grateful that we live here where we are safe. I am thankful that we have access to good medical care and facilities. We have access to more food than we will ever need. There are a lot of things I worry about in a day. But getting a good night’s sleep in my bed is not one of those things, and neither is eating a good breakfast or needing a towel.

Those people…the people who we talk about and pray for from a distance…they are right here, 15 minutes from where I live. Maybe you are reading this from Canada or from somewhere else and you have seen the news. You see the stories about that faraway place and those faraway people. You may think, “Wow sad! That is so terrible those people have to leave their home. What a shame.” I thought the same thing…until yesterday. But now, I can walk down the street and help them with a few items. Obviously they need so much more than I can even hope to give. But I cannot sit in my house and think about that news story I read and carry on with my day…not anymore.

 

 

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Laszlo or Zoltan…Baby Gibson’s name?

There is a list of girls names and a list of boys names in Hungary, about 2500-3000 names on each list. Parents that have children are only allowed to name their babies names that are on these lists. The law is quite strict. If parents try to name their child with a name that is not on the list, they will be prevented from doing so. There is a whole government ministry dedicated to researching and checking names for these lists. Each year about 10 names are added to the list. For example, Laszlo is one of the approved boys names. My Hungarian language teacher’s name is Laszlo and his nickname is Laci (pronounced La-tsi). The “c” in Hungarian is said like a “ts” in English. Zoltan is another common Hungarian name, nickname Zoli.

The Hungarian language is similar to NO OTHER language in the world. It has about 1000 words that are kind of similar to Finnish. Yes, the Finnish language that is spoken in Finland. Hungarian is considered an old Asian language, somewhat like Finnish and Estonian. But it is has been influenced by Slovak languages and languages in Siberia apparently. Today in language class we got a history lesson on the Hungarian language. I also learned that knowing no other language in the world makes it easier to learn Hungarian. Hungarian is all on its own in the world of language and it is not an easy language!

I am currently in my third and final week of my Hungarian language course. And I actually really like it. It is challenging and sometimes confusing. I often wonder if I will ever be able to string together a sentence with pausing before every word. But I am enjoying it. I like using my brain this way. It is much different than the way I have been using or not using my brain for the past 10 years of teaching and the past 3-4 years of doing my Masters.

Class is every day (Monday to Friday) for three hours in the morning. We do written, speaking, and listening activities. We are constantly moving mentally. As we learn new concepts or “rules” about the language, we practice them and get to know them well. Then we have homework to do. Homework includes all the learning and practicing vocabulary and rules done in class. The school is called Budapest University of Debrecen Summer Language School. 

As I continue to learn Hungarian, my biggest challenge will be to use it. I am shy to try using out in public because A. most of the time the person I am speaking to speaks much better English than my Hungarian and B. I don’t know enough to just say whatever I might need at any given moment. So the next step is to practice speaking and using all the things I have been learning.

 

 

A Weekend in Barcelona

You may have noticed some changes to the blog. It is getting a new look and a new name. Hope you like it!

Last weekend, I had an amazing time in Barcelona with 3 wonderful girl friends. One of our first stops was the food market with fresh juice, meat, fresh fruit, breads, and other delicious treats.

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We some amazing sites in Barcelona on a beautiful sunny day: Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Los Ramblos, Gaudi’s art and the beach.

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What a great time! Delicious food, great friends, warm sun and a beautiful sunset.

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Settling in to a new country

This is the third time that I have moved and settled in to a new country. Some of the things I have learned while doing this:

1. Ikea is in almost every country in the world and it is amazing. It is so nice to have a familiar home and furniture store to go to where I can find what I need.

2. Feeling “settled” is key to feeling more at home and comfortable. This time I have had the opportunity to get “settled”. Because I do not have a job yet, I was first unpacking and cleaning and arranging furniture. More recently, I have been making final trips to Ikea and other stores to get the last items we need. Being far away from home in a new country where I don’t speak the language is tough so it is important to make a place that is home for us.

3. Running errands is a momentous job at first. To figure out where to get passport photos taken, get a key cut, get good vegetables and fruit, or get a pair of rubber boots can be almost impossible when you don’t have a department store or if you don’t know the name of the store. I have made 3-4 trips to a place called Mammut in Budapest. It is a mall. There are two of them across the street from each, Mammut I and Mammut II. I have gone around and around these buildings searching for the places I need to go. Luckily there are maps that I can use but usually when I figure out where I need to go, I find out that I am about as far away from that point as I can get. So I walk to that place, then I find that happens for the next place I need to go to. I allow myself plenty of time for these trips to Mammut! I am most grateful that most of the “errands” I need to go can be done be in this one location. I am also grateful that the maps in the mall are available in English and that most of the people who work in the mall speak some English so I can ask for help. Yesterday, I had a wonderful new friend give me a guided tour of the mall and the market that is behind the mall, as well as a small spice shop where I can various items that might not be available in other stores. She showed me great places to get certain things and it makes me so happy. It makes life so much easier! I think my perspective of this task of “running errands” is somewhat jaded since I am coming from Shanghai where doing these types of things tended to monumentally difficult because there were no malls and few people who spoke English. It was often easier to just not do the task! I am so thankful for many of the little things that are so much easier now!

4. Figuring out the lay of the land and how to get around is important. Until I feel comfortable moving around the city, knowing I won’t get lost, I usually stay very close to home and miss out on exploring a new place. Learning how to move around Budapest has been greatly enhanced by a smart phone app called “Smart City”. I use this by inputting the address I am starting from and the address I am going to, and the app calculates the best route to get there by public transportation. It tells me exactly which bus, tram, or subway to take and how long to walk to the final destination. The best part is that it will track me while I am on the journey so I know immediately if I am taking a wrong turn. I have used this app numerous times and I can easily get almost anywhere in the city. The ease of the public transportation system also helps to make moving around the city enormously better.

5. Niall and I have been exploring our immediate neighbourhood. We did a mini pub crawl last Monday night and we discovered several great little places to go to that otherwise we would have completely missed. The first place was a very modern and classy bar. The second was a much less classy, bar/dance club. The third and fourth places were both pub/bars where we walked downstairs to the basement and there it opened up into a clean, nicely decorated large room. Each of these places looked run down from the outside but great on the inside. Both of them are across the street from us and just do not look like what I expect a place like that to look like. Lesson learned: explore everything because you don’t know what kind of gems you can find.

(reposted)

The Hard Parts

Travelling around the world is amazing. I am so glad that I have this life and I would not change it. But there are the hard parts as well.

1. It has taken Niall and I about 3 months to figure out how to do banking in Hungary. We received our bank account within the first few weeks in Budapest. In order to get our account we had to sit in the bank for about two hours doing paperwork and waiting for the processing. We have since gone back to the bank three or four times because we cannot either access our account or we move the money to the wrong place. When we do online banking we have to enter a new access code every 10 seconds. We are still not quite sure what we are paying for service fees because we get some amount of transactions free and then after that we pay. Who knows?

2. Making phone calls in a new country always gets me. Hungary has been especially difficult because when you call certain numbers you need to dial a +36 in front of the number. Other numbers you have to dial a 1 and other numbers it is 06, or something like that. I thought I had it figured out when I learned about the +36 but apparently that was not true. There have been times when I try to make a phone call and it just won’t go through no matter what I try to put in front of the phone number. So then I try to look it up online and it is just as confusing trying to understand it. Eventually I just give up!

3. Asking for help is hard. I do not like to ask other people for help. But living overseas in a country where I do not speak the language, I have to ask for help. I have to ask for help to make a phone call or to go to the bank or to find a place to get my hair done. I try to look at it from my own perspective. What if someone was asking me for help? I love to help other people. I feel useful and productive when I help others. So hopefully when I ask for help, those people I am asking like to help too.

Jumping Group

4. We have met some amazing people in Budapest and (hopefully) made some lifelong friends. But at first, I find making friends is hard. I question: “Do they want to hang out with me? Do I want to hang with them? Do I feel connected? Am I doing the right things to show I want to be friends? What are they doing to show they want to be friends? Am I reading the relationship right? Are they just being nice? Am I just being nice?” When I first moved overseas, I assumed that I would be able to make new friends that were similar to my “old” friends. My old friends are my best friends who I have known for years. These are the friends who I can see once or twice a year and it feels like we have never been apart. These are the friends that I know and who know me. I soon realized that I wasn’t going to make friends like that again, especially overseas. My “old” friendships are very deep. My new friendships were going to be new for awhile before they could be that deep, if ever. I has to stop striving for the “old” friendships and instead just make new friends, without expectations and assumptions.

Those are the hard parts and there will always be hard parts. There may be more but I can’t think of any. Maybe that’s because this is an amazing life, wherever you are!

November 1 is All Saints Day

All Saints Day is the celebration of the Christian Catholic saints. The date of Nov 1 was chosen in 835 AD to counteract All Hallows Day commemorated in the non-Christian Celtic world. “According to Celtic traditions, on All Hallows Day the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the non-living becomes thinner so that the worlds can communicate with each other.” See (Halloween in Budapest) or (All Saints Day)

Hungarians celebrate All Saints Day by going to the cemetery to remember friends and family who have passed away. We have heard that it is quite amazing to see a cemetery on November 1 in Budapest. This year, November 1 fell on a Saturday. Niall and I were having a lazy Saturday and we had no big plans. We had just finished lunch with some friends and were heading back home when we thought we might go to one of the cemeteries in Budapest. We looked up some information and found that the most famous cemetery in Budapest was Kerepesi Cemetery. It is the largest cemetery in Budapest and one of the oldest cemeteries in Hungary (Kerepesi Cemetery). Burials ceased at the cemetery in 1952.

We started driving to the cemetery. It was not hard to spot once we got close since it was so large. We saw a long stone wall beside the road. We had some difficulty finding the entrance so we had to turn around eventually. As we were coming back we turned down a road that looked like it went along the cemetery wall. This road turned into a small path beside a tram line. Eventually we got to the end of the path/road and stopped. We had noticed a man riding a bike that we had passed a few minutes earlier and we also saw a few people standing next to an entrance that was across the tram line. The man on the bike eventually came up and spoke to the people standing by the entrance and they seemed to start moving into the entrance so we got out of the car and walked over. We found out that this part of the cemetery is not always open to the public but we could get in it right now. We walked in and did not find what we expected, which was all the people and decorated graves that we had heard about. Instead we found an old, somewhat decrepit and broken down cemetery that was very quiet and empty. Many of the graves were broken or falling over. There were also some huge, decorative graves and tombs. Some of the tombs doors had been broken or moved. It was an eerie feeling going inside the cemetery, not a ‘creepy’ cemetery feeling, but rather because it was so old and quiet. It felt like we should respect and remember those who had been buried there so long ago. We had a great opportunity to walk around a little bit and see some of the graves. We did not stay long and when we drove away down the road and turned back on to the main road we passed the main entrance that we were originally looking for. It was much busier with people and looked more like what we would have expected!

Later we were talking to some of our friends about our experiences and we found out that the part of the cemetery we were in was the Jewish section. This section had been neglected for a long time. Here is some more information about it:

KEREPESI: Address: BP. VIII. Salgótarjáni út. (Salgotarjani Street) “The Kerepesi cemetery, opened in 1874, was the Jewish section of the city’s monumental cemetery, where many national heroes, politicians, and cultural figures were buried. The Jewish cemetery is a separate part of the 55 hectares of The New Public Cemetery ( Új Köztemeto) opened in 1847. The Salgótarjáni út entrance was built like the entrance of a castle from designs by the famous architect, Lajta Béla, in 1908. The entrance building includes function rooms and a caretaker’s flat . Until recently, the Kerepesi Jewish cemetery was abandoned and totally overgrown despite its many magnificent tombs. From the entrance was wild vegetation. The former pre-burial house decorated with Oriental-Mesopotamian reliefs is abandoned with a collapsed roof. The last burials were in the 1950s. Recently, part of it has been cleared of brush, freeing some of the most important tombs — tombs of industrial magnates, Jewish noblemen, and other prominent figures, including the poet Jozsef Kis. Bela Lajta, one of Hungary’s most noted architects, who designed more than half a dozen tombs in the Kerepesi cemetery.” source: http://www.jewishroutes.com/topdestinations/features/379.html

Kerepesi ut Jewish Cemetery (Neolog)  Address: Budapest, VIIIth district. Salgotarjani ut. Phone: 314-1269/ Attendant: Borbála Baros. The cemetery was founded in 1874. It is eternal home to many representatives of the pre-war banking and industrial aristocracy, as well as to outstanding personalities of the contemporary cultural life of Budapest.

From: http://www.iajgsjewishcemeteryproject.org/hungary/budapest.html

 

Here are a few pictures we took in the cemetery. Here is also someone else’s blog post on visiting the same section with a more pictures: Old Jewish cemetery in Budapest

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The First Teaching Post…8 years ago

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Kuwait Towers

8 years ago, I came overseas to teach. It was well before then that I decided I wanted to travel. My parents were travellers and had exposed me to the world. Although I did not actually travel a lot as a child, I heard all about various places in the world. When I started my career as a teacher, I wanted to go overseas but I knew I needed some experience first so I started teaching in Canada. Only 1.5 years later, I was preparing for my first teaching assignment overseas in the Middle East, in Kuwait. I remember landing in the airport in Kuwait and that is when it really hit me. Oh no, what did I just do?

The first few days in a new country are the hardest. It is exciting but it is overwhelming. In Kuwait, I was shown my new empty apartment. There were a few basic necessities in it and it was minimally furnished but it felt empty and lonely. I was exhausted after almost 24 hours of travel and I was jet lagged. I was also hungry but I did not have a way of getting food. Luckily a couple of new colleagues helped me get some food and then I settled in for a long sleep.

Eventually I was settled in to my new apartment and I was starting school. It was hot, hot, hot all the time. The sun beat down constantly. It was new to me. I was used to have at least a few “bad weather” days in a month where I would close the curtains and stay inside for a day. My Canadian blood was telling me to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. But there were a few days where, even though it was sunny, I closed the curtains and pretended it was raining and stayed inside!

The school I worked at had 11 PE and Health teachers from elementary to high school. My first year there, I taught grade 6 and 7. My second year there I taught grade 9-12. All the PE teachers were housed in one office. My desk was under the air conditioning unit and I slowly became accustomed to extreme changes in temperature, which were worse than in Canada! Our classes took place mostly outside in the extreme heat for the first few months of the year, then extreme cold for the middle few months of the year, and a few months each year between the cold and the hot was the most beautiful temperature you could find. That time was worth the extremes of the rest of the year!

In the two years I was living in Kuwait, I travelled a lot. I went to Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, China, France, Switzerland, South Korea, Jordan, and Egypt. Thus began the life of going to a different country or destination each holiday in the school year. Who does that!?! Well, international school teachers do that! It is still something that I marvel at often.