Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kudos for Hungary


Ron and I went to the Department of Epidemiology to find out what immunizations we would need for our trip to four African countries in December. I was a bit taken aback at how easy it went. Ron was about to find the questionnaire we needed to have filled in, online and in English. With these in hand, we found our way to the office where we took a number after pressing the button for ‘Consultations’, also written in English.

We only had to wait about forty minutes when our number appeared on the board to go to room 1. There a woman doctor, who immediately sized us up as English speakers, greeted us. Her English was excellent. We had our records of previous immunizations from trips to Egypt and Thailand. After she reviewed where we were traveling, she looked over our records and explained the effective longevity of each one. I only needed Yellow Fever and the Tetanus/Polio Booster updated, while Ron needed three.

We discussed Malaria and she told us the options, but we prefer doing it homeopathically. None of the drugs or the homeopathic options are 100%, but the drugs do have a greater likelihood of making you feel ill as a side effect. She admitted she did not know much about the homeopathic options, but went to fetch a colleague who did. She gave us the names of 2 remedies to take twice a day.

While we had been sitting in the waiting room, there were flyers for ‘travel socks’. These are special socks that aid the circulation when flying long distance. This helps to prevent blood clots, which are common when cramped for periods of time. I had seen these in the States and in magazines, but we had never bought them. This listed a place where we could buy them for 2,500 Huf, a bargain when considering the consequences.

As I was Googling around, I looked for natural mosquito repellants. I found a product made in the States, but did not know of anyone coming over to bring it for us in time. Coincidently, there was another flyer advertising the same thing on the waiting room table, so I took one with us. A student called them for me also and it turns out it is sold in many pharmacies. Am I impressed or what!

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Funny Notes


A friend of mine sent this to me with some other funny notes, but I don't think I will try calling him and leaving a message any time soon. I dialed a number and got the following recording: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I don't return your call, you are one of the changes."

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving


When we lived in CA, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays of the year. Yes, I loved Halloween too, but Thanksgiving was more meaningful. Our tradition was to invite any friend or acquaintance who did not have others to share the day with to come for dinner. We always ate mid-day to have a longer evening to relax, share, and sometimes play cards or just talk. This also gave us time to digest from a hearty meal, so we could attack the leftovers one more time.

The meal always started with pumpkin soup and it was served in a beautiful pumpkin shaped tureen that my friend Brian had made for me years ago. Even those that do not like pumpkin, have tried and loved my soup. Then the meal would consist of all of the usual fixings, but I always added my grandmother’s stuffed mushrooms as an added side dish.

Living here in Budapest, our holidays are different. I had to teach on Thanksgiving since it is not a holiday here. As I walked home, I forgot to stop wondering why people were not rushing home for their last minute preparations as I was. We too continue to enjoy the holiday in a modified way. One cannot buy whole turkeys here unless you order them ahead of time, but our oven is so small, it would be impossible to cook a complete dinner with the turkey stealing all of the room. We bought a healthy sized turkey breast instead. The conveniences that I was used to at home, do not exist here. I had to make stuffing from scratch. It turned out better than what I had made in the States, surprisingly. We also had green beans and parsnips. Ron found sweet potatoes at a store at the end of the red metro. I made fresh mashed potatoes, squash pudding, and by chance, we found dried cranberries in the supermarket. Ron boiled them in water and a bit of orange juice, then cut up bits of orange rind. It was a delicious relish. We almost did not miss the turkey gravy and the fresh baked rolls. The turkey comes boneless and skinless, so there was no juice to try to make a gravy.

Continuing with our tradition, we invited a new friend that Ron made in his Art Museum Docent Training Program. Mark’s partner works here for a US company, as an accountant. Chris had to fly to London for work on Wednesday, so Mark was alone and came to share our dinner. We had a great time, though I kept thinking of all of the special serving bowls that would decorate the table at home, sitting in storage now. The food and company more than made up for any feeling of loss. Mark found Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and brought that for dessert. No pumpkin pie since there are no cooking pumpkins in Hungary and as close as squash is, it is not close enough for me. Then to make my own evaporated milk, was beyond my time limits.

Latter that evening, some of the Fulbrighters came over for wine and chatter. We had a eight others here, making for a festive evening. This certainly made it feel like a holiday and a special occasion.

Counting all that I am thankful for, I have to start with Ron and his willingness to stand by my side living here. Living here, regardless of the trials at times, is well worth it and I am thankful for the ability to do so. I love this city. As well, I adore my students and want the best for them. Sometimes they think I am too demanding on them, but I want to make them the best they can be. When they share with me the little opportunity they have to get time and attention from other staff, I am thankful I have the time to give for those that want it. I am especially thankful for those students who feel a need or desire to take me under their wing and be my translator, my helper, my teaching assistant, and my friend. I am thankful for the Fulbrighters that we meet each year and those who stay friends long after they have left. I am thankful for our friends who we have left behind long ago, but still love us enough to stay in touch and send up little gifts from time to time.

I am thankful for all who read my blog. It makes me feel like my voice is heard beyond those whose faces I know.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

A New Museum to Check Off the List


Ron and I went to the Kiscelli Museum/Church Ruin as it is called (also known as Budapest Historical Museum and Municipal Gallery), but actually it was on Saturday, November 11th. I am just now taking a moment to write about it now. What actually drew our attention to it other than its being on my list of museums to visit was the article in The Budapest Sun. There was a review of the special exhibit, called “One of the Rare Moments”.

Let me say first that getting there took more than a little motivation; we are without a car. We took the 4 tram to Erszabet Bridge, then down to the number 17 tram. Prior to this, I had no idea the 17 tram existed. After six stops, we disembarked from the tram and walked back toward the last stop one block. The sign for the museum pointed to the right. RIGHT up a small mountain, that is. When the article said this museum was off the beaten path, they were not speaking lightly. Walking up this hill to reach the museum, would have made any backpacker feel a sense of accomplishment. I on the other hand was questioning where I wanted to budget my energy, but went anyway. The hill is also steep. The incline is such that there are 3 feet deep steps to help you make the ascent, with a handrail on one side. The temptation to hitchhike up the hill was certainly persistent.

Reaching the top and gasping for air, we reminded ourselves that the museum was once a Trinitarian church and monastery, built 1744-60, and filled these functions until 1784. As with many other buildings in Budapest, it was severely damaged during WWII. The present carnation occurred in 1949 as a museum.

Everything above the ground floor was closed off to the public and most of the exhibits on this floor as well, were blocked off. What we were able to see was statuary that once lived on buildings around the city and reliefs that were originally part of other buildings’ décor. As we walked through these exhibits, we finally came to a grand room that had the lights out. Beamed by projection on the back wall was a clock, second hand ticking away. What was interesting was that beyond the projector, there were a series of mirrors illuminated the sidewall. While the whole clock was being projected, the sidewall contained smaller elements of the same clock. One only showing the seconds, one the minutes, and one the hour.

Turning to the right, there was another dark room, but being oxygen deprived, I had not realized this was the exhibit. It is often the case that lights are not turned on until visitors actually enter a museum room, to save on electricity. This was not the case in this situation. The room in pitch darkness was the ruins of the church and the lights were out for a good reason. The artist, Gyula Várnai had created a sacred space out of an old sacred space. Hanging and swinging from the ceiling by four long chains, was a metal sculpture replica of the church with sections cut out of the metal. Within the sculpture, there was a bright light.

This sculpture created light shapes on the walls of the church, creating new and life energizing space on the walls and ceiling. It took a few minutes for my brain to attempt to the lighting and the fact that the sculpture was moving. In the beginning, I had not realized there was movement and immediately became dizzy. One adaptation had set in, the dizziness returned, but this time it was with awe. The artist augmented his art with 60 speakers in a cage like construction that played the sounds recorded outside the church walls.

The review has spoken of the deconstruction of space and time, but it was not until I had experienced it, did I fully understand it. The exhibit closed the next day, so it was fortunate we made it in ‘time’.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

So Much to Say, So Little Time


I have been overwhelmed with reading and grading papers as well as daily chores. I have not had the time to keep up-to-date with hundreds of e-mails and writing here too. Hopefully, I will get caught up soon.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Quote for the month


People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.

Saint Augustine

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Out of Africa Before Getting In


We are returning to Africa over the winter break. After looking over dozens of sites for tours that go to multiple countries, we finally picked one from Go2 Africa. Many that we had looked at were outrageously expensive, running close to $6,000 each for ten days. Since all countries in Africa are third world, it seems like a contradiction I cannot wrap my mind around. After much web surfing this summer, hundreds of e-mails with various agencies, reading hundreds of travel newsletter posting, we found the tour that was expensive, but still within our wanting to endure financial pain in order to take it. We immediately eliminated all tours that were camping tours. Both of us have bad backs and sleeping on the ground in tents with an air mattress and sleeping bag brought back too many nightmares of years in Boy Scouts. Our tour was settled with Go2 Africa. We paid our deposit. Our flight from here lands in Johannesburg, but the found us an inexpensive flight to Cape Town where the tour starts. The tour ends in Victoria Falls, so they found another inexpensive flight to Cape Town from where we depart from for Budapest at the end of the trip. The tour goes from South Africa to Namibia, then to Botswana, and finally Zambia. All nights with the exception of 2 are in B and B's along the way. Two nights are camping in fixed tents. This was reasonable. Then today, I received an e-mail from the tour company rep. She wanted to know if she could call me. Sure, why not! We had exchanged so many e-mails and some photos, I thought this was a social thing. When I told her we had plans for the day, she shot me back an e-mail. Our tour was cancelled due to lack of participants. They will run the tour for 4 people, but only had three. The company did not think they would get the 4th in time, so was bailing on us. She did have other options and would send them along. Here we go again, having to make decisions, look over options, plan out costs: will we owe more or get a refund, and other considerations. I don't have time for all of this!!! I have papers to read and grade. I have curriculums to write and eye doctor appointments to get to. That psychology exercise is haunting my memory once again. Everything is pulling at me in all directions.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Fall Break Work


It is fall break. I have spent four days working eight hours a day preparing courses for next semester. Under normal circumstances, it would seem logical to do this during the Christmas break. Fortunately or unfortunately, we will be gone from December 18th until January 17th. That will only leave me with three weeks when we return to get things finished. That is not enough time.

Next semester, the teaching load more than doubles due to new regulations of the university. There are no promotions in sight for me since there is a moratorium on promotions, so my course load increases due to my peon status. A doctorate degree does not come into play here. My classes for spring will be:

  • Language Practice 4 – I will most likely use a curriculum I have already written and just revise it. The LP classes are American Culture classes with an emphasis on academic English.
  • Ethnicities in the U.S. II – Have to write the curriculum for this one. I am teaching Part I this semester. Part II will focus on Jews, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
  • Critical Thinking – I am teaching this this semester so there is little to do. I have the curriculum done, I just need to revise the syllabus.
  • Gay and Lesbian Film in the U.S. – This is where much of my time and attention has gone. I have had to research the films, find them, watch them, create study guides for each, make decisions on which to use, and so on. I have close to 60 movies, but they are not all American films. I am trying to decide if I will have each student watch a different foreign film as well to do a comparison to the U.S. one. This is much more work than I ever anticipated, but I expect the course will be great.
  • Survey of American Culture – This is available and mandatory to freshmen. We have had 300 enroll this semester, but none of them have been eligible for my classes. My first introduction will be with this course. My co-teacher and I will both be teaching sections of this, but based on the time slot, one of us may have more than ½ of the group. I usually teach my freshmen class at 8:00 am, while he has his at 9:30. Since the students take so many classes, it is more an issue of class conflict, rather than sleeping in. This course will be 1 ½ hours a week, but all lecture. I ordered a survey book from the States and will lecture on a different chapter each week. There is no chance of making them write essays. I will never have time to read all of them. They will have weekly quizzes instead with homemade scan-tron answer sheets and then a TA can grade them for me. I am dreading this. It has been years since I have had to lecture.

Then to complete my teaching hours, I will offer a two hour tutorial for the survey course for students who cannot keep up with the lecture. This is a glorified office hour, but it prevents me from having to offer yet another course.

I spent days looking at film reviews, book reviews, and ordering books and films from the US. The university does not buy the books and the students don’t either, so it is my responsibility to make sure they have the materials they need for each course. This is how I spent my four eight hour days of vacation. The method has a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy agreement.

Now I am hoping beyond hope that the books and movies arrive before we break for winter. I could not find anyone that was coming over to bring them back with them or I would have ordered them and had them sent to these people. Everyone coming back or coming to visit someone is arriving after we leave. Time is of the essence.

I am going to be a bear next semester.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Never Get Caught Up


I thought the fall break from teaching would give me time to catch up on things I wanted to do. The last day of teaching, my students arranged a “Coffee Social with Dr. James”. This was something that I had done weekly in the semester past. I would have 6 – 20 students show up to gather in a coffee shop and practice their English. The only rules were that we did not discuss school and everyone paid for their own drinks. We broke rule number one often. I did not realize that what was intended to be an hour of socializing would turn into three hours or more at times. I had not started up the practice this semester. Although I have less students this semester, they do have longer papers. There is also next semester to prepare for, being like a treadmill, you never come to the end of the road.

So on Thursday, October 26th, we had a coffee social. Only two students showed and the wife of a Fulbrighter, who is from Poland, but speaks incredible English. One of the mental strains of the coffee social is that I do not get to relax and enjoy them. I am the moderator yet again. I feel a need to keep conversation going since the purpose is to practice English. My mind is always in multi-task mode of speaking, listening, and thinking of the next question to spur on the conversation. By the end, I am mentally exhausted. After two hour, I announced that it was time I departed. With a week of vacation, I was declaring this my student-free week, mental rehabilitation.

It was not to be so soon. Hours after getting home, my TA called and asked if I would meet him for coffee on Saturday. He was leaving on Sunday to go home for the week, so I thought sure, why not? He is a wonderful guy, always on the spot when needed, checking in perpetually to see if he can be helpful, so if he wanted another hour or two of my time, I could do it. THEN I am becoming a student-free zone under all costs.

As much as I love my students, I have this reoccurring image from when I was an undergraduate in a psychology course. I don’t remember the concept the instructor was trying to demonstrate, but he had a student, a woman stand on the desk. He then had a student simulate a child and pull on her skirt. Another student was her husband who pulled on her arm, her ‘boss’ pulled on the other arm, her ‘elderly mother’ pulled on her back, a student representing her ‘household chores’ was grabbing her upper arm. Within a half hour, she looked like she had been attacked by a mob and the instructor simply asked “How do you feel with some many people and things dependent on you?” That is how I feel at times. There are occasions when I want to shake off all the responsibilities like a wet dog shakes off water and free myself of everything that drags me down. It is not that I don’t like what I do. If I did not care for my students, I would not offer them my time, concern, and give them the motivation that I do. However, there are bills to monitor long distance, bank accounts to balance, household chores to take care of, computer maintenance to do, school preparation, and the list goes on ad infinitum. Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do and know there is money and time to do it without worrying about someone else.

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