Friday, December 2, 2011

Small Victories: Lost & Found


Kathryn and I walk past stalls selling scarves and candles, superfluous hats (the Bedazzler has made it to Hungary in a big way.  Rhinestones and sequins sparkle on everything.  Thanks, Globalization!).  Christmas lights twinkle and clouds move quick-quick in the hazy evening light.  Beyond stalls of Palinka and sausages, I spot a familiar rainbow of color.  I don't even say hello.  "Eres de Peru?"

Yes.  Yes!  A Peruvian in Szeged at the Christmas market.  Whaaaat?  Victor and I speak easily in Spanish, reminiscing about Peru.  A little bit of my heart is there; just a chunk.  I feel the piece of it missing when I see chullos and speak Spanish.  It aches like a hole anxious to be filled.  It is a gentle gnawing turned ravenous.


I tell Victor that my Peruvian friend John is living in Vienna and might be visiting me, and I will bring him here to the market, so they can connect the way only paisanos can.  John and Victor are both so far from home, from a place that feels a little bit like my home, my Peru.

I miss Peru in a way that says, Don't worry, I know it aches, but you will go back.  I miss Peru because in Peru you say "Buenas dias" when you pass people on the street in the morning.  Here, the custom is to avoid the other person's gaze, or at the very least, return their gaze sternly.

I walk down the street and smile slightly at a tight-lipped old fat man with ruddy cheeks, who looks like he is thinking "Remain your composure!  Remain your composure!" and I burst into laughter after he passes.

Living in a foreign country feels like never getting the joke, but we all know that even when we don't get the joke, we still laugh.

So here I am, laughing.

Or, crying.

It depends, really.


Week one of teaching is over.  I have taught 13 different classes in three different schools.  I have played more Pictionary this week than I have ever played in my life.  When I tell the students I am from California, the girls squeal.  They seem most interested in my least favorite aspects of America: Justin Beiber, fast food, Twilight.  The girls ask if I have seen Twilight, and I can tell they are about to judge the hell out of me.  I say I have not, and for now, I am safe.  

I teach a lesson about giving advice, and Twilight comes up again.

Me: I have a problem.  My boyfriend is angry with me.  What should I do?
Lacus (pronounced Lohtzi): Maybe he does not want to watch the Twilight.
Lacus, I tell him, I have never even seen Twilight.  Can we just get that straight?
Smiling he puts two hands up, Ok, ok, sorry.
We're good, but I suspect the girls are pissed.

They also give me advice about things to do and see in Szeged.  "Do you like China food?"  ... "Go to Karazs square, there is McDonalds."  ... "I think you like go cinema."


I am determined not be the loud awkward Amerikai, but my life here is a series of fumbles.

I get lost nearly everywhere I go.  When I am being kind to myself, I call it wandering, but after a few hours of "wandering" with frozen carrot fingers and shaking legs, tears from the cold and utter exhaustion and desperation of not knowing how to get home, I can no longer sugarcoat it.  With numb and naked fingers or clumsy gloved hands, I fumble for the keys.  It is a victory when I make it into the apartment.

It is a victory when I make it to the school on time, when I catch a bus (and when it's the right bus!) (and when I get off at the right stop!), when no one in class puts their heads on their desk to feign sleeping.  Do you mind if we consider it a victory that they are pretend-sleeping and not actually taking naps?


Lots of small victories.  It seems fitting, in this small country which has had so much suffering, whose suffering you can see in the blocks of housing and on the faces.

May we all celebrate our victories today, big or small, and may we please, please, please, let go of anything we consider to be a failure.  Including, but not limited to, a particular English lesson.

It is what it is.  It was what it was.  And it will be what it will be.

Blessings come in all forms.  Like this morning, when I was running late to a new school for my first day of classes, I wasn't sure how to get to the school from the bus stop.  I spotted a young boy wearing a backpack at the vegetable stand.  "Luthos? Eskola?"  He gave me directions in Hungarian.  I questioned with gestures.  He ran closer to the cart said something to the guys at the stand, then gestured for me to come with him.  We talked to each other, even though we couldn't understand, and he led the way to school.

He found me later, while I was clearing out of a classroom.  "Jessi!" he said, his smile coy and knowing.  "Tomas!"  I grinned.

And then I found him at the bus stop.

Rubbing my tummy, I asked him how to say "I am hungry" in Hungarian, and he shoved his baguette toward me, his eyes at once growing and pointed with concern.

He gets off the bus, and I wave as he turns around to look at me, on my way to Szeged, to my home.  I am on the right bus.  I am in the right place.

Slowly and suddenly, I look around and know -- I am not so lost.

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