One month ago, I arrived in Budapest (August 21, 2010). That means one month ago I looked out an airplane window as it descended into grain fields, and suddenly an airport appeared. There were people sitting on their parked car at the start of the runway - obviously no fence around the airport. The building itself looked like it was collapsing, but I think the construction is an attempt at remodeling. I was met by the directors of the Central European Teaching Program, who were very nice. They were pleased to see I had a big smile on my face, because they said some people come out of the customs doors crying. I bet they're crying because of the farmlands and rundown airport.
One month ago, I got on a minibus that took me into the city of Budapest. I was startled when I saw crappy old propeller planes sitting in front of the airport, and then I realized it's some sort of airplane museum. Well, I tell myself it was a musem because it helps me sleep at night. I'm going to be quite picky when flying discount airlines from that place.
One month ago, the bus driver didn't speak English, but he was nice enough to drive me through neighborhoods that aren't aware the Soviet Union collapsed. I saw some great communist architecture, people driving cars that junkyards wouldn't accept, and plenty of depressing little bars full of people drinking their lives away. Those bars, sadly, are quite common here in Hungary. Any hour of the day you can see working class men in them with a beer (or something a bit stronger). There are no chairs, the men just stand. No one is talking and laughing, everyone is just staring. Sometimes there is music, but no one seems to notice.
One month ago, a group of experienced CETP teachers met me at the hostel and showed me to my room. They told me to take my time and nap, shower, or do anything I wanted, and they would fill me in on everything when I was ready. I had trouble with the door handles because instead of turning, they had a button to push. I didn't know how to flush the toilet. I opened the window very wide, but was afraid of falling out since there was nothing to stop me.
One month ago, I ate my first kebab in Hungary, and struggled with the fact that I had to pay nearly 1000 units of currency. I stared blankly at the ATM trying to figure out what would be a reasonable amount to withdraw. Las Vegas is the only place in America where ATMs show that many zeros
One month ago, I went to bed at midnight, not before, to help adjust to the time change. I woke up at 3 and stared at the ceiling for a while. The whole time I was wondering exaclty what I had gotten myself into. Who came up with this idea anyway?
Today, I woke up at 6:30. I went and taught a bunch of Hungarian kids. I joked with my Hungarian colleagues. I bought food at my Hungarian grocery store. I got a Hungarian haircut (a little scary, but it turned out well).
I've spent my day comparing the 21st of August and the 21st of September. I don't think I've changed much. I live in a different place, talk to different people, and am constantly learning about a new culture.
My biggest change is the increase in numbness that I feel toward some of the sad sights. I've grown used to seeing the bars that I mentioned earlier. I've come to accept that I live in a town of 65,000 people, and there is always someone digging through the dumpster outside my apartment. I look at Soviet architecture, or very worn architecture from some previous century, and see the details of it. A month ago I could only see the ugliness.
On Sunday, I had dinner with an American couple who live and teach in a neighboring town, and have been here for about a year and a half. They were very kind, made me a great dinner, and offered a lot of useful guidance and advice about living here. We discussed many hot topics of the region, including communism and the differences between now and then. They said the saddest thing they see here is old ladies selling flowers and things in the metro stations. They are old enough to deserve to relax at home, but they cannot afford it, so they spend their time on street corners. They have no life savings, because they didn't need any. They were going to be taken care of, but instead fell victim to a major change in economic structure. More unseen victims of the Cold War.
I'm sure I will see many more sad things and many more happy things. Plus, I still have a lot to learn and adapt to. For instance, giving someone a thumbs up doesn't mean "Good!", it means 1. Holding your index finger up (to mean 1) actually means, well, nothing. They'll stare at you like you've lost your mind.
One month from now, I wonder how things will be different.
One year from now, I wonder where I'll be.
One lifetime from now, I doubt I'll regret coming here. That's why it's called an adventure.