The Hungarians are smart. I take that back. The Hungarians from Békéscsaba are smart. As far as I know, they're smarter than the rest of the world. They have Garabonciás.
You might ask, what is Garabonciás? I did too.
"It's a competition between all the schools in town."
How do they compete?
"They have many programs."
What sort of programs do they have?
"Um, [arguing with each other in Hungarian] a lot of programs."
Sometimes it's like pulling teeth. The competition didn't seem to be about sports, which had been my first guess. But, the more I asked, the more I thought it wasn't even really a competition. All of the students told me it was a competition, but didn't know how to explain what was done. I tried asking the teachers, but they just seemed to think it was stupid and didn't want to talk about it.
This all took place last week, which explains why I didn't write much here. My first class Monday morning started late because they were handing out red t-shirts with lego men on them to all the students. What were they for? Garabonciás. What is Garabonciás? A competition. Sometimes you just have to stop asking.
They, however, don't stop asking. The beginning of my second class was interupted by a student asking if they could go to Garabonciás City. I didn't know what this meant, I didn't know if I was allowed to take them, I didn't know when they wanted to go, and they were so nervous about my answer that they forgot how to speak English. Grunts, hand motions, and 16 sets of eyes darting between the clock, my eyes, and the windows made me realize no learning would be done this day. Maybe if I took them to this mysterious city I'd figure out what it was all about.
A few blocks from the school was a vacant lot. It was walled in by a crappy wall, and next to an ugly parking lot. There were multiple tents set up - festival type tents - and kids in matching t-shirts everywhere. Apparently every school made a t-shirt to show their pride (except for one school that made a cape).
Immediately after arriving, my students scattered and were never to be seen again. Fortunately, I made a new friend. Or, to be honest, a new friend made me. A guy came up to me and said, "You must be Alexander, I'm Ken from New York and I know Joe". At first I thought it was some sort of code and I'd been sucked into a spy ring, but then I realized I also know Joe and he must know Ken. I thought maybe an American could explain what this was all about, but he was pretty vague. He basically said it's an excuse to party. He was spot on.
The rest of the day consisted of students asking to go to the Garabonciás City as soon as I arrived at their classroom. Slowly but surely they started making the decision themselves. My average class size went from 16 to 5. To make things worse, the five students in the class were half asleep, had bloodshot eyes, and absolutely no motivation to do anything. Once, I even got suckered with the old "can I go to the bathroom" and never come back trick.
The whole week became like a Friday in Boulder. The students would stay out partying every night and barely make it to school. Now I understand why the teachers hate it.
But, they're geniuses. In America you have to wait until your 18 to start living like this. Plus, you have to work hard enough to get into a school where it's done, and then wait until your 21 to go the bars and really enjoy it. In Békéscsaba, you simply have to start high school. It doesn't matter which one, and evidently you can go to the night clubs when you're 14.
The real genius of it all, it doesn't happen anywhere else in Hungary. It started 19 years ago, and quite shockingly, no one could give me a reason why it started. However, do the math, think about political structures, and you can probably figure it out.
It's all comes to an exciting close on Thursday night. Each school elects a representative, and they're the ones who are really competing. They are getting graded for all the events they organize during the week (concerts, beauty pageants, cool tents, etc.) Then they have a final set of tasks at the sports arena on the outskirts of town. They have a big procession there during the afternoon, and the cops close the streets off. I think it's the only time of the year that this town has traffic jams. I missed the first procession to the tent city, so I was determined not to miss the one out of it.
Here are some pictures of the procession, my students are the one's in red shirts.
Unfortunately, my curiosity got the best of me (but it didn't seem to kill any of the cats around here). I thought I'd go for a little walk at 3:00 and be back by about 3:30. Nope. I finally left and got home at about 9:00. Good thing the grocery stores close at 7:00, it's not like I needed to buy something for dinner. Plus, I hadn't planned for my weekend trip, I hadn't planned what I would teach the next day, I hadn't done laundry, I hadn't showered (in a few days), and plenty of other things.
On the plus side, I saw most of the competition. The representative of each school had to go up on the stage to complete a series of tasks. It's a big honor, and the winner works with the mayor to do some big project in town. Here are some of the things they had to do: have a small debate, compete in a trivia contest, make a video about their school director, make a presentation about another school, and stand in a line on the stage trying not to laugh while a comedian told jokes. Oh, and then there was the teacher competition that I was drafted for at the last minute. I sung a song, in Hungarian, with a group of teachers and students. I don't know what I said or if I said it right, but I'm sure it added to my local celebrity status.
After I finally left, I went out for pizza and to watch my students stumble by drunk.
I guess I didn't mention that. Thursday night (just like college) was the huge party night. I canceled my Friday morning class because I knew I'd be the only one there. Plus, the winner of Garabonciás traditionally cancels the second half of the day on Friday, so I got a head start on my trip. My school didn't win, they came in third of eight. They were very proud.
So there's how the Hungarians, excuse me, the Békéscsabaians outsmarted all of America. But I've let the cat out of the bag. All you high school students in the crowd, demand Garabonciás. Who cares what it is, there's a lot of parties involved.