Laughing, Learning, Living

Over the course of these past four weeks, I traveled to Hungary and Romania for the first time.

For the first time, I lived there, collected apricots from a tree, talked to the cucumber collectors, was stared at by the poster of a naked woman in the chief of police’s office, ate cake that was drenched in chocolate sauce, shot an arrow with a bow and a beer can with a rifle, tasted grilled “Mititei”, caught a fish, touched a turtle, drank fresh “Palinka”, watched brown water come out of the pipe or waited for some to come out of it, taught for the first time, walked on the unpaved, dusty road to school, had chalky hands, heard her name 589+ times every day, visited the Bear’s cave, visited a Romanian cemetery, danced with locals at the pub, was on the front page of the local newspaper, was really scared and really homesick, saw the cows walk home from the fields in the evening, learned Hungarian and Romanian words, laughed with toothless villagers.

These many enriching and even life-changing first-timers filled my mornings, my mid-days, and my evenings, and the dogs’ barking filled my nighttime, when I thought of all the new things that I had seen, smelled, heard, tasted, touched, felt, taken pictures of, written about, and experienced. They added memories of a new culture to my soul, which will now be familiar to me, known. I have embraced them, and they have made me a stronger woman.

On the last day of my teaching experience in Kiskereki, Romania, my students, the headmistress, another teacher, and I celebrated what we had learned from one another over the past weeks. I had printed out a certificate for each student and put it in front of the binder that each child had filled up with decorated sheets of paper. Each one received his and her certificate, a big hug from me, some sweets, and in exchange, I received homemade goods, flowers, pictures, notes, cards, and big, big, big smiles. Some tears of nostalgia rolled down the cheeks as well, and they were sincere signs of attachment and affection. In this hour of celebration, I looked into my students’ faces and reminded myself that I had only known them for very little time, and I realized that I had grown to love them as if I had always known them. Their ways of moving into my heart were so subtle, so kind that I did not immediately realize how very attached we all had gotten over “Old McDonalds has a farm”, “If you’re happy and you know it”, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”, math equations, long coloring sessions, crafting hours, hide-and-seek, “Fishy, fishy”, and other English vocabulary, songs, and games. When I drove away in the car, my students waved at me and waved and waved in the burning mid-day heat until the car disappeared in the clouds of dust, and their little open hearts had all received a little piece of mine.