Saturday, September 28, 2013

A realization from Nairobi this week...

Last weekend Nairobi experienced a terrorist attack that horrifically continues a week later.  The attack happened the same place my husband and I had our first date, a place we often shopped for groceries, the cinema where we watched movies and the shops where we bought English books.  I have spent the week communicating with friends to make sure everyone is OK.  My friends are supporting those they know that have been affected by this tragic event.

After contacting friends, I emailed my family, knowing my mom would have an immense feeling of relief that we no longer live in Kenya.  But our conversation ended with my realization that this happens in America multiple times a year.  Kenya has not had this kind of attack since 1998 when the US embassy was bombed, but America has shootings in small towns, big cities, schools and cinemas far too often.  People watch the news about Kenya this week and think, "Oh that's Africa.  That kind of stuff happens there all the time."  Wrong.  Not in Kenya.  Nairobi has its carjackings and house break-ins, but people don't go into schools and malls and kill people.  It doesn't happen.  And an attack, like last weekend, hasn't happened for 15 years.  Whereas America... How many shootings and attacks have occurred in the last year alone?

At this point in history, I have to say that I would feel safer living in Nairobi than I would an American city.  If I had children, I think this feeling would be even stronger.  America, what has happened that the land of the free and home of the brave makes a small-town American girl feel this way?

Nairobi, you are in my thoughts and prayers.  Hearts around the world are with you.

More info about Nairobi this week...
Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And the Folly of 'Otherness' - What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us
Kenya Standoff - The Victims

Sunday, September 15, 2013

An experiment on Trash Day

Saturday was Trash Day.  It happens every September in districts across Budapest.  Our district had Trash Day on Saturday.  It's the day each year when everyone can put anything on the street to be collected by the garbage guys and hulled to the dump.  Great for us city-dwellers.  The night before these men get up before the rest of us, you can see piles of boxes, wooden boards, clothes, toys, furniture, old suitcases, just about everything Americans would put in a garage sale mixed with things that look like they're part of a demolition.  Trash Day.

We added our IKEA boxes that once held a couple new furniture items.  Our pile wasn't anything special.  But other piles end up being a free-for-all in which some people find treasures.  All these piles across the district get pilfered through by local residents and some no-so-local residents.  The not-so-local residents, Roma who come from who knows where in Hungary, sit by these piles guarding them and charging a few hundred forint to whoever wants to take that old couch, kid's shoes, or mattress with a big brown stain in the middle.  The pile doesn't belong to these "guards", but they'll sit in a chair that someone threw out in the pile, with their money belt wrapped around their wastes, waiting for someone to be interested in an item.  Why do they think they have the right to charge people for someone else's trash?  I haven't figured that out yet.

So this year Will did an experiment.  He looked at a guarded pile of trash.  With interest he sorted through the rubbish, acting like he was in the market for a new-to-him piece of wood or table or lamp.  When he found a small light-weight type writer, he simply picked it up to take it away.  The "guard" lady scolded him in Hungarian that this was her pile.  He needed to pay her.  His response... No.  And he walked away with the type-writer and the lady frustrated at him.  But he's a foreigner.  He can get away with it.  It's the old man who obviously doesn't have a lot of money who gets run off by the "guards", and it's a bit frustrating for the foreigner to watch.  Those are the moments we wish we spoke Hungarian to tell them off.

The type-writer went into another trash pile on the walk home, but it is an interesting phenomenon.  What causes these "guards" to take power over someone else's garbage?  Do people really pay them for it, knowing that it really never belonged to them?  Are Hungarians OK with people taking ownership of garbage that was never really theirs?

Any Hungarian reading this want to give us your take on the subject?  Would definitely be interested...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It gets easier...

It's the time of year when people move overseas... school is starting and businessmen, teachers and students tend to start their lives in a new country.  Most likely those of you who are new to a country have been there a few weeks now.  Maybe you are loving it, enjoying the "honeymoon phase" we all relish with a new move.  You're thriving on each new challenge and overcoming the simple obstacles like shopping and getting to work.  Or maybe you've been in your new "home" a few weeks and you're wondering what the hell you're doing in this place.  What were you thinking?!  Either way, let me begin by telling you... it gets easier.

Every year we get new teachers at the school and every year I'm reminded what it's like to be the new person.  Trying to figure out the littlest things can be so frustrating.  And even though I've done it in three countries now, I always look forward to being settled and enjoying the day when paying my cell phone bill is no big deal,
when the bank transfers my money properly,
when I get used to the fact that the shop is never open on the weekend,
when I know which coins are which,
when I have friends again,
when I know my favorite restaurant,
when I know how to navigate this strange language,
when I feel like myself again.
These things that seem different at first eventually become normal.

So to all of you out there who are new to a country this year, I promise... it gets easier.  Ride out the first months of random tears, complete frustration, good days and bad days and you will never regret it.  This new life will become normal.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I was doing dishes yesterday and saved the ziplock for last.  We always wash out our ziplock bags and reuse them.  I really hate doing it.  It's not difficult, just a bit annoying.  It would be much easier to just throw it out.  But I can't.

For three years in Kenya, ziplocks were a rare commodity.  It was one of those things that was always on the "America List" when we were headed back to the States for a shopping trip visit.  So when we imported our ziplock bags, we reused them.  There were ziplocks labeled "Chicken" in permanent black marker, so as not to spread salmonella or whatever other bacteria chicken absorbs.  There were ziplocks for food, for school work, for nails and screws and tid-bits.  But there was never a bag that got thrown away until it had been used so much it accrued holes.  Ziplocks were precious.

A parent of one of my students in Kenya recently posted on Facebook that her child's teacher told her to throw her lunch ziplock bag away.  The child was adamant that she shouldn't.  The teacher, new to Kenya, was adamant that it was garbage.  In the end the child won because she knew her mom would NOT want her to throw her imported ziplock bag away.  And Mom proudly posted her child's reverence for the ziplock on Facebook.

Now, two years out of Kenya, I live in Budapest.  "Ziplocks" are not hard to find.  Any grocery store, drug store, even IKEA have "ziplock" baggies.  Double sealed!  And on a Saturday I'm washing my ziplocks.  Why?  Habit.  I feel wasteful if I don't.  I know that little girl in Kenya is still saving her imported bags.  "Chicken" is still in permanent marker on some of ours.  I will admit I've thrown a few away that I wouldn't have in Kenya, but I've certainly washed most of them.

Saturday I was washing out a ziplock bag and realized...  Kenya taught me so much, even the simple value of a ziplock bag.