Monday, September 22, 2008


This past weekend I went to the Szekszard Wine Festival. The city of Szekszard, located in Southern Hungary, is known for its wine (by the way, "sz" in Hungarian is pronounced like an "s" in English). I traveled in a minibus with about 20 people from Lugoj; a group of kids from the Lugoj Kid's Club had been invited to perform at the festival (and I was invited to tag along).

We arrived after about 6 hours, ate lunch and were shown around town by some of the locals. We were even given a private tour of the history museum--I didn't understand what the curator said, but luckily a couple people in our group spoke Hungarian and could translate into Romanian.

The official opening of the festival was held later that evening in the main town square. They had a showcase of traditional Hungarian dancing on a large stage. I was impressed how the women danced with decanters of wine on their heads, and the men clapped, stomped and slapped their boots in time. The rhythmic effect of the men stomping and pounding was quite powerful. I liked the music too, mostly violin and acoustic bass.

The next day we went to a function at the town hall. All the local officials were out, wearing cloaks (traditional costume I suppose). Speeches were given, and then an important-looking man took a glass and went over to the fountain in front of the town hall. He put his glass up to the spicket, turned it on and--get this-- out poured red wine! In fact there were two spickets on the fountain, one for red wine, the other for white. Glasses were handed out to everyone there, and we obligingly filled them. Imagine that, a wine fountain!

After that, there was a long parade down the main street. All the local wine producers were represented, along with all the schools, several organizations and many dance troupes. I was also surprised to see the mayor of Lugoj marching in the procession! Like us, he was an invited guest (probably because Szekszard and Lugoj have some economic partnerships).

Later on the second day, our kids performed. One group did a breakdance routine, the other was a rock band; they were both really good. By the time their acts were over, it was cold and we were all very hungry. We had meal tickets for one particular restaurant, which had set up a tent amidst all the wine tents. The only problem was that we had to sit outside. But I, for one, was too hungry to care; I ate despite the icy mist and stinging breeze. Luckily, the food was very good (turkey shish-kebabs, a pork cutlet, french fries and a sour cream sauce with cucumber, onion, and garlic). And, for a little added warmth, we drank hot mulled wine.

On the morning of the third day the kids performed once more. Next to the stage was a kiosk selling candies, so I took the opportunity to buy a few things. I bought some honey biscuits/cookies, some dianas cukorka candies (pronounced "deeoh-nash tzookorko," which are filled with a cough-syrup sort of liquid) and some krumplicukor (a hard white block; I was told it's a mixture of sugar and potatoes-- kind of disappointing as it turned out).

All in all, it was an interesting experience. Not only did I get to see another part of Hungary and bond with some of my fellow Lugojeans, but I also got a bottle of Szekszard wine!

See all the pictures HERE

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to School

Primul Clopotel. It means, "the first bell," and is the ceremony that marks the start of a new school year.

This morning was gloomy and damp, but the rain held off just long enough for the ceremony to take place in the school courtyard. In attendance were all the teachers, the students (including the trembling hordes of 9th graders), the principal, the mayor (who just last year was the school's principal, but ran for office and won), a few graduates from last year, several parents, and numerous other important community members.

There was a blessing given by an Orthodox priest. Then came a speech by the principal, followed by the mayor's speech (coincidentally the same speech he gave last year when he was principal) and another speech I couldn't hear or understand because the speaker was talking too softly. The main focus of the ceremony was the pairing of the new 9th graders with their class teachers (dirigintii).

The ninth grdae, like other grades, is split into 5 different sections (9A, 9B, 9C, 9D, 9E). Each section specializes on a certain subject. For example, 9A focuses on mathematics and information technologies, 9C is a section for students who study sciences, 9D is the bilingual section (they have an intensive focus on English), and 9E is for the German-speaking students (several of their subjects are taught in German).

At the ceremony, each of the groups of 9th graders gathered behind their respective diriginte. This person acts sort of like the class's "home-room" teacher from the time their freshmen until they graduate. Thus the diriginte and their class tend to become quite close; the matching of a class with a diriginte that takes place at the opening of the school year is the start of a long relationship.

After the opening ceremony, all classes met with their diriginti for an hour or so. Then, the teachers met in the meeting room for a general start-of-the-schoolyear meeting. Classes officially start tomorrow, but I still don't have a schedule, nor do I know which classes I'll be teaching. The same thing happened last year-- school began with a chaotic bang. Everything was so new and confusing, and I wasn't even sure what classes I was teaching or when for the first few weeks. I was so stressed out by all the uncertainty and seeming chaos. Now, a year later, I realize this is just how they do things here. Rather than preparing everything before school starts, they sort of figure it out as they go. Which certainly is a different approach than what I remember from school in the States. But, that's all it is--different--not neccessarily better or worse. So, tomorrow I'll go to school and just go with the flow; I know things will be worked out in the end.

It's hard to believe that today essentially marks the start of my second half of Peace Corps service. I feel prepared for what lies ahead, with a year of experience under my belt and a better understanding of how things work. In fact, after a summer of sleeping in, I think the biggest challenge I face right now is re-training my body to get up in the morning.

Spor la treaba
to all my students and colleagues!