Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas in Europe

My favorite part of Christmas in Europe is the ambiance of the Christmas markets.  Pick any city in Europe and you'll find their version of the Christmas market.  Some are cheesy, Chinese-made trinkets, like in Prague, Czech Republic.  Others are traditional crafts and ancient settings, like Dresden, Germany.  Budapest puts on several Christmas markets throughout the city.  You always know Christmas is here when you see men hanging lights down Andrassy Avenue and the little wooden houses, where vendors sell their crafts, being hammered together in every square.

Give me a cup of mulled wine, a walk through the market and friends to meander with... and it feels like Christmas.  It's a bit different than the advertisements, giant shopping bags and big jolly Santa Clauses you see in America.  But the Christmas spirit is definitely in the air.  Christmas is Budapest definitely puts you in the spirit of the season!

Budapest, Varosmarty Square

Dresden, Germany

Vienna, Austria

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Hungarian Cure-All

My mom has a book of my great grandmother's titled Home Remedies for All Ailments (or something like that).  As a teenager I enjoyed looking at the recipes for everything from home-made cleaning products to home-brewed medicines.  Most medicines often involved a bit of whiskey.  In Hungary it's not much different (even today).

Pálinka is the medicinal liquor of Hungary.  Many Central and Eastern European countries have their own versions.  In Hungary pálinka is distilled from fruit, mostly plums.  It tastes a lot better than American whiskey, but still burns on the way down.

I've been battling a head cold this week.  No surprise in December.  As I stupidly went to work each day, my Hungarian co-workers all had the same advice for me... You need some pálinka.  Being that a recent guest gave us a nice bottle of home-brewed pálinka from her mother, my sweet husband set about giving me my dose of Hungarian medicine each night this week.

Pálinka mixed with hot water and cloves does make a person feel better.  It may not be a cure, but it sure helps me sleep and alleviate some of that sinus pressure.  The cold hasn't gone away, but my Hungarian co-workers are right... a shot of Pálinka is good medicine.  Egészségedre!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turkey on "Turkey Day"

Working at an American school overseas has its perks.  Having Thanksgiving weekend off when the rest of Europe is going about regular business is one of those advantages.  For international teachers, this four-day weekend means only one thing... travel time!  This year we headed off to Istanbul.  The humor of being in Turkey the day we should be devouring turkey was not lost on us.  We decided to spend our day consuming too much Turkish delight instead of turkey and dressing, and we enjoyed our sugar comma to the fullest.  Aside from consuming too many sweets, we saw the sights.  What a beautiful city to explore.

A fusion of East meets West.
Chaos and order.
Asian markets and European shopping malls.
Mosques and churches.
The call to prayer echoing throughout the day.
Chestnuts roasting on open fires on the street.
The sea.
Honking horns.
Byzantium, Roman Empire, Ottomans.
All in one GIANT city.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Normal Life

My blog posts usually involve some travel experience or a cultural nuance of living abroad.  The truth is, most days are just like everyone else's days...  Pretty normal.  I spend five days a week going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, sitting on my couch for a few minutes and going to bed.  On the weekends, we go out with friends on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday morning.  It's the same no matter where in the world we go.  This is the part of living abroad that isn't really blog worthy - my life is the same as yours, as everyone's.

And have some fun.

But that's one of the things I love about living abroad.  Life becomes normal even when you spend Thanksgiving sight-seeing and you can't speak the same language as the grocery clerk.  It's normal because everywhere in the world people go about their days doing normal things.  We all have to.  It's life.  Life, no matter where you live it, is pretty much... normal.

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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

There's no place like home...

The train pulled up to Keleti Station and I jumped off.  I was home.  Home in Budapest.  After a short 10 day trip around Europe with friends, we arrived back in Hungary yesterday.  No matter where I've lived, home always has the same feeling...  Familiar.  There is something about the familiarity of my neighborhood, my street, the three flights of stairs to my flat, and my own couch.  And nothing says "home" like sleeping in my own bed!  Summer is quickly coming to a close for the teaching crew, but being home still feels good.

More to come from summer travels in Sweden, Denmark, Amsterdam, Germany, and Czech Republic.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hit the Beach

Have you ever heard of Varna, Bulgaria?  Probably not.  We hadn't either until we found cheap airplane tickets, looked it up on the internet, and hit "buy".  Varna is a beach town on the Black Sea.  It looks like a bunch of beach resorts threw up in the Old Soviet Union.  Which gives it a unique feel.

Communist statues still standing.
Cheap everything.
White sand.
Blue waters.
Sunbathers under umbrellas.
Cocktails to drink.
Old history.

I would recommend it for a long weekend with friends.  Was a great little get away.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In the midst of processing...

I'm going to be very real for a moment.  I'm sure I'll offend someone as I have in the past.  But maybe this post will shed some light on why my opinionated, sometimes smart-ass, sometimes stupid comments have been what they have in the past.  And why I'm apologizing for it.

I just read this article: 7 Stages of White Identity

While the title and some of the article doesn't exactly pertain to me, it definitely hit a cord.  The cultural identity cord.  I live abroad amongst a slew of cultures.  I teach their kids.  I go out for drinks with friends from the 4 corners of the globe.  I travel the world.  And I love every minute of it.  And then I get "back home" and talk to friends in America, and I get feelings of embarrassment, guilt, shame, frustration, self-righteousness about being American and rising above my "Americanness".  I've often had this attitude that I'm enlightened above those Americans who haven't traveled, who don't know people from other cultures.  I've thought my diverse friends and experiences gave a more realistic view of the world rather than the narrow small-town perspective I grew up with.  While my experiences have definitely shaped my perspective, my attitude and stages of cultural awareness have sometimes made me a big jerk.  I've been naive.

All the embarrassment, guilt, shame, frustration, and self-righteousness are real feelings.  I can't deny that.  But they come from my internal process of trying to sort out cultural identity - the culture of others, my culture, and the culture I grew up in.  Just like the guy in the article, I've definitely gone through phases.  They're not quite the same as this guy, but I would say I've been sitting in an "ashamed" phase for awhile.  Ashamed that I'm American.  Ashamed at what my country thinks, does, chooses.  So ashamed that sometimes I don't want to admit I'm American.  What an ungrateful brat.  

The truth is, I can now see that this has been part of my process of reconciling the cultural clashes I see around me.  Christians vs. Muslims.  Black vs. White.  White privilege. How does a white Christian American girl fit in the world when she doesn't want to be against anyone?  I don't want the "versus" in my life.  I want to be part of reconciliation and love of all people.  And reading this article today makes me realize that all my comments (harsh, real, naive and stupid) have been the verbal vomit representation of this processing inside of me.

So I apologize to those I've conversed with baring this attitude.  Family, friends, you've been very gracious over the years.  The years of me processing cultural diversity and my place in it.  I'm still in the midst of it and will no doubt share some self-righteous opinion at some point.  Sorry in advance.  Working on it.

Today I feel like I'm entering an "awareness" phase.  Awareness that I'm processing my cultural identity.  I don't need to be ashamed.  I need to continue to learn and be respectful to everyone as they process their own identities.  I need to be patient with myself and others as we all go through this process in our own time and through our own experiences.  And I need to be grateful.  I am grateful.  Grateful to have the privileges I've been given, to know the people I know, to see the places I've seen.  Now what to do with it...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Travel Tip #Something

For men and women @
These shoes passed the test on their first trip... a week in Scandinavia.  (More coming on that soon.)  I think these have surpassed Toms on my like list.  And right now they're my most comfortable shoe.  Recommended for all the summer, fall and spring travelers.

Light weight
Pack flat
Come in a variety of colors and styles
Stylish with shorts, pants, skirts...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

This week in Budapest we didn't shoot off fireworks or have a BBQ or wear red, white and blue.  It was a day like any other in July - a hot one in the middle of the week.  But this week we did visit Momento Park, a museum containing the remains of Communist statues throughout Hungary.  With this visit and my own country's celebration this week, it got me thinking about freedom.  Not just in my home country, but in so many countries around the world that have experienced oppression.  (Some that still are.)

In 1945 Russia liberated Hungary from the Nazis.  
Soviet communism took root. 
A statue of Stalin erected in Budapest
when the Soviets took power.
In 1956 Hungarians rebelled against their oppressors.
For several months they fought, only to be demolished by military force in the end.
October 1956 Hungarians tore down the metal statue of Stalin,
cutting him at the legs and pulling him down by the neck.
Communism under Soviet control continued until 1989.
Freedom was not immediate, but a new Hungary arose in 1990.
And Communist statutes and memorials were removed from cities and towns.
Stalin's feet are all that remain today.
Picture taken July 3, 2013 in Momento Park, Budapest.
 Today you can find the remains of these Communist artifacts
at Momento Park in Budapest.
We visited this week...

So many countries have been ruled by others.  Some countries are still being oppressed... South Sudan, Somalia, Turkmenistan, South Korea.  Some are overthrowing their dictators this week... Egypt.  On this American Independence Day I want to celebrate with all countries who have overcome and pray for those who are in the midst of overcoming.  Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I have not disappeared

I realize I haven't posted in forever.  As my husband says sarcastically, "You're disappointing your readers."  To which I respond, "My grandmother and mother-in-law are waiting for this post (you punk)."  I don't really know who reads this blog aside from a couple girls who emailed me about teaching abroad.  (Congrats on the jobs ladies!)  But I figure it's time to get back to the blog.  Sorry for the furlough.  Here is what has been happening on the other side of the world...

The Danube River flooded.
It was quite a site.  The biggest tourist attraction in Budapest for a week.  I must say I was so impressed with the way Budapest has been built to accommodate the flooding river.  After 1000 years of floods, Budapestians have it figured out.  No real damage in B-town but a record flood that was actually fun to watch.

School ended and summer came!

We are enjoying every minute of it... Family, guests, my terrace garden, travel, new countries, revisiting countries, sleeping in, the pool, getting a sun tan, reading books for pleasure.  Ahhh... Some much deserved R&R.

Some of you roll your eyes and make snide remarks about the life of a teacher.  But let me tell you why I deserve two months of freedom...

So all you teachers out there... Enjoy it while it lasts!  More adventures to come, and I promise I won't be absent from the blogging world for the summer.  Bring on the travel season!

Monday, May 13, 2013

For those of you who were praying in 2011...
Many of you were praying for my friend Jess, who was kidnapped in Somalia in October 2011.  After 93 days she was rescued.  It was just over a year ago, and now she is sharing her incredible story.  Her book comes out tomorrow.  You can see interviews on multiple media sources this week.

60 Minutes: The Rescue of Jessica Buchanan

NPR: 'Impossible Odds' Details Aid Worker's Rescue From Somalia

Jess has been overwhelmed by the support and prayers from around the world.  Thank you for your thoughts!  Her husband and her are very grateful, as are her family and friends.  This is beyond words when it's someone you actually know.  Some one I laughed with, cried with, and drank too much wine with.  Jess and Erik, you are amazingly strong!  This sounds so cliché, but I can't think of a more fitting truth: Nothing is impossible with God.  I think God has big plans for the Landemalm family!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

9 people and a baby

That's the number of people we've had staying at our house the last two nights.  Although we have a big flat, it's never held 12 people at once before.  On the couches, floors, and even the terrace.  People were sleeping everywhere.  But what a joy it's been to be a guest house again!

When Will and I were first married, he ran a volunteer house in Kenya.  After two months of being married we had 25 people living with us.  I spent the summer tagging along to volunteer projects, cleaning, and helping cook for everyone.  One Kenyan white woman, who was our neighbor, told me I was a very accommodating wife, with cynicism in her voice.  The truth is, I loved it.  I loved doing it with Will.  I loved hosting people.  I loved all the interesting conversations with people from all over the globe.  I loved being able to provide a home (even for a short time) for others.

And here we are again.  When some good friends asked to bring their mission team through Budapest and shack up with us, it felt like old times.  Come on over!  Today a bit of nostalgia emanates from the house as people sit on couches and floors eating breakfast.  This was the reason we chose this big flat.  This... and the terrace, of course.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

To Market, To Market...

... to buy some fresh fruits.


Home again, home again...

... to plant the garden.