In Fulbright Teacher Exchange’s last gasps of opportunity before the funds entirely dry up this November, I requested a mini-grant to return to Hungary. I’ve yearned to travel back with Stephanie, Sophie, Amelia and Maisie to a town we’d come to love, but yearning is not earning – and so time and resources kept us where we were. After months hearing nothing from Fulbright about my grant, which was to fund a flight back to Hungary over the summer and to train teachers, via poetry, in Socratic teaching methods and creative writing – critical and imaginative thinking skills being less emphasized in Hungary – I received a note saying Fulbright was less interested in funding return visits, and wouldn’t I consider instead bringing students to the US? I added elements to my proposal until they finally said yes; and 25 hours from one door to the other, I arrived back at the house I once called our home.Being here in Hungary once again, seeing the light in the faces of beloved friends I didn’t count on seeing again, walking the halls of Dráva Völgye Középiskola with the awkward high alarm of being an oddity celebrity, finding in a burst of curious familiarity that hidden, indirect paths of Barcs remained to me obvious and unclosed, discovering that I could still draw from a language I thought had died in my head and that words unwrapped like candy as I heard them, all of this has lit me up. I have a giddy teenage energy at times, with matching sophomoric realizations: I walk down the street and think, There are fundamentally different ways of being in the world. And maybe I’m thinking this because sidewalks are made of asphalt instead of pavement, or because houses down one street are long and skinny. I don’t get the same giddy realization, though, from the better hints of cultural difference, like the prevalence of jowls, or the easy availability of a gift bag in stores.
The very air puts me in a state of mind. Because we were well-tended guests for a year and even the bills we paid at the Posta were an interesting cultural experience, we were able to focus on the newness and the joy. So now a step outside steeps me in the smell and heaviness of air I only know from Barcs, a thick, ashen air even in the bright sun that smells not of the campfire but of the furnace. For me, as the town surrounds me and I even take it into my lungs, the pace of existence gorgeously slows and the day is an adventure once again.
I sleep and exercise very little, and I eat or don’t eat and there is no hunger. I drink pálinka and feel neither light nor heavy. While the bags under my eyes tell me I haven’t slept, there are no signals or consequences yet because I am too happy charging from one moment to the next.
And what have I said about my activities here? I’ve said nothing. Perhaps this is all introduction. I am writing in a notebook on a shaky train on my way to visit Barna and Zsófi in Vienna. Perhaps this means I will have time for details on the train ride back.