Today is my 29th birthday. I met Evika years ago, when I was just 19. Over those ten years, very few people have been better friends or impacted my life more than she has. Eva was among the most faithful readers of my blog, Hungarian Goulash, so it’s a pleasure to offer an entry to her blog.
Evika was brave and came to America in 1999 to work at a small summer camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. When I greeted her at the tiny airport in Appleton, I probably couldn’t pinpoint Hungary on a world map, let alone Heves, Tiszaujvaros or even Budapest. I was confused by the order of her first and last name, but decided I would withhold judgment until I got to know her.
I was hoping for a German, honestly, someone that I could practice the language with. Instead, I found myself learning the basics of Hungarian that summer. Tabor. Tuz. Viz. Anything more was far too difficult. More importantly, though, I found myself befriending a Hungarian. Our first connection was kayaking. I was learning to love whitewater kayaking that summer, as I taught paddling to small groups of teenagers. Eva joined me many weeks, even though she was accustomed to flatwater kayaking. This was long before I had heard of Kovacs Kata(?).
Eva’s generic invitation to visit her in Budapest was all I needed a few summers later when my sister and I were traveling Europe. Our Eurail train pass extended as far east as Hungary, so we thought we’d make it that far on our Grand Tour – from Germany through Denmark to Scandanavia, then east to Hungary, before training back through the Alps to France and eventually under the Channel to London.
Thanks to our tour guide, Budapest was the most fascinating stop on our itinerary. A beautiful city, with a picturesque castle, colorful markets, scary escalators and tasty palincsinta. Plus, compared with Norway, we were pleasantly surprised to be able to afford to eat! I learned a few more words like koszonom and szivesen.
My first taste of Hungary, just that short weekend visit, inspired more. A year later, I decided to teach abroad for a year. Out of all the countries in the world, I picked Hungary because it was a comfortable blend of intriguing and comfortable, exotic but manageable. I didn’t pick Heves, though, fate did that.
Eva eased my transition into Hungary. She welcome me back with palinka and the St. Istvan Day Airshow. When I felt stranded in little Heves, she rescued me to Tiszaujvaros. Along with other American teachers, she made me feel more at ease, welcoming me into her family’s home, the kayaking club on the Tisza and her hometown’s discos. Tiszaujvaros became a little utopia for me, as I relished Mama Rozsas, the thermal bath, Sor-Patika, EDDA concerts, Triathalon festivals and ice-skating.
And Eva was able to play an important role in my budding appreciation of Hungarian women. When Miss Petra had me hopelessly confused, Eva encouraged me to keep trying. It worked. And Eva was the first person to teach me how to correctly say Miss Noemi’s name, I had been too embarrassed to ask her.
By my third visit to Hungary, Eva and I were old friends. I worked for three months at George Soros’ Open Society Institute, next to the Central European University. We reminisced more than we partied, largely because we were old. She helped me find my first apartment in Budapest, but by the end of the summer we were both living in the 13th district and would get together once in a while for supper after work.
This October, it will be a pleasure to welcome Eva and her boyfriend back to America. They will be here for three weeks, and I can’t wait to see them. I don’t know yet if we’ll meet up in New York, Chicago, Wisconsin or somewhere in between. But wherever we go and whatever we see, I know it will be fun. I owe Eva a few good guided tours!
I miss Hungary. Evika will always be a big part of why I miss Hungary. She was my first tour guide and one of my best friends in a land far from home. I’m glad I will always have a good excuse to visit Budapest.