Last week when I mentioned Valentine’s Day, one of my high school students raised her hand and informed me that she thinks Valentine’s Day is stupid. She can tell her boyfriend that she loves him every day.
The overall attitude in Hungary towards this holiday seems to be that it is cheesy, commercial, and a waste of time. (They are probably right.)
This makes me wonder who bought all the Valentine’s cards available in the stores. Expat Americans like myself cannot support the Valentine’s industry in Hungary.
The schools where I work did not recognize Valentine’s in any way. No candy grams were delivered during class. There was no Valentine’s Dance. Not a single pink or red heart was to be seen in the hallways.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm, I felt compelled to teach Valentine’s themed lessons this week. My initial thought was to pass out a crossword, which is a sure crowd pleaser. Then I decided to take a risk.
My students love listening to English songs and filling in missing words in the lyrics. Because my knowledge of popular music is severely handicapped, I googled “love rap songs.” In the end, I selected “How to Love” by Lil’ Wayne and “All I Have” by Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J. (It’s a good thing I decided that I liked these, because by the end of the week I will have heard them each twenty times.)
Then my students had to write their own rap. I provided an outline, and they filled in a few missing terms. For example:
“Oh, Baby, you’re as soft as a ____________ (your favorite animal/toy)”
I said teddy bear. Students said things such as hamster, cat, and opossum.
At first, students groaned. And moaned.
When I told them they had to perform their rap for the class, their faces contorted into expressions of pure misery.
But I would never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Like any self-respecting teacher, I modeled by performing my own version of the rap. I knew I looked silly. That was the price I had to pay to get them to apply their English skills in a creative way. Student reactions ranged from shock and horror to fits of giggles and spontaneous applause.
Despite their initial protests, they worked hard to write their rap. I heard them practicing to themselves. In the end, all but one of my students agreed to perform. I was proud of them.
One of the boys wrote his song for me. I was flattered. No one has ever written me a love song before, let alone a love rap.
After finishing my lessons at the high school, I headed to the refugee camp and arrived just in time for a Carnivale party hosted by twenty German social work students and two professors. I was in charge of a Valentine’s card table. Despite my anxiety that the children wouldn’t be interested when they could get their faces painted and dance, I had a steady stream of visitors and ran out of photocopies for my craft.
Many of the children carefully colored, cut, and pasted hearts on a card. They checked with me anxiously to see if they were doing it correctly. They painstakingly wrote “Happy Valentine’s Day,” signed their name, and then promptly ran off, abandoning their card at the table. For them, the joy is all in the act of creating and not in keeping the final product.
Some of the adults made cards, too. I have to admit, the men make me uncomfortable. I know that many of them come from countries and cultures where attitudes towards women are dramatically different than in America–or Hungary. My instinct to smile at everyone could be horribly misinterpreted, so I generally try to avoid eye contact. One man worked hard to complete a card that his son or younger brother had left unfinished. When he was done, he stood up, tossed the card at me, and said, “Here you go, baby.” Then he swaggered off. I wasn’t sure how to react, so I decided to be amused.
These girls melt my heart:
(Her card was the exact same shade of orange as her pants.)
(working hard on their cards)
(This boy had a mouse face. His painted buck teeth made him even more adorable than normal.)
(One of the teenagers begged to take some pictures using my camera. She caught me trying to look important and in charge.)
As usual, my afternoon at the camp was chaotic and wonderful. Thank goodness the social work students helped me out. I decided to take a later bus than normal, but I still had to throw my things together and bolt to get home in time for my date with Jesse.
I managed to take a few pictures of this wintry field on the edge of town before hopping on the bus.
Jesse and I exchanged gifts and had dinner at a restaurant down the street from our apartment. It was the perfect ending to a sweet day.