While relaxing from a hectic school-year of teaching English
in Hungary, I went to visit my friend's family for a week in July.
She had been talking about her family and her home so much that
I felt that I already knew everything and everyone, and I decided
it was high time to do something about meeting and getting to know
these people for myself. So I went to visit her and her family during
In Hungary, the summers are filled with fruit-picking, vegetable-harvesting
crop-maintaining. It's a lot of work, but the result is in the sweet
peaches and apricots, the bountiful grapes and the richly-colored
peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes that are the staples of the Hungarian
diet. I told my friend that I didn't mind helping her and her family
pick raspberries; I had done it before and was willing to partake
in this work just for the experience as well as for the knowledge
that I was earning my keep!
We hit the fields my second day in Szerencs,
heading out around 6:30 am, a little later than usual since my friend
Gabi and I were there. That first session of picking went quite
well and I kept up with everyone and did my share. The second day
of picking went equally as well. I regaled Gabi and her parents
with stories about my family and the United States, while they laughingly
told me stories about their family and various adventures. We even
sang, finding that we had a few tunes in common from the Beatles
The third day of picking was warm and sunny and
I wore a white shirt and denim work shirt over it. We were almost
done with the rows when Gabi began imitating the peasant Hungarian
speech of the region in a continuing attempt to educate me in the
Hungarian language. I knew enough Hungarian at the time to understand
what she said, and also to understand what made the accent so incredibly
funny. In fact, we were laughing hysterically and playing so much
that, when disaster struck, well, no one really realized.
I was standing there, innocently cemented in the mud between
raspberry rows, when all of a sudden, I heard a loud buzzing noise
coming right toward me. In a split second, I thought of the space
between the collar of my shirt and my bare neck. Then, WHAM! It
hit. What it was, I'll never know. But I went crazy, because I was
convinced the thing was in my shirt! Gabi was looking on rather
confused for a moment, because I was so shocked at the pain from
the thing on my shoulder (and possibly still in my shirt) that my
Hungarian failed me.
Then it came back. Mez! I shouted, Mez! in a rather loud voice.
This means "honey" in Hungarian, but
unfortunately, I'd never learned the word for "bee," so
I suffered for my ignorance as Gabi stood by and watched me hopping
around and stripping off my shirts to prevent the thing, whatever
it had been, from exploring any other part of my body. What I forgot
in the process of stripping was that I was wearing a golden-colored
bra, which barely showed against my natural skin color. Gabi's parents
watched passively from afar as the crazy American their daughter
had brought home for a week hopped around half-naked in the mud
and chanted "honey, honey!" since they assumed that Gabi
and I were again joking and playing around. Finally, Gabi realized
what was happening as my wits returned enough to explain my pain.
(Afterward, Gabi said that I had spoken gibberish and she
didn't even really understand the "mez" until the fourth
or fifth time I said it.)
I learned a lot of good words that day: sting, stung, bite,
wasp, bee and vinegar. The last one was what we used to treat the
big hole left by whatever bit out a chunk of my flesh. No one could
figure out what had bit me, since there was no stinger; we all are
assuming that it was a wasp or some other kind of flying insect.
That story is now told by everyone, including Zoli bacsi, Gabi,
Gabi's brother Zoli, and my friends in Nagykoros, who heard all about it. Those silly Americans!
Jennifer Inman is a project coordinator, currently
working in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has traveled extensively
and credits her travel experiences with sparking her love of writing.
Her first poem was a eulogy for a friend who died of cancer. Since
then, she's written poems, short stories, fiction and non-fiction.
At present, she's exploring children's literature, inspired by her son Christopher, and non-fiction writing
about her son, as well as her existential and spiritual search for
herself as a newly single mom. She says, "One of my most constant
inspirations is Moondance's Ten Commandments of Creativity, which
I have posted next to my desk at work."