Hungary - Vukich Thrivent World Wide Builds Team

We have arrived in Hungary!!!!!!!!

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Hello friends, family and colleagues,

I hope this message finds you well. I am currently writing about my trip while traveling in Hungary with other volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.  I am an advocate of Habitat’s mission and I am looking forward to doing what I can to serve this community and learn more about it while also having a personally meaningful experience.

Day 1
Today is Wednesday July 17th.  I have departed Appleton, WI for an adventure of many new firsts in my life while I visit Budapest, Hungary for a 10 day volunteer trip to build houses with Thrivent Worldwide and Habitat for Humanity.  This opportunity will be my second Habitat project but the first out of the country.  I was warmly reminded as I kissed and hugged  my family before leaving what exceptional gifts God has given me.  I truly must thank them all for the support they have shown in sharing me with families across the world.  I have been working feverishly the past several months at work so preparing for the trip had me in a bit of a mad scramble last night. Natalie my oldest daughter was quick to help pack so she could stay up late to help.  The special visits from all grandmas and grandpas has been a great distraction for them.  On the plane ride over I will be making a quick stop in Paris before getting to Budapest.
The second half of day 1 ended about 30+ plus hours after waking up at 5am central time.  Once we arrived in Hungay we took the airport shuttle to the Csaszar Hotel (30 min).  On arrived and checked with part of the Habitat team we all quickly took to the pool which was a great relief after all the travel.  At about 5:30pm we headed out to the city.  First stop, ATM where we began to quickly learn the exchange of Hungarian  currency.  Next stop was the city tram where we purchased our tickets to downtown for dinner at Menvez.  The food was excellent and I enjoyed the Hungarian beef stew with homemade noodles.  We continued our journey for desert at a very nice outdoor shop which served some heavenly deserts.  The trip back to hotel resulted in a very long walk and hitching a ride on a different tram which I am not sure we had tickets for…

Day 2.  Last night after the long return walk and no sleep for 30 plus hours the bed felt great.  Today the rest of the team that arrived early is off to explorer more of the city and the baths.  I  headed to Plexus via passport courier through Hungary and to Romania.  During the car ride I was able to catch up on at least one additional hour of sleep.  The country side reminded much of home although instead of fields of corn the fields are filled with sunflowers.  The farmers harvest the seeds for sale and or for the oil I believe that is extracted.  Once I arrived at Plexus from the 3 plus hour drive I was greeted by the site leadership team and had many great discussions.   I was very impressed with new facility and what the team accomplished given all the challenges at the end of the construction project.  After my meetings finished I went to a great Italian restaurant in Oradea where I sampled shrimp and an appetizer tray that was loaded with great cheeses and meats.  A very special thank you to Radu from our facility for showing me around town briefly and taking the time away from his family on a Friday to share dinner.  On the return ride home I met another driver who was 36yrs old where we discussed anything from movies, family, growing up, etc.  I don't think we ever stopped talking from the time we left.  Listening to his experiences he has spent much of his life working hard, trying to get ahead and afford gas, rent and food.  Housing from his perspective takes an entire lifetime to afford for most of the population.   The housing consists of 2-4 rooms or similar to that of a studio apartment.  His favorite activities consisted of watching American movies and listening to music, which as a driver he has plenty of time for.  I also shared the main reason for my trip to Hungary and he was very amazed.  He commented that "I didn't know normal people did this".   When I returned back to my room at midnight I was exhausted. 

Day 3.  Today, Saturday I woke up at 7am ready to go for another day of site seeing.  At breakfast I met up with a few others that arrived in Hungary Friday.   Saturday was the official day for all team members to join us.  While we awaited for the others to arrive the team split up into multiple directions.  I headed to the market with Terri, Chuck and Laurie. 
One thing I must say is the public transportation system is well utilized and now simple to use after of navigation.  After visiting the market today I am reminded of the conveniences we have in America.  The food all looked wonderful, however their are many more parts of the animals available for purchase which was a bit scary looking.  The handcrafted items were all very nice and crafted with lots of care.  Our group continued our journey looking for some much needed shade and a Coca Cola for Chuck.  We found a great outdoor restaurant that was serving Hungarian pizza....deer meat and green peppers( please note green peppers are similar to jalepenos). When we returned to the hotel the rest of our team from America had arrived.  Karin and Terri held a group meeting where we did some great ice breakers that challenged our knowledge of international flags.  I was very impressed on the number of matches (16) our group had (myself, Barb and Gerri) but quickly out done by a more knowledgeable group of international travelers (Chuck, Terri, Karin, Kati ).  Chuck then led us through a devotion followed with a few stories from others on previous trips.  These stories are quick reminder about how small the world is and what a difference one person can make.  Terri shared some pretty amazing numbers that over 6000 homes have been built and over 3million man hours of volunteers have come forward.   After that we set sail for a wonderful dinner cruise on the Danu river.

Day 4
Today the entire team of 16 took a tour of Budapest with a native Hungarian whose name was Csaba.  The tour began with a general overview of the Budabest where we all learned that the population in Budapest was about ~ 2M and the that 50% GDP is generated in Budapest.  Budapest has the largest parliament in the world.  At the time the Hungarians began to build the parliament it occupied an area three times its current size.  The name of the city comes from the combination of the two areas that make up the city.  The Danu River splits the city and the Buda side of the river would be considered by many as the residential area.  The Pest side is approximately twice as big as Buda.   Pest is considered more commercial with government buildings and contains more of the cultural centers. 

Heros square pictured on the right.  Pictures are of the seven Tribe leader who help to conquer the land in 896.  The parliament and basilica below in the city were constructed with the same maximum height of 96 to symbolize the conquest. While on the tour we also visited one of the worlds largest minernal spas in the world.  The Hungarians utilize the baths to provide cures for various ailments.  The pools are spring fed and the largest measure to be over 3000 meters deep. 

When we returned from the tour our guide dropped us off at one of his favorite restaurants Kheiron.  The food was once again very good here in Hungary and many of tried the local favorites.  More to come here.. 

Day 5 -
Jó Napot (good day)
Today was the first day of the build. We departed at 7:30am from Budapest with a destination of Szodliget. The hotel was called Liget Panzio and it was nestled nicely off the road with a huge garden out front. This hotel has really great character and is setup like a bed and breakfast. The front porch of the hotel servers as a nice dining area or gathering for just hanging out. after check in we departed to the job site where we met the family. Both fathers of each family took holiday from work to be with us. The children of each family are in their teenage years and were working to bring in money for the family.  Our construction manager was Levi and he spoke very good English along with being a pretty good comedian as he walked through all the safety procedures. Once that was complete we all took a break for lunch... so far so good. Our lunch was considered a traditional Hungarian with a soup, chicken and rice.

After lunch we were all itching to work but Levi  (in white on left)still need to complete some additional hands on training. Juli, Emma, Madi and Karin took first shots at the plastering however i think Juli and Emma might have tried to wrestle with the plaster bucket. Maria, Laurie and Gerri we part of the ground crew owning the 1/2 drill and plaster stirring. Chuck, Terri, Debi and I were on preparing window sills for the next treatment of foam insulation by truing the perimeter of the windows. Bella, Dan, Bill and Hunter were on sanding detail for the ground level boards to level and prepare for plaster
Bill and Hunter
tomorrow. The installation of plaster is very similar to that in the US however this insulation was being placed over existing brick surface which was very uneven thus requiring a significant amount of sanding. At the end of the day the ground was covered with white Styrofoam and ready for plaster.

Here is a shot of our team:
Hungary - Vukich Thrivent World Wide Builds Team

Dinner Photos

Day 6
Last night finished with a wonderful devotion led by Gerri. A few very touching verses about using the gifts (hands) God gave us to go out and do good works. This certainly started to hit home today as our team or team got our first full day of work in. The teams were mixed up a little from yesterday so everyone was able to try a few new jobs. We had a new member from another Habitat affiliate whose name was Daniel also join our team for the day.  The front side of the house was finished with a rough coat and about 70% of a final coat. The gable end of the house also started to see a rough coat of plaster after the styrofoam was fasted on with 15cm plastic anchors. The anchors were a bit like long drywall anchors,  however it was very difficult to find stable rock behind the wall to fasten them into. After the fasteners were installed patching and sanding began for the rough coat. The family continued to work with us throughout the day mostly working in a team of their own. They don't speak any English so I think that is mostly why. I can definitely say the family is very hard working and very appreciative of the work. I continue to shake the hand of the father as we arrive and depart each day a sign of welcome and thanks for letting us in to help.
The family and Maria
One of the boys of the family is very eager to help but given the laws and rules of Hungary and Habitat no one under 16 can work on the scaffolding.   The ground crew also began to sand the fascia boards that were reclaimed when the demolition occurred before we arrived.  The fascia boards are very similar to US housing construction however with the spanish tile roof they will be used to capture the fabric and transition to the new plaster walls.

 Today we also learned that the project / remodel we are doing is costing the family about $5000 US dollars and without our help this could easily double/triple the amount. With about 50% of all the foam boards now installed on the house the family also has said the temperatures inside have cooled off considerably. Tomorrow we will likely place another 20%.  Once the insulation is all in it will save the family up 30-40% on heating bill alone.  It is very uncommon that air conditioners would also be used given the added expense to operate. With the temperatures expected to continue to rise into the low 30's by the end of the week this could not be better timing.

We had a small injury / scrape to Maria today and would ask that everyone keep praying the team to have a safe experience and return home.  The entire team is also very thankful to the family for taking care of getting all the meals and cleaning up after lunch.

Tonight we are going out for a nice dinner with the local Habitat team. We are headed to the town of Voc.  The Habitat team presented some very nice information on success and challenges within Hungary.  I was very impressed with the general focus on teaching and learning about the history of some of the families in Hungary.

Stairway to town square
Outdoor restaurant
The team dinner was excellent as all meals have been in Hungary.  The outdoor setting overlooking the Danu River created an awesome atmosphere to enjoy each others company.  The food seemed to come in waves and once again our host Nora made sure all of our meals were ordered to our liking.  After dinner some of the team departed for the hotel while a few stayed back and continued to share stories.
 I spent some time talking with Levi about his construction projects and shared some of my own with him.  Levi is a skilled craftsman and enjoys building custom fireplaces as he shared a few pictures.
Team dinner photo

Day 7
Getting back to work....
The temperature continued to climb today reaching lower 90's.. Our work day was only planned for a half day today so that we could experience more of the Hungarian culture. The work today started very quickly after arrival as the team has now got the hang most jobs. I know that the team still wonders if the job we are doing is up to par. Levi continues to share his knowledge with the team and works closely to see we do a great job.
The work we have planned for the next two days will be in direct sun on the south side of the house so plenty of water will be required by all. Maria's made some kids clothing from back home and was able to deliver it to the community today. It was very emotional as the Hungarians returned with a welcome gesture with a homemade sun catcher for Maria. Once lunch was complete we packed up the tools and headed for Voc.

Our bus trip today took us further into Hungary for a visit to Nagymaros where we toured the ruins of the XI century land's stewards castle, took a ferry boat ride across the Danu, a visit to Estergom to view one the largest and oldest basilicas.  

The castle sat a top one of the tallest points overlooking the amazing Danu Bend where an island separates the river for a short distance.
 While in the castle I was king for a few minutes as well a prisoner...the history behind the castle is very fun to learn about and the views would not disappoint anyone...  

This portion of the country has some of the most amazing views of the world I have ever seen in my life.  You will see from the pictures that the houses in this area a spread out much further than in other parts of the country and many travel to these locations on weekends.  The mountains are blanketed with trees and other vegetation which is just simply beautiful.

The basilica took or 50yrs to build and from what I understand and the materials to build came
 from faraway as Italy.  

The views from the church are simply amazing, breath taking and an engineering feat. Words can not describe the sense of amazement for the structure and significance of this basilica for the Hungarian culture and anyone who visits.

Once we finished touring the basilica we took the bus to a location just outside Slovakia so we could cross the boarder by foot.
The journey across the boarder was pretty cool from the bridge and the significance it has to connecting the two counties. The crossing of this boarder did not require passports and would be similar to crossing state lines in the US with the exception of a new currency and language.  The ice cream was great!
Basilica from the bridge to Slovenska 

Day 8
The clouds rolled in today and provided some shade for almost 90% of the day. This worked out perfectly given most of the team was involved in some sort of plastering or installing the foam insulation. With the days work in we have used up over 17 bags of plaster which if you look at the pictures has produced a remarkable transformation from the day we first arrived.  
Day One Photo
Day 4 photo

As the team finished placing the fiberglass mesh and foam insulation I installed about 100' of reinforced corner material. With the corners now complete, the final coat of plaster has begun on the ground level and will move along quickly tomorrow. The entire family was out working on the job site today and split up with many of our team members. I worked a little with Gylnn and he spoke little or no English and lets say my one word of Hungarian "yo" or good did not go very far.  It still touch my heart and felt awesome to be helping a family in need and a family that is genuinely grateful.  My favorite picture of today is Gerri AKA "mud master" as she and a few others were very busy making more mud than the first three days.

Over lunch, Levi continued to amuse all of us with his jokes about a dad, bear, a son and a gun with the best joke being a drawing about students working on one art project....That ended with a grandpa that could not find the soap. Once I get the photo from the others I might need to share as it was great to laugh.  Not to be out done on the trip a special thanks to our other Habitat hosts Renata and Nora.  Nora has spent a great deal of time with our team as we ventured throughout the country and answered every question we could possibly utter to think.  She is an awesome addition to the team and trip and I would not believe we would have had such a great time learning about Hungary without her!.

The question of the day was " is being in a different culture easier or harder than you thought?"
1. It not really that hard as long as you can adjust easily and be flexible
2. Harder but reminds me of how much I blessed
3. What matters most about immersing yourself in another culture is being flexible and having an open mind. If you can do that it is very easy. Bella Köpf
4. Team shirt - front: Egèszsegèdre back: Getting plastered in Hungary!
5. Hungarians seem like patient and very kind people. I feel very safe in Hungary. Juli
6. SHMEE!!! A phrase the Madi and Emma have been using to describe just about anything that is new, not understood or something to confuse the older generation.  One of the SHMEE originators...
SHMEE 1 - Emma

The devotion for today was led by Debi and Laurie.  I need to fill in the details of the paper clip.  But again a very good lesson and reality check on what is important to keep together in our lives while we are here on earth.

Day 9
Levi, Juli, Karin installing insullation
The sunshine was back today and temperatures reached 92ish. We arrived at the job site at 8am like all the days previous but today we will depart at 2:30pm to get ready to attend a Hungarian festival. Levi started the day off with some jokes in his usually happy upbeat attitude. I must say I have laughed harder than normal all week as there is an added element with the translation and Hungarian accent. After the discussion the work started off at a very quick pace again today given the team was now getting the hang of plastering, fastening, cutting and measuring. The work today included installation of the insulation on the back of the house by Barb, Bella and Debi, insulation up to the peak of the house by Karin and Juli, the mud masters Geri and Maria were up for the challenge of mixing mud and painting the facia boards, Emma, Madi and I plastered the back of the house along with installation of the reinforced corner savers and Chuck and Terri worked with the hammer drill fastening all the insulation that was installed.
Chuck..not sure he was hammer drilling...maybe supervising
For those who dangled with the angles cutting all those pieces I know the next team will appreciate not having to sand or cut tiny wedges... Oh wait and had to work in the direct sun.

As the day continued my hands could not work as fast as my mind knowing that I wish we could have done more for the family by finishing the job. In just a few short weeks another team will arrive and continue where we left off.
Clint applying some final plaster before we packed up...
I know our entire team is interested in seeing the progress during and after the next build. Our team was impressed by the first groups progress and we became very good at sanding in some areas :) Just kidding the surface of the house very challenging.

A few short hours after lunch we had An emotional good bye or in the Hungarian tradition it is not good bye but see you later. This was especially touching as I know for those who will continue to support Habitat, there are many places / locations to chose to support. The impression left upon me by the Habitat team in Hungary is their hearts are into this program and many if not all don't really consider what they do a job. They have a inventive spirit and ambitions to help all in need. They have their goals set high and are already working towards executing a strategic plan to reach more people through how to workshops and shared resource centers. For these reasons when I consider to support another Habitat location this will make for a very difficult decision.
A job well done .. -->

--> and for a great cause!

We arrived at the Hungarian festival around 4:30pm or so. We started at one of the churches where we were greeted by Nora our guide. (who by the way knows everyone). Nora then was able to arrange for a photo with the team conducting the opening ceremony. Very cool but very hot for them.
Once inside the church was just simply impressive with the domes and paintings. The music was impressive even though we did not stay for the whole part. The rest of the festival reminded of a state fair type setting where many people setup booths for a taste of Hungary... I ate two dinners:). I also picked up some homemade gifts for my family back home.
Our last team photo prior to the team starting to depart tomorrow on the footsteps of yet another beautiful basillica.

If you could make one change in Hungary for the people what would it be and why?
  • Daniel - "Seems like the housing is what it is like for most families and the the projects seem doable but the money and time on your own along with the know how seems very difficult."  Continue the construction projects through the use of help of others.
  • Debi - Different than all builds given the training for the special construction techniques on the restoration or improvements to an existing home.
  • Bill and Maria - Today Bill and Maria worked so hard they shared what looked like 3-4 entrees for supper and Maria walked around the table trying to share her dinner.  The catch was we ordered from the bus with a menu...
    Bill and Maria

 Night life on the Danu River

Hungarian Parliament

Wanna - be - tribe leader

Barb and Gerri

Hungarian music to celebrate and share culture

Public area that in the winter they will freeze over for skating

Hungarian Zoo and Circus
St. Stephan
Hungarian Parliament from the Fishermans Bastion

Dan taking a few shots from down the steps to Fishermans Bastion

 Matthias Church
Hungarian Parliament from atop the highest point in Budapest
Closer view...

Fun Facts about Hungary

1. Green Peppers are tiny jalapenos
2. Coca Colas are only 8oz
3. Most beverages don't come with ice unless you ask for it
4. Hungarian language is very unique which makes it difficult for Hungarians to communicate with the rest of the world.  To graduate college you must know a second language
5.You have to pay for grocery bags.  Maybe I don't realize it but this would be a great thing in America.  The people of Hungary do a great job of conserving and recycling.
6.. According to Debi diet Pepsi does not taste like the real thing
7. Volunteering in Hungary is a new concept and not many people understand why it is done.
If meals for Breakspear and lunch not dinner
8. If you drive in Hungary it is not acceptable to even have one drink
9.  It costs you on average about 150HUF to use a public restroom

Disclaimer....these are the facts and details of the trip I remember and stand to be corrected by anyone who traveled with me.  :) 

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