Founded in 1866, the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden is not only the oldest zoo in Hungary, but one of the oldest in the world. Even though this zoo flourishes today and welcomes at least a million visitors a year, the Budapest Zoo has seen its share of lows. After the Siege of Budapest (1944 – 1945), only 15 out of 2,000 animals survived. Whatever the case may be, in spite of economic crises and wars, the zoo has persevered. Yesterday I romped about the premises with Botond, one of my private students, to learn more about animals.
I always feel wildly conflicted upon entering zoos/aquariums – I have been to the Jacksonville Zoo, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the Georgia Aquarium. As mentioned before, I absolutely adore animals. I was a vegetarian for three and a half years prior to moving to Hungary for all the reasons one can think of. Yes, I understand that some agendas are pure (saving species from extinction, education, etc.), but how many zoos actually stand behind these claims? We, as humans, trick ourselves into thinking that zoos are best for the animals because we are “protecting” them. However, what are we truly protecting these animals from? Us. Those without power and money, whether they are tigers or fellow humans, can no longer live in their natural habitats due to factors too numerous to list.
I have been called a “raging, liberal hippie” by a student before (in a loving way of course), but I do not think my ideas are fresh and out of the box. I realize that “having things like they once were” is absurd and I sound as if I have rose-colored glasses on, but we must think critically about this issue (because it is, indeed, an issue). I generally stray away from rambling on about my ideals and beliefs, but seeing the lack of space these animals have struck a chord within me. However beautiful the zoo may be, however wonderful the experience can be, we must think about the implications of our actions.
Standing behind a sheet of glass, looking at a gorilla amidst the silhouette of the city that surrounds it, teaches me no more than what I can see through the screen of my laptop. I am not damning all zoos, but rather I would love for zoos to no longer need to survive. However, at the rate our species is exponentially growing (among other alarming realities), I know that it is just a dream. I do not mean to attack the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden, but merely state my convictions on zoos in general. Dare I proceed about the zoo?
Botond loved every minute – particularly seeing the crocodile (his favorite animal). Seeing him improve with each lesson makes my heart happy: he has come so far. We met a lovely British family who commented on how “American” Botond sounds. My job here is done. After leaving the zoo, I made Botond try a taco because, let’s be honest, I really wanted one. At first he begrudgingly took a bite, but then realized that my taste in food is excellent and scarfed down the whole thing.
Also in regard to animals, last Friday I went with my friend, coworker, and fellow animal lover, Danielle, to a local dog shelter (Rex Kutyaotthon Alapítvány). Here you can volunteer to walk dogs who are waiting to be adopted so they can get some sweet love. Danielle and I tried to walk a dog ironically named Diva, but she just didn’t want to move. We ended up with an adorable puppy named Sarafina. She experienced her first walk with us!
As for school, the year has finally ended. Unlike last year where I taught 5th and 6th, this year I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th – a little different, but I loved [most of] it. Primary school in Hungary lasts eight years. In addition, students stay in the same class/have the same classmates for the whole duration of their time there. Last Friday my 8th graders graduated. Those not familiar with this system might scoff at the idea of an 8th grade graduation, but it rivaled my high school experience. In general I do not cry (unless watching a Sarah McLachlan dog video), but the unexpected happened and I cried several Demi Moore tears. For those who have finally found my blog, know that I love you guys! I barely remember anything from 8th grade (2002-2003), so soon I too will just be a vague memory for 50 or so people. If you happen to become wealthy, remember me: I will mostly likely still be a budget traveler who is horrible with money.
A Lesson From Miss Jennifer: Do not innocently tell a graduating class that they can ask you any question and you will answer it. Just trust me on this one.