a week in the life of an english language auxiliar in spain

Monday

7:45am – Head out the door and down the hill to meet my ride at 7:50. On Monday mornings, I ride to school with Pepe, a biology teacher at IES Vega de Mar in San Pedro de Alcantara. On the 10-minute drive from Marbella, we talk about our weekends and other pleasantries. It’s good practice for both of us. Pepe tries to speak in English, I try to speak in Spanish. Hilarity often ensues.

8:00am – We arrive at school and enter the Sala de Profes (aka, the teacher’s lounge, aka ‘club profe’). After a round of ‘holas’ and ‘buenos’, Pepe and I head straight for our mugs to prep our morning coffee. We take turns treating each other. (Coffee isn’t free for profes. It costs .50€). I sit enjoying my coffee (and if lucky, my take-along breakfast) and listening to the rapid-fire convos between the other profes.

arriving at school

8:15am – The bell rings for first period. By now, I am used to the sound of it. Though when I first arrived, I almost had multiple heart attacks, since the bell sounds something like a cross between a fire alarm and an air raid siren. Everyone heads off to their classes. Since I don’t have class this hour, I sit in the lounge and prepare for the day ahead.

9:15am – Time for my first class. History and geography with the 2nd level bilingual students. When I walk into class, several students greet me with a very rehearsed, ‘Hello, Kisha. How are you?” The rest of them are chatting loudly, running around the classroom, or horseplaying with their friends. I have to shout ‘Ready?’ at least 2 or 3 times to get them to settle down. Before getting into today’s lesson, I start off by asking if anybody did anything fun or interesting over the weekend. Many of the students are as eager to share as I am to listen, plus it gives them a chance to practice speaking English in an unstructured way. After everyone has shared, we move on to the lesson. Today, we are reading about daily life in the Middle Ages. I ask for volunteers to read the English handout the profe has selected. Each volunteer first reads a few sentences from the lesson in English, then translates the same into Spanish. We go over unfamiliar vocabulary words as a group, and I answer any questions they may have. The profe, Enrique (aka, Quique), helps out with any Spanish-English translations that I don’t know. Throughout the lesson, I have to stop several times to quiet the class back down or call out a student who is obviously not paying attention.By the end of class, Quique has worked up a sweat and the kids have worked my nerves.

such adorable little scamps.

10:15 – First class is over. I head back to the lounge to hang and prep for my next class, which isn’t until 11:35.

11:35 – My second history class. This time with the first-year students. They are quickly becoming my favorite group of the 3 that I work with. They aren’t as boisterous as the 2nd years, but they have way more energy and interest in learning than the 3rd years. However, their level of English is much lower, so it can be a challenge communicating or coming up with in-class activities that they will easily grasp. After the ‘how was your weekend’ chat, we delve into today’s lesson: the government of ancient Rome. Usually we read and translate, but today, I divide the class into several groups. Each must come up with a solution to a problem that the Roman citizenry is facing. They must decide which members of the government they need to work with, and propose their own solution to solve the problem. Not surprisingly, one student asks if they have to give their explanation in Spanish or English. I shake my head, smile, and say, “When I’m here. It’s always English. Vale?” Surprisingly, the students really take to the assignment and they come up with some creative, if not entirely practical solutions.It´s a rare moment of success. I relish in my unquestionable auxiliar awesomeness.

12:35pm – Technically, I’m done for the day. But I have an hour of ‘coordination’, which any of the teachers can use to chat with me about lessons for the coming week or any special projects or activities they want me to prepare for the class. It’s rare that anyone does, but I stick around anyway, just in case.

1:45 – 4:00pm – Workday is officially over! Since it’s Monday, I’m headed to do some grocery shopping. I catch the #4 urbano (aka, local / intracity bus) which stops right outside of the school, to Puerto Banus. From there, I catch the #1 urbano to La Cañada, Marbella’s huge shopping mall. By now, I’m starving, so I stop at McDonald’s in the mall for an after-school snack of patatas deluxe and a beer. Total cost: 2.35€. Inside the mall there is also Alcampo, where I prefer to do my shopping. It’s equivalent to a Super Wal-Mart, so I can get groceries and personal / household items all in one stop. I’ve finally gotten into the habit of bringing along my backpack and a large, reusable shopping tote. Plastic shopping bags are usually not free in any store in Spain – checkout clerks almost always ask: “Bolsa quiere?” (“Want a bag?”) instead of just giving you one – so it literally pays to have your own. Also, the backpack helps me transport heavier items on the bus ride and walk home. I try to stick to my 20-25€ weekly grocery budget, but sometimes I go a bit over if I have to buy things like deodorant or lotion.

la canada – where i do most of my grocery shopping

4:00pm – I catch the bus from La Canada back to the main bus station in Marbella, a 7-10 minute walk from my house.

4:30 – Home! Time to put up the groceries and rest a bit before making dinner.

7:30 – Time to unwind for the evening. Maybe I’ll stream a movie online, straighten up my room a bit, hang out in front of the TV with my roommates, or just surf the Internet for a few hours before going to bed. Most likely, I’m still recovering from a long, eventful weekend and I could use the rest.

relaxing after school with purp, the house kitty.

Tuesday

8:00am – The sunlight streaming in my window wakes me up. It’s my late day, and I don’t have class until 12:45. I pull the covers over my head and half-sleep for an hour or so more.

10:00 – 11:30am – Even though I tell myself I’m going to accomplish a ton of stuff before heading to school, I manage to fritter away time until it’s almost time to catch the noon bus that will just barely get me to school in time for my 12:45 class.

11:45am – 12:45pm – I make the 7-10 minute walk from my house to the main bus station. I catch the noon bus from Marbella to San Pedro. The bus ride takes about 40 minutes and costs 1.23€.

12:45 – 2:45pm – I have PE class with the 2nd year students. I spend the first half of class explaining 2 different playground games that are commonly played in the US. The students take notes and ask questions before trying the games for themselves. The second half of class I spend in the teacher’s lounge correcting an English presentation about basketball that the teacher has prepared for a different class. Next, it’s off to music class with the first year students. I often get the feeling that the music profe doesn’t exactly know what to do with me in class. Today, is no exception. The students take turns reading from the English textbook (today, it’s about the Baroque period), and I ask them questions about what they just read.

preparing to teach the kids about four square (the analog one)

in music class
2:45 – 2:55pm –  If Pepe or one of the other teachers who live near me don’t have a meeting or other after-work plans, I catch a ride home with one of them. Which is nice, because not only does it save me money, it shaves about 45 minutes off of my commute.
after-school commute / carpool from san pedro to marbella

Wednesday

7:45am – Off to meet Pepe!

8:15am – 9:15am – On Wednesdays, I alternate between music and PE classes. Today, it’s PE class with the 3rd year students. I read the presentation on basketball in English, and the profe translates as needed into Spanish. The students make notes about the rules, players, and key vocabulary related to the sport. Apparently they will be tested on this later.

9:15am – 10:15am – English class with my favorite teacher in the school – Mila, the bilingual coordinator. The students’ behavior is markedly different in her class. They are quiet, respectful, and attentive, even though I have to work a little to get their energy level up. Today, we discuss adjectives. I write various adjectives on the board and call on students to guess what they mean. Afterwards, I ask the students to write down 3 adjectives that describe themselves, and we go around sharing all the answers. There are some creative and some downright hilarious responses. This is one of the few classes where I truly get to engage with the students, and I think they enjoy the interaction as much as I do.

10:15 – 11:35am – No class until later, so I lounge in the sala de profes, chatting with some of the teachers, or prepping for tomorrow’s classes.

The bilingual teachers have a meeting in club Profe. From L to R: Enrique (Quique), Luis, Paco Serrano, Meritxell, Mila.

11:35am – 12:35pm – PE with the first years. A listening exercise for today. I read a text about juggling, which explains the history of the sport and some different methods, using simple English terms. After I finish the reading I ask the students prepared questions based on the text to assess their level of listening comprehension.

12:35 – 1:35pm – Done for the day! I make the 15-20 minute walk down the street, across a ravine, up a hill, across an overpass, and along the side of the highway to catch my bus. On the ride home, I study my Spanish dictionary, read, or make notes about today’s class.

after-school commute – crossing the ravine

after-school commute – on the overpass

Thursday

11:30am – It’s Friday! Well, at least for me. It’s my last day of classes for the week. I arrive at the school just in time for my first of 2 math classes.

11:35am – 1:45pm – Back-to-back math classes with the 1st and 2nd year students. I already hate math. So having to ‘teach’ it in English to non-English speakers is not exactly my favorite activity. The profe usually has me work with the students using a prepared handout of exercises. I explain the instructions in English and help the students use English to read the equations and explain their solutions. Most of the time, it goes well, but there are some differences in the way math is done/taught in Spain (commas instead of decimals, methods for division, etc.) that leave me scratching my head. The math profe usually reverts to speaking completely in Spanish (an absolute no-no in my other classes) before the end of the class, so am I often left smiling and pointing like a mute game show host while secretly counting the seconds until class is over. Did I mention that I hate math?

but when it’s one of the students’ birthday, they do this – which makes math less awful.

1:45 – 2:45pm – History and geography with the 3rd year students. A cool class since the students are older, and we often get into some pretty deep conversations. Today’s topic: globalization. I lead the students in a brief discussion on how we have all been impacted by globalization. I ask them for examples of music, food, clothing, and TV programs that they like but are not from Spain. Then we do some reading and translation, and finally finish with a video that I found on the topic. The students give a huge round of applause after the video, and I spend the last few minutes of class having them share their opinions on why they think globalization is good or bad. When the bell rings, I get the feeling that all of us are sad that class is over.

Well, maybe not too sad.

surprising / annoying / amazing things about spain

surprising things about spain

how NOT amazing the food is.

The food in Spain is definitely not bad. But it isn’t nearly as amazing as I’d expected it to be. Part of that could be because I live in Marbella, which isn’t exactly hailed for its cusine. The other part could be that, given my teaching assistant’s salary, I try not to eat out too much. When I do eat out, I go for the best value. Maybe if I could afford to splurge on some higher-end places, I’d have a different experience. But for now, I remain surprisingly underwhelmed.

pan con aceite y tomate. a typical spanish breakfast. when it’s good, it’s good. but usually it’s just soggy bread.

it’s kind of country.

I live in Andalusia – the south of Spain. Among Spaniards, it has a pretty similar reputation to the South in the United States. Spanish people who live elsewhere seem to think Andalusians are ‘slower’ and have a funny-sounding accent. Even though I live in a fairly large city, it’s quite common to see touches of rural life on a daily basis – like the horse-riding vaquero that grazes sheep, cows, and steers in a big field near my school. Also, I was surprised that much of Spain seems to be uninhabited. When I’ve flown or taken a long-distance train, I’ve seen large expanses of land that have no cities or towns to speak of – only the occasional pueblo / village or often just a small house or farm in the middle of nowhere.

cattle grazing near my school (and adjacent to a major highway)

how cold the houses are in winter.

Before coming here, I knew that many Spanish houses lacked central heating, since most are built to be naturally cool during the sweltering summer months. But nothing could have prepared me for how cold it would be inside the average Spanish home from January to early March. Even when the temperature outside was Fall-like, the temperature inside was much chillier. With electricity being very expensive, space heaters are generally out of the question. And even if they weren’t financially impractical, the lack of insulation, and the heavy use of marble, tile, and stucco for interiors would render them almost useless anyway. My #1 saving grace was a hot water bottle that my roommate wisely suggested I purchase, and was my nightly companion for my first two months here. There were many nights that I went to sleep muttering profanities under my breath about the cold, and many mornings where I could see my breath in front of me while getting ready for school. Thankfully, all that seems like a dim memory now that Spring is here.

i actually bought a space heater, but it ended up collecting dust once i found out how expensive and ineffective it was.
my ‘hot water bottle boo’ in granada

annoying things about spain

dog poo. everywhere.

Spanish people love their dogs. It seems like almost every family here has at least one. And every one of them is cuter than the last. Yet I have no idea why these people feel it’s ok to let their cute little dogs leave unsightly poo all over public areas. If you’re walking down the sidewalk, there’s no such thing as absentmindedly taking in the sights around you. You’d better keep your eyes focused on the sidewalk or else you will definitely end up stepping in one of the many mini monuments of poo peppered all along your path.

poo
poo
and more poo

spanish people can’t walk. or stand. or generally congregate in large groups.

There are some cities where it’s almost a pleasure to walk in. In crowded, pedestrian-heavy cities like New York, London, or even Amsterdam, most people have figured out how to navigate the streets on foot so well, that you can tell a tourist from a local by the way they walk. The folks in Spain have acquired no such talent. Spaniards don’t walk so much as they meander. On a given day, while walking the streets of almost any city in Spain, at least one of the following pedestrian ‘violations’ are bound to occur:

  • Stopping short for no apparent reason.
  • Walking 3 or 4 abreast on a narrow sidewalk at a snail’s pace.
  • Darting out of a doorway into oncoming foot traffic.
  • Tripping or hip-checking another pedestrian with a stroller or rolling bag.
  • Having an involved conversation while blocking an entrance/exit.
  • Doing 1 or more of the above without awareness or apology.

shhh… it’s a secret.

There’s a certain clandestine nature about vital information in Spain. Info that you would assume should be readily available or clearly communicated, often isn’t, and if you don’t ask specifically, you might only get a piece of the full picture. This secret but valuable info could be anything from a bus schedule or ticket price, to exact directions to a location you’re looking for, or even what day you will get paid on.

amazing things about spain

there is no famine of beauty.

Geographically speaking, Spain pretty much has it all. Glittering beaches, impressive mountains, rolling countryside. And since there are those large expanses of unpopulated space, it makes for some really lovely, truly breathtaking vistas. I can’t count how many times I’ve involuntarily whispered to myself, ‘That’s beautiful!’ There are so many lovely natural and architectural sights in this country that sometimes I  think to myself, ‘Ok, Spain. Enough already! I get it. You’re beautiful’.

the lifestyle.

In general, Spanish people are more relaxed than Americans about… everything. Sometimes, this can be irritating (as is the case with customer service), but for the most part, it’s a huge plus. If there’s one thing the Spanish are good at, it’s enjoying life at their own pace. This is not to imply that the Spanish don’t have worries or issues that they struggle with on a daily basis, but rather to highlight that there’s not also a constant undercurrent of external stress from hectic schedules, long work hours, few vacations, and infrequent naps that they have to contend with. Besides that, most Spaniards seem to make the most of what they have, even if they only have a little. The often used Spanish phrase, ‘no pasa nada’, is the Iberian equivalent of ‘no problem, mon’ or ‘no worries, mate’, and it adequately sums up how many people here approach life.

the transportation.

Even without a car, it’s incredibly easy to get around within a particular city, and especially between cities. The buses and trains within Spain are extremely reliable and comfortable. Way better than Amtrak and Greyhound in the States. High-speed trains can be a bit pricey if you’re on a tight budget, but offer huge time savings. Buses are usually very affordable when travelling between cities, although they may not be the most convenient where timing is concerned. Yet both are clean, comfortable, and well-serviced. It sets the perfect stage for easy, affordable weekend excursions.

how amazing the food is.

While restaurant food underwhelms me, the quality and price of grocery store goods makes me very happy indeed. Mind you, I can’t find everything that I’d normally cook with at home, but the produce and meat available here is of much better quality than in the US. And the prices for most non-packaged goods are comparable, if not much better. Especially the fish and seafood. Seriously, there are days when I just go to the seafood counter at the local grocery store and just drool. There’s stuff there that I have absolutely NO idea how to cook, but I geek out just looking at it.

class is in session

My first day of class was Monday, January 13. I awoke as excited as I used to be on the first day of school when I was a kid. I had even laid out my clothes the night before, choosing just the right combination of items that I hoped conveyed the message, ‘I’m cool, but I’m here to work, too’.

Like most first days, it was a bit of a blur. I arrived and met the school’s bilingual coordinator, Mila, who, for all intents and purposes is in charge of me. She was extremely excited to see me and I could tell that she was more than a little bit relieved that I was older than the previous two auxiliaries that had been at the school before. The one from the previous year, she told me, was a guy named Curtis from New Orleans. Apparently he was nice enough, but according to Mila, he was more interested in vacationing than actually teaching or putting in work in class. Plus, many of the students and teachers found his English very difficult to understand. I assured Mila that even many Americans found New Orleanian English difficult to understand. The most recent auxiliar, whom I was replacing, had returned to America after only 2 days in town. She had written Mila an email after only 1 day in class explaining that she was very depressed and needed to return to New York immediately to see her therapist. Because of this, the school had been without an English assistant for pretty much the whole school year. It was clear that the bar for performance had been set pretty low, so I figured I wouldn’t have to try too hard to make a good impression here.

One curious note was that apparently, some of the teachers had been expecting a male to show up. They thought the name Kisha sounded like a guy’s name. No idea why.

Some other observations after my first few days on the job:

  • The school bell sounds like a cross between a fire alarm and an air raid siren. Near ’bout had a heart attack the first time I heard it! Grabbed my stuff and everything. Then saw everyone else just carrying on like business as usual, so I figured it must be normal.
  • A few of the male teachers were kinda lecherous in their introductions. After Mila escorted me into the teacher’s lounge, they were falling over themselves to say hi or try out their English. One even asked me (half-jokingly) which of them I thought was most handsome. Lawd. They’re totally harmless, though. Pretty typical behavior for Spanish men, from what I hear.
hangin’ in the teacher’s lounge, aka ‘club profe’
  • Everyone at school has been extremely eager to help out with whatever I ask for. I mentioned to one of the Spanish teachers that I could use some help with my Spanish, and the next day, she presented me with a stack of workbooks for me to take home for as long as I want. After hearing me lament about my long bus ride from my place to school, Mila went around asking everyone if they could let me carpool with them, I’ve already got two folks that I now ride either to or fro with multiple days a week!
my spanish workbooks
  • The kids here are very boisterous. Not bad, but extremely talkative and undisciplined. I am already trying to set expecations for how I want them to behave, but I can tell it’s going to be an uphill battle.

finding my place

It’s funny how things work out. Hardly ever like you expect them to, but almost always like you need them to. Well, I suppose that’s how my Spanish apartment search worked out. Before arriving, I’d pretty much put all my eggs in one basket. When I heard from Tonisha while I was back in the States, I was like, ‘Great! This is gonna be the best situation. Living with someone in the same program, who speaks English, and whose name is Tonisha… so she must be cool (yeah, ridiculous. I know).’ But, after I arrived, it seemed like her communication got worse and worse. I was starting to get the feeling that she was no longer interested, and that I should come up with some alternatives. So, I hit the interwebs and started looking for other roommates and rooms for rent. Not an easy task, given the on/off again nature of the wifi in my room. But, despite the difficulty, I managed to come up with a list of about 10 suitable places. I narrowed that list down to a ‘top 4’, and started making calls and sending emails.

Of course, due to my shoddy Spanish, I was really nervous about calling, but on my first one I stumbled a bit in Spanish, before asking if the person spoke English. She did, and we set a time to meet the following day. In the meantime, Tonisha got back in contact with me, plus, I heard back from a couple of other places. Secretly, I was hoping that I would meet with Tonisha and be completely done with the search, but I kept the other appointments just in case.

My first apartment showing was with an older lady within walking distance of San Pedro. I was a bit concerned about the place, since her ad mentioned that she lived with 3 dogs, but the price was right and she was pretty close to the beach… big plusses in my book. The room was a bit on the smallish side and she had another renter already in the place – a Polish girl who I didn’t get to meet during my visit – who I would have to share a bathroom with. After showing me around and explaining everything about the house and the neighborhood, my potential landlady’s tone of voice changed rather abruptly as she said to me, “I have just one rule for the house. No men. Ever.” What came out of my mouth was, “Ok.” But what was going on in my head was, “Girl, stahp. I’m grown! What if my boyfriend wants to come visit? I gotta find someplace else for him to stay? Sneak around like a high school virgin? Ain’t nobody got time for that.” I silently crossed ‘cheap beachy abode’ off my list of contenders.

My next visit was the next day with Tonisha. Like I mentioned before, I was sort of hoping we would meet, fall in love, and be best roomie-buds forever! Sadly, that was not the case. The place was nice and spacious, centrally located in a very cool area in the center of Marbella (about 7km from my school), but Tonisha’s whole demeanor seemed lackluster and really low-energy, almost ho-hum. I tried to engage her in conversation, “What do you do in your free time here?” “How’s your school / work situation?” “What kinds of things do you like to eat / cook?” But it seemed like so much effort to get an energetic response from her, and she asked me nothing in return. Plus, there was also the issue of a shared bathroom. As I left to head to my next viewing, I thought, “Well everyone has an off day. Maybe she’s still a bit tired from travelling back from the States.” I filed her in the ‘Maybe’ column.

I set off for my next appointment, which was a bit far from both my school and the center of Marbella, but I figured it would at least be good to see it for comparison purposes. After deboarding the bus, I started walking, using the directions that I was given by the potential landlady. Since the directions contained only loose landmarks (go past the Shell station, to the second roundabout, and take the 2nd exit), not street names, I quickly realized that I might be lost. I had already walked up 1 very long, steep hill, backtracked and walked up another. Since the weather was unseasonably warm, I’d once again broken a sweat and had to shed my blazer. After about 15 minutes of walking without any sight of the street or house I was looking for, I grumbled to myself, “I don’t care how nice this place is, I can’t live here. It’s too damned far!” I finally gave in and called the landlady, explaining that I’d gotten turned around. Thankfully, she was the one who spoke English, and after giving her a landmark, she said she knew exactly where I was and would come pick me up.

When Simin zoomed around the corner in her little car and stopped to pick me up, I don’t think either of us was exactly what the other one was expecting to see. But we instantly fell into easy, spirited conversation with each other. When we arrived at her house, I regretted my earlier statement about never being able to live here. The place was absolutely gorgeous. A traditional Spanish-style townhouse, with a whitewashed exterior, a nice little garden and a sunny, open terrace. Inside, Simin’s decorating style could best be described as hippie-chic. Nothing matched, but somehow everything worked. I instantly recognized some prints of Frida Kahlo, and noticed that many of her furniture choices were very similar to my own back home. And then, she showed me the room. It was huge! A queen-sized bed, writing desk, and a bookshelf with a closet that could easily be a whole ‘nother bedroom. And the cherry on top of it all? My own bathroom! As she showed me around the place, we continued our easy chatter – we discovered that we’re both into hiking and yoga, and she let me know that even though she was born in the area, she had just moved back after several years away and felt almost as new here as I did. As we wrapped up our conversation, I prepared to leave for my next and final showing. Simin volunteered to give me a lift to the place, since she was headed out in a few minutes. “How nice!” I thought.

The next place was literally a stone’s throw from the beach in Marbella. The apartment was shared by 2 or 3 students, and I would have my own room and bedroom. But when I entered, it definitely looked like students lived there. There was a mattress randomly thrown against the wall in the main living room, and the rest of the place looked like it had been decorated with somebody’s grandma’s leftover furniture. The oven in the kitchen didn’t work, and the sink was full of dishes. There was an absolutely amazing terrace, though. And I would have direct access to it from my room. Still, I knew I wouldn’t be able to live comfortably in the dorm-like environment. I crossed it off the list.

Slightly exhausted from all the walking and viewing, I decided to take a quick break at the beach to mull over my options. In my mind, I really only had Tonisha and Simin to choose from. While sitting and soaking in the sun, I recalled the prayer I’d said before setting out on the hunt today. I’d asked God to help me find a place that felt like home. After a quick phone chat with Bro. Johnson, I dialed a number.
“Hola, Simin! It’s Kisha.”
“I don’t think I’m going to find a place that’s a better fit than yours. If it’s ok with you, I’d like to take the room.”

————-

Pics of my new place:

my roommate, simin

first impressions

As of last night, my official assessment of San Pedro was, “I effin’ hate this place.” But, honestly, I think I just got so spoiled by the grand elegance of Seville that I couldn’t appreciate it. It’s definitely small, and it seems to be just a little bit ‘hood. Plus, the street system is like a big pile of tangled spaghetti. Hardly any street runs in a straight line, and a street will change names without warning, so it’s ridiculously easy to get lost or turned around, even with a map.

if it weren’t for the friendly name on this building, i would never have found my room again.

Also – I think my assessment was severely tainted by a piece of graffiti that I saw on my walk. Scrawled on a wall in the middle of an empty plaza were the words, ‘No Moros’, along with a faded red swastika. Needless to say, it made me very uneasy and equally pissed off. Even on the other side of the world, the ugly spectre of racism cannot be escaped. I tried to put the image out of my mind, but it stayed with me (subconsciously) for the rest of the day, ‘cause I remained in kind of a bad mood. I’m already sensitive and aware of how conspicuous I am walking around such a small town; I really could have done without that.

Anywho, I’m on the bus to Marbella now, it’s a much prettier and warmer day than yesterday, and I’m hoping to get a better look at things. I may even meet up with Tonisha (potential roomie) as she finally got back in touch with me today.

view from the edge of town
plaza de la iglesia – at night

plaza de la iglesia – day

avenida marques del duero – runs through the center of san pedro
how’d they know i was here?

making moves

The bus ride to my new town was comfortable and largely uneventful. From Seville, we traveled maybe an hour or so to Ronda. Along the way, I was treated to an up-close view of the southern Spanish countryside, which honestly looked rather hardscrabble and barren. Rocky ground with clumps of low shrubs and wild grasses. Low, rolling hills everywhere and every couple of minutes, large patches of land with neat rows of what I’m guessing were olive trees (some orange trees, too).

One interesting note is how many Japanese people were also on the bus. In Seville, one of our tour guides had mentioned that there were Japanese people everywhere, and he said it with a kind of distaste in his voice. Japanese people can be kind of obnoxious tourists, much like Americans, I’m sure. All the ones I’ve seen so far have way too much stuff with them and they seem to have a camera jutting from every orifice or hand. Once we made it to Ronda, most of them disembarked. Only a couple remained for the trip to San Pedro.

We had a brief 20-25 minute stop in Ronda – which seemed like a very charming traditional Spanish town. I made a note to myself to add it to my list of places to visit before leaving Spain. The passenger makeup of the bus changed to mostly abuelitas (grandmothers) for the Ronda to San Pedro leg of the trip. Soon, the low, rolling hills changed to steep mountains with lazy clouds drifting by. We were now passing through the Sierra de los Nieves.

a glimpse of ronda

passing through the sierra de los nieves

I’ve never gotten carsick before, but I was sort of glad that I hadn’t eaten anything yet, since the winding roads and sharp turns through the mountains felt more like a slow-moving rollercoaster than a charter bus. With the chatter of old Spanish ladies (one of whom had brought a twittering parakeet along for the trip), and the bus’ soundtrack of easy-listening Spanish style jazz muzak (including a sax-muzak version of ‘Careless Whispers’) as my background noise, I soaked in the gorgeous mountain views and tried not to get too excited as we got closer and closer to San Pedro.

Unlike in Ronda, where the bus stopped at a proper bus station, in San Pedro, the bus just stopped in the middle of the street (at least that’s what it seemed like to me). Just to be sure I was in the right place, I asked one of the abuelitas, “Es San Pedro?” “Si, es San Pedro,” she replied. I exited the bus with a handful of others, all of whom seemed to be heading to other destinations nearby. I followed them to the bus ticket window near our stop and asked where I could find a taxi, since there were none visible at the stop. With my 2 heavy bags, I was not intending to hoof it to my hotel. The ticket lady directed me up the street, literally.

A short walk up a steep hill with an extremely narrow sidewalk, and over 60 pounds of luggage caused me to break a small sweat by the time I reached the taxi line. The driver loaded my things, and I told him where I was going. “Cuanto cuesta?” I asked. He laughed. “Poco poco” (though it sounded more like Popo… Andalusians NEVER finish their words!). He added something which I understood to mean that everything in town was very, very close. Sure enough, it seemed like all he did was circle the block, and we were stopped in front of Hostal El Labrador, my temporary accomodation for the next 5 days.

El Labrador is a combination bar / restaurant and hotel, but a sign on the front door mentioned that the bar was closed until January 20, so the main entrance was closed and locked. I was peering in, trying to figure out how to get in the place, when I heard a woman shouting over my left shoulder from above. Some auntie was leaning over her balcony trying to tell me which door to go into. We played a quick game of pantomime Spanglish and at one point, I was sure she told me to hit the tiger (el tigre), but soon realized she meant push the bell (el timbre). I did, and got a crackly ‘Quien es?’ from the call box. After identifying myself, a woman opened the door, and started speaking rapidly and motioned for me to come in the other door around the backside of the building, before she retreated back inside.

Not quite sure I’d heard her correctly, I paused at a door just a few feet away, then heard another voice behind me, this one from an older male. He’d apparently heard my interchange with the balcony lady and the proprietress, and saw my confused brown face and could tell I needed all the help I could get. He gave me a firm signal that said, yes, i should continue around the back. As I walked, I thought, ‘Wow, these folks sure are really helpful. I’d probably be well looked after in this town.’

After checking in with Inmaculada, the innkeepr, I entered my room. The place made my hotel in Sevilla look like the 4 Seasons. It was clean and neat though, and it IS only temporary, so… no pasa nada (still don’t know if I’m using that right).

Unfortunately, though, it seems that the wifi does NOT want to cooperate, so I am on a communication island right now. Not good, as I need to get in touch with my potential roommate to meet over the weekend, and I’d like to see if my school coordinator has responded with when I should arrive on Monday. I tried to restart my PC to see if that would help, but good ol’ Windows decided it wanted to install 34 updates before restarting, so I’m sitting here waiting on that now. I think I’ll just head on out to take a look around for a bit while it finishes. But it being siesta, I’m not sure exactly how much I’ll be able to see.

solo in spain… for real.

Last night at the farewell dinner for my orientation, two of my newfound friends approached me where I was chatting with another colleague at the bar.

“We just had to say that you look like the most confident woman in the world. Look at you, leaning against the bar with your wine glass perched just so in your hand!”

We all laughed, and I assured them that it was only because I had about 12 years on them that my stance seemed so relaxed and assured.

Today, however, timidity is my travel companion. I have to keep reminding myself that I am in Spain, not on a hostile foreign planet. No one is going to eat me alive or yell at me, or do anytning bad. But whenever I have to open my mouth to ask, “donde esta…?” or “cuanto cuesta…?” I can hardly believe that the quiet, almost bashful voice is my own.

 I am waiting in the bus station near downtown Seville right now, preparing to travel to my teaching destination of San Pedro de Alcantara. After almost 3 days of being in a group of about 25 other auxiliaries, I;m admittedly a bit spoiled. I haven’t HAD to speak Spanish or even figure out what I’m doing, or what I’m going to eat or drink since I’ve been here. My schedule has been planned by the organization I applied through. And even during my free time, I’ve relied heavily on my colleagues with stronger Spanish speaking skills or previous experiences living in Spain to show me around or communicate when my barely functional Spanish elicits confused looks from the locals. But today, I’m officially solo in Spain, and last night’s confidence has dwindled significantly.

2014 spring semester CIEE teach in spain participants

My two new friends: Liz (Pittsburgh) and Amy (LA)

I photobombed this pic of Lyanne, Liz, and Amy – I think I made it better!

2 days in seville

After the harrowing experience that was my journey to Seville, I was glad to finally reach the hotel and get settled in. For the next couple of days, CIEE (the organization that I applied through) had a series of orientation sessions planned for us. There was tons of important information covered, from setting up a bank account, to getting a Spanish cell phone, and dealing with day-to-day issues at school.

On the first day of orientation, we were divided into groups, and a CIEE tour guide showed us around many of the highlights of central Seville. Seville is an absolultely gorgeous city, and during the tour it finally started to sink in: I’m in SPAIN!!!

la catedral – sevilla

tomb of christopher columbus. allegedly.

view from la giralda

la giralda

las setas

roman ruins beneath las setas

miniature of las setas

la giralda

 .
At the end of the evening we were treated to an amazing Flamenco performance. Absolutely breathtaking!

lo perdí (i lost it)

subject to change. ain’t THAT the truth!



My flight to Spain should have been uneventful. But one tiny noob mistake turned an uneventful trip into something of a ridiculous saga.

The Realization

Maybe it was the excitement, maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was meant to be, or maybe I’m just a bit daft. Whatever the reason, I managed to deboard the plane at my first connection point in Paris and leave my passport behind in my seat. How the hell I did something so ridiculously stupid, I’ll never understand, but I’ll probably be a long time forgetting the repercussions, namely, an extra 6 hours tacked on to an already long journey.

Once I’d discovered that I’d left my passport, I hurried to the airline help desk to see if I could get someone to quickly check the plane for my missing travel document. I explained my predicament to the desk clerk. She called the gate, spoke to someone in rapid-fire French (half of which I understood), and then hung up, turning to let me know that they were checking and would call back. When they did a few moments later, she relayed the message in heavily-accented English, “They deedn’t find eet.” WHAT!? Oh, Jesus, no. This is not happening. Of all the f*(#@n things to lose, I lose the 1 things that I barely got back in time for the trip!? This. is NOT happening.

I fought back encroaching tears and pleaded with the desk agent. “I know it’s there,” I explained. “I have been nowhere else, not even to the bathroom. I’ve already checked every inch of my bag, and nothing! And, I remember putting it on the seat next to me when I sat down.” She reconfirmed my seat number with the person on the phone, waited. “No,” she said. They saw nothing. At that moment, still fighting back tears and resisting the urge to cuss my own self out for being so careless, I just started praying under my breath. “God, I need you to come through for me. I know this can be resolved. I know you will help me find a way to resolve this. I know this cannot be how this is supposed to turn out – me, stuck in a Paris airport, unable to reach my destination.” Just then, the desk agent offered the only other suggestion she had, “Haff you reported eet to the police?” “No,” I said. She suggested I do so and pointed me in the direction of the airport police office.

The Station

So, at just past 5am, I find myself communicating my situation to a French policeman as best I can. He is listening as best as he can, standing behind an unnecessarily tall desk. I am eyeing both his face for the appropriate level of understanding, and the face of the clock on the wall next to me, noticing the minutes dwindle along with my chances of making my connecting flight. After communicating my issue, I am told to wait a few moments. I briefly consider taking a seat among the dozens of others waiting on uncomfortable-looking chairs, but I decide that standing in direct eyesight is the better choice. Much conversation transpires in French among the 2 or 3 officers gathered behind the desk. One, the most genial and the one who I have just talked to, seems to be pleading my case to another more stern, apparent authority-figure who seems to be rapid-firing back the appropriate protocol to Msr. Genial. Msr. Autorité appears totally unsympathetic to the silly, simpering American woman looking on helplessly at their conversation. I don’t think he even makes eye contact with me. A third officer stands by, mostly watching the exchange, his body and facial language seemingly saying, ‘Damn. That sucks. But I don’t want to get involved in this mess.’

After a few stomach-churning minutes, an officer approaches (was he 1 of the previous 3? In my flustered state, I really can’t tell.). He speaks to me in English, “Follow me.” I do.

“Have you asked the desk agent?”

“Yes,” I say. “She called the gate and said they found nothing, but I know it’s there,” I tell him.

We go back to the help desk, this time to a different agent. She phones the gate again, gives the same details as before, listens, then speaks something in French to the officer. He turns to me. “They found it.”

YES!

A flood of relief washes over me. I notice that the previous agent gives a pinched look. What was that all about, I briefly wonder. But I have no time to pontificate. Officer Helpful is writing down the gate number, and escorting me back to pick up my passport.

The Reclamation

I chalked up the fact that no one really seemed rushed at all, or offered any help in getting me to my connecting flight to French / European standards of service or their overall lack of urgency about things. Still, I was hoping there would be a sliver of a chance for me to make it, as long as I moved very, very quickly. Well… I did move quickly, but the airport tram, the gate workers (who where nowhere to be found when me and Officer Helpful arrived. Really!? We just called and said we were coming. WTF?), and everyone else in the airport were not on the same page. After Officer Helpful had retrieved my passport and given it back to me (he also had to take a pic for his report), I dashed back through the airport terminal, on the tram again, then a quick customs stamp, a thorough undressing at security screening, and by that time I saw flashing on the monitors that the status of my connecting flight was:

Boarding – Last Call

I broke into a run, with my shoes barely zipped and my belt barely back on, and my approved carry-on liquids barely stuffed back into my bag.

Now, I’m already not a runner, but after an 8-hour flight with spotty sleep, a stressful ordeal and with a kinda-heavy carryon in-tow, I’m pretty sure I looked like the most awkward, disheveled, panicked, banshee-woman that Charles de Gaulle airport had ever seen. I was sweating, and panting, and thinking of stopping, but I had to push… just in case. When I made it to the gate, it was immediately clear that I was too late… by about 7 minutes.

Final Destination

I asked the gate agent what my options were and she pointed me to the AirFrance info counter just a few feet away. I approached, explained my situation, and asked what could be done. I was preparing for the worst – an extra fee, no more flights / seats available, etc – but hoping for the best. After a helluva lot of click-clacking, typing, sighing, and conferring with her manager, Mme. Info Desk uttered my new favorite French word, “superb!” And I was all set with a new ticket with no extra fees. My next leg would take me from Paris to Madrid, and the final flight would leave from Madrid to Seville… about 6 hours afterwards.

Though I was happy that I hadn’t totally screwed myself, I was completely dismayed at the idea of having to wait in another airport for hours. Plus, now that I would be arriving late, it meant I’d have to find my own way from the Seville aiport to the hotel (instead of taking the free shuttle provided by my program), and that I would likely miss the first part of orientation.

I was exhausted, disheveled, and it appeared that my too-thick socks combined with my too-tight new boots, along with all the running and walking had resulted in a painful blister on the back of one heel.  Any hopes of arriving cool, calm, and collected were long gone.

By the time I finally boarded the flight to Seville, I was an irritated lump of sweaty, achy, tired flesh, and I still faced the possibility that my luggage might not be waiting upon my arrival. Fortunately, it was, and I sailed out of the Seville airport as quickly as I could, caught a cab to the hotel, and vowed never to repeat such a ridiculous mistake or experience again.

makes no sense at all

I’m flying to Miami this evening. And I feel like I’m going to throw up. My palms are sweaty. My stomach is in knots. My mind won’t stop racing. I literally feel like a bundle of nerves. I keep telling myself to just breathe. Everything is going to unfold as it should. You’ve done all you can do. The rest is just going through the process and waiting to see how everything turns out. But a few moments after I’ve taken some deep breaths to enhance my calm, my restless mind is back at it again.

Tomorrow I go to the Spanish Consulate just outside of Miami to apply for my visa. The application itself is a daunting process that might make anyone more than a little bit nervous. But my particular visa application experience is even more nerve-wracking since I only have 3 full weeks between my application date and my (alleged) departure date for Spain. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out how this happened, when I started planning for this so early.

Back in early October, I made my original appointment at the Consulate for mid-October. This, however, was before I realized that I would need to gather documentation from everyone and God to take with me for the appointment. It was also before I realized that I would have to travel all the way to South Florida to present said documentation. I decided to reschedule for a later date. A quick look at the Consulate’s calendar revealed that the months of November and December were wide open for appointment slots. “Cool,” I thought. “I’ll just check back in a week or two after I’ve made more progress with my paperwork, and reschedule for late November or early December.” Bad decision. When I did check back about a week and a half later, every date was booked up until mid-December, well after the date that my program coordinator had suggested was advisable in order to ensure the Consulate would have enough time to process my application.

Gulp.

I went ahead and took the next available slot, but over the next couple of weeks, I called the Consulate every other day asking if there were any cancellations or openings for an earlier date. There weren’t.

Gulp.

Ok, then. So this it’s how it’s going to be? Fine. Bring it. I recalled that Dominique and a couple of other program participants had said that it had only taken 2 weeks to receive their visas back from the Consulate, so I held on to that as my one glimmer of hope. 2 weeks. 2 weeks.
Since then, it’s become a sort of mantra for me. As I’ve crossed off every item on the list of documents that I needed to procure or provide, I’ve just kept saying it over and over to myself, as if saying the words will make everything alright. Despite the program coordinator’s advice to hold off on buying my plane ticket to Spain until after the visa appointment, I went ahead and purchased. Those prices weren’t going down any time soon. And besides… 2 weeks.

So here I am, with my overnight bag packed, my packet of documents printed, copied, stapled, and signed; preparing to head to sunny Miami with an invisible cloud of dread and trepidation over my head. I feel like a soldier heading into battle for the first time (kinda like Denzel in that scene from Glory); I feel like how I used to feel just before I had to go to confession, (Forgive me, Father, for being a procrastinator); I feel… like this:

https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/sm1LXASAPhk&source=uds

“How in the hell do we get ourselves in these situations?”

Wish me luck.
k