Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Tis the season

And I'm homesick.  I figured the feeling would coincide with Christmastime, and I was right.  I miss a lot of people and things from home more than usual.  Christmas songs make me think of decorating the tree with my mom, and seeing the lights on the streets at night make me long for Lighting of the Quad and candlelit carols (but not glowsticks).  I want to be at home drinking hot chocolate and snuggling up under a blanket while Andy Williams sings and the fire glows (after begging my dad for the once-annual lighting, of course).  I know when Christmas Day comes I'll be thinking of "The Santa Clause," Great Aunt Charlotte's spunk, macaroni and cheese casserole, and "real" whipping cream.

And although a pang of jealousy hits when I hear of others in my program returning home for the holidays, I'm still pretty satisfied with the decision to stay abroad the whole year.  Spain definitely is not lacking when it comes to Christmas spirit.  There are lights strung from street lamps and awnings, a few dozen Christmasy market stalls and a huge Nativity scene along the walkway of our main street, and festive trees glowing from several windows.  They're also pretty great at playing up the Three Wisemen (los tres Reyes Magos) -- which makes sense because here they are the ones bearing gifts for all good little boys and girls.  (This helps explain Santa's knack for global delivery---with a team of four, eight capable reindeer, and a few sagely camels, it's definitely doable.)

Adding to the Christmas spirit abroad are:
*"Baby, It's Cold Outside" at least a dozen times so far
*Paper snowflakes
*Our own little Christmas tree, complete with twinkle lights and garland
*Mama's chocolate chip cookies (sent with love via Priority Mail)
*new Christmas socks
*Christmas card writing
*Reindeer antlers (I'll be Comet for our upcoming party.)
*Christmas cards from faraway family and friends
*My third graders rehearsing "The 12 Days of Christmas" for the celebration next week (complete with costumes and hand motions)
*A lovely little Christmas scene on my desktop
*Upcoming potluck lunch with the other teachers (I'll be making more green bean casserole.)

Soon enough I'll add to that list some of the wonderful things we see and experience in Germany.  Nuremberg for Christmas, Berlin for New Year's, and Munich in between the two.  And the holiday adventure begins next Monday!

But before then: three more work days, lots of laundry and packing, and one really great combo. Birthday/Christmas party.

Life is good and I am blessed :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Día de acción de gracias, 2009

Besides my week of Spanish flu when Mom was in town when I wanted nothing more than my pillow-top mattress and an English-speaking doctor, this past week brought with it the biggest dose of homesickness yet.  Mostly I've been busy and enjoying myself enough that although I often think of home, it doesn't bother me terribly being here instead of there.  But this Thursday was Thanksgiving, and  pictures, phone calls, and even Facebook statuses reminded me of just how homey and wonderful America can be.

However, I got two packages from family that helped make Thanksgiving over here a pretty great occasion.  My Florida family made sure I was included in some very important family traditions concerning thankfulness and candy corn.  :-)  And Mom made it possible to make honest to goodness pumpkin pie all the way over here in Spain.

My roommates and I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner last night.  We split the dishes and the cost, and we came out with: turkey (and by turkey I mean two chickens), mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, bread, corn, and pumpkin pie.  I was in charge of the beans and the pie, and although both were about as simple as cooking gets, I was nervous about the outcome.  Based on people's responses at dinner, though, I think they were both pretty successful.

It was quite a feast, and we had some great company.  At one point, I sat back a bit and looked around the room: we looked like a mix-n-match family that just happened to all be around the same age.  The Americans talked about everything from regional phraseology in the States to really out-there movies from the 60s and 70s.  And the Spaniards joined in with equally great conversation.  The room was warm, the wine was tasty, and we had just the right amount of food to go around.  Also, we made feather headdresses with leftover craft materials from one of my Thanksgiving lessons--terribly politically correct AND entirely appropriate for wearing both at the dinner table and out to a few clubs afterwards.

And so, Spain can be homey too.   And I love it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Waiting, Restless

I always have extra time between leaving my first school and arriving at my second.  I'm working on finding the best Waiting Spots between the two.  Today I tried a little square about a block from my second school.  It was perfect for the couple of boys kicking around a football, and the white and blue tiled benches were also perfect--for waiting.  Not too long after I sat down, I was joined by Andrea.  She's five.  She plopped herself down right next to me and proceeded to look over my shoulder at my cell phone.  She was sure she'd seen my exact phone on television, so I showed her all the "special features" (it's my American phone, mainly used for alarms and time keeping because I have yet to find a watch I like).  We were fast friends, and she began telling me all about her family in Argentina--"I'm half and half.  I'm kind of like Argentina but I'm also kind of like Spain."  (All of this, of course, in adorable Kid Spanish.)  She also informed me I looked prettier without my glasses.  It was precious.  Our time was cut short because Mom was finished shopping, but Andrea made a quick trip back to the bench to check: "Wait, are you North American OR South American?"--"North."--"Okay! Bye!"  I ate it up.

There's another bench I've found for waiting, almost right outside my second school.  My waiting companion there is an old man named Juan Martin Something Something.  I'm supposed to remember his name because he used to be the chief of police (though I'm not entirely sure it was in Almería) and people KNOW him.  Drop his name, I won't get messed with.  Well, I have half of it down; it's just that his nearly-toothless, old man Spanish is a little too broken and fast for me to catch every word.  I'll work on it.  I just might need that name someday.

In similar news, I'm an old man magnet.  I don't know what it is, and I think it has more to do with them than with me, but something as simple as eye contact or a smile translates into an open invitation to discuss whatever might be on their minds.  Common thought processes: the weather, their dogs (alive and dead), estranged family members, dangerous Spanish men, and why I don't have a boyfriend.  This last one happens to be my favorite.

I love my jobs.  I still don't care for getting up early or lesson planning, and sometimes being with so many different kids makes me long for a "regular" elementary job in the States, but I really love what I'm doing here.  My first graders are always ready with hugs, and curiosity about English is building in almost all my classes.  Things are also feeling more successful on the teacher side: I've actually (appropriately) joined in the recess gossip hour a couple of times.  The teachers' faces when I did this were priceless.  In the same vein, I now know just about 275 names--and the faces that go with them.  Feels good :-)


I find it almost impossible to believe I've been here over a month.  I'm pretty used to calling my apartment "home," and I'm feeling pretty familiar with my little coastal city.  There is plenty more to see here, I'm sure, but I'm growing restless.  It's November, and I'm ready to see more.  A trip to Granada is in the works.  I feel a little behind when I hear about (or see pictures of) others in my program already traveling throughout Spain and beyond... but then, I remember how good it feels to be a bit settled here in Almería, and it's okay.  I'll get started soon.  There's still time.  It's going quickly, but there's still time.  And I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Welcome to Tuesday

Tuesdays are my Mondays because Spain thinks I should have a three-day weekend every weekend.  I can't say I disagree.

That said, every Tuesday I spend a total of four hours with three year olds.  If you know any three year olds (or, if you know me), you must realize this window is about three and a half hours too long.  Don't get me wrong, they're cute, and I have been pleasantly surprised with my ability to recognize their cuteness... BUT:

They're babies.  It's true.

During my urban fieldwork for elementary education, I observed and helped in a kindergarten classroom for seven weeks.  That was nothing.

Every Tuesday without fail there is pants-peeing, milk spilling, classmate pushing, and snack dropping.  All of these scholarly activities are accompanied by plenty of crying and whining.  Additionally, we have the weekly trauma of paper cuts, stubbed toes, and grazed knees.  Clearly we keep busy in the three year old wing.

Knowing my students only get older as the week progresses is the light of my work tunnel.

I really appreciate my middle and high schoolers.  I never thought I'd be saying that.  They're awkward and a little bit intimidating, but after my first couple of weeks, I'm past that and they are so much fun.  We listen to Michael Jackson and High School Musical songs and try to guess the lyrics.  And next on the agenda is staging a restaurant and practicing ordering from an American menu.  They get to bring snacks; it's pretty exciting!

Work is more stressful than I thought it would be.  Right now I'm working on balance because while I am a teacher and am here to teach English, I am also here to experience Spain.  And Europe.  So I'm working on doing--and enjoying--both.  I'm getting there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

He out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole

It's been a "Rockin' Robin" kind of day. While waiting on a bench before teaching restaurant-based English to a group of fifth and sixth graders, I found Bobby Day's version of the song on my iPod--and proceeded to listen to it twice in a row. As I listened and smiled at all my favorite parts, it just seemed fitting all things considered...

Today was my appointment at the Foreigners' Office which served to extend my legal status in Spain. My program and others who have been in my shoes assured me this process would be a nightmare. From myriad descriptions, I had established a mental picture: long lines, a cramped and stuffy office full of hardly-working box fans, a horde of confused foreigners, and a handful of disgruntled and smoking government employees. With that in mind, I did everything in my power to be over-prepared for my visit. I copied anything and everything that had to do with my job, my residency, my existence.

And then the morning came. Kate (flatmate), Carlos (Kate's boyfriend), and I set out for the office. Twenty minutes later, we were there. Easy. Right outside the office there was a photo booth (think Amelie) and I took and printed the passport photos I needed with my forms. Also easy. I entered the building: big, sanitary, air conditioned. It was a well-oiled machine. The only kink was my failure to take a form to and pay a bank for the application process before my appointment--easily fixed with a two-block walk to Cajamar. I returned to this huge DMV-esque place and when my appointment number was called, I proceeded to Table 33 where a lovely Spanish woman sifted through my documents and gathered what she needed. She took my fingerprints, gave me a receipt, told me to come back in 40 days for my residency card, and that was that.

I was floored. Needless to say my expectations were low and easily surpassed, but all in all it was a pretty painless deal. Impressed.

After that, many mundane details followed the day's trend: I skipped work and slept in a little in order to allow time for what could have been a whole-day process. Then, because of the promptness of the Foreigners' Office, I had time for a grocery run, a Kebob lunch from MacDoe's (divine), a quick nap, and an episode of "The Office" -- all before heading to teach English for a grand total of one hour this evening.

It was also one of those days where you get to the bus stop and somehow the exact bus you need appears from nowhere, ready to take you wherever you're headed. And the weather was perfect, to boot.

And now I'm home with the flatmates watching Spain beat Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Things are looking up over here in Spain. :-)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Spanish Things I've Done:

*Found an apartment! I'll be living with three other American girls who have the same job as me. I wasn't sure about this because I was really excited to live with people from different countries, but everything with this apartment (and the girl who is renting it out) just seemed to click, so I'm okay with it. It's bigger than I imagined and cheaper than I budgeted, so those are pluses too.

*Bought a cell phone! I felt like I was 16 years old again and getting my first one. We took turns scrolling through ring tones, exchanging phone numbers, figuring out the texting setup, playing with extra features like a flashlight and game similar to Snake. It's pretty expensive, so it's been almost comical watching everyone (including me) weigh the importance of phone calls and text messages.

*Saw my school. I've been lost a few times since being in Spain (naturally, since I tend to get lost back home where all the signs and help come in English), but finding my way to this school was the most difficult journey so far. I got so close but then couldn't quite understand the last few directions and so just stood, defeated, outside of some old hotel. My bilingual director said, "Don't move! I'll find you!" Her name is Maria and she is fabulous. We hammered out my class schedule, and I get to see pretty much every age group (3-8 year olds), and I have a conversation hour with the teachers! I have no idea what I'm expected to do when I walk in tomorrow morning, but I'm excited. And I think I even know how to get there.

*Garnered attention from old Spanish men. Some of them haven't been so old, but my favorite stories so far come from my encounters with various, cute, and sometimes kind of creepy geezers. They all have dogs, and they all want to give me advice and take me to their homes. So I pet their dogs and make small talk, and avoid almost all personal details on my whereabouts while here in Almeria. One that sticks out is a man whose advice had to do with boys. "Whatever you do, stay away from those Muslim boys. They're dangerous!" He went on to urge me to find a Spanish boyfriend, but to always be very, very cautious in my endeavors. I wasn't sure how to respond to his prejudice because when I asked him if all the North Africans were bad, he just nodded and went on to try and explain the Iraqi war "we all" are fighting and link everything together. Mostly I think I'll just take away his words of balanced caution and adventure. Have fun, be safe.

And: I've done a lot of walking. I love it! I just need to find some better shoes.

Off to the beach. (That's another thing: my first sight of the Mediterranean. It was rainy and pretty cloud, but it was still beautiful. Pictures soon.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And so it begins.

I've never crossed that many time zones before. And to be honest, I kind of thought "jet lag" was an overused sort of cop out for extra nap time upon arrival.

It isn't. I'm exhausted. This is nuts. In less than twenty-four hours time (I'm not going to do the math on time zone crossing versus "real" time, as though it exists...) I have crossed half the country, an ocean, and entered a new continent. It's surreal to say the least.

So far there's been a lot of English. That's fine with me, transitionally. Also okay with me is that parts of Sevilla I've seen at this point remind me of Guadalajara. It may seem like I'm stereotyping and clumping all Spanish-speaking cities together. I'm not! But maybe I am... either way, it makes it feel a little less foreign. That's a terrible pun, but you know what I mean.

Also so far: pretty dang smooth sailing. I'm impressed. God definitely wants me here; or that's what I'm taking on-time flights, easy luggage retrieval, meeting some neat people already, an email from a potential roommate for the year, and etc. to mean. All that said, I'm overwhelmed. But I'm okay with that; it's part of the teach abroad for a year deal I think.

Anyway, I'm here. I made it. The adventure begins!