Monday, March 31, 2014

Stay or Go?

When we Auxiliaries are approaching our 2nd year, the NALCA program gives us an option to change our placement. We also tend to be the first to have our requests granted, versus first- or third-years.

Around December, I started to notice the differences between Spain and Canada. Some of these differences were enough to depress me. I won't go into them, but they were significant enough to make me question staying in Spain another year. Friends who have lived abroad before chalked it up to culture shock, albeit 4 months into my move.

The decision to stay or go, or to move to a bigger Spanish city (with a beach!), weighed heavily on my mind for months. The bone-chilling winter weather didn't help matters. In the end, it took a lot of thought and journal writing to come to the firm decision to renew my contract, with the same school in Villacarrillo.

Why did I want to return to Canada?
            I realized the area I live in in Canada is my home. I have travelled enough that I now know it.
            I truly miss my wonderful friends there.
            I miss multiculturalism.
            Canada suits my personality – an outdoor activity-loving, casual-dressing, wacky Canadian.
            Not being fluent in Spanish is frustrating sometimes.

Why did I want a bigger city in Spain?
            There would be so much more to do, than in a pueblo.
            In terms of convenience, the shops are open more often, and there's more selection.
            (Ojalla) I would be closer to the beach, compared to my present location in Jaén.
            A bigger city would probably be more multicultural than Villacarrillo.
            It's easier to travel from a big city than from my pueblo.

Why did I pick Villacarrillo?
            The biggest reason: my level of Spanish has improved tenfold. Based on reading other auxiliaries' blogs, I wouldn't be learning as much Spanish in a city.
            I have made great, great friends here. Leaving them now would honestly be too early.
            I have adapted to being the only Asian, and to the way the pueblo works, and the way my school runs.
            I wanted to avoid having to start over in a new place, and having to make friends all over again. I've done it so many times in the past few years that I am enjoying having settled into my current place.

Oh, and p.s. Jaén has free tapas!

Although the last few weeks were rife with stress about what to do, in the end I can report that I am extremely happy with my decision to stay another year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

El Día del Padre

Everyone loves receiving money, not least of all as a gift. I figured it would make a perfect present for Father's Day. But instead of giving straight-up cash, I bought a lottery ticket in Spain for the first time.

I chose the lotto for Dad's present because I have memories of him and Mom buying a ticket every week. I don't believe in throwing my money away like that, but their belief was, “If you don't play, you won't win for sure. If you try, who knows?” Although when I multiply their $2 - $4 weekly spending habit by the number of years they played.... ouch.

In Spain there are a ton of choices to play the lottery: La Primitiva, El Gordo, EuroMilliones... I did a lot of reading on the internet, before braving my first journey into the Lottery Office. I actually had to go twice; the first time I went in, there was a lineup and I didn't want an audience while struggling to make myself understood to the clerk. So I returned in the afternoon when no one was there. The guy at the desk could tell I was new to playing, and spoke slowly. “Buena suerte,” he said as I left.

I could tell Dad was excited when I told him about my present. Usually, his emails are short and terse: “Thanks for the birthday wishes. I didn't do anything for my birthday.” or “Thank you for your email. Take care.” But this time, he wrote an entire paragraph about the benefits of trying your luck, and he even used an exclamation mark!

I think I picked the right present.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Capital

Oh how I love Madrid. Only because I'm currently living in the exact opposite kind of place. I hustled up there last weekend, foolishly bringing my winter coat because I'd thought it would be colder than Andalucía. The temperature is pretty much the same.

It was quite an ordeal getting there. In my area, on Sundays getting a taxi is like hunting for treasure. It was so difficult to find one that I ended up missing my train. Thank goodness I didn't buy a ticket ahead of time. When I finally stumbled into my friend's apartment in Madrid, I dropped everything and announced I was ready to eat.

And eat I did - my first night, and the entire following day. Normally, I follow a healthy, restricted diet. But put me in a city and I go CRAZY. I seek out food that I can't find in my village - Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Italian. I ate that weekend even when I wasn't hungry, because I absolutely wanted the comfort food. And the pastries! The yemas were such a buena pinta!
(insert Homer Simpson drool here)
The recipe looks dang easy:

330 ml can condensed milk
9 egg yolks
1/2 tsp lemon rind
2 tbsp butter to grease hands
1/2 cup white sugar for rolling
1.) Combine the first 3 ingredients in a non-stick frying pan
2.) Cook over low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. It is best to use wooden spoons for this.
3.) Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
4.) Butter your fingers and form the yema mixture into small balls.
5.) Roll the yema balls in granulated sugar and place in fluted baking cups.
Am I going to make this? YESSSSS!

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Came, I Saw...I Fell

When you miss home, small things can bring memories to your mind and tears to your eyes. That would explain why I'd become silent on the bus ride from Barcelona to Andorra. As we edged closer to the border, I was overcome with the realization I'd seen the snow-covered mountains before: a year ago, while heading to the mountains with my ex-roomate in her beat-up car, to take advantage of a free morning to go snowboarding.
I wasn't expecting such a strong reaction to the country my co-worker had invited me to, and to which I'd replied, "What the hell's Andorra?" This tiny, non-descript parcel of land turned out to be a fulcrum upsetting the peace I previously had about my future goals. You see, I'd been enjoying the language immersion, the food, and the culture of Andalucía. I'm still fascinated by it. But being in a snowy country stirred my soul. In Andorra I realized that I love snow too, and Canadian traditions.

On our first day we did many activities at Grau Roig, where I marvelled at the dry, fluffy confection of snow.

Afterwards, in Soldeu, we stumbled upon a cozy bar filled with people enjoying cover songs - sung in English! - by an expat. It was fun educating my Spanish friends about the things in the bar that are typical of a mountainside bar in my Canadian province: wood interior, stiff drinks, outdoorsy clothes, and good music. I didn't want to go, but I did because the next day, I had to be up while it was still dark in order to take advantage of the fact that I was in Andorra, popular in Europe for its breathtaking ski runs.

The conditions in El Tarter were perfect. Once I got my bearings, I was flying down the hills. I felt amazing!

Until the front edge of my board caught. I flew forward like a flapjack, landing face-first into the snow. In an irony befitting a teacher who complains about her salary being too low, I'd landed on my wallet, which was so full of change it fractured my rib. Basically, I'm so rich, my wallet hurt me.

I cut my snowboarding day short and slithered down to the base, in pain. My rib wasn't completely broken, although I didn't know it was fractured so I continued lugging heavy bags around Andorra, thinking I'd merely bruised a muscle. It was only when I returned to Villacarrillo and the pain became unbearable, that I finally went to the doctor and was x-rayed. His recommendation was that I rest for a month, not doing any sports except for walking. 

Did my injury sideline me forever?  Heck no! As soon as I'm fully healed I'll be raring to hit another mountain, or perhaps with the weather turning, try out some surfing...