Monday, June 30, 2014

Prezzies & tech

There seems to be no job with higher honour than as an English auxiliary in Spain. All of us are blogging about the gifts, student presentations, hugs, and tears we received upon the end of our contracts. Me notwithstanding: I got an engraved pen, books about the sierra mountains, handmade elastic bracelets, Úbeda pottery, a dress, the biggest goodbye card ever, and this...
The first carve
A leg of jam! Iberico, to boot. I'd always dreamt of buying myself one of these but thought it was too indulgent. Luckily my students did the indulging for me! Every day I carve thin slices of this precious meat and put it in a sandwich, sprinkle it on a bowl of vegetables, or make ice cream (just kidding).

However, the worst gift I got was from my mobile company. I switched from Orange (too expensive as prepago [prepaid]) to tuenti (non-permanent contract) and right away there were problems. Firstly, I didn't know I had to liberate (unblock) the phone. I got that done via a local store, but then there was no coverage. So I'm Whatsapp-less and without text at home. All I can use is WiFi at my workplace, which is a 10-minute walk away.

Since arriving in Spain 9 months ago I have not had home internet. I've relied on using it at two workplaces, plus data on my mobile when at home. There are times when it's hard. I feel it most when I want to do online freelance, which requires constant internet access in order to check messages from potential clients. But besides that, I have survived just fine. I accomplish so much more without home internet or television: I concentrate on my food during meals, I progress in the books I'm reading, I play guitar. The last hobby is one I've always wanted to get better at, and haven't been able to because when it's time to relax, I've been conditioned to turn on the boob tube or check Facebook. On a side note, a friend asked if he should get on the Facebook bandwagon and I answered, “DON'T do it. Total timesuck.”

When I'm forced to go somewhere to use WiFi, I'm much more efficient with my time. I catch myself clicking on external links, do an imaginary slap on my wrist, and get back to work. Because of our siesta hour at 14:00, there's a timer on how long I can be online before my workplace closes for lunch.

Now that I don't have Whatsapp for a while, I can exercise my freedom to stay home since I don't have cash for going out, and my friends know I'm technologically screwed. But because Villacarrillo is tiny, if I do have the urge to be with friends I'll simply walk around and come across someone I know.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Is there joy in being alone?

Last year, I wrote about how hard it was to be a tourist alone in the small towns of Jaén. There seems to be a general consensus that people do everything together, and being alone seems to be regarded as the worst thing in the world. Eating solo and going to events solo is just not done in Úbeda and Villacarrillo. In a pinch, when you're hungry there's no problem standing at the bar and downing a coffee or a beer and a tapa. But it's rare for a woman to do it, nevermind an Asian woman.

Because of my new fear of going out alone, I'd been missing out on a lot: concerts, the San Isidro party in the countryside, and foodie events, just to name a few. So when the opportunity came to watch my student perform in a flamenco show, I decided to bite the bullet and go alone, as none of my friends were interested. I didn't care if I'd end up sitting alone with strangers. This was going to be my first time watching flamenco, Carmen was one of my favorite students, and I wasn't about to repeat my abysmal track record of missing out on opportunities.

When I arrived at the theatre, Carmen's mother spotted me and I told her I didn't have a seat. She prompted me to sit with the family. I detected a slight air of confusion as to why I was alone, but we chatted and the awkwardness disappeared quickly.
Carmen - always in the centre, because she was an excellent dancer.

Los niños bailando!
As soon as I saw Carmen perform I thanked my lucky stars I'd gone to the theatre. She was a spectacular dancer – maybe even the best one! She didn't look like a teenager; she had the air of a woman – her movements spelled confidence from years of training. I was awestruck.

After the show, friends invited me to a verbena - an outdoor plaza party with live music and a bar. I went to bed early – 3:30 a.m. is early for me now – while the band was still churning it out.
 The next day, I checked out Corpus Cristi. This is a yearly event where people decorate the streets with olive tree trimmings, flowers, coloured sawdust, and pebbles, amongst other things.

Near the end of my walk, I suddenly felt hungry and was glad I'd gone alone. If I'd been with a group I would have felt obliged to stick with them, or perhaps go to a bar and spend money I didn't have. Instead, because I defied the norm and took a chance, I had great experiences that got me in touch with local culture.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I'm so Boring

This summer, I'm staying in Villacarrillo. Besides a few private classes here and there, and the occasional class at the academy, my days will be spent working on my computer at home, or tackling Spanish text, while the sun broils away outside. At night I'll be sitting at little plastic tables perched outside of bars, sipping tinto de verano while every half hour a car will whiz by, a scant meter from my chair.

Some friends have asked why I'm not flying home, or travelling my butt off. One reason: consumer debt. I came to Spain with almost no debt, but without any salary for the first few months, I resorted to charging everything. I didn't look at the balance until recently, which made my eyes pop out. I had mismanaged my spending. I thought I'd been paying off the debt properly, but the monthly contribution wasn't enough. I felt angry at the way I hadn't tracked my expenses, with all the shopping and travelling I'd done: Madrid, Oporto, Andorra, Madrid, Morocco, Madrid, Madrid (can you tell I love going there?).... it all adds up. Debt is something that's haunted me ever since my first trip to Italy, and it's been that dangerous lover that I keep coming back to because I love travel.

Another reason I'm happy to stay in Vcar is that unfortunately, la junta gave me Jaén capital for my next job contract. It is exactly opposite of what I'd wanted for my second year, but they claim due to budget cuts all auxiliaries at adult schools in my region are being re-posted to bilingual high schools and elementary schools. So instead of my lovely village of 10,000 with adults, I get a city of 100,000 and teens. I'm sad, but after pulling every stunt possible to try to convince la junta to let me stay here I finally gave up and decided to roll with it.... especially since the salary will help me tackle reason #1.

So I choose to stay and make the most of my pueblo. Because it's the little things that excite me. When I order a drink, and the bartender is able to understand me the first time, I don't merely think, “I just ordered summer wine.” I think, “HOLY SH*TBALLS I CAN ORDER TINTO DE VERANO LIKE A PRO!” When I tell a joke at a party, it's not just, “Oh, I made them laugh.” It's “OMG THEY'RE ROLLING ON THE FLOOR IN TEARS MY SPANISH IS AWESOME!”

When my buddy in my hometown asked why I wasn't coming back to Canada, which I'd originally said I'd do if la junta gave me Jaén, it was because a) I'd calmed the f*ck down, but mostly b) I love learning a new language. I love being immersed. I love knowing to leave the last tapa on the plate, because it's el trozo de vergüenza, as opposed to grabbing it and wolfing it down in front of staring eyes. I love understanding what the heck “Ven aqui pa' ca'!” means. I love that some of the kids I teach (and y'all know how I feel about teaching kids) are becoming affectionate and giving me big hugs. I love walking home from the club at 5 in the morning, looking up and admiring the stars.

So don't feel bad for me. I can assure you, I'm extremely happy spending a lazy summer in my little village.

A Whatsapp convo I had with a friend.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Last night, a friend made sushi dinner for us. It was an amazing spread: chips, wine, homemade tuna pate, homemade hummus, bread with vegetable spread, and various types of sushi. I was hesitant to eat the salmon pieces, as the sushi had been made an hour or more before we started eating. So it was warm. However, I couldn't resist trying some, and no one died after the party.
A month ago I made yogurt at home. I'd always wanted to, but because the recipe involves letting warm milk sit in an oven overnight, I'd always been afraid I'd kill myself. Not only did I not, but I produced a delicious, healthy snack.

I've become less germophobic since moving to Spain. This country has interesting contradictions in terms of hygiene. For example, when you shop for produce, you either have to use plastic gloves before touching fruits and vegetables, or wait until a clerk is free, who will handle the food for you. Allowing customers to serve themselves is a no-no. (That being said, one of the fruterias I go to lets me grab what I need)

On the other hand, go to a bar or club and you can bet that there won't be any toilet paper. Although it's a great way to make friends with the other ladies by asking for some kleenex, it's almost an adventure deciding whether to do your business at the club, or wait 'til you get home. And forget about washing your hands. There's almost never soap or anything to dry your hands with. Another reason to love the “two kisses” custom, as opposed to the handshake.

What do these examples show? That perhaps we need to worry less about germs, and trust that our bodies will take care of us. That being said, I could never let go of my practice of washing my hands. I can hear my friends now breathing a sigh of relief.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Not all kids are bad

Fact: I teach kids sometimes. Fact: when those days come, I dread it. The kids, in general, are good. But get them in a group, after a day of being jailed in their classrooms, and it's like the apocalypse has been unleashed. They don't listen to me, they act like they don't understand me when I speak English, they start wrestling.... it often quickly disintegrates into a sh*tshow.

But hey, with the bad comes the good (re: it pays my grocery bill).

So when a teacher from Úbeda, who is also a student of mine, asked me to speak to a class of 50 kids, all 11 - 12 years old, I felt scared but said 'yes' anyway. Upon arrival at her school she introduced me to every teacher, the school doctor, and the cafeteria staff. It was a small school but full of energy. She explained that they've had to make do with what they get from the government. At the same time, they work hard to create a 'safe bubble' that is separate from the turmoil which some of the gitano students experience at home.

With 50 sets of eyes staring at me, I started talking to the surprisingly well-behaved children. My speaking level was low at first, but later I realized that their level of English was actually quite good. They asked many interesting questions, and some that are normally considered faux-pas in Canada: “Is your family rich?” (I pointed at my clothes and said, 'Uh, no.'), “How OLD are you?” (oh how I love that question), and “Do you have a boyfriend?” (a question from a future player)

The kids were so excited when they presented the gifts. I received really cute elastic bracelets, each featuring the colours of the flags of my Canadian city, Andalucía, and Spain. Also, they had made a keychain decoration with an 'A'. Finally, I was given beautiful Úbeda pottery with the name of the school etched into it. Then the teacher pulled out the guitar and they sang a pitch-perfect “What a Wonderful World”. I was amazed by their talent, and I almost (ALMOST!) cried.

Then I went home with my student and enjoyed the most wonderful homecooked lunch with her family. She also gifted me a gorgeous Mango dress, which really touched me because it was an infinitely generous gesture. I was really flattered that she invited me to her school to speak to her children. I think it's a sign of what she thinks of my teaching ability, and I feel really honoured.