Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A New Dawn

Changes are in the air. Days are cooler, as are the nights. I'm starting to wear jeans again in order to stay warm while sitting in the terrazas. Which has become a regular weekend event, as my days in the village are winding down and I try to make the most of my time with my friends here before moving away.

Whenever the summer turns to fall I excitedly start eyeing the sweaters and jeans in my wardrobe. Having learned from my first winter in Spain, I look forward to nuzzling into my flannels and taking cool walks in autumn breezes.

And, after a summer's worth of crazy schedules involving teaching, I'm elated that there's only one more week of stress and then I can start the type of life I really crave:

Slaying my debt – I'm going to get myself a roomate once I move to Jaén. The amount of rent I pay is a big money-suck so I intend to change that.

Working on the side tutoring and never working at an academy ever again – actually, I do have one academy job lined up for the coming year, but so far it's only 1 hour per week and I intend to keep it as low as possible. Everything else will involve exploring entrepreneurial opportunities.

Weekends free, and puentes – these will probably be used more for staying in touch with my Villacarrillo friends as opposed to travelling all over the place. During my horrible 2013-2014 of working every weekend and puente, I learned that travel is another big money-suck so I'm going to do it sparingly. Besides, there's probably tonnes to do in Jaén.

Studying spanish – I'm going to study for one year and get my B2 next Spring

Getting my body back – Spanish food, while delicious, hasn't helped my figure. In addition, Villacarrillo isn't exactly overflowing with running paths, re: there's ONE that people frequent. Couple that with a schedule that currently doesn't permit me to run until dark, when the path is unlit and feels scary, and there's my recipe for fitness disaster.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Just one more week of putting the nose to the grindstone, and then – freedom!

Monday, August 18, 2014

So You Wanna Bring your Pet

As you pack your belongings for Spain, you look over to Peaches/Rover/Cujo and remember the huge list of things you have to do to prepare your pet for a trans-Atlantic journey: shots, papers, microchip, proper cage...

My cat survived the journey over here, but dealing with having a pet while living in Spain has been... interesting. If I'd known how things would turn out, I would have done things differently.

When you bring a pet to Spain there are unprecedented, added costs: veterinarian visits, the equipment to meet international and pet guidelines, and especially the airline ticket to and from Spain. I used British Airways because it seemed to have a great reputation for transporting pets. Plus in Heathrow, he was held for 24 hours (in the animal hospital's facilities) while vets took a look at him. Great care, but expensive to pay.

Once in Spain, you always have to consider the pet when finding accommodation. It's difficult for me to share a flat because I don't know how roomates would handle adjusting their lives to having a pet: keeping the windows slightly shut so he's not tempted to jump out, cleaning the furniture because of his hair, and being awoken to his meows of hunger at 7 a.m. are some of the things I experience. I live alone, and as a consequence I pay more for rent than many candidates in my program.

On another note, there's a huge temptation to travel while in Spain. Cheap prices abound! But when it's time to go, it's bothersome to get someone to watch your pet. I've been lucky this year because my upstairs neighbour is a gem, but I worry about next year when I move to a new city.

During the week, besides working, you'll also be out making new friends and trying out new places in your new town. My cat sees me enough because I'm a bit of a homebody, but when I am home I'm usually working on something so I'm not actually spending time with him. He just chills alongside me.

My advice: work hard to find your pet a good home in your own country. I only asked one friend,who wasn't interested. I should have put the word out more. I love my cat and he's adjusted to my new life, but if I could turn back time I would've tried harder for him to stay in Canada, so that we'd both be comfortable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Small Town Effect

I live in a small farming village. Out of 10,000 people I am one of 6 asians, and the only Filipina. Right now I'll put a disclaimer that 97% of the people in this town are good. They work hard and are polite. I've gained a lot of friends in this town. My neighbors treat me like family and bring me to family gatherings. I love living here, and it has been one of the best experiences in my life. In fact, I begged the junta to let me stay here one more year, and they rejected me - twice.

On the other hand, I feel like it's only proper to talk about the other side of the coin, especially for English teachers coming here. Not to scare anyone, only to be mentally prepared for the inevitable. I'm lucky because I haven't been persecuted much. But it has happened.

If you're black or asian, speak English, and are unused to lots of staring, you'd better have a thick skin to live in a small town. Xenophobia rears its ugly head once in a while. What one has to understand is many people in my town can't travel often outside of Spain. They don't have money, or their work or school schedule doesn't allow much of it. With the new generation, a number of them have traveled, and some have developed a ravenous need to see more of the world.

I've been lucky in that the worst incidents have only been verbal harassment by stupid teenagers, including them yelling “China!” or “Konichiwa!”, or a few store owners having no patience for a Canadian struggling to understand their way-too-rapid Spanish.

With speaking English, some of the reactions I get from the locals are funny. Most are quite happy to hear me speak it, but some react with giggles or stares. It's usually their discomfort and not a fault of mine, although I end up feeling uncomfortable, too. I find my native tongue is a great weapon, though. I remember two particular incidents where the harassment was really annoying, and I unleashed a flurry of English swearing, which dumbfounded them.
I think traveling and going out alone have taught me how to handle myself when harassment happens.
If I had to give advice, I'd say the first thing to do is to walk away if someone says something. During my first month or two in Villacarrillo, I'd hear the odd comment but would ignore it and continue on my merry way. As soon as word got out about my purpose in living there, it basically stopped. Once you surpass the hard times, the only people left around you are the good souls.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Que bicho raro – dating in rural Spain

In the darkness of 3 a.m., I felt something scurrying along my arm. In a half-daze I grabbed at it, only to feel sharp cuts across my palm. I jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and found a cockroach with huge razor-antlers scurrying across the sheets. After annihilating it with my slipper, I stared at it, my heart beating rapidly. First I was shocked, then I felt bummed out. This disgusting insect had seen more action in my bed than any man in the past year – which is a strange thought to have when a large insect is lying dead in the middle of your bedroom. Somehow, though, this very strange occurrence had become metaphoric. Probably because dating in Spain – or lackthereof, in my case, has been coming up in conversation lately.

While on vacation with 6 women, all hovering around 40, they were shocked to find out I hadn't had any for a year. Not that they had found the best solutions either. One was in love with a married man, who was spewing the typical line, “I'm trying to work things out with my wife” yet meanwhile coming over for a weekly humpfest. Another found out that her husband has had a lover on the side for two years. Another was in a sexless relationship. Another was having no luck finding a man in a large city. Another was married with two kids, but meeting up with her lover during vacations – including during ours in Cádiz. Based on their reactions, they seemed to think that any sex (their solution) was better than waiting a year or more for a great guy and a great relationship (my hope).

It's not that I haven't tested the waters. I am extroverted, but when you want to flirt with someone who speaks another language, it's deflating to conjure up a simple line -“¿Como conociste a Carlos?” 'How do you know Carlos?' - only to be met with a look of confusion and a blunt “¿Qué?”

There have been a few whom I was interested in or who seemed interested in me. But they were either too young (Hovering around 20? Step aside, son.) or taken; what makes a guy with a girlfriend or wife think I'm going to mess with that?

A few locals have explained it to me as such: men don't ask women out formally for a date. Rather, it's a friendly, “Want to grab a coffee / drink sometime?” However, I respond with an enthusiastic yes, and then.....nothing. My friends tell me that I have to remind the guy: “How about that coffee?” Which I do. (I have to say, having to remind a guy about our get-together takes the romance out – why did they forget in the first place?) With one guy, we had drinks a couple of times together, but afterwards ...nothing.

It's frustrating. In Canada, my girlfriends attempted to teach me the “rules” of dating: don't ask a guy out, wait for him to ask you, make sure he pays, use dating sites, blah blah blah. Now that I'm in Spain, I have to learn ANOTHER set of rules? I'm in my mid-thirties; do I really have to go through that all over again? My secret dream is to be able to put on a great dress, waltz into a room, bat my eyelashes a few times and have a swarm of men hand over their number. BUT THAT'S NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

I want to give up, to bury my head in the sand. In a land where wild passion abounds, where people freely curse and express their love outwardly, I feel like casting mine to the side. As I stare at the squished cockroach, my overdramatic self can't help but wonder if it's a symbol of my love life.