Posts tagged spain auxiliar
useful auxiliar tip: how to conduct your first private english conversation lesson
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A blank slate can be rather intimidating.
Signing up a new student or group for private English conversation classes is thrilling! You start thinking of all sorts of ideas for teaching the class, you dream of all the money you'll be earning, and you imagine how awesome your new student or students are going to think you are.
But then you realize that before any of that can happen, you've got to make it through your very first lesson. What do you do with a brand new student? Where do you start if you don't know where to start?
I had the same fears when teaching my first lesson, but after finding this guide for conducting your first private English lesson with a new student, I no longer feel any trace of fear or worry.
Essentially, this guide provides you a framework for treating the initial lesson as more of a getting-to-know-you session, which is what it should be. You need to figure out what level of English your student has, what his or her interests and goals are, and you need to share a bit of your experience and teaching methods. By removing the pressure to perform in the blind on your very first meeting, you'll lay the foundation for a much more productive interaction between you and your student going forward.
I usually charge a reduced rate or even give this introductory 'lesson' for free to new students, and often the first lesson is much shorter - say 40 minutes versus an hour - than a regular lesson. How you modify the guide's suggested steps is up to you.
What other suggestions do you have for successfully conducting a private lesson with a new student?
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estoy harta (i'm fed up)
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Living in a small Spanish town is hard. Harder than I thought. I can’t believe it’s been 4 months, and I still struggle with being here. Still. I mean, I’m usually a pretty adaptable person, so I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t successfully done so here. I feel like almost every moment is a struggle. Nothing comes easily. Nothing is without a little bit of pain, inconvenience, or the unexpected element of surprise. I feel like I’ve been being (or trying to be) mentally and physically tough the entire time I’ve been here. And I don’t think I want to keep it up anymore. Or at least… I need to take a break from this sh*t.
***
Today, I left the bike behind at the house and walked to school instead. I got to school about 30 minutes late for my first class. I had no excuse other than, I couldn’t make it. That’s it. For my evening class, I showed up about 5 minutes late, and I flat out told the teacher – I’m totally unprepared today. She told me to go home. I did. This is what I call radical self-care tinged with a little bit of, ‘Yo. Eff this sh*t’.
***
Living alone was probably not the best decision after all, so I’ve started looking for a new apartment – with roommates. I spent time at the instituto this morning contacting the few shared apartments I found online last night. This evening, they both called back. I’ll be going to take a look at them tomorrow. Hopefully, at least one of them will feel like a better situation than I’m in right now. God, I hope so. I really need an improvement – just for my state of mind. I’m starting to feel so mentally worn down and raw-edged. Like, anything could make me cry these days. What kinda thug cries at the drop of a hat?
***
I watched two movies this weekend about folks locked down in solitary confinement. One was a movie with Kevin Bacon (who did his thing in the role, I might add) as a petty criminal who’d been in solitary in Alcatraz for 3 years in the 1930s. The other was the biopic about Ruben Hurricane Carter starring Denzel. Both felt like my life right now. Mumbling to myself, laughing to myself, entertaining myself with my own vivid daydreams and imaginings. Plus, something that Denzel-as-Ruben said in the movie really stuck with me. I just gotta focus on doing the time. Not on when I’ll get out, not on what my life used to be like in some other place. Just doing the time.
So far, I’ve done 4 months. I’d been thinking that I had 5 more months to go, and that there was no way in hell or on God’s green earth that I could possibly do another 5 months like this. But, then, all of a sudden I realized that the end of May is only a little more than 3 months away (I did start the program late, after all). 90 days doesn’t seem nearly as bad as 5 months. Maybe I can make it. Maybe.
***
I’m tired of fighting the cold
I’m tired of fighting the bike
I’m tired of fighting my schedule
I’m tired of fighting my shower
I’m tired of fighting my coffee maker
I’m tired of fighting my bed
I’m tired of the internet being so damned slow. Slow? No. slow would be an improvement
I’m tired of not having a DVD player
I’m tired of watching the same damned TV shows every damned day
I’m tired of the same crappy movies on Paramount channel
I’m tired of the cold
I’m tired of being sick
I’m sick of waiting a week for my clothes to dry
I’m sick of not having any clothes to wear
I’m sick of going shopping for clothes only to realize that I’m not made like a Spanish woman. (Yes, this dress is very nice. But where do my boobs go?)
I’m sick of going to the library
I’m sick of going to my evening class
I’m sick of this town
No. I’m over this town
I’m over these people who live here and the way they walk (Seriously? Can you f*ckin’ move, please?)
I’m over my students acting like slack-jawed yokels some days (What’s up with that? Think, dammit!)
I’m over this cold
I’m over this sh*tty ass food. Like, really, can I get one decent restaurant that either doesn’t have the same tired ass tapas that EVERY other restaurant has, OR isn’t ridiculously overpriced!? The f*ck?
I’m over positive self-talk. I’m over trying to convince myself that I can do this, that I got this, that I can make it if I just try. No. Enough of that. Today, it’s just me, my screwface, and hip-hop blaring through my headphones as I stomp-walk through the streets of Ciudad Real.
I can try again… tomorrow.

****** UPDATE; Since I first penned these thoughts almost a month ago, things have changed considerably. That apartment and those roommates I was hunting for? Found 'em. I now live with 3 other ladies of varying ages. It feels nice to no longer have only myself to talk to, and to have other living, breathing humans to share the details of my day with. I've even made some connections with other Americans living in town, and we meet fairly regularly to share tapas, drinks, laughter, and stories of expat life.

That cold that I was so very sick of? The new apartment has much better heating, and the seemingly neverending winter in my little Spanish town has magically transformed into spring - almost overnight. This means that I've been able to reunite with my rusty old bike that one of my coworkers loaned me. Now that I no longer have to abrigarme every day, I can actually enjoy the sometimes-challenging ride through town on my way to school or to run errands. I even catch myself humming or singing little tunes as I pedal through the streets - a much better use of my vocal chords than the under-my-breath curses that I used to emit.

That terrible Internet connection that forced me to go to use the wifi at the public library, where I was often prey for creepy library stalkers... it is no more. The wifi in my new place is about as strong as it gets. So, not only can I get more writing work done in the comfort of my own room, I can also watch a variety of TV programs and movies that just weren't available to me before. And sometimes, when I am just sitting in my room, enjoying the relative softness of my new bed, or watching the sunlight stream in through the window, I hear the lilting sounds of my neighbor practicing the flute (thankfully, he or she is pretty damned good!) or the bells from the nearby cathedral chiming the hour... and I smile, and say a little prayer of thanks.

Through all of this, I've realized (or been reminded) that making a mid-course correction isn't the same as failing; that suffering isn't necessary, that when going through something that you know is making you stronger and more resilient, you still have the right and the power to say when you've reached your limit.

And that sometimes, 'eff this sh*t', is exactly the right answer.

A little reminder I wrote to myself and kept on my bedside table when I decided to stop struggling.
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useful auxiliar tip: the 15-minute back pocket exercise
Keep a back-pocket full of 15-minute activities, exercises or simple games that you can whip out at a moment’s notice. It should be something that is suitable or easily adaptable for all levels, and doesn’t need any special materials or equipment. Invariably, you will find yourself in a situation where the teacher has deserted you or you have extra time on your hands at the end of a previous activity. I call them 'gaping hole' moments. You don’t want gaping hole moments. A few of my favorite 15-minute activities: Celebrity, Jeopardy!, conversation cards, and a little game I like to call 'Say It, Spell It, Count It'. With this game, I write different words, numbers, or simple math problems on slips of paper. Each student takes turn pulling a slip of paper from the bag. They have to either say the word in English (it's written in Spanish on the paper), Spell the word in English (also written in Spanish on the paper), or count something (i.e., say a number or give the answer to a simple problem).
What sort of 'gaping hole' activities do you use with your classes and private lessons?
how do you say 'mercury retrograde' in spanish?
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Maybe it was ‘cause Mercury was in retrograde. But yesterday was rough. Much harder than it needed to be. It started out well enough. My 2 classes at the high school where I teach English went well. The students were engaged – which is all I can really ask for most days.
But then I realized that I’d booked 2 private lessons back-to-back that day and hadn’t allowed myself enough time to get between the 2 locations. No worries, I thought. I’ll just ask the first student if we can shorten the lesson to 30 minutes. Since it’s our first class, we’ll just use it as a ‘getting to know you / setting expectations’ meeting and I won’t charge for it. That’ll leave me enough time to bike to the nearby bus stop, tie up Roci, and catch the 5:15 bus to the next town for my 2nd lesson. I got this.
Except, I didn’t had this. Not at all.
My first class ended up being a little further than I’d originally expected, but I still made it to the lesson on time, and had a good chat with both the parents and the teenaged son I was to tutor. Although I did feel the son was a little undercover flirty with me. Who suggests that we can “sometimes meet in your bedroom” because you have a computer in there?
Anyhow, I ended the chat right on time, and as I was preparing to leave, the mom offered to give me a ride to my next place. I was just about to accept when I realized that I’d need Roci when I got back if I was gonna make it to my 7:00 class at the Escuela de Idiomas on time. If I left her at their house, she’d be too far from where the bus would drop me. “Nah, I’ll be ok,” I told her, and set off to catch my bus.

My First Big Mistake

There was some after-school traffic that delayed me a little bit, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I was doing on time when I pulled up to the bus stop and saw a bus there, getting ready to close its doors and pull off. “Is that my bus? No, that can’t be my bus. Is it?” I signaled to the driver to open the door. Slightly out of breath, I managed to ask him if this was the bus I should take if I needed to be in Miguelturra by 5:30. He seemed to indicate that this was probably the best one. But when I asked if he would wait a minute – since I still needed to tie up Roci – he told me he was leaving right away. The next bus would be along at 5:15, he said. Oh! I thought. That’s the bus I wanted anyway. I’m good!
Except, I weren’t good. Not at all.
I quickly tied up Roci, and settled in on the bench to wait, eyeballing the 2 Ferrero Rochers that my 1st student had given me. I imagined enjoying them later as a delicious reward for successfully completing all my running around for the day, and even earning some extra cash in the process. I silently patted myself on the back. Look at me, getting things done, making things happen. That’s alright! Go me!
A few minutes later, the bus pulls up, I pay my fare, have a seat and we take off. After a few stops, I notice that it’s about 5:26, and we’re nowhere near my stop yet. Why is this driver taking so long? C’mon. Let’s move it! After a few more stops, I prepare myself to exit. I’d sent a quick message to my student’s mom letting her know that the bus was running a little behind, but I was on my way. After yet a few more stops, I realized I no longer had any idea where I was. I had never seen these buildings or streets on my route before. I’d been paying attention the whole time, surely I hadn’t missed my stop? Then it dawned on me.
Joder. I’ve taken the wrong bus.
There are 2 busses that go to Miguelturra, but only 1 of them stops near my student’s house. I, obviously, was not on that bus today. I got up, walked to the bus driver, and asked him if I could get off somewhere and get back to my stop. He suggested I get off at the next stop, but was pretty vague about how exactly I could walk from there to my intended destination (I just love it when Spanish people say, take this street, walk to the end, and then ask somebody else. HUH? Dem ain’t directions!). I got off, and headed in the direction he suggested. I asked the first people I passed – two older ladies – how I could get to Parque del Sol, right across the street from where I was going. Their response clued me in to just how off-the-mark I was. Heads thrown back in mock tribulation, hands gesturing and waving that I would need to walk, and walk, and then walk some more, perhaps to the end of the earth, perhaps until the end of time until I got to my destination. I thanked them kindly for the specificity of their response, and trudged on. After a few paces, I realized that I needed to abort this mission. If I had to walk as far as the ladies had said, I’d pretty much have to turn right back around to catch the next bus by the time I got there. There would be no time for a lesson. Which also meant, there would be no extra cash in my pocket today.
Joder.

My Second Big Mistake

I made an about face then set off to look for a bus stop where I could catch the bus headed in the opposite direction. I found the stop, checked the schedule, seeing that I’d probably just missed the bus (unless it was running late) going back to Ciudad Real, and had almost 30 minutes before the next one. I waited for a few minutes to see if the bus was, in fact, running late. At 10 minutes past its scheduled time, I gave up waiting and battling the cold and wind, and sought refuge in a bar a few blocks away. I needed something to warm my bones quickly. I ordered a shot of rum. After finishing, I reached into my wallet and discovered my second major mistake of the day. I’d been expecting to get cash from my lesson, but since that hadn’t happened, I now only had enough money to pay for the shot I’d ordered with a few spare coins left over. I had no way to pay for the bus. No problem. I thought. There’s still plenty of time before the bus comes, I’m sure I can find a cajero nearby.
As my sitcom-life would have it, however, there was no cajero nearby. I ended up walking almost 15 cold, frustrating, muttering-angrily-to-myself minutes to the town center until I found one and extracted money. Luckily, there was a bus stop right across the street, and a few minutes later a bus came along, and I headed back to Ciudad Real. With nothing to show for it, I might add. Actually, with less to show for it, given the money spent on 2 bus trips and 1 rum.
Well, at least I’d make it to my 7:00 class on time. I got back to town, reclaimed Roci and headed to the Escuela de Idiomas, pulling up a full 5 minutes before my class was to start. When I arrived at the classroom, the door was closed. An unusual sight, since my students are usually coming back from a break when I arrive, and the door is always open. I peeked in the little porthole-shaped window. The class looked fully engaged in some activity. I lightly tapped on the door and peeked my head in, getting the attention of the lead teacher. “Oh, hi, Kisha!” she smiled and hurried over to me. “Do you need me today?” I asked. “Welll… not really,” she replied. Of course. I should have seen that coming.
Feeling more than a little defeated at my overwhelming lack of accomplishment for the day, I collected Roci one last time, and headed home to sulk it off. I reached my piso, de-bundled myself, and tossed my bag on the couch. Reaching in to extract my laptop, my finger brushed across something unfamiliar. It was the Ferrero Rocher from earlier.
“Well…” I sighed to myself, “…at least the day wasn’t a total loss.”
livin' la vida monja
Part of me feels like I need to make excuses for my little apartment. It has no oven, I have to pass through the kitchen to get through the bathroom, and the small floorplan poses some interesting storage challenges. But honestly, I love the place. It’s kind of funny, because I’ve been reading articles and watching videos about the so-called ‘tiny house’ movement in the US for the past couple of years, and I told myself that if I ever had the chance to have my own tiny house, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat. It seems like my wish has come true, even though not exactly in the way that I expected. 
Before leaving the US this time, I had to shed a lot of stuff. I got rid of tons of clothes, sold off some things and donated others. I even sold my car. At first, the process of shedding so much made me really anxious, but after it was all said and done, I felt amazingly light. It even felt like I’d cleared up some extra storage in my mind. It occurred to me that each thing that I owned not only occupied a physical space in my life, but also took up virtual space in my mind. Since I had to remember where everything was, even if it wasn’t in plain sight or used every day, there was always a space or a spot on a mental map that it occupied which helped me locate it when I needed to. Getting rid of all those things meant I no longer had to remember them. I could clear out those mental references and fill that space with something more important, or just leave it blank for now.
My new apartment is located just around the corner from a convent, and the street it’s on is called ‘Inmaculada Concepcíon’. For those reasons, I’ve started referring to it as my nun’s cell. Since my goal this go ‘round is to focus more on productive solitary activities – namely writing – I think my pisito is just what I need right now, and it brings me a great deal of joy cooking a basic meal, reading or watching TV on the couch, or just soaking up the sun while sitting in front of the window.

espere tu turno, gracias.
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I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories from other auxiliares in other parts of Spain about the process of applying for and obtaining a NIE, or numero de identificacion para extranjeros. Basically, it’s like a social security number for foreigners. My own appointment for my NIE was scheduled for a Thursday in my 2nd full week in Ciudad Real. A woman who works with the auxiliars in my province sent me an email asking if I’d like to join a group of other auxiliars whom she’d be helping with the process on that day. All I had to do in advance was fill out my application form (which was in Spanish). She suggested that I have one of the teachers at my school help me with it.
So it was that I found myself in the teachers’ lounge a couple of days before my appointment, looking for someone to help me with the application. I had just been introduced to Emilio, a retired profe in the school’s English department, who happened to be onsite that day. Apparently Emilio stops by every once in a while to visit and chat with the other English profes, even though he no longer works there. With his British mannerisms and his Mr. Rogers countenance, I figured he was just the right person to ask to help me with the task. I was right. He gladly accepted my request, and slowly walked me through each field on the form, making sure I understood exactly what I needed to enter in order to complete it correctly. After we’d finished, he asked me where my Thursday appointment was. I gave him the name of the location that I thought I had to go to, but I wasn’t sure I was remembering it exactly correctly. Emilio was sure I was mistaken. I thought harder. No, I was sure that was the place. I went to the computer and printed out the email I’d received, and showed him the address and building name. Emilio remained unconvinced. He seemed certain that the lady coordinating the meeting didn’t know what she was talking about. I was certain that I had only asked Emilio to help me with the application, so I wasn’t exactly keen on him ‘helping’ me figure out where I already knew I needed to go two days later. But this gray-haired gentleman had already accepted his charge, and would not be swayed. Before I knew it, he had gallantly snatched up my completed application, and was signaling me to follow him. I tried resisting – politely, but firmly. ‘No, I think I’ll just wait to go with the others on Thursday. Maybe that will be best.’ Emilio scoffed. This shit was going down, and it was going down now. 
Dismayed, but hopeful, I quickly asked my knight in cable knit cardigan what I should bring with me. He advised me to bring all the documentation and identification I had. Before I could quickly gather my folder that contained everything, Emilio was already heading out of the lounge. I followed, clutching my folder to my chest, still not sure how his helping me with my application had turned into this impromptu, unsolicited expedition.
Despite his advanced years, Emilio moved swiftly. I had worn the wrong shoes today, and found it a little difficult to keep up with his long, loping strides. We made our way out of the school, down the block and across the street to a different foreign registration office. Emilio strode in, stopping briefly to ask the security guard which doorway we needed to pass through. The guard motioned to the left, but also seemed to indicate that the waiting area – where other people with appointments were seated – was on the right. I was pretty sure that our expedition would be a bust since we had no appointment whatsoever. Emilio glanced towards the closed office doors, but ended up heading toward the waiting area. We copped a couple of chairs, and waited – me, nervously wondering if Emilio was being just a little too cavalier; Emilio, tapping his foot somewhat impatiently. We waited for a couple of minutes, and when someone from the office on the other side of the hall stuck their head into the waiting area, Emilio pounced. He sprang up from his chair, and crossed the large room in two quick strides, his index finger held up in an authoritative attention-getting gesture. I sat quietly, my eyes slightly bugged, waiting for what would come next. In a few moments, Emilio peeked his head back into the waiting room. He motioned for me to join him. I tried to ignore the stares of the other extranjeros who were patiently waiting their turn. I’m sure they were thinking, “Who the hell are these two? Why do they get to jump the line?” Ok, maybe they weren’t thinking that, but I knew that’s what I would be thinking if I were them.
On the other side of the hallway, Emilio motioned for me to have a seat at a desk where a middle-aged official-looking woman was seated. She started asking me for my paperwork, and entering my details into a computer. Emilio sat next to me calmly watching the process, chiming in to help me out if there was something the woman asked that I didn’t quite understand. Once the lady had finished her questions and tip-tapping into the computer, she ripped off one of the pages of the triplicate form, and then told Emilio that I needed to go to a nearby bank to pay the application fee, then come back to finalize the process. Emilio seemed slightly exasperated at the inefficiency of that procedure, but he rose and exited, and again, I found myself scurrying to catch up to him.
Outside, Emilio paused for a moment to explain the bank-paying step to me in English. He said I should go there now and get it out of the way. I explained that I had only brought my folder, not my wallet, and would have to go back over to the school first before heading to the bank. He glanced at his watch, seemed to calculate that that would take too much time, then waved away the idea altogether. “That’s ok,” he said. “We can go now,” Then he set off again. I cursed myself for at least the third time in the last 30 minutes for picking these shoes today. I did a halfway decent job of keeping pace with Emilio as we made our way to the bank. We entered, then waited for the clerk to finish with one other customer. Then Emilio approached and stated our business. The clerk seemed annoyed. Apparently, they only handled this type of transaction during certain hours. We were well outside of that timeframe. Emilio didn’t bat an eyelash. The clerk started processing the transaction. Emilio casually tossed down the 10 euro payment on the desk like he was throwing down his gauntlet. I was glad the clerk had chosen not to deny him.
Emilio. Waits for no one. 
Once the transaction was finished, we walked back to the foreign registration office and showed the office-lady the receipt. She loudly applied an official stamp, and de repente, I had my NIE. It had taken less than an hour. I thanked the office-lady, and we left. When we were outside of the building once again, Emilio made me repeat to him what I needed to do next. I repeated the instructions the office-lady had given me. I needed to call the police office and request a cita previa to apply for my tarjeta de residencia. On the day of my appointment, I needed to bring specific paperwork and forms of ID, etc., etc.

Emilio seemed satisfied with my answer. He mentioned that since it was a little past lunchtime, he needed to head home now. I thanked him profusely for his help that day, explaining that I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the process had been. I headed back to school, still a little bit bewildered by the whole incident, while my hero turned in the other direction and strode off into the sunset. Well, not really, it was still only afternoon. 
toto, we’re not in marbella anymore

Adjusting to a new place can be hard. And, though the process has only just begun for me, I think that adjusting to Ciudad Real will definitely present some challenges, mainly because I can’t help but compare it to my stint in Marbella. So far, there have been a few things that have stood out as being distinctly different than my previous experience living in Spain. Not all of them are bad differences, but they’re certainly noticeable. Here are a few:

  • They don’t speak Spanish here. I found out this little fact when one of the teachers at my school complimented me on my speaking. To my surprise, she didn’t say, “Hablas español muy bien,” instead I got, “Hablas castellano muy bien.” In my head, I gave her the ‘whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?’ face, but on the outside, I kindly thanked her and went on with our conversation. Of course, castellano and español are exactly the same thing, but since we’re in Castilla La-Mancha, I guess that’s what they prefer to call it here. Also there are some words they use here that I never heard in Andalucía. For instance, instead of saying ‘mira’or ‘mira eso’ (look at this / check this out), they say ‘fijate’. The first time I had someone say it to me, I thought I was being asked to fix something. They also use ‘metalico’ instead of (or, in addition to) ‘efectivo’ to mean cash. I’m not sure if that one is specific to this region, but I’m pretty sure I’ve only heard it Ciudad Real.
  • It’s flat – One of the first things I noticed when I was doing my initial explorations around Ciudad Real was how flat the landscape was. In Marbella / Málaga, I was situated between the sea and the mountains, so there were lots of hills and steep inclines. The good thing about this is that the flatness makes getting around on foot a lot easier and less tiring. However, it might not be best for keeping my buns and thighs tight – a nice side effect of my daily walking commute in Marbella.
  • It’s super dry – Technically, Ciudad Real is in the middle of the desert. Unlike Eliza Doolittle’s song would suggest, there is very little rain in the plain in Spain. The reverse was true in Marbella. Proximity to the sea meant high humidity, and also a short lifetime for clothes to dry. But being a long-time resident of Atlanta, humidity is something I’m very accustomed to. Here, I’ve already seen the effect the dry climate can have on my hair, skin, and mucous membranes. That family-sized jar of shea butter I brought along probably won’t last me ‘til spring. And I frequently tote a little bottle of saline spray to keep my nasal passages from drying out and leaving me with achy sinuses.
You got it wrong, boo.

Update: Though the atmosphere is generally dry, since I originally penned  this post, I've seen lots more rain. In fact, it's probably rained as many times here in the last month and a half, than it did my entire 6 months in Marbella. Sorry, 'Liza. I take it all back.

  • The local vegetable is pork – Seriously, these people luuuuuv some pig meat! I’ve already had a few restaurant meals where pork was served for each course. In fact, on a recent tapas excursion with Pablo (Juana’s husband) and some of his friends, a plate of pig ears showed up on the table. I shared with the group that people in the South have an expression that we eat everything on the pig from ‘the rooter to the tooter’. It seems Pablo was already familiar with the concept, as the manchegos have a similar expression. I can say, however, that the quality of the pork here is amazing – I’ve had some cuts (particularly presa iberica) that were extremely tender, juicy, and flavorful without being overly porky (that’s a scientific term, ya know).
  • Nobody takes the bus. Well, not nobody. But when I think back to Marbella, I recall how the bus was almost full every day with locals, seasonal residents, and tourists of all ages. I’ve only taken the bus twice in Ciudad Real, and the only other people on there were either very elderly or riding along with a small child. Plus, the buses seem to take these long, circuitous routes that makes them the least efficient mode of transportation for getting around town.
  •  It’s small. Like, really small – If I have my ‘marching on Selma’ strut on, I can pretty much get from one side of town to the other on foot in about 30-35 minutes. This would explain why hardly anyone takes the bus.
  • It’s cold. Like, really cold – My first couple of weeks here were actually unseasonably warm. In late October, temperatures reached highs of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with lows in the 60s. However, since Halloween, all that has changed. Unlike Marbella where winter spelled more rain than true cold and lasted for all of about 45 days, I can already tell that, here, there will be winter. Cold as a witch’s tit winter. It’s already been down in the upper 30s a couple of nights. And I’ve already realized that my assortment of blazers which served me well in the south, won’t stand much of a chance against these temps.
  •  There is a famine of beauty. Remember when I shared that the abundance of natural beauty was one of the most amazing things about Spain during my previous stint? Umm… yeah. Not quite the case here in Ciudad Real. Strangely enough, this is one of the few Spanish towns that I’ve been to that doesn’t have a casco antiguo – or historic quarter – with beautiful old buildings and charming cobblestone streets. Nope, Ciudad Real is surprisingly regular. Architecturally speaking, there isn’t much to look at. And since, as I mentioned, it’s in the middle of the desert, the surrounding landscape doesn’t immediately grab the eye. I don’t doubt that are some breathtaking views and scenes to see here, but for now, it looks like I’m gonna have to work a bit harder to find them.

From Wikipedia entry on Don Quixote, “La Mancha is a region of Spain, but mancha (Spanish word) means spot, mark, stain. Translators such as John Ormsby have declared La Mancha to be one of the most desertlike, unremarkable regions of Spain, the least romantic and fanciful place that one would imagine as the home of a courageous knight.

  • The stares. Dear god, the stares! Now, I’m used to being one of a relative few brown faces in a Spanish town. As such, I’m also used to getting the occasional stare from passersby on the street – it happened on several occasions in both Marbella and Málaga. Spanish people from other parts of the country are also known for openly staring at almost anyone – I’ve just chalked it up as a cultural difference. However, while staring was noticeable in Marbella and Málaga, I never felt it was excessive. It’s a totally different story here in Ciudad Real. During the roughly 20-minute walk from my flat to my school, I’m sure to receive no less than 10 blatant (like, stop in your tracks, squinch up your face, forget to chew your gum) stares from people I pass on the street, or even people passing by in cars. At first, I took it with the same bemused attitude that I did when I lived in Andalucía. But as the days have passed, the stares have kept coming. It’s a bit unnerving at times. Nothing makes you feel more like a stranger – or even like an unwelcome guest – than people looking at you strangely all day long. And I know it’s not just my own self-consciousness, as I’ve had some of my new friends comment on – and even apologize for – the excessive staring that they notice when they’re walking along with me. While I think it’s noble and sweet of my new friends to take some responsibility for what I perceive as the rudeness of their fellow countrymen, I know it’s not something that’s going to change anytime soon. Because Ciudad Real is such a small, largely homogenous town, I’m probably going to keep getting stared at, and I’m going to have to keep not taking it personally. I’ve taken to walking around with my headphones on to help insulate myself from that feeling of ‘otherness'. I realize that some of the stares are simply curiosity, some are even complimentary, but most are because many of the people here have never ever left their home town or region, so they’re not used to seeing different people, and some of those may not even like seeing different people. I was talking to a friend of Pablo’s recently – an over 30-year-old woman who is una manchega, born and raised in the area. We were talking about how much we both loved Barcelona. She ultimately revealed that her first time visiting the city (which is only about 3 or so hours away by train) was this past summer. I was completely shocked! How do you live in a country this small for all your life and never visit what is arguably its most popular city? Of course, I know similar people in my hometown of Macon and even people from Atlanta who’ve never travelled further than a neighboring state. But I think it surprises me even more here in Spain, given how easy and relatively affordable it is to travel from one region to another. Still, I knew well enough not to stare at her for it.
halloween at ies hernan perez de pulgar
This year was the first year that the students at my school had any at-school festivities for Halloween. Even though I have Fridays off, I figured it just wouldn’t be right if the only American in the place didn’t show up for this most American of holidays.
I could tell that neither the students nor the teachers were exactly sure how to ‘do’ Halloween, but the group of students who had organized the party as a fundraiser for a cultural excursion to Italy in the spring, did a pretty good job arranging everything. The main event was a costume contest. I was asked to be an honorary judge (aka, your vote doesn’t count, just take pictures), and even though some of my favorites didn’t medal, so to speak, I enjoyed seeing how creative the kids got with their costumes and how excited they were to get a chance to do something different and fun.

field trip to toledo

My second week at school, a group of German students and their teachers arrive for a week-long exchange. Since the Germans hardly speak any Spanish, and the Spanish students at my school speak no German, I’m invited to attend a few of the exchange activities to help with the 1 language that both groups have in common – English.

One of the activities is a day-long field trip to Toledo, a little over an hour away. A chartered bus takes us to the city – which was once the capital of Spain, is the current capital of Castilla La-Mancha, and is a heavily visited tourist destination. One of the teacher chaperones from my school prepared a printout with brief explanations of each of the sites we’d be visiting that day. My charge was to read the descriptions out loud in English to the group of students, then 1 chaperone from each of the respective countries would read the same in German and Spanish. As it turned out, I was the only one who ended up reading aloud to the largely disinterested students. It kinda felt like I was secretly being hazed, but still, it was a small price to pay for being able to explore the city for free.

After an hour or so of playing tour guide, the kids were allowed 3 hours of free time (3 hours!? I couldn’t believe it!) to explore the city on their own. Meanwhile, the other profesand I lounged about – enjoying some amazing tapas and having a leisurely coffee break. Honestly, I would have preferred the 3-hour free time that the students had, as I didn’t get to see all that I wanted to in the city. But I enjoyed having the chance to bond with the other teachers. Also, I thought it was odd that the 2 chaperones from my school were teachers of science and math, as opposed to history or geography, but whatever.

Here are some snapshots of what was seen throughout the day:
View of historic Toledo

 

The Tagus River, which surrounds the city on 3 sides
A little poem outside La Ermita - the devotional chapel for the Virgin of Toledo

 

Inside La Ermita (Toledo)

 

The students get a chance to ring the bell at the top of La Ermita

 

Altar inside La Ermita (Toledo)

 

 

Toledo is one of many stops on the Ruta de Don Quijote, a series of sites featured in Cervantes' seminal work

 

Inside the Puerta de Bisagra Nueva - the main entrance to Toledo

 

Above Puerta Bisagra is the coat of arms of Chales V, which features two eagles,

 

Approaching the Puerta del Sol (Toledo)

 

group shot with the German and Spanish students inside the El Greco musuem

 

 

El Greco - the famous 16th century painter - was one of Toledo's most famous residents

 

Tapas with the teachers!

 

The famed 'migas' of Castilla La-Mancha. Breadcrumbs sauteed with chorizo and spices, here, with diced melon on top

 

Presa de iberico (sooo good!) with grilled asparagus and an Argentinian style sauce

 

Seen outside of a convent. Ladies drop a hairpin in the hole in front of the picture of the Virgin in hope of finding a mate

 

El Cristo de la Luz - small mosque built in 999 that was later transformed into a Christian oratory

 

Sure! There's time for a quick pose!

 

Original Roman street stones leading up to the mosque

 

El Cristo de la Luz - as seen from the rear gardens

 

 

Inside El Cristo de la Luz

 

 

 

 

A cool little performance space / lounge that was originally a small cathedral

 

 

Sure! There's time for a quick selfie!

 

Damasquino, or Damescene jewelry - an emblem of Toledo

 

 

 

The Toledo Cathedral

 

 

 

 

By this time, all the history was starting to get a bit old (get it?), but the show must go on...

 

 

A visit to the Sephardic Museum in Toledo - traditional Sephardic garb (women)

 

Sephardic Museum in Toledo - traditional Sephardic garb (men)

 

 

Sephardic Museum in Toledo - Sephardic jewelry (yes, please!)

 

 

 

Puente de San Martin (Toledo)

 

 

View of the River Tagus from the Puente de San Martin

 

Sure! There's time for a quick ussie before leaving Toledo! Me and Pepa (Math)
first week in ciudad real
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Saturday - Touchdown
After a flight from Atlanta to Miami, a 2-hour layover, another flight to Madrid, then a 1-hour high speed train, I finally arrive in Ciudad Real around 11am. I check in to my hotel near the train station, then settle in to relax a bit from all the travelling. My plan is to take a nap for a couple of hours, then head out to explore, but jet lag and all the furious activity of the past week has me feeling beyond exhausted, and I don’t end up leaving the room until almost sunset. Even then, my only motivation for going outside is to pick up some in-room snacks from the nearby grocery store. Fortunately, the store is just on the other side of a really nice park – Parque del Pilar – so I stop for a spell to take in the scenery.
Once back at the room, I spend the rest of the evening scouring the Internets for apartments, and contacting potential landlords and agents for showings.
Sunday – Parks and Recreation
Up early to take a stroll and have a look around town. Since almost all of Spain takes Sundays off, there aren’t many people out and about, but, with map in hand, I manage to find one of the schools I’ll be teaching at this year (IES Torreon del Alcázar). As I meander about, I keep my eyes peeled for ‘se alquila’ (for rent) signs, and, after meeting one owner for a viewing, I stumble onto Parque Gasset – a big park located in the center of the city. I stroll around for a bit, enjoying the unseasonably warm October weather.
IES Torreon del Alazar
On my way back to the hotel, I cross yet another park. “How lucky!” I think to myself, “I’ve landed in a town with no shortage of places to sit, think, and daydream.”
Later that night, while I'm relaxing in the hotel, I'm startled by loud noises right outside the window. Turns out there's a fireworks display going on for some reason. I amuse myself with the idea that the display is Ciudad Real's way of saying, 'Welcome, Kisha!'
Monday – Whirlwind Tour
I only booked the hotel through Wednesday night, so I’ve got to get on the ball with finding an apartment. The lady at the front desk got wind of my apartment hunt, and first thing in the morning, I head a few streets over to have a look at an apartment she has for rent. It’s nice and new, but way bigger than what I need (2 bedrooms / 3 baths), but very reasonably priced (yet more than I want to pay on my own). I briefly ponder if I could find a roommate to share with me after moving in, but quickly decide it’s not worth the risk of being stuck paying all of the rent by myself.
I have appointments with 2 different real estate agents later this morning. The first shows me 3 flats, each in a different part of town. By the time we’re done, I feel like we’ve walked around almost the entire city. The apartments are very nice, but they’re all about 50 euros over my maximum budget for a non-shared flat. I meet the second agent who shows me 2 loft-style flats in the same building. They’re within my budget, but each is missing an oven. With my penchant for cooking, I can’t imagine living without one, but I’m also aware that if I’m paying rent and utilities on my own, an oven may literally be a luxury I can’t afford. Electricity in Spain is expensive, and the last time I rented a place, I paid one all-inclusive price for rent and utilities, so I really have no idea how expensive, but it’s a serious concern for me.
After the viewings, I head in the direction of the hotel, and cop a squat on a bench outside of an H&M; near Plaza Mayor to rest from all the pavement-pounding and mull over my housing options. Moments later, a brown-skinned guy (one of maybe 3 other brown folks I’ve seen so far), passes by, doubles back, and introduces himself. He tells me he thought I was a store mannequin until he saw me move. He introduces himself as Eduardo. I learn that he’s originally from Cuba and has been living in a nearby town for a few years. He invites me to ‘tomar algo’ at a tapas bar on the plaza. Eduardo is quite the talker, so I mostly listen and relish in the fact that, unlike Marbella, the tapas bars in Ciudad Real adhere to one of my favorite Spanish traditions of, ‘buy a beverage, get a free tapa’.
Eduardo, the chatty Cuban
One of the bars in La Mata - Ciudad Real's club / bar district
Eduardo and I hop to another couple of places for a proper meal and another round of beverages. In the process, I get a sneak preview of the local bar district. One place actually plays some fairly decent house tracks in their rotation. At another, I hear some pretty good salsa and bachata. I’m pleased that I’ll have some options for dancing in the future. By the time Eduardo and I say goodbye, it’s almost 10pm. I thank him for his generous hospitality, and head back to my room to get ready for an early start tomorrow.
Tuesday – Test Run
Up early to head to my second school – the only one I’ve heard from so far – IES Hernan Perez de Pulgar. I’ve been communicating with my coordinator, Teresa, for the past few weeks. Even though I don’t officially start working until tomorrow, I plan to stop by and meet her and the other English profes. I check online for which bus I need to take (#7), and head to the bus station, about a 12-minute walk from the hotel. Apparently the info on the website I looked at was wrong. After 15 minutes of more looking for the non-existent #7 bus, I finally find a bus that drops me near the school. The English profes are all excited to meet me. Just like at my last school, they are a little surprised that I’m not a guy (apparently both my name and my email address led them to believe that, though not sure why), but ultimately they’re happy, because they’re an all-girl band. One of the profes, Juana, offers to let me stay at her home with her husband and 2 boys if I don’t find anything before my stay at the hotel is up. I’m completely floored and thankful for her generous offer. We exchange info, and she invites me over to meet the family and have dinner with them the next evening. I say my goodbyes, then head off to do more apartment hunting for the rest of the day.
Wednesday - Take it Easy
It’s my first official day of school. I don’t have a set schedule for classes yet. Teresa explains that we’ll just take it easy this week. I go to a couple of classes where I introduce myself to the students and have them do the same. Teresa finally gets in contact with someone at my other school. I learn that I won’t be teaching students there. Instead, I’ll be working with teachers from other schools in the area, helping them improve their English for classroom purposes. Should be interesting, to say the least. Teresa also shares the disheartening news that I might not get a paycheck until December. I ask her to repeat herself a couple of times to be sure I’ve heard her correctly. I have.
After class, I have 3 more apartments to see. I’m weary of the search, and I’d hoped to have a solid contender by now, but all I have is a bunch of ‘maybes’. The last apartment I look at, however, seems promising. It’s tiny, but is centrally located, and in a good area. It also lacks an oven, but I’ve resigned myself to living without one. It’s 10 euro over my budget, but the small size of the place means my utilities will likely be very low. I decide to sleep on it.
Juana picks me up from the hotel for dinner later that evening. I meet her 2 sons – Danny, 12 and Diego, 10 – and her husband Pablo. They all lived in the US for several years a while back, so they speak English almost as well as I do – the boys even speak with American accents. Pablo used to run the auxiliar program when they lived in the Maryland / DC area – a fortunate coincidence. Their friend Pedro joins us for dinner, and we enjoy a good meal, wine, and lively conversation before they deposit me back at the hotel.
Tonight's menu: Burgers! The boys have dubbed the spinach-chicken burger on the left, the E.T. burger
Pablo, Danny, Diego, and Pedro
This family loves to travel - Fridge magnets from all the places they've visited
Thursday – What a Feeling
I carpool with Juana to work. When I open the door to her car, Donna Summer’s ‘What a Feeling’ is playing on the radio. I sing along to the chorus, and mention to Juana that I think this a good sign. We both had long, tiring days the day before. She agrees. It’s going to be a good day. I get through my one class for the day, and hang out for a while in the teacher’s lounge. Today is checkout day at the hotel. I’m seriously considering taking the tiny piso I saw yesterday, but want to make sure it’s the right decision. I poll 3 of the other English profes. They look at the pics, ask me questions about the location, the amenities, the price, the amount of sunlight it gets. After sharing all the details, they all agree that it’s a great find for the super-low price. After getting some more help reviewing the rental contract, I contact the agent and tell them I’ll take it. I meet them later that afternoon, sign papers, pay the deposit, and get my keys. What a feeling! I’ll stay at Juana’s for the next couple of days, and move in on Saturday. I enjoy another pleasant evening with Juana’s family. Her boys are a couple of wunderkinds. Diego has his own YouTube channel where he does gaming reviews and performs magic tricks. Danny is a pre-adolescent techie, and he even recommends an app for me to download to make free VOIP calls back to the US. They both play the piano, and after dinner, I catch up on some work while listening to them practice for the evening.
//www.youtube.com/get_player
Friday - Free Time
My day off! While the rest of the house heads off for the day, I stay behind to do some more work, and try to resolve my phone situation. Months ago, I’d installed a hack to turn my supposedly non-global phone into a global device, but it had started malfunctioning before the last time I left Spain. Danny and Diego’s tortugas keep me company while I find a fix.
The little tortuga practices his yoga poses
After that, I pop out to put some saldo on my prepaid phone plan, then stop by Acuario, the tapas bar Eduardo had shown me earlier in the week, for a quick caña and a snack.
I spend the rest of the evening relaxing and watching a movie at Juana’s.
Saturday - Moving Day
In the morning, Juana and I head out to the mercaillo, an open-air market that happens right across the street from their house every Saturday. We purchase some fruits and veg for later, while Juana explains some of the items I don’t know.
Berenjenas - prepared in the regional style
We stroll around the market, and I enjoy the sights and sounds of bustling crowds, and the barking vendors calling out from their stalls. Once back from the market, Pablo and Pedro help me move my luggage to my new place. I spend a few hours starting to get settled, and head to the nearby Walmart-like retail outlet, LeClerc, to pick up some immediate essentials.
Later that afternoon, I head back to Juana’s for lunch. Pablo has prepared a seafood paella and a homemade ali-oli sauce. I bring a couple of bottles of wine. We feast on the back patio, enjoying the sunshine, talking, laughing and passing the time until late in the afternoon.
Hard to believe it’s only been a week since I arrived. But in present company, I’m already starting to feel at home.
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
granada-spain-airbnb-lodging-hostel.jpg

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