Spanish Stories: Greedy Wasteful Americana

I nearly burned down my building. Not on purpose. Actually, poor wiring and a bad Wi-Fi job sat like a ticking time bomb slowly overloading my power box melting the black hard-plastic casing. No one seemed to notice, or care, to investigate the smoke billowing out of a room behind a small reception desk. A room that holds all of the power in the building, supplying electricity throughout the tall grey building, black boxes covering the left wall from floor to ceiling in a long skinny room smelling of burning rubber.

My box looked like Darth Vader’s melted helmet, evil and distorted, but ultimately useless now.

***

I awoke to no power and thought that the whole building was shutdown. Thanks to years of living in the path of tropical storms and hurricanes for my entire life, I knew that if I keep the refrigerator closed, my food would be fine for several hours. The water is working – good sign. I walk out my front door, the motion detector turned on the bright hallway light, proof of power. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe my boss forgot to pay the bill. He forgets about me often. He’s a busy man running a school. I understand, of course, I do.

I text my boss and he instructs me to look for the main power switch. It should be by the door. Nada. He tells me to look around the flat for the power button. Check in the cabinets and by other doors. Nothing. He sends Sofia over. She’s my neighbor/coworker. She lives on the 6th floor in bloque C. We both look, and again, find nothing. I’m told to wait in the dark flat, the sun rising sluggishly through the tacky curtains that came with the flat – I am excused from my morning classes. I have no Wi-Fi, an iPhone with a terrible battery, and no books. I just sit quietly in my shabby living room. Alone.

Sofia returns an hour later with another neighbor, a nice older gentleman, who is eager to help me find this power switch. At this point, I start looking behind paintings in the hopes of finding this mythical switch. He walked in the kitchen and motions to an etching of various mushrooms behind the glass door that separates the kitchen from the hallway. He closes the door with himself behind it and carefully plucks the mushroom pictorial off the wall to reveal the power switches for the flat including the main power button. We try them all. Off and on. On and off. Unplug everything and wait for 10-minutes, then turn back on. Nothing. Sofia calls our director and he tells me to return to school. He’s on the phone for three hours. The soonest someone can come out is 8pm. I return to my flat to wait but still hopeful that his will all be resolved soon. Just have to wait in the dark a little longer.

The repairman is an hour late, and by this point, the solitary confinement is starting to get to me. When he arrives, in short order, he tells me that there is nothing he can do tonight. A new battery is needed and it will take 2-3 days to order the part. He calls my director and then leaves. I have 3% battery on my phone and no way to charge it. My boss says he is working on a solution and to hang tight. This is when I have my first panic attack in nearly a decade.

I don’t know how long I sat on the floor sobbing and gasping for breath in the darkness of my foreign apartment. But I knew that my food would go bad if I didn’t transplant the items fast. I pack up my perishable food and flee to Sofia’s flat wearing my slippers.

Her mother made me a sandwich while I sobbed in her kitchen. My phone long dead – Sofia’s phone was ringing off the hook. Our boss had found a solution and was at the front door. Next thing I know, still in my slippers but keeping my tears to myself, I see the cavernous room holding all the black boxes for the entire building. We’re all in the lobby. My boss fuming mad. He made a complaint. It smelled horrible and metallic. Another man replaced the battery, my box crumbling at his touch. I can barely keep my eyes open.

***

The next day, with my temporary battery in place, I have power but cannot have multiple machine running or two lights on at once. And certainly, the heat must not be on. The heating unit uses a lot of energy. How do people stay warm in the winter? I’m from Florida I think anything below 65 degrees is cold. How do I maintain and keep warm? I was told to get these special flannel sheets, a portable heater (but those can be dangerous), and a hot water bottle (which I had to Google). Again, I’m from the South. We know little about keeping warm. In fact my blood is thinned to deal with sub-tropical temperatures not an actual winter. I bought sweats and thermal socks in the interim since I was leaving for Portugal that Tuesday. I lost power on Thursday.

It’s only three days with little power and whilst I was away my box would be permanently fixed. I decided to use my power wisely and to wash my clothes for my upcoming trip. After my second load, I discover my toilet won’t flush. Then my kitchen light starts to manically flicker like a mad strobe light. I put a lamp in my kitchen. I tell my director and four hours later I learn that I won’t have a toilet for the entire weekend. All of a sudden the urge to pee is overwhelming.

When Monday rolls around and yet another repairman comes out, I am beyond hung over (one beer to relax after a chaotic couple of days turned into 5 somehow). Since I don’t have a toilet, had to puke in the sink. While the man was working on my toilet, I had to barf in the kitchen sink since I could not stop vomiting. That’s why you shouldn’t drink alcohol on antibiotics, kids!

The entire innards of my toilet had to be replaced. It was very old. Just like everything else in this flat: old, outdated, and teetering on inhabitable.

I used to say, to be funny or irreverent, that I’d rather die than deal with car repairs. Replace ‘car repairs’ for any other repair, i.e. computer, toilet, HVAC, and you get he picture. I really cannot deal with fixing things or calling to have something fixed or simply being alive and having to deal with anything. I would have my dad call for me. I’d have my dad do all the work and I’d just wait. I know, I know. This is pathetic. I am a grown ass woman. I’ve traveled the world solo and do standup comedy on occasion, yet calling a repairman or my landlord is unbearable. It’s the pushover in me. The procrastinator. The reason why I was sick for my entire first trimester in Spain was because I don’t deal with things right away or at all. I wait until its impossible and then ask for help. This only makes things worse.

And again, I am relying on a man. But this time due to the language barrier and cultural gender roles. A man is trusted over a woman every single time. My word is not taken. I have to prove myself trustworthy over and over. I have started to document with photos and video. Since I am assumed guilty, greedy, and wasteful – and must prove myself innocent. I joke that I swear I’m not wrecking the place. Yet that is the assumption that I am up against every time something goes amiss, which lately, is too frequent to be normal.

While away for two weeks I forgot about all the drama in my flat. I just wanted to sleep in my own bed. It was nice those first few days. But of course, my key to the building failed to open the door. in the pouring rain and howling wind. Luckily, Sofia was returning from school and let me in. Her old key still works. They changed the lock. Tomorrow I have to make a copy of Sofia’s key. When I compare the two, there is a slight but markedly, difference. Something just a little bit off. Like my entire experience in Spain: mostly great but a little bit off.

If my life were a movie it would be The Money Pit meets It Follows. If only I had a young Tom Hanks to commiserate with.

 

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Contributor: Eram Socat, “The age of no excuses”

Next year I will be turning 35. It is a substantial age that I always pictured as not necessarily old, but definitely “adult”. I see many people my age comment on the internet that they’re “not good at adulting” or “being an adult is so hard”, and it is one of those revelations that the myriad of smokescreens that my parents and their contemporaries put up when I was a kid is fading away. All those times my dad was brave, I realize he was just as scared as I was. All those times my mom told me to “go look it up” as a response to my off the wall question, I realize that it was because she didn’t know the answer. The learned behaviors, both good and bad, of the adults around me, have taken root in my own behavior.
From the time I was 17, I began to accumulate debt. It was in the form of credit cards, then an incredibly irresponsible car loan, paying off tickets from driving like a reckless kid, racking up subsequent high car insurance costs, a refinanced car loan, a refinanced car loan, a refinanced car loan, another credit card, student loans, and then taxes.
The reason why I mention this financial stuff is that it has been an ongoing theme of my adult life. I’ve held off on taking any large risks because for a while I (felt I) was beholden to it. For the amount of money that I was paying each month, I could have had a much fancier car, or a much nicer apartment, had I not made reckless mistakes. For years, I felt like I couldn’t leave the job I was at. Working to get extra certifications was fruitless since the job market was terrible where I lived. I couldn’t go to school full time because I still had the debt to pay off and I didn’t want to accumulate any more. I couldn’t move to another city because I was stuck to my job and I had no money to save up. I couldn’t save up any money because whatever small amount I could get, I would either blow it on a party or whittle it down with restaurants. When I moved to Boston, I was paid incredibly low for the work I was providing. I re-ran the numbers after I left my first job up here and found that I was actually earning -$70 a month, for a year. This financial burden, to me, was a weight that could not be lifted. I couldn’t take any big risks because I didn’t want to make it worse.
I’ve always done creative things on the side, and fantasized a career in the arts (as evidenced by the writing being ingested, encoded, and stored by your brain right now). I had an interest in making music years ago, but “Florida is a cesspool for bands touring and for getting out of”. I had an interest in painting, but “couldn’t schmooze enough people in the art scene to make many friends”. I wanted to write, but “there was no literary scene to get into to get my name out”. I wanted to develop video games, but “couldn’t convince friends to help out”. I didn’t exercise because “I couldn’t afford a gym” and “only assholes go to the gym”.
All of these reasons were misguided excuses. They were symptoms of my risk aversion. All of them are still excuses that exist in small pockets. Over the years, I have (very slowly) worked to claw my way up the ladder towards more specialized technical skills, got a liberal arts degree after 14 years of off-and-on classes, and then made a couple work-related moves through great friendships to get a really great job; the one I have now. Then I worked to reduce my bills by selling my car and moving into a much cheaper apartment. I am at the point now where I can comfortably pay off my debts in a substantial manner while building good experience for a career. In the next year or so, I will be able to go back to school to get an advanced degree if I so choose.
These days, my debt is manageable. I live in an incredibly healthy city now and walk to work every day. The music, art, and video game development scene is healthy and vibrant here. The geographic location itself is wildly more advantageous than before.
For years, I’d been retracting into my excuses for inaction. I was resigned to my Sisyphean existence. Very few people around me were achieving remarkable success; most people were just coasting at their jobs or bounced around to all kinds of things, albeit doing well enough to have an established social scene. Even fewer people had actual careers. The excuses I gave myself and told others were easy to do and garnered sympathy. “Everything else” was to blame.
That time is essentially over, I realized recently. I have worked just hard enough to remove the “reasons” that I have hid behind for half of my life to describe my perceived “lack of success” and risk aversion. I’m at the age now where “I should know better”. My contemporaries are currently solidifying their life choices between careers, families, and poor choices like hard drugs and alcoholism.
While I definitely “know better”, there is a noticeable gap between knowledge and action. I have been in my “advantageous” situation for essentially 4 months now, and there is a creeping dread that has loomed in my soul during this time. It’s the culmination of realization. It’s the perceived adult that “has” to come out. The time is now to make heavy choices that will affect the next half of my life. The barriers have been lifted and, now, the only way I can fuck up is if I, Eram Socat, fuck up. No more environmental excuses. The blame can be squarely aimed without a shadow of a doubt. I will join my contemporaries in their steady paths, whichever direction they may go in. I’ve made some small inroads on video game development and even writing, but the yearning to retract into my shell is incredibly strong, even though a clear path to success is visible. The barriers are gone now. I’ve noticed this. I am aware of it. It is a distinct sapient feeling to know where the environment stops and I begin. I am discovering the true causes of my aversion.
It is terrifying.

Spanish Stories: Feliz Navidad

“Let’s get this motherfucker started!” – 5th of primary student prior to Christmas Bingo

Every few years or so the Christmas spirit finds me and fills me with boundless holiday cheer. There is no way to predict it. It’s like getting the flu: one day you wake up feeling different and all you can really do is manage the symptoms for the duration of the sickness. Or I get the birthday/Christmas/holiday blues. I wish for a happy medium each year but its one or the other without fail.

This year the spirit bit me.

Christmas starts early here. The bones of lighting structures go up in early-November; the mall is slowly turning into a big glossy bulb, store windows laden with fake snow and holly, red and white as far as the eye can see. I am told that I can start teaching Christmas vocabulary in mid-November yet I stall for another week and start with American Thanksgiving instead. I’m not quite ready. There are hand turkeys to make!

I am a woman in her mid-30s who traces little hands for a living.

I am also the woman who is milking Christmas for all its worth. The entire 13 days of class in the month of December is filled with all matters of holiday activities: singing, crossword puzzles, word finds, Bingo, and coloring – oh my! All of which are printed and photocopied at the school store. My plans for maximum Miguel avoidance have failed. He’s there every single time I pop in. It seems my little work around only brought temporary relief. I didn’t slay the nasty troll only subdued personal exposure to his evil superpower: total and complete uselessness. There is no hack to completely ignore him. He actually complimented me the last time I was there. Apparently my Spanish is improving to his liking!

I am tasked with teaching the kids “Jingle Bells” and everyday we practice. Although it sounds more like “Ginger Bills” coming from their mouths, I think we have a good shot at complete memorization before winter break. Perhaps the parents will be convinced that I am teaching them something when their homes are filled with the utterly annoying chorus for the rest of the year. Looks like a case of be careful what you wish for, amirite?

Everywhere you look there are lights. Every street adorned with a hanging illuminated installation. El Corte Ingles in Cuatro Caminos is covered with electric snowflakes pulsating and glimmering like fireworks all over the buildings façade. There is a giant Papa Noel downtown and even more in Maria Pita Square. I am going to check it out tonight. Apparently, the display is bordering on tacky, which sounds perfect to me! I’m just a tourist really. There is no pressure to be cool and aloof in the face of millions of tiny light bulbs in various holiday scenes. I can marvel guilt-free.

I also don’t have to worry about what to wear or what to bring to Christmas parties because I am going to Portugal for the break and don’t have any good friends here. I can roam alone and do all the cheesy holiday things solo. No one to mock or make fun of my bubbling Christmas cheer this year. No family to ask me what my plans are. No friends enabling me to drink too much or god forbid drag me to anther claustrophobic night at The Bends. My sole responsibility is to enjoy myself. No running around buying last minute gifts because shipping rates are insanely high. No ugly sweaters. No Secret Santa. I’ve always want to take a real vacation over winter break and now, I finally am able to.

Now, I miss my family and friends like crazy, but I don’t miss the oppressive feeling of obligation that tinges the edges of this time of year. Perhaps I can learn to take this freeing feeing with me the next time the tight grip of holiday anxiety presents itself, if at all. Next year, I’m shooting for “if at all.” Speaking of next year, I have no idea where I’ll be. A jolt of excitement zings through me at the notion. I have no plans. I have nowhere I have to be. The future is entirely blank. Except for Fatty Catty. Okay, the future is mostly blank with a fluffy tuxedo cat sat in the middle. And that sounds splendid!

Happy Thanksgiving to YOU! Happy Birthday to ME!

“We eat turkey. We eat turkey. Oh so good! Oh so good! Always on Thanksgiving. Always on Thanksgiving. Yum. Yum. Yum” – from “Thanksgiving Feast” This week I’ve been teaching my Spanish students about American Thanksgiving: hand turkeys for the little kids, Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving…

Spanish Stories: Not quite painless

“Well quit bitching! You would have shit yourself to be where you are now five years ago!”
-Kevin Saladino

“Sensible decision-making and intelligent planning are a part of every well-lived life, but these things are accomplished by sitting down with a pen and paper for ten minutes now and then, not by perpetual worrying.”
How to Worry Less by Raptitude

I suffer from chronic migraines, which means I am accustomed to a base level of pain in my head and neck. Generally, I have a headache at least once a week: some small dull ache or soreness radiating down my shoulder or up my temple. I can deal with it most days. Some days I end up in bed with an ice pack. I don’t take medication for it because that shit will destroy your insides and I am quite fond of my insides. In regards to what I can control, I eat well, do yoga, sleep enough, and imbibe caffeine and alcohol in moderation. I exercise as much control as possible and will probably still end up in pain at some point in the week. I’m in the management phase of migraine life. I know how to deal with all degrees of pain without a narcotic. Few days find me unable to work. I always manage to push through. Something I am very proud of. I never quit. No matter how unpleasant, I know for a fact, it will pass. I will wake up the next day pain free and ready for a new day.

This is the exact thing that happened today. I woke up energized and feeling better than I have in months. I’m not sure what happened overnight, although, I imagine some sort of happy and forgotten dream leaving a subconscious mark. I discovered that I am alive and healthy. I am able to be here, in this beautiful city by the sea in Galicia, and not just by accident. I chose this. I want this experience and I want the challenge. I have faith that I made the right decision for myself. It was made for no one else and I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

Living and working abroad is not perfect. Admittedly, I harbored a fantasy of what my life would look like. How I’d change into this glamorous expat speaking fluent Spanish and smoking a cigarette in a fancy holder. How I’d never return to the dullness of American life ever again. How I’d have an affair with a handsome surfer. The cost of living well is low and the beauty rate is off the charts: why wouldn’t you want to leave the boredom and drudgery of a regular life for all of this? Or more pointedly, the possibility of a comfortable and luxurious life away from the soul-crushing norm?

Yet I notice the cruel elements of expat life. For example, the fact that I am here from another country working where the unemployment rate is absurdly high is a bit disheartening. Teaching English, while a noble profession and one of great importance, is not the solution to the fluency issue in Spain. Hiring native English speakers is a superficial project. The one-hour I spend playing BINGO or singing songs doesn’t change the fact that the system is flawed. Of course, the system works perfectly for me, or any of the other teachers who fall in love with the travel life and want a life of adventure, but it does little for the students. This is an ideal situation, even when there is no support from within the school and you just start singing “Wheels on the Bus” instead of having a real lesson planned. I get to live in Spain and work less then 30 hours a week. However, I have no idea what I am doing half the time.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. I do a great deal of prep work and store it in my brain for later. Even though I prefer off-the-cuff I need the cuff to be knowledgeable. I have to know the rules before I can improve an hour of class. This is how I manage my overthinking mind yet it took me a few weeks to get to this point. Perhaps, that is where this feeling of robbery comes to be, as if, I am getting away with something, because I play pretend as the charming and quirky teacher. Or maybe just faking it until I make it. Or some other platitude about being a first-year teacher.

Where is all of this coming from? I was faced with another fantasy, recently. One where a man would save me and I’d have a future very easily. And love, of course. The real deal born of immediate shock and surprise. This man forced some of my doubts to the surface and provided a valuable mirror. In him, I saw myself clearer than ever: not this wobbly doe fumbling through life but a curious wanderer who might land in one spot long enough to fall in love the right way. Not with the idea of a person but their entirety. My next adventure could be the type that grows roots. I say could because I have one foot out the door, because it hurts to open your heart after so long. The phantom pain pumping regret and sadness through the body. No matter how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve healed, my heart remains this fragile thing.

This is why I woke up feeling so good: my heart is open now. There is no reason to hide and fret and worry. I have faith that if I can open up, even a little, then nothing but love will flow in and out.

Dum Dum Girl

Getting dumb.
Dumber by the day.

The minutes last forever.
Longer by the day.

Epic poem of disasters.
Foolish by the day.

Filling up my one basket.
Eggs by the day.

Forget the past.
Erase by the day.

Lost the lesson.
Recover by the day.

Pin drop.
Quiet by the day.

Spanish Stories: Growing Pains

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
Anaïs Nin

It’s been five weeks since I left St Pete. It’s been a month in my new temporary town in a lovely and probably not haunted (the walls are just thin) flat with Wi-Fi. Well, I sort of have Wi-Fi. I have Internet access at home but in the most annoying way possible. The first technician, who put in the phone line, placed the jack three meters from an electrical socket. Of course, I wouldn’t have known this until the second technician, the router man, came by and shook his head at the poor phone job before him. He told me to buy an extension cord until the first technician returns within 24 hours. A week later and the original jack is still in the wrong place. I now have two IKEA extension cords across my kitchen floor and Wi-Fi, sort of.

My immigration paperwork is almost done. It took two days, several trips all over town, and my most unflattering official identification photograph to date, although now, I have the three important papers that prove my residency until my ID card arrives within 35-45 days. Of course, I have to pick it up. It won’t be mailed or anything that convenient. Throughout this process I have learned a great deal about red tape and the many layers that one must slowly cut through to reach simple bureaucratic goals. (I could list them here but that seems like a TL;DR situation.) I just have to visit the health department, turn in my doctor’s note of good health, and I am no longer in immigration purgatory. I have a Spanish back account and will receive my stipend by the first week of November.

I still have not registered for postgraduate classes or Spanish lessons. Evidently, I am to wait until all the English teachers arrive in November. In the meantime, my ability to speak Spanish remains terrible but I can understand questions asked of me. I can pick out words I hear on the street or on the bus easier. I have had two English/Spanish conversation partners with mild success. Yet I remain disjointed, in that, my brain and my mouth do not play well with each other. I stumble, stutter, and swear, which is not the picture of a confident teacher, but I muddle through and make it home each day with a pounding headache. The words painfully swimming in my head: bits of nursery rhymes and awkward conversations with my fellow teachers poke and prod at my temples. Or it’s a tumor. Either way, I end each day exhausted with an ice pack on my head since I regularly forget to go to the pharmacy.

I say all this not for pity.

Believe me, I’ve been sulking and submerged in thick self-pity these past few weeks. Essentially, abusing myself for being so horrible in the classroom and in life. Recalling all the miscommunications over and over. Feeling alone but too scared to admit it. I say all of this to let my friends and family know that while I am struggling and exhausted, I am also, extremely grateful to be here.

There is this notion that if you make big changes then a big reward is soon to follow. The risks will be worth it in the end. The beginning is hard work and blind ambition, “no rest for the weary” and all that “never quit, never give up” stuff. No one ever mentions the middle. No one ever mentions the growing pains assigned to a massive lifestyle adjustment. Perhaps in terms of dieting and changing bad personal habits, but never in regard to the real emotional, mental, and physical changes that accompanies expat life – or just life in general, really.

From my month living abroad, I figured out that moving to another country does not instantly make your life better, living in a beautiful country does not make you any happier, and most importantly, there is no siesta. No matter where you physically go in this world you cannot escape the one constant: yourself. Happiness begins and ends in you but who wants to be happy all the time. That would be boring. I’ve come to see that doing all of this by myself has changed me. I am more capable, sure. But beyond that is this reserve of strength that isn’t foolish or brave, more than that, it’s this strange brew of survival. I really can live abroad and turn on the washing machine without consulting Google. Not all the time, and not even most of the time, yet there is a shift. A tangible shift where frustration is not my default mode and these moods are temporary and it can/will get better some days and worse on others. The ebbs and flows like the Atlantic that rushes and recedes on the beaches in the city center or crashing on the cliffs on the northern coast. I get to witness this in myself and in nature. This city is a magical place and I am really beginning to love it.

My friend count is still low but I remain optimistic. I’ve joined various social media platforms and have met some cool people so far. I don’t need to know everyone like back home. That is not what this next chapter is all about. Its about meeting new people without fear. Or feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I can be myself and not ashamed of my otherness. My otherness is me: there is no escaping who I am even though I am somewhere else. I am not local but I want to meet some. Spend some time picking the brains of interesting and hopefully, bilingual people. Surely there is a small community of nerds in this small city in Spain. I hope to find them before the school year is up.

 

 

 

 

Spanish Stories: Lost in Translation

“Such is the nature of an expatriate life. Stripped of romance, perhaps that’s what being an expat is all about: a sense of not wholly belonging. […] The insider-outsider dichotomy gives life a degree of tension. Not of a needling, negative variety but rather a keep-on-your-toes sort of tension that can plunge or peak with sudden rushes of love or anger. Learning to recognise and interpret cultural behaviour is a vital step forward for expats anywhere, but it doesn’t mean that you grow to appreciate all the differences.” ― Sarah Turnbull, Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

 

It’s been three weeks since I left St. Pete. The last two weeks have been spent in my new city for the next eight months, A Coruna. Two weeks in a new, possibly haunted, flat. Two weeks meeting my coworkers, who know little to no English, and my students, who know little to no English, too. I know the language but putting together a thoughtful sentence is difficult and embarrassing. I can buy fresh bread. I can use the bus. I can order food, but every word that I manage to utter is tinted with, to quote Morrissey, “a shyness that is criminally vulgar.” My out-of-place-ness is like a homing device. Seemingly all Spanish eyes find me and stare like I am a fish flopping on land gaping for breath.

For the past three weeks I’ve been battling travel sickness, food poisoning, and flu-like symptoms on top of all this awkward business of feeding myself and getting around in a very Spanish city. There are cafes and bars on every corner. Dozens on my block, even. Yet I stay in and strive to get healthy. I’d like to join but the mere thought of alcohol turns my stomach in equanimity to asking for the Wi-Fi code in Spanish. I found a café on Calle Real, the Coruna version of Starbucks, and I only have to fumble my coffee order. I come here so often the staff automatically speaks English to me. I am transparently foreign here. Not that I want to pass as a local but I’ve never been so easily pegged before. So easily judged, and often, dismissed.

How many times have you been frustrated with trying to understand someone who speaks little English? Working at the record store I dealt with all the foreigners that proved irksome. I knew what it felt like to be misunderstood and when someone was really kind and helpful, it turned my whole day, and even, experience around. More often than not, I am faced with impatience and rudeness with little bits of kindness, here and there.

This town is for families, couples, and retirees. Children run wild. The screaming only ceasing around midnight. They don’t nap either. I should know since I spend most of my time in a primary school. The children get away with murder pretty much. It’s so different from the orderly classrooms I remember from my elementary school days. Speaking of, old memories from my scholastic life have been cropping up in dreams and snippets of thought. I had a vivid moment replay the morning before my first day. I was in kindergarten and the assignment was to memorize your address and recall the address before the entire class. We would go over this every single day. Little children sat on a red patch of carpet and one-by-one, dutifully recite their home address. I was always the last child. After several weeks, it finally clicked, and I was able to recite my address along with the rest of the class. It as the happiest day of my life and in that memory, I felt that surge of joy. I set my mind to it and I succeeded. I failed over and over again. But never quit.

That memory might be a premonition.

I arrive at the school and being a teaching assistant, I expect to assist, and not lead an entire hour of class. My principal told me several times that I have one month with the teachers to learn and then after that I am solo. This was something I agreed to and was comfortable with. I would take notes. I would figure this whole school system out. I would get hands on training and then continue on my own. In my first two days, I learned quickly that this is not the case. I am to craft and execute a lesson plan knowing precious nothing. I am to control the classroom. I am to punish and discipline. I am to teach these kids some form of English that is engaging and fun. I’ve never taught one entire class let alone ten. I have over 200 students. That’s a lot of miscommunication and flop sweat.

Now, I have my own flat (Wi-Fi to be installed this week). I have ample space. I am provided a budget for groceries and a stipend, but I don’t have a Spanish bank account to receive my money. I setup a grocery account and filled up the shopping cart but nothing has been purchased or delivered. I get the run around for everything, including but not limited to, clothesline pins. I was starting to feel like a nuisance when I thought to be a respected guest. Graduate school will start in November, I guess, but I haven’t registered. What about those Spanish lessons? Well, I guess those start later, too. I really need to improve my Spanish before the little assistance I do receive from the teachers is gone.

I remain resourceful and committed to seeing this through. In lieu of concrete answers about funding, I started tutoring on the side for cash. I met someone whose lived here for nearly a decade. She was an auxiliary like me. She answered a lot of my questions and gave me some sound advice. The key is to never assume that things are being done for you. You must follow up to the point of annoyance. They just don’t think that way. Truly, this little nugget of advice hit home. How can I learn without asking questions? How can I get what I want by being too polite to charge after it?

These brief weeks have been the hardest weeks of my travel life. Nothing has aligned with my preconceived thoughts and everything has been ten times more difficult than I could have planned for. But I remain resolute in my endeavor to see this through and make the most of my life abroad.

 

 

Bon Voyage Revisited

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

On September 21st, I leave the comforts of St. Pete and start a new adventure. I’ve kept it quiet this time, not to exclude or alienate, but to wait until I received the coveted visa. The tiny piece of paper that has eluded my grasp two years prior and caused me great shame is now securely in my new 52-paged passport, this time it is for Spain, and not the UK. I won a teaching fellowship and for the next eight-months I will be living, studying, and working in A Coruna, Galicia Spain.

The glorious bit about this opportunity is that it will undoubtedly beget another adventure. Beyond proximity to the rest of Europe, the UK, and Africa, I plan on traveling all over Spain this year, for sure. I could stay on and teach summer school and/or continue for another year. I might work for the grant next year. I could go to another country and teach or continue my education. I may return home next summer, and then again, I may not. I really cannot say what the future will bring and that’s the way I want it. Endless possibilities for travel and exploration.

***

A year ago I left on my first big solo adventure. I backpacked and befriended. I stumbled and fell. I cried tears of joy. I sprained my ankle by just walking ancient streets. I cried tears of frustration. I was lost, cold, and wet. I was found again and again. The slings and arrows of exploration were to be expected and anticipated. I never thought those months would leave such an indelible mark until I shared my journey via two personal essay series Euro Stories and Travelogues.

There, in black and white, it sunk in: I’m a traveller.

I’ve always had wanderlust yet for some reason the idea of vacations domestically and abroad seemed beyond my budget. When I have managed to save a pittance, a family emergency would suddenly crop up. No wonder I was so unhappy for so long. I was trapped in a lifestyle that never suited me. I could never sit at a desk, perform clerical tasks for a corporation, and feel satisfied. I could barely sit still. But I wedged myself into that role and weathered the worst recession of my lifetime. I survived but at a high emotional cost.

I put myself back together and emerged vastly different. Through therapy, the past is happily in the past free of guilt and shame. I’m no longer a victim with a distorted view. Turns out I was the architect of my misfortune. Misery was in the design from the start. But now, I am untethered and free of all of the baggage I was carrying around. I feel lighter than air and my skin is covered with a tingling exuberance like nicotine high without the cigarette. My anxiety and nervousness has been reduced to a low hum.

Is this how “normal” people feel?

***

As I pack up my life, I notice that I have held onto a lot of miscellaneous stuff that no longer belongs in my new life. I have purged clothing, electronics, and artifacts of the past. I have saved some things, of course, my jewelry, books, records, and Simon, a fat tuxedo, kitty cat will all reside with my dad until further notice. No telling when that will be, but at least, I know that the remnants of my tangible life is in good hands.

In the meantime, I’m taking a carry-on and mailing a few items (a few sweaters, a heavy coat, and boots) since it will get cold in Northern Spain during winter. I’ve learned to keep it simple, avoid over-thinking, and embrace a new culture, language, and country.

This blog will continue on as a single thread continuing from my former life. Keep an eye out for post and pictures of my new Spanish Life.