España: Coincidental Companions

Spain Weeks 4, 5 & 6

October 2017

It’s ironic really. The education system here is a unorganized at best, chaotic at worst. Before leaving for Spain I applied to be a substitute teacher. I had a month to work and make some extra money. Plus I am a fully certified teacher after all. I could get some practice and help some schools out. I literally applied in August and they just finished finalizing my paper work. Yes, two and a half months later I can start substituting in the states in schools around my hometown. Ha!

Now technically this isn’t irony, it’s just a hilarious coincidence but I think irony fits the drama of the situation better. Because I have a new roommate! America couldn’t make me a substitute teacher in time but Spain gave me a substitute teacher as a flat mate. Education systems– Spain: 2; America: 0.

So Sandra is my young and fun new flatmate. I do have a three bedroom piso. In my last post I mentioned that my coordinator got in a car accident. She will be out of school for another three weeks at least. The principal and other teachers were covering her classes while waiting for a replacement. Now, like I said before, the Spanish education system is a bit whacked. First of all, teachers once certified apply to the government and then the government places them in a school. And they could be placed seemingly anywhere! The government at least gives them jobs in their region but there is such a high demand for jobs that wherever they get placed they go. So many of the teachers I work with (unless they have at least ten years in the system) are from “far” away.

Substitute teachers are in similar situations. Sandra is from a pueblo three hours away! And for a three week placement staying in a hotel gets pricey. So she is staying with me. I get to practice to my Spanish with an actual Spaniard and not so graciously spy on her. That sounds creepy but I get to see how a Spanish schedule works and observe her cook Spanish food. We exchange bits of info about our cultures but living together explains a lot.

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I sometimes forget that I am in Spain: watching American TV shows, reading books in English, and talking with friends and family back home. It’s only when I hear people on the street below speaking Spanish that I am reminded that I am actually in a completely different country. Get your shit together Hayley!

It’s so nice having my own space. It makes such a difference in my life. Being healthy too (aka not being surrounded by cats, sorry Chaz, Kiwi, Grizzly, and CC) makes breathing easier, literally! No anxiety and I am not the grumpy ungrateful person I was before I left for Spain. I don’t have much but I don’t need much. But now I can try this whole “minimalism” trend on for size. Plus anything that I don’t have, I have to buy…

Every person that does this program has a different experience. I read some different accounts online. I browsed blogs and talked to people about moving abroad. But there is no predicting what is going to happen. Because here I am with an apartment, internet, bank account, private tutoring lessons, a gym class, and now a new flat mate. I’ve been shopping and settling into my new life. I even got paid on time! (A miracle for Spain.)

A gym class? If you know me then you know that that is not really like me but I saw a advertisement for Zumba posted on the local gym. I thought I’d give it a try. I love to dance and I needed to work on immersing myself not just in Spain but my community. My first week was rejuvenating and discouraging– my Spanish is still not so good. They speak so incredibly fast!

On my walk home from Zumba there were three old ladies sitting outside on the sidewalk on my street. I’ve seen them before and in my determination to improve my Spanish I thought I’d say hello. Well, it was a mild disaster. They were nice but I knew they didn’t think much of me. How did this blonde bimbo end up here? They had their fold-able chairs and cardigans to keep off the chill night air; they pulled their sweaters tighter and their disappointment wrapped around me like a shawl.

The next week as I walked home from the gym, I strolled along and glued my eyes to my phone. I noticed the old ladies sitting outside again as I turned the corner. I continued to text my mom as I got closer. But they called out. I wasn’t about to be rude to some sweet citizens of Hinojosa. So I said hola and crossed la calle. And wouldn’t you know it, it was easier. We talked about Spanish food– which is an easy topic of conversation for me. I have spent my time in town trying all the different tapas and even trying my hand at making some. With some talk about family as well, one of the women said my Spanish was better. Praise be for small victories! The ladies had blankets over their laps for the late October night and I felt like last week’s shawl of shame changed.

Embracing the Community

A month in and I am still exploring and stumbling upon hidden gems of Hinojosa. I found a place to buy school supplies and a haberdashery-type shop to buy yarn and ribbon. The fruiteria is a favorite stop because cheap, local, fresh fruit. Everyone greets each other with a quick adio, so adios is more like adieu. Adieu, adieu, adieu to you, and you, and you!

I also started teaching private English lessons after school. My schedule here is amazing! I work Monday through Thursday. I assistant at the elementary school in the morning and then have two lessons after siesta Monday through Thursday. (I give you permission to hate me for my 20 hour work week).

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The weekends here can be pretty dull. There’s not much to do really. I’ve always been one to keep myself busy but I’ve been so lazy! I could be writing so much! And keeping this blog more up to date. One weekend I did buy yarn with my tutoring money. I snuck a crochet hook into my luggage before leaving. I hope to prove how much of a grandmother at heart I am with this blog but I haven’t posted many of the crafts I do. Because I always have a project. And this year I taught myself how to crochet. So one relaxing weekend here I crocheted myself a hat. (Envious of the blooming autumn back in Pennsylvania, I wished for colder weather.) My next project is to crochet a matching scarf. Living in a small town supports my introverted and antisocial inclinations.

But I also need to put myself out there. The teachers of my town have a group-chat on Whatsapp. I sometimes meet up with the other teachers to go out for drinks in the plaza and an event around town. Because I live in a small town there isn’t much to do, but when there is something to do you don’t have to decide what to do: you just do what is happening. (Indecisiveness is not as much of a problem.) And for the month of October in Hinojosa there were different shows every Friday night.

With some of the teachers I went to the theater on Friday nights. My first experience of the theater here in town was when it was still a hot late summer night. Older residents of the town dressed nicely and walked arm in arm with a loved one. I dressed like a scrub by comparison.

We purchased tickets for only two euros and filed into a side row. The theater is quaint and for the first show it was a bit stuffy. The audible flick of fans opening filled the theater as the lights dimmed for the show. Flick, flick, and the steady whoosh of ladies fanning themselves grounded me.

The first show was terrible. There is not way to put it besides just plain bad. The audio was hard to hear, the set cheap, and the acting below average. I had low expectations for the next play the following Friday. But it was amazing. Cyrano is well known and like a Shakespearean tragedy, it was humorous in the beginning and full of lewd jokes. By the end I was blinking my eyes more than average (and it wasn’t from tiredness).

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The last Friday of October was actually a dance instead of a play. It was A Beautiful Life as a dance. I have never seen a dance before and I didn’t really know what to expect. And it was beautiful and sad. It was in flamenco style. Lots of pretty castanet clapping in the happy scenes and angry stomping when the soldiers arrive. It wasn’t a very long show, only about an hour, but I enjoyed it immensely.

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After enjoying the shows, we went out for drinks (and sometimes tapas, actually always tapas). I still struggle with what to order sometimes but then you can never go wrong with some salmorejo.

I don’t work on Fridays but on one cold Friday morning this was actually a good thing for my students. Earlier in the school week my fifth and sixth grade students invited me to their Olympics! Like a field day, they had a day of school dedicated to field games and sports. And even better they competed against other local elementary school. There is only one class (of anywhere from 17 to 22 students) in each grade.

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On a bitterly cold Friday morning, I walked to the town hall to meet my students at exactly 8:55 am. I was greeted by screaming sixth grade girls running at me. They formed a squealing circle around me and I was enchanted. Smiling from ear to ear, sleeping in could definitely wait until my day off the next day.

My job at school is to only speak English. My role is to help students hear correct English pronunciation and grammar. When the gals starting asking questions in Spanish and I replied in Spanish, their delight was evident with more squealing. Who knew I lead this secret double (language) life!

We waited huddled in the town square basking in the presence of the cathedral behind us. It started to drizzle as the mayor said a few words about the Olympics. And then we were off. Chanting through the streets like hooligans we paraded to the municipal field. Once there, I was quite useless but a silent cheerleader all the same, doling out high fives for encouragement. Encouragement against the cold was more like it as I hunkered down under the awning and watched my students, red-faced with exercise and chill, sprint.

Perusing Pozoblanco

My flatmate Sandra has a car! After riding nothing but public transportation the past month it was a pleasant change. Sandra, Ana (the French teacher at my elementary school), and I had a completely Spanish Saturday. It started with churros and chocolate at a local bar. Nothing speaks to Andalusian cuisine more than fried food– whether it’s seafood or dough.

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There is nothing like thick hot chocolate with fried dough. It’s basically the worst thing for you and it’s common to have it as a Saturday morning cure for a hangover… Did I also mention that wine here is really inexpensive?

Then we were off to a bigger small town around 30 km away: Pozoblanco. We enjoyed the ride past olive fields listening to none other than Shakira and Ricky Martin. Arriving in town there were two main strips that made a big plus sign in the center of town. There’s not much to do but shop. So shop we did. And I bought a great maroon poncho. I have no regrets. The secret joke here is that I enjoy Mexican culture more than Spanish culture. Ever since I mentioned my adoration of margaritas and authentic Mexican food. By purchasing a poncho, Ana was convinced.

I have a small obsession with seeing churches. I just find them to be awe inspiring and humbling. The silence and magnificent architecture always draws my eyes up. I sweep my eyes from the orderly wooden pews to the main altar to become transfixed by the ceiling illuminated with windows. I found the main cathedral of Pozoblanco and had to see it. They never cease to amaze me even in the smallest of towns. Especially in Europe no cathedral is new and simple. They all have histories and intricate designs. The cathedral in my own town of Hinojosa del Duque draws people from around the region of Córdoba.

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Next we went for lunch at a creatively names restaurant called “Eat and Drink” or “El Como y Bebe.” It was siesta time, meaning all the shops had closed, so the restaurant got crowded quickly. After that we had coffee at a different cafe. And the after that we had dessert at yet another cafe. Nothing else to do we perused our way back home.

Festividad de los Santos

All Saints’ Day

I absolutely love that Córdoba is the closest city to me. And it’s just a bus ride away. Honestly, I don’t mind bus rides at all. It’s nice to just watch the scenery go by as we wind through the hills, farms, and small towns. I read a book or my motion sickness tells me to enjoy the rich view. I gladly listen and sit there in serene silence.

For Halloween I went to Córdoba to spend the night. I stayed with some other auxiliar friends and it was such a treat! My first week in Spain I meet two gals at the forgeign office while I got my NEI card. Then at the meeting in Cordoba the next week the same girls were sitting right behind me! Such coincidence! We are friends and they let me crash on their coach. There is also something about girls getting ready together that takes me back to college.

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This is their view of Córdoba from their terrace. Nothing special right…

We meet some other auxiliares for tapas and wine. An eclectic bunch, I enjoyed myself immensely. It was honestly so nice to get out of my small town for a change. I ordered a whiskey sour at a bar after dinner. Man. Fresh lemon squeezed with sugar then half– and I mean actually half– a glass of whiskey. Not exactly what I had in mind and a little on the strong side… But for 6 euros… Some of us went to a Spanish club afterwards. I only stayed until three in the morning. And that’s considered early! Like grandma worthy early. But I had an excuse: plans to go hiking the next day.

And the next morning came much earlier than I hoped. But I am so glad it worked out. On an auxiliar Facebook group someone posted about the hike so we all just meet up at a bus stop in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Córdoba.

It was so refreshing! I didn’t expect the hike to be so much in nature but it was! It was such a treat to finally put my lazy legs to work. And the views were gorgeous. Not to mention the company superb. Another eclectic bunch we quickly gave our quick-and-dirty biographies so we could get to some real conversation. And conversation in English I might add. Something that is not especially abundant in my small town.

The hike was said to be about three hours. We had a bit of a messy start– not knowing where the trail was exactly. Not bad detours though. I was a tad worried because of the bus schedule. There was a bus at two and then another at eight. I hoped to catch the two o’clock bus (spoiler alert), but it was not meant to be. And I’m glad it didn’t work out.

One of my private tutoring lessons still wanted a lesson that day. I usually give the lesson at four so I would have been home if I took the bus at two. At one our gang of English teaching tugs was only about a third of the way into the hike. And I didn’t want to turn back. We hadn’t even gotten to any of the real sights yet– like the old monasteries. So I texted my lesson’s mom and said I missed the bus. It was a holiday after all and spending time with nature, friends, and a dog was a way better use of my time.

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The landscape made me feel like I was on a biblical quest. The dusty land and olive branches almost beg for a sacred prophecy to be given. Dare I say burning bush? And the weather on this first day of November was still warm. It was hot but not exceedingly so. The warmth as I walked was a comfort. Well the warmth was a comfort until our badly timed accent up a massive hill at high two.

Unlike high noon in the States, the sun is the hottest at around two. And there is no such thing as a cloudy day. Unless it’s raining, the sky remains clear and free of clouds, shining in a picture perfect blue everyday. After meandering on a small footpath around olive trees and dry brush, ahhh we had reached the big incline. Of course we had acceded other hills before this but the sheer steepness made me give a big huff.

It looked less like a path and more like a rain water runoff. It was slick with smooth rocks and the dirt around the stones were crevices. My tennis shoes provided me with absolutely no traction. I climbed that hill in a low lunge with my chest practically touching my thighs. The purpose was twofold: have my hands close to the ground and give my rapid breathing a break. I blamed the boob sweat on the sun (and not the fact that I was/am terribly out of shape).

But after a couple hours of hiking we reached some ruins. Of what exactly I couldn’t tell you. We sat inside and all realized we were ready to be finished. Without any breakfast either I was more than ready for some nourishment.

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My overnight getaway to Córdoba was the perfect way to end October and start November. The last month of glorious weather and bracing myself for the colder months ahead. Also realizing that I was a month into my new Spanish life. I had a job that I was starting to feel comfortable in and making some new acquaintances along the way. You never know what the future holds but having people to keep you company along the way makes the journey sweeter.

Happy Travels-

Signature with Gray


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