España: Falling into Place

Spain Weeks 19, 20, 21 & 22

February 2018

I’m officially a city dweller! And I have never been so happy about it. I’m a not a city person, as a rule, I’d called myself a country gal. Or maybe more like a townie. I’ve never lived in rural, roughing-it terrain. But really, it’s not about the amount of people per square kilometer that make the difference, it’s about having friends and things to do. And really, Córdoba is the most charming city.

Blue Jean Posing in la Puerta of La Mezquita in Cordoba Spain

But before I could get to my exciting new life, I had to take a bus with my life in my luggage. And let me tell you, moving, well, it was a shit show getting all my stuff to my new place. I spent that week packing and cleaning and eating as much of my food as I could. The trouble is, when arriving in Spain, I bought stuff that I planned to leave in Spain when I finished. Stuff that I use all the time here in Spain but would be superfluous to bring back with me. For example, I bought some bowls to use. I talked to Kelsey about what they had in their apartment and they were short some bowls. (What’s with the Spanish and their kitchens lacking proper bowls?) I bought them for cheap. And I’m not lugging glass bowls home to the U.S. with me. My ten euros was well spent for their use over eight months. But I had to take them with me to Córdoba…

Surprisingly easily, my small wardrobe of clothes, with no help for my ample amount of shoes, packed into my one big suitcase. In my backpack and the sides of my suitcase, all the rest of my linen and coats got packed away. What put me over the edge was the food I couldn’t bring myself to give away. All the odds and ends like laundry detergent and hangers. Oh, plus my precious tea kettle. I brought three plastic bags to school with me and left them to pick up the next week. I should have left at least one more bag at school.

I left my piso at two to catch the bus at half past. One over stuffed suitcase, two backpacks, two tote bags, and two grocery bags got carried down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. I finagled all my baggage on top of each other or strapped it to me or looped it through limbs. I got about 20 feet before I had to stop. The bus station was blocks away! I was never going to make it. I begged a trash collector to help me but she just watched me struggle and said her boss would never allow it. I huffed and started down the street again. I made it about twenty more feet. I rearranged. Not much better but I made it 25 feet. I was running out of time!

Praise be! Two of my students were walking by on the street ahead. I waved them down and told them “Venga, por favor.” They no doubt observed my red face and bated breath. I asked for their help, pleaded. And I’m so grateful they agreed to help. We made it to the station with ten minutes to spare. My crap was so heavy we were all out of breath!

I think I did pretty well. Spain has taught me to embrace minimalism. What didn’t help my situation was all the different small bags. If I had one more suitcase, I could have packed more efficiently. Curse me for not asking to borrow another suitcase.

I arrived in Córdoba drained and hungry. One of my new flat mates, Belinda, met me at the bus station. She helped me drag my stuff to a taxi and from the taxi, separate elevator trips up to the fourth floor. I had arrived.

Sun room views of Plaza de Colon, Cordoba Spain
The view from the sun room of my new apartment

I’m now flat mates with three fabulous and friendly women. Jane, Hailey, and Belinda are auxiliares like myself. We all hail from the U.S. and work in pueblos outside of the city. I had met them all once before at the Christmas party my friends hosted. And now we are all fast friends. Having friends makes the world of difference. I am so grateful for their company and companionship.

I was welcomed with burgers and beer. We went out for buy one, get one at a burger joint in the center. This classic American meal after a long day really hit the spot. Spanish dinner is around nine, so when that burger hit the bottom of my empty stomach, I thought nothing else could taste better. Returning, I crashed on a mattress on the floor but I didn’t mind because I had made it out of pueblo life alive.

Sense of Place

One of my new apartment mates Jane has a tourist map of Córdoba hanging on the fridge. She has big black check marks scribbled on the pictures of the sites she’s visited in the city. And I have a ways to go to see all that my new city has to offer. On my first official day some of us went to the zoo of Córdoba.

It’s a steal to enter, only three euros for a ticket. Having a student card also gets me (and us) into most places with a discount. I just have to flash the card with the most terrible mug shot of my face and I’ve saved a couple euros.

The zoo itself was small and simple. It was kind of a sad sight. The cages always seem too small and the the habits too concrete. It’s obviously not a huge money maker but the animals seem well cared for. We watched the poor lynxes prowl around their cage in endless circles. The monkeys bathed in the sun, sitting like humans with their bellies rolling over their legs. The bears emerged from their den to give us a cuddly PDA show.

The King of the Zoo of Cordoba

And how else does one spend a Spanish night than by getting beer at eleven at night? The gang went to Mercado Victoria and got some drinks. We chatted and generally reunited after a long week. Kelsey, Belinda, and I then headed to a neighborhood of Córdoba to a bar with salsa dancing. It was a Latin American place packed with foreigners from across the Atlantic. It’s a misconception that Spanish men can and like to dance… They sing and play Flamenco phenomenally but dancing is not popular. And honestly no one can dance like South Americans.

At this hole in the wall, we got cheap beer and watched men and women dance the pachanga and salsa to Latino pop. They could all dance like no one’s business. The men were not shy either and were taking each of us ladies in turn and lightly instructing us how to step the pachanga.

Like true Spaniards, the party didn’t stop until early in the morning. We finally returned home at five and I crashed on my floor bed. The next day I got to sleep in my new bed. Kelsey was packed and ready to leave for her early departure Sunday. She made us all this Brazilian cake that was to die for Saturday night. We toasted her journey with forks full of chocolate cake.

I settled into my new digs and I am in love. Even though this piso also doesn’t have heat, being in a high rise apartment complex, it never gets extremely cold. I have a nice big comfy bed and a desk. (Perfect to help me focus on updating this blog.) The great thing is that I can simply go out of my room and hang out with my friends. Even if all of us are just sitting in the living room on our laptops working, it’s nice to have company.

Pup Admiring the Puente Romano of Cordoba Spain

The weekdays, however, are pretty melancholy. We all commute to our schools and this really reduces our day. And by the time we return home and eat something, maybe run errands, or teach a private lesson, it’s time for bed. As for me getting private lessons in Córdoba… I’m still undecided. I hate them. I may be a natural born teacher (as my dad always said) but private lessons drain the life out of me. The amount of planning and coordinating that goes into them is not worth the meager money I earn.

I met the teacher that I now carpool with on Sunday night. I pay six euros round trip per day. It’s an extra expense but worth it. Especially in the warmer months to come when all the festivals in Córdoba start. I cannot wait! Córdoba is at it’s absolute height in May. And even though I have to pay 24 extra euros a week, I am saving a bit of money living in the city– believe it or not. Unlike when I lived alone, the costs of living are now divided among four people. So now internet, gas, and electric are split so I don’t have the full weight of these necessities. Between the carpool and living expenses, I’d say I’m paying about the same as living in the pueblo.

The commuting makes my days busier and shorter. I fit as much as I can in between classes at school and when I get home. Unlike before, I have to remain at school the whole day even when I have class periods free. (Not strictly. I can leave and take a walk, go to the bank, but there’s not much else.) I get planning and writing done in the down time.

No matter how you slice it, commuting eats up your day. I have three hours of commuting each day. I leave the apartment at 7:10 to meet my carpool and don’t usually get back into my apartment until 3:50 (sometimes 4:00). That’s a whole work day right there. Of all the apartment mates, I have the farthest ride at an hour and ten minutes. The teachers I ride with actually work in the next town over so they have another ten minutes to drive after they drop me off. It’s amazing the lengths people are willing to go to not live in a small village. Living in the pueblo wasn’t all bad by any means! But it was hard without a family unit, friends, and social life.

With my long school days, I’m back on an American eating schedule. I have to be! I bring a bocadillo at lunch with a piece of fruit and eat it during recess at noon. Then when I get home I cook and have an early dinner.

All of this is right for me. When I am busier, I get more done. Because I don’t have time to stall and procrastinate. But don’t worry, I procrastinate plenty on the weekends. I have been spending my weekends in the city walking around or relaxing in the apartment doing art! Belinda and I sit together and paint water color pictures of Córdoba. I never used to like doing water color, but I have been practicing and really liking it. I’m a huge fan of water color painting and try to collect art from different places I travel. When I went to Sweden last year, I splurged and got an original water color from a local artist in the town we were visiting. Now I can add some of my own originals to my collection.

On my first official weekend in Córdoba, Belinda hosted a couch surfer. Tram was from Vietnam and studied in Spain. Before heading back to her country and her fiance, she was traveling around Spain. We got to talk to her and get to know her a little bit and she is such an interesting and incredible person. Tram studied art and taught some techniques to Belinda and I. But the real cherry was her cooking. As a couch surfer, she was staying with us for free and as a thank you she cooked us pho. Madre mía. It was amazing! And she cooked it for all of us! What a treat. We liked it so much she decided to cook for us again the next night. Honestly, we got more out of her than she did staying with us. What a fantastic way to meet new people and save money while traveling.

During the month of February, all the shops have sales or rebajas. It couldn’t have come at better timing because three holes appeared on the inner thighs of my jeans! Yes, all within the span of a week two pairs of jeans were botched with tears. No thanks to my thighs for wearing holes into my pants, I bought a new pair and repaired an old pair.

The week before lent, Spain celebrates carnival. Cadiz is best known for their carnival two week celebration. In Córdoba it was a tame affair. I only went out one evening and saw some of the singing groups perform their parody songs or creative singing sketches. None of us went out, not feeling the late night parties that are like frat houses during Halloween.

Carnival in Cordoba Spain, a small Church in the city center

My new schedule was taking a bit of toll and everyone was getting sick. I did take a day trip to Almodóvar del Río (aka High-garden in Game of Thrones) and two cities in the western region of Spain, Extremadura. But each of these accounts deserve their own post full of amateur photographs.

During Chinese New Year we hosted everyone at our apartment– since it’s the biggest– and made stir fry and dumplings. We made dumplings from scratch! Ang taught us how to make dough, filling, form a cute dumpling, and then cook it up. It took us hours but the result was worth the wait. The scrumptious Chinese dinner left us with full bellies and happy hearts.

Earlier that same week, Jane acquired four tubs of churro chocolate from her school. It was leftover and they were going to throw it away. So like any sane person she took it home! Then she hosted a fondue party. We each bought some dipping goodies and gathered around our dining room table dipping cookies, fruit, and these absolutely disgusting donuts. We had a laugh about the donuts– no amount of chocolate could cover the stale, hard tack taste of these cheap treats. The winter Olympics babbled on the TV in the background but it was overshadowed by the lively sport of fishing dropped sweets from the depths of the chocolate pot.

What is really special about living in a new city is my sense of place. I really feel like I belong to my new city and really appreciate my place within it. My sense of community in my pueblo didn’t exist beyond my label of “teacher.” But in Córdoba, I don’t have any labels. Or at least I have more than just one label. In Córdoba I am still a teacher but I am also a friend, explorer, expat, and more things that round me out. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you belong.

Paz, Paz, Paz

Peace Day was celebrated with a catchy song. The chorus of the song repeats paz, paz, paz in an energetic, simple beat. But even weeks later I can still hear those chanted words being screamed by my students on a Tuesday that wasn’t exactly peaceful. Although, it was fun. After recess, two of my sixth grade students kicked off the afternoon fun with a peace poem. Then we circled and and held hands. We walked around and, with a little encouragement from me, danced around in an awkward oval to the pop peace song. In the classes before, the younger students decorated doves while the older students wrote peaceful messages on bottles. They were hung on a poster to promote world peace but it was soon forgotten in the excitement that is extra recess time.

Dia de la Paz or Peace Day celebrated in a Spanish elementary school

The ironic thing is that classes and students can be anything but peaceful most of the time. Spanish people do not worry about speaking over each other or speaking out of turn. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s only not a quiet room when each student with something to say attempts to speak the loudest over their peers.

I’m a patient person. I don’t raise my voice all that often. So when I’m constantly yelling at students I’m frustrated. I’m nice and class is fun. I’m an easy going person but honestly my introverted nature can’t handle the constant chatter. It’s part of the culture being very up in your face. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely adore my students and they don’t mean to push my buttons, but the fact remains that they do test my limit for patience.

The one teacher I work with has started to take advantage of me. At the beginning of class she always asks “Are you prepare something?” and when I say no, I get the most disapproved look. And it’s only because she doesn’t have anything planned. Then I end up thinking of something on the fly when she tells me what they are learning in class. Ninety percent of the time, I don’t know what to do it’s because I don’t know what unit they are studying.

She has started to write off the times when I am in her class meaning she doesn’t have to prepare anything. And sure it’s maybe reassuring but sometimes I have no idea what to do! She has now also started to leave me in the classroom by myself. On one hand I think she knows I can run a classroom on my own and trusts me. But on my end, my students are– depending on the phase of the moon, the weather, and alignment of the stars– sometimes impossible to manage when the teacher leaves the room. I am quickly overrun. It even happens while she is in the room. But she’s so caught up in doing something else at a desk in the corner she has no idea her classroom is being obnoxious.

And of course, it differs with each class. My sixth grade class is mature. They don’t talk over each other and they listen consistently, but they don’t get as excited as some of my other classes. My fifth grade class is artsy. They all love to color and they collect cool pens. It’s my smallest class and they generally listen but when any sort of competition is involved, rules fly out the window. My fourth grade class is sweet. Each student lights up when I enter the room and they appreciate any activity I do. But of course, playing games is there favorite. My third grade class is a handful. It’s the biggest class I have with such a different mixture of personalities and strengths. My second grade class is independent. There are some strong leaders in that class as well as some smart cookies. They know what they’re about.

My first grade class is wild and energetic. They are always looking to please and ask the teacher for reassurance at every turn. There is never a moment when every single student is sitting in their seats. They get out of their chairs regularly. They have such a fiery personalty these five year olds. One day I walked into class and they just all started chanting my name. For a full minute poor Ana could not get them to shut up. There new favorite thing to do is yell “Guapa, Hayley” whenever they see me. Whether it’s in class or in the hallway, every day I get a boost to my self esteem.

With such energy comes discipline problems. Ana, who is the first grade teacher, has moved the students desks to see if that helps. At first there were five students with their desks placed on the three sides of her teacher desk, front and center in the classroom, one on each side and three in front. But now there are eight desks surrounding her desk with six students side by side in a line in front! And it’s not because these particular students need extra help. Maybe help with being quiet but that doesn’t happen with six desks smashed together. They all turn to each other and whisper nonstop. And the teacher I work with is a good disciplinarian. I just think it’s such a bad strategy but maybe all those educational psychology classes I took in college were wrong… (hint: they weren’t wrong.)

Roses at a flower vendor in Cordoba Spain

I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason. Things work out eventually with time. Things become clear with time. And in this month of February, things fell into place. Some things still need time to become completely clear. But my time here in Spain and my purpose as an auxiliar has finally been sorted and added to the mosaic of my life. I have no idea what I’m going to do when I return to the United States. Who knows where I’ll be in a year from now! Even if these thoughts give me some anxiety, I have clarity about the present. And there really is no use in worrying about the future anyway. Things will work out how they are supposed to work out. And things will fall into place.

Happy Travels-

Signature with Gray


 

My Expat Files_ Falling into Place, Cordoba Spain

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