Blog,  Travel

España: Moving Out, On, Up

Spain Weeks 16, 17 & 18

January 2018

Happy New Year! To be honest 2018 started out kind of rough. My New Year’s night was spent puking at two in the morning (no matter what anyone says I do NOT consider this an indication that it was a fun party because it was, up until that point, but then I felt like shit because of cheap alcohol.) And then, the next morning I had a flat tire. Like there was no way my car was moving unless I changed it. So in zero degree (zero degree Fahrenheit!) cold, I “replaced” the spare. I have all the knowledge of changing a tire and even though I had never executed it before, I was on my way. But I didn’t have enough strength to loosen the nuts. We waved at cars who proceeded to wave back before one car stopped to help us. Thank you kind sir for helping a hungover, hungry, tired, numb young lady. The whole flat tire adventure could be it’s own memoir. I’ll spare you the details.

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If you’ve been following along with my online Spanish journal, then you might have realized weeks 15 and 16 are missing in action. I spent the last week of December and the first week of January back in the United States and home for Christmas. I didn’t consider my Christmas break as showing the authentic expat experience to warrant it’s own blog post. But I do feel the need to write, at least a little bit, how I spent a fabulous– if freezing– two weeks at home.

There is nothing like being home for Christmas. I thought about traveling around Europe but I wanted to be with family for Christmas Day. Plus, all my friends would be back home for the holiday too. It’s a great time of the year to reunite.

And what better way to celebrate homecoming than with some new bling? My friend Jackie and I went and got our noses pierced! I’ve always thought I have the nose for it and upon inspection, one of my nostrils is bigger than the other. So I balanced my lopsided schnoz with some snazzy jewelry.

My mom had a party the day after I got back. Well, I had suggested the party because I wanted to be able to see everyone. I showed off a bit of my Spanish cooking skills and made some traditional Spanish dishes including tortilla de patata and paella (probably Spain’s most popular and well known dishes– I highly recommend). It was amazing to mingle with neighbors, friends, and family friends that are more like family. My mom asked if I missed American food and the answer was YES! I like some Spanish food but I love the variety of American food better. Plus who can beat mom’s cooking?

For Christmas Eve I got my wish and we went to see the new Star Wars movie. Who needs Jesus when you can have Star Wars? Totally kidding! One needs both- I need both. And can I just gush about the movie anyway for half a sentence… It was fresh and engaging with such dynamic characters (and fun new animal creatures) with a plot that can make you feel. And Carrie Fisher was an absolute master. Plus it was in English and I snuck Christmas chocolate into the theater with me. Star Wars for life!

A new one one for our family Christmas was we lost electricity! Thanks to jet lag I was up at seven in the morning on Christmas day and was showered and drinking tea when silence fell. My mom and I had literally just put in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” DVD when click, the TV went black. My brother wasn’t going to be up for hours, now what were we to do? Well, sit around the fire and finish drinking tea and watch my poor dad venture into the cold to set up the generator. The Christmas turkey was only in the oven ten minutes! But overall it was a peaceful and relaxing day. Christmas gifts were modest because my parents and brother are coming to Spain to visit me when I finish. Plus my salary leaves a lot to be desired. I live very simply and I love that! But my parents deserve the world and I wish I could have treated them to a bit more than some trinkets from Portugal.

We had a bit of a white Christmas for the first time in years. It was more like a coating of ice but I like to think positive. I then became a tourist in my own city and town. My days filled quickly with rock climbing, local brews and local eats. A blistery snow storm let me experience the full scope of winter. I did all the wintery things. I ice skated the most in my whole life those two weeks.

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You already heard a little bit about my pathetic start to the New Year. But after I recovered from my hangover, their was more ice skating, more local brews, and more local eats. I was complete: full of drink, full of food, full of friendship, full of love.

My two weeks home was framed by parties. One of my best friends parents had a party on my last night (and he wasn’t even in attendance!). Surprise, surprise, I drank and ate more. At the end of the night, I squeezed my people and didn’t want to let go. But there are plans for people to visit me in Spain! Some of my friends bought their tickets already. I have things to look forward too. Which on my return back to Spain became very important indeed.

Return and Reality

It’s no surprise after two amazing weeks at home, my first week back in Spain was incredibly difficult. Some of the teachers were mad that I skipped Monday. But it takes me two full days to travel! (Leaving on Sunday night was also way cheaper.) I was so jet lagged and not getting good sleep because of the cold. I wasn’t thinking straight and I felt guilty and stressed. When there was nothing I could have done differently. I was also thrown into that first week of school without knowledge of the new units. Again, I was made to feel guilty and stressed for not having English lessons planned. It was completely discouraging and I was seriously questioning my return.

I had just come off seeing all of my family, friends and loved ones. I went from keeping busy everyday and doing things with other people to having to do everything on my own again. And not just doing it alone but being by myself.

It was harsh reality. A harsh chill too. I was spoiled while I was home. Not to mention the glorious home cooked meals, but my parents have two wood burning stoves to heat our log cabin. I, once again, vastly underestimated my ability to withstand the cold. The cold of Spain is the kind that gets into your bones. It lingers. Not matter how much tea I drank or hours spent under my heater table blanket contraption, the bleakness persisted. And as soon as you touch tile or remove a layer of clothing, your skin turns to ice again. Only to have to restart the cycle of cold.

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I cried to my parents and seriously considered coming home. I was not even traveling as much as I wanted to. It’s hard being so far away from any transportation. I have to take an hour and half bus to Córdoba first. I have to coordinate the timetable of the buses and then once I get to Córdoba it’s another bus or train to get to my destination. Not to mention there is no airport in Córdoba so getting anywhere by plane is another step. I felt like any time I traveled I did so much waiting around, hopping between different modes of transportation.

Being on such a high it’s no wonder I tumbled down the mountain so fast. And I should have known it was coming. I was at the peak looking over the edge admiring the view when I tripped and an avalanche battered me, trapped me in it’s heavy acceleration.

My mom gave me advice urging me to make changes to see if this wasn’t really for me. But, no matter what, at least I had given it a go. So I made moves the following Monday. I have a friend in Córdoba that was leaving and I told her I was interested in taking her room in the city. I confirmed my place in her apartment and then worked on coordinating a ride to school everyday. I asked my coordinator before break, knowing she drives from the city daily, but her car was full. Luckily, Andres talked to teachers at his school and some of his friends, and I coordinated a ride with some teachers that actually teach in the next town over. The last thing for me to do was tell my landlady I was leaving. Once I told her, she was not happy about it. She was really salty and swindled me out of every penny– or should I say euro– she could. Frustrated, this was the last thing I wanted to deal with. I just needed to leave!

That first week back my first grade students had a new project to go with the plant unit: seed sprouting. Much like those seeds, the first week I was hidden beneath layers of damp cotton enshrouded in darkness. And with a little time and sunshine, I sprouted.

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Pure Pueblo

Week was 17 on the up. Moving to Córdoba was in the works. I was officially getting out of my small pueblo at the end of January. Plus I got out more, literally! I went outside and took a walk almost every day. It’s amazing what some fresh air and exercise can do for your mood and health. And getting enough sleep helped. Plus, I had city life to look forward to.

My last two weeks in Hinojosa del Duque finished with a bang. It was a sweet sendoff to an experience well spent. Because not all of pueblo life was bad. I met amazing people and had some good times. I especially appreciated the community events. Mostly religious events, but fun all the same. I saved money living in a small town: cheap tapas and nothing else to spend money on.

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On Wednesday January 17, the cathedral celebrated San Antonio Abad, a saint dedicated to animals. Students told me about it at school, something about animals circling the church three times. I told Andres but he knows everything going on and he forwarded me a picture of the poster.

I went to the service at eight before the festivities. Even though I’m not Catholic, the service was similar to Lutheran ones. What wasn’t quite usual was the pets listening to the sermon too. I arrived promptly at eight and waved to a student who turned her whole body around to look and wave at me. The cathedral is gorgeous and massive, made of stone and polished wood. Metal braziers adorned with LED lights dot the walls and attempt to fill the space with light. There was no heat, so like everyone else, I kept bundled in my coat and sat down. I picked an almost empty row in the back. Looking over, a woman sat at the far end shushing a dog squeezed in her lap. Next, a bird cage snuck in and was put on the floor in the row adjacent to mine.

In the proceeding standing and sitting, I didn’t spot anymore animals nestled with their humans. I shrugged it off and tried to understand the Spanish. The sermon did say some stuff about animals from what I could gather. All the furry friends listened along like very good boys.

I get many days off of school for religious holidays. For this or that saint, a different tradition goes along with each one. And in Spain some are more celebrated than others. Every day celebrates another saint! And for life in the Spanish country side, where the air smells like farms and tractors slow down traffic, they took San Antonio seriously.

After the service, I filed out with the rest of the church goers. And emerging out from under the enormous front door, the whole town waited. Dogs barked and humans talked and smoked. The square was filled! The whole town showed up with their pets. Animals attached to owners every which way. I stopped and watched only feet from the door in fascination.

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The priest made his way up to a small stage while a half a dozen men left the church with a saint on a litter. Into a microphone the priest made remarks before sprinkling holy water over all the “animals.” People, pets, pavement got showered with liquid spirit.

Most saints have a pilgrimage of some sort. Something you do to honor them. With San Antonio Abad, animals are lead around the church three times. For good luck or a blessing, animals with their humans follow the priest and the litter in a parade around the cathedral. Really! You can’t find this kind of fun or dedication in the United States. Once the priest makes it around once, he stood in front of the church and peppered the animals with holy water. I saw lots of my students with their pets and their families.

So you know about all the dogs present at this parade but that wasn’t the craziest! Drum roll, please!… The awards:

Most dedicated: A goldfish! In a Tupperware container to boot.

Most exotic: hedgehog- from my fifth grade student.

Most badass: burro.

Other pets included birds (parrots are so popular here because of their patios), dogs, cats, and rabbits. Also rams! There was one tabby cat scared to death. I had no expectations for this event but I thought maybe at least a horse would be there. Just not this year.

It’s just great fun! I took crappy pictures of the proceedings and avoided touching any of the pets (thanks allergies).

The next day I was invited to join in the retirement party for one of the teachers at my school. Nothing could have been more Spanish. I was definitely out of my element a bit. There was free food and beer but all the courses were fried meats. I sat with the secretary of my school, talking in Spanish in a room of women with short or bobbed hair. Any men in attendance were masculine macho men. I left with a full belly and a piece of amazing almond cake.

Saturday celebrated another saint: San Sebastian. There is another church in my town named for San Sebastian. So this church had a party. I went with some teachers and Andres for dinner at 11. After eating many croquettes, we went to the fiesta. However, only being one in the morning, it was not poppin. I got a cheap beer and warmed myself by the huge bonfire. The tree stump rained ash like snow.

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After a short time we decided to get out of the cold and go to a bar instead. They bar we went to wasn’t crowed and it’s owned by the mayor of the town. I was served by the mayor of Hinojosa del Duque himself. He was a very generous mayor! My vodka fanta was literally half vodka. We sat and chatted, discussing the differences between follaron (fuck buddy/one night stand) and amigovio (amigo + novio) and the American use of amigos con derechos (friends with benefits). Personally, amigovio is the most fun to say.

The next day, one of Andres’ friends made arroz con bogavante for Andres and his friends. Which included me. What a treat! The seafood rice paella was to die for. All of my favorite foods in one massive pan. Without tasting the traditional Spanish dish it’s hard to pinpoint the flavor. It’s bursting with paprika, garlic, onion and saffron. It’s moist and messy but worth the work of peeling shrimp and cracking lobster shells. I was the odd one out in the party. The group was all older, married with kids. That doesn’t matter so much but they all are like family and speak rapid Spanish.  They did complement my ability to eat especially tough crustacean. I thank my inner mermaid and my many trips to the beach in the summer picking apart steamed Dungeness crab.

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Just a week was left between the end of my pueblo piso and my new city room. I spent the week writing, walking, and packing. Well, packing and cleaning.

My last hurrah was a hike in the country. It was more of a walk in not exactly rough terrain but it was a 17 km loop with an extra 3 km trail to see an old grain mill. That’s 12 miles for those like me who can appreciate the metric system but still can’t compare the distances easily. Through the land of two of my student’s campo (brother and sister twins), the horde of us tramped through on the country road besides the fields with cows grazing. The draw of the trip was to observe the herons migrating through the region. There were lots of big birds silhouetting the sky in v’s.

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Andres and I got to chat and meander with the others. It was lovely to catch up about our holiday breaks and talk about life. He’s an easy person to talk to. The end of the loop greeted us with a big vat of chickpea soup served by the principle of my school. With such a small town, you really recognize people quickly. Even if my only exposure is the school, I still met many people this way.

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Renewals for this program are now open for next year. I’ve decided not to renew. Moving to the city is the right move for me. I can meet new people, experience Córdoba, and travel more. I’m going to live my best Spanish life while I’m here. To me there is no sense in waiting to start a life that I love. Books and writing are my passion. Teaching high school English is fun and rewarding work, and something I’m actually good at. There’s no sense in denying it and trying to be humble. I know where my strengths lie.

I love my students here in Spain and I’m really grateful for this opportunity to live and work in another country. But I don’t enjoy the work so much. I was able to experience pueblo life and soon I’ll experience city life in southern Spain. Life can really get you down sometimes. It has happened before in my time in Spain. High and lows are a part of life. Most of the time you can’t plan or prepare for the fluxes. All you can do is take it in stride. And when you’re overwhelmed, make a change. It’s okay to ask for help or to give up all together. Sometimes the lows in life help point you in a new direction. And when you’re really low the only way is up.

Happy Travels-

Signature with Gray


6_My Expat Files_ Moving Out, On, Up, Cordoba Spain

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