I meant to explain the title and the picture. The title “aprovechar la vida” basically means to make the most out of life. I like it because there is not a verb in English that is a direct translation for aprovechar, which I find amusing because the Spaniards use this verb a lot and it reflects their love for life and having fun and the beauty of things. The picture is by a famous Spanish artist, Diego Rivera. There are tons of flowers here, and so I like the flowers in the picture.
Hello world, sorry it has taken me so long to get this thing up and running. I’ve been trying to figure out a format for how I’d like to write. I’ve also been living in the moment so much for the past month, and I didn’t want to distract from that by analyzing anything too much through my writing. Or my delay is an indicator that I have been swept right into the ease of the lifestyle here and possibly become a little lazy. Let’s stick with the former reasons.
Having said that, I’m still not quite sure how often I will be updating my blog or what exactly I will write about. I’d like to think I could keep it on par with my blog on Africa and spend an hour or so every night recapping the craziness of the day. But let’s be serious, the wine is way better here than it was in Africa and I have three great roommates who keep me wildly entertained, and there are no mice in my kitchen, so I feel it might be a struggle to wrestle up the time and material. However, I do plan to use this as a forum to keep friends and family posted on the “big things” in my life and to once again compare education systems from various parts of the world.
A general overview of my first month in Spain: I got here safely, much easier than my trip to Africa. The orientation was held in Sevilla, a beautiful city that I completely fell in love with. The historic section was comprised of ancient castles, stunning cathedrals, and windy cobblestone streets that I think would take me a year to learn by memory. The food was amazing- fresh vegetables and finger-licking olive oil. For those of you that know how much I love wine, the wine here is unbelievable, and I’m not a wine snob or anything, but I have tried a lot of wine in my life. For 2 euro (about $3), you can get vino rioja (red wine) that is smooth, smoky, and a little sweet. You don’t even order by the brand, you just simply say “vino rioja, por favor” and the best wine of your life is in front you….whenever the waiter gets around to it (ok, so the service isn’t the best over here.) Everyone in Sevilla looked like they stepped out of a magazine. They were tall, thin, tan, and wore very stylish clothing. We had 5 days of orientation that provided us with basic information on how to find housing, get around, live, teach, learn Spanish, and more. It was very brief, but extremely helpful and organized. After 6 days in Sevilla, they had us pack and put us on trains to our teaching/living destinations, and set us up in a hotel for 4 days so that we had a cushion period to find housing. The next few days were kind of like what I imagine the Amazing Race to be- there were about 15 Americans unleashed in the city of Cadiz running around like crazy people, speaking broken Spanish, trying to find the perfect piso in the perfect area before the others could get to it. Thankfully, I met Julia in orientation and we teamed up so that it was as much of a race as it was a really hilarious game as we learned about our new town and got lost on the calles (streets) and recharged with cafe con leches and listened to duenes (landlords) tell us stories about the history of their buildings or Cadiz in Spanish, so that we would just nod our heads and laugh on cue. My Spanish gets better everyday, but still not bueno! Anyway, we ended up finding two other girls from the program who were looking for something similar and a 4 bedroom piso went on the market on our last evening in the hotel and we saw it, fell in love, and snatched it up that night. Not only is it cheap, but the duene lives in Madrid and her “assistant”, Max, who showed it to us was a native Cadiz Spaniard who spoke great English, so he loved that we were taking the piso and that he could practice his English with us. He took us out for jamon (ham- famous here in Southern Spain) and tinto de verano (red wine and a spritzer with an orange) that night to celebrate and talked our ear off. He has since been over to fix everything from our internet to our sink. I think he likes that we are bubbly and joke around with him. He made our move in very easy and enjoyable.
So our piso is a 4 BD, 2 BA. It is HUGE and it is literally smack dab in the middle of the antigua (old) part of Cadiz. We are about a 5 min walk from the gorgeous Playa La Caleta (beach), a 10 min walk from the train/bus station, a 7 min walk to the famous Cathedral Plaza (where a lot of activities happen), and a 5 min walk to about a million other plazas with museums, gardens, food, etc. The University of Cadiz is just north of us, so there are a lot of college students around. The streets are very narrow and cobblestone, so when you walk out of our piso onto the street, you feel like you just got transported back a couple hundred years. There is a new part of Cadiz which looks like South Florida to me- tons of development on the beach and a nice hotel and a lot of shopping, so we have access to that. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere other than here in the old part.
Our piso, as well, is very old. There is Spanish tile throughout, huge floor to ceiling windows that open up to a courtyard and a balcony overlooking the street. The windows are always open (no screens) and breezes blow throughout the piso all of the time. The weather has been so perfect that I haven’t even noticed it. That’s how I gauge good weather. If it is a little too hot or a little too cold, I am constantly reminded by my sweat or goosebumps. Here, however, it is dry, mid-70s, breezy, sunny, and warm. Absolutely perfect. I can run at anytime of the day and not have a stroke. I can go to the beach and not sweat 5 lbs. The sky is the bluest I’ve ever seen. Africa still has better sunsets, I’ll give them that, but everything here in Southern Spain takes place outside. They have built their lives around outdoor cafes and socializing in plazas, and going to the beach- and it is all because there is just no reason not to. It is comfortable to be outside, and so that is what people naturally do.
Our piso doesn’t have an oven, though, which is taking some adjustment since I have really started baking a lot in the past year and finding joy in making my own bread/cookie/cake recipes. Hornos (ovens) are not common here. There are bakeries that do that sort of thing, so it is not done in the home that often. I do have friends that have ovens and tomorrow, in fact, I’m trading some of my finished baked goods for the use of their oven, so we’ll see how it goes.
Beyond my piso, life is great. My school has its own set of challenges- long commute for me (made easier by generous teachers who have offered to let me join their carpool), the students are very very very very low, the students have very very very very bad behavior, and so forth. BUT, the other teachers are wonderful and a blessing and the students just need more structure and I plan to help provide that. I am teaching 12, 1-hour classes a week and attending staff meetings, in addition to just generally helping teachers design and deliver English language lessons. It is a great position for me, because for once I feel like all of my years of experience and education in teaching are helping someone else out. Some of the teachers are great, don’t get me wrong, but when you are teaching in another language that is not native to you (some of the teacher’s English isn’t that strong), you have twice the amount of obstacles to clear. You have to get both the language and the design of the curriculum right, and that can be hard.
Well, it is late here and I’m going to get ready for a day of baking and lesson planning tomorrow. In all, my month in Spain has been amazing. I do have occasional bouts of homesickness, but overall the lifestyle here complements my personality very well. I have found Spain to feel very “homey” to me, and I don’t wish I was anywhere else. I know that the next 8 months will be fulfilling- socially, emotionally, and educationally. I’m taking advantage of it before I have to finally grow up and pay back loans and all that boring stuff. 🙂