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Letters to the World: Spain Edition

So if you haven’t noticed, I took a bit of a hiatus from writing about my adventure in Spain this past summer.  It has taken a while to digest everything from my time there and get to a place where I want to write again (on top of the fact that I jumped straight back into my full time job and am training for a race!).  So, as the other things are a’cookin’ in this head of mine, here is a little “best of”- my Letters to the World, Spain Edition.

-Dear Gazpacho, I love your cool, tomato-ey thickness on a hot day, especially eaten on a terrace and accompanied by a crispy cold Cruzcampo beer.

-Dear Cruzcampo, I love that moment when someone gave me a glass of you, and after not having tasted your inconsistent flavor for so long, I could still tell that it was you.  I missed you and admire your chameleon- like attributes and resistance to stick to the norms.

– Dear Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Gelato,
It doesn’t matter if I don’t want sweets, I will always make an excuse to incorporate you into my day.

– Dear Barmen in Sevilla,
Thank you for letting me exercise my independence by allowing me to come up to the bar to order (whenever I want!) and for remembering what I choose, unlike the barmen in Granada who look at me strangely for not staying seated to order.  I like that you let me decide when I get served, like letting me take part in the whole dining experience apart from eating 🙂  [Ok, I know I’m going to get some opposition on this one, mainly from Cojones!]

-Dear Barmen in Granada,
I appreciate you, too! Mainly because you give me yummy treats free of charge (más o menos) when I order a drink.

– Dear Montes of Málaga,
I will never tire of traversing your wavy topography only to see the sea on the other side.  You are beautiful.

– Dear Doñana,
There are no words to describe your breathtaking beauty and the precious memories you hold in your sands.  You are my happy place.

– Dear Flamenco Dancer,
Thank you for awing me with your sharp yet graceful movements and your proud strength.  Wherever you are in your head, I want to go to there.

– Dear Flamenco guitarist on the terrace overlooking the Alhambra,
Your nostalgic tunes along with the delicious scent of the flowers, the babbling brook, and the vista of that lovely palace romanced my heart and made me fall in love.  However, I do not think I could stand that everyday- too much romance!  But you were just enough whenever you came round 🙂

– Dear Sun in Spain,
I love that you give more light to that country and the days last longer so as to enjoy completely all that land has to offer.

Many more letters could I write.  So many that I might have to do a follow up! Next edition will be Carolina Edition, though (of course!). Get ready!

Do you have any “letters to the world” you could write today? 

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Shew! It’s been a while.

I’m always fascinated by the sense of smell; how with one whiff of an aroma you can be transported to another time. This happened to me a few days ago when I arrived in Madrid. It smelled exactly as I remembered when I visited my relatives in 2001. As we drove through the city at about 7:40am on Tuesday, I knew right away that somewhere nearby they were making churros and my memory of being with my aunt and cousin, listening to Elton John in the car and making a stop to grab some churros came back vividly.

It’s been 10 years since that visit. But it’s been (seemingly long) 2 years since I left this beloved place I used to call home to move back to my original home in NC. While I was away, everything related to the years I spent here seemed distant, like much time had passed since those precious memories were created. Yet, as I rode around Madrid on a moto with my dear friend Felipe, it felt like it was only yesterday that I was gallivanting across the Iberian Peninsula, in love with the land and everything it offered me from the food to the people.

I’ve made the trip with the sole motive of being in Spain.  The second motive is to complete the first part of my Masters of Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language at the Universidad de Granada in the south of Spain.  It’s a two year program, so it’s set in stone that I’ll be back next year.  I can’t think of anything else I would want as definitive as a return trip to Spain.. Ahhh!

Anyhoots, the day I arrived in Madrid was wonderfully spent catching up on lost time with Felipe, getting some much needed sleep, eating lunch on the terrace of Felipe’s house that looks out on the Sierra Guadarrama to the north of Madrid, and in the afternoon we went to run with Pablo, who has cerebral palsy, and Gonzalo, who has Downs syndrome. Such interesting guys who find ways to do some type of sport in spite of their handicaps.  Pablo runs and cycles, and ran his first 10K recently, while Gonzalo rides horses.  It was a really impacting experience that I will not soon forget.

Vista de la Sierra Guadarrama desde el piso de Felipe

Vista de la Sierra Guadarrama desde el piso de Felipe

One of the things I love about visiting friends is meeting the people that are special to them. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to meet Felipe’s lovely sister, Laura, and her charming husband, Ramón. We spent quite a bit of time with them and they have left a sweet impression on my heart already. I absolutely can’t wait for the next time I get to see them.  Hooray for new friendships!


Mala educación

Ok, the title to this blog actually has nothing to do with the intense Pedro Almodovar film of the same name. Nothing as melodramatic. I wanted to put down some favorite moments experienced in the classroom this year. Have fun!

In math class a couple months ago, while we were reviewing fractions, we were learning the correct pronunciation of fractions. I was teaching how to say one- half, one- quarter, two-fifths, etc. So, to get the students to practice this terminology, I would write a fraction on the board and have one of them tell me how to say it in English. Standing at the front of the class and looking at the students, this is what it was like from my perspective, going down the line of students pronouncing the fractions:

Carlos: “one- half”
Manuel: “two-fifs”
Javier: “tree-sevents”
Álvaro: “one-turd”
(No one else notices (obviously), but at this I start convulsing with chuckles while I try to continue with the exercise.)

Every time I’m with group A of the first years, if there is any possibility of reading, the moment I say “Does anyone want to volunteer to read?” about 15 hands shoot straight up like rockets. The view from the front of the room is spectacular! To see such enthusiasm at such a young age…. Why can’t all my classes be like that?!

This is not my story, but it makes me laugh hysterically every time I think about it:
My co-worker and dear friend Eva helps out with Natural Science classes. One day they were studying the cell and its parts. To learn the vocabulary, she says the word and the students repeat after her. They were going at a good rhythm such as the following:

Eva: “Nucleus.”
Students: “Nucleus!”
Eva: “Membrane.”
Students: “Membrane!”
Eva: “Vacuole.”
Students: “Vukyuall!”
Eva: “Hmm… let’s try that again, “Vacuole”.”
Students: “Vukyuall!”
Eva: “One more time… “Vaaa-cu-ole”.”
Students: “Vuuuk- yuu-alll!”

You can imagine her chuckling inside at the thought of some random English speaker walking by to hear a classroom of kids screaming something so inappropriate.

Yesterday in class we played a spin-off of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. It was a detective game using the atlas. The kids really enjoyed it and got into the mystery of it. So today in class, my favorite Javier says to me in a detective-like voice in Spanish:
“Ahli, (that’s how they pronounce my name), what were you doing yesterday after recess?”
And I said, a little perplexed because I didn’t know if I had done something stupid, like trip and fall, “Hmmm… I went out for breakfast…?”
Then Javier states, in a very matter of fact tone: “Because we saw you from the window of the high school, and you weren’t in the high school.”
Me (still perplexed) “Well, I…I….”
Then, before I could say anything else, he looks at me and does the “I’m watching you” motion with his hands pointing from his eyes to me. And he adds, “I’m the detective, now!”

I’ll keep adding moments as I remember them or as they occur in the next month. These were my favorites, so far. I’ll also add to this list all the random moments that they have made me laugh uncontrollably with the faces they make when they think the teacher (or me!) is not looking. I’ve had to hide behind papers or turn my back various times to compose myself!! It’s great fun, working with adolescents :).


The Incident of the Lock and a Guy Named Fali

Caution: The following may seem as unbelievable as “The Never Ending Story”, and it really did seem like the never-ending story at some moments. However, please note that all of the events truly happened. This is just a recounting of real events.

It started out as a normal trip to the grocery story. We had our grocery bags, we had our wallets, but we forgot the list. Upon going back to get the list, I stick the key in the lock and turn it. At the precise second of starting the action I felt something a bit off, but continued to turn the key anyway. When I reached the point at which the door should have opened, I pulled. Nothing. I tried it again. Still nothing. I looked over at Beth- “it won’t open…”. Try again… you can guess what happens. Nothing. So Beth takes the key and tries. No dice. What the heck is wrong with the lock?! The key was fine- it entered and came out with no problems. But it was like the lock was stuck.

Thoughts started racing through my mind. “I don’t have my cell phone!” “Where do we go at 8pm at night? Nothing’s open!” “What the hell do we do?!” “”Who do we call? And how do we call them?” “I don’t even know how to begin to explain this in Spanish!” “This can’t be happening. It’s just a dream.” Well, it did happen. And it was happening. At 7:43 at night on January 27, 2009.

We stood there, perplexed by our situation, still wanting to believe the door would open. The only thing I could think of was to try and find a locksmith asap. Doesn’t Spain have Triple A? Apparently not. So we walk to our little neighborhood tool shop to talk to the nice, little, old man there that Beth met last week. Luckily he remembered her. But how the heck do you say “locksmith” in Spanish?! Stumbling through our description of the problem we start to get a little more panicked with each passing moment. The man and his wife finally understand we need a “cerrajero” or locksmith, but they say “Good luck trying to find one at this time of night… everyone’s gone home.” Blast.

I think it was the desperate look on our faces, but whatever it was, he decided to follow us around the corner to help us try to open the door. His face was as surprised as ours was when it didn’t work. Then, a ray of light! As we were standing there, the old man suddenly turned from our ground floor apartment door towards the street and yelled “Guapa!” (Pretty girl!). Beth and I looked and saw a hunch backed, rustic man in his 40’s coming out of the building across the way. “Guapa! Vente pa’ acá!” (Pretty girl, come over here!) We realized then that the “pretty girl” was actually the man who was walking towards our building.

“Este es un cerrajero.” (This man is a locksmith.) WHAT?!! You’re pulling our legs right? What a coincidence! Actually, I know it’s not deep down, but seriously, this man literally just appeared out of nowhere, came out of the woodwork. The old man leaves us with our new helper. He takes the key and tries, then dashes out the door and yells up to someone in the window upstairs. He runs back in with some tools and gets to work. Then another guy comes in and they start talking back and forth in fast, slurry Andalusian accents.

They run in and out a few more times to set up shop outside our door. For the next two hours, brothers Fali (nickname for Rafael) and Jaime (HI-may) completely manhandled the door using tools I never knew existed and long railroad-like stakes to drive the middle of the lock out.

All the neighborhood was out in the street watching the foreign girls get their door beat down. Since there was only 1 lock and 4 of us, Beth and I ended up talking with Jaime most of the time while Fali worked the lock. This little man ended up being the neighborhood gossip, catching us up on all the inside scoop, from the lady that lives in their building who likes cats and feeds the wild ones in the city, to the “girl who was a girl, and wasn’t a girl” that lived in our apartment a while before us.

To ease our desperation, Beth and I decided to bring back some beers and sandwiches from the bar across the street. Entering the bar full of all men, we knew that they already knew what was going on… however none of them came to help us. We got some beers in plastic cups, told the barman to put us a variety of little sandwiches on a plate and promised to bring the plate back when we finished. Then, back to the “shop”, where we enjoyed conversation, sandwiches, and beers with our new friends. Man, only in Spain.

2 hours later they had made a little bit of headway, but still could not get the lock out or the door open. Finally, Jaime took the hammer, knocked the lock, and it went loose! HOORAY!!! They performed quite a job on the door and surrounding plaster walls. So when we finally walked in our house with a newly found appreciation for it, moldy walls and all, we found pieces of plaster and lock all over the floor. But who cares!! Home sweet home!

Now we just have to communicate all this to the landlord….