Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Series of Unfortunate Events

It seems that my bad luck in board and card games against Patricia followed me on my travels outside of Spain and manifested itself into other small, unlucky, and slightly hilarious events.

First of all, I almost broke the small bath tub in my friend's apartment.  The bathroom is teeny tiny.  Imagine the smallest closet in your house and then imagine it with a toilet, a washing machine, and a bathtub.  There's no sink, so I was brushing my teeth over the tub when I leaned a little too hard on the edge (apparently) and the entire thing flipped on its side in this tiny little room.  I fell along with it and ended up inside of it on the floor.  I thought for sure I had just broken the damn thing and I sat there for a good 30 seconds contemplating all the options, but mostly just shocked at the situation.  When I heard Sash come out of her room (after hearing the loud crash) I got up and opened the door.  The look on her face didn't ease my nerves about probably having to find some store and buy a new bathtub.  She said "Quick shut the door so my grandma doesn't see!"  She lives with her grandmother who is a bit nervous, but luckily also forgetful, because after we managed to flip the tub right side up and make sure nothing was damaged, she had already forgotten that she heard the noise as well.

Then on my 3rd day, I woke up with a bit of an annoying scratchy throat which in 24 hours had turned into an impossible-to-swallow-without-flinching sore throat.  I had my first foreign doctor experience to get some antibiotics so that I could get better and not be laying in bed the entire trip.  I went into the office, she looked at my throat, pushed on my jaw so hard that I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head.  Then said I had swollen tonsils (thanks PhD..) and an ear infection.  So I started some amoxcicillin and a week later finally felt better.

On Thursday night, Sash and I came home from her boyfriend's house tired and ready to pack our bags for the weekend trip to the lake when I opened the door to her room and noticed little black pieces of...something...all over my suitcases and the floor.  When she came in the room I pointed it out to her and she, again, made a face that did not tell me this was something she had seen before and said "Oh my gosh we have a rat."  But the amount of stuff on the floor, TV, computer, and shelves suggested that it wasn't A rat, but a family of rats.  I thought "Oh my God is it in my suitcase?? Am I going to have to claim 'mysterious Macedonian rat' when I go through US Customs?!"  Then we looked up at the wall and saw where there had been a white cover there was a hole.  No, it was not rat shit on the floor, but soot.  It had been really windy that night and apparently a gust came down through the chimney and blew the cover off the wall and left black soot covering the room.  So we cleaned the room bottom to top and then finally packed for the weekend.

And then the cherry on top, our first day at the beach in Ohrid on Friday, it rained.  It hadn't rained there in weeks.  But the rest of the weekend was beautiful and we were able to go to the beach, see some of the city, and relax under the sun.

Tomorrow morning I am off to Sofia, Bulgaria to spend the last 5 days with my friend Dessi, who was in my international student orientation group last Fall, and also with my friend Danail who I worked with in Wisconsin Dells.  Then it's HOME HOME HOME and I can't wait to see my family and friends and the last few weeks of some Wisconsin summer sun.

A few pictures:
 Statue of Aristotle in Thessaloniki, Greece
 Mountain overlooking Skopje, Macedonia
 Matka, Macedonia. Absolutely gooorgeous!
Enormous lake in Ohrid, Macedonia

Saturday, July 30, 2011

So Long and On To The Next One

Writing to you from a small apartment in Skopje, Macedonia!  I officially left Spain Thursday afternoon.  I don't know how I did it, but I managed to fit all of my stuff plus what I bought while I was there in one large and one small suitcase.  I feel pretty proud of that accomplishment.  We'll see how I do on August 15. 
My last weeks in Spain felt like ages since I was definitely ready to move on.  The English classes got lazier as the month went on and my last week there they were almost non-existent.  My family planned a nice dinner party with the neighbors and some friends on my last night which was a really nice way to go out.  The highlight of the night was a quote from one of their friends, Lola, who was in love with my hair. 
"What is this called that I'm doing...planching?"
"No, braiding.."
"Ahh! Raping! I'm raping your hair!"
I was laughing so hysterically that it took me a minute or so to contain myself so that I could explain to her what she had said. 
Thursday morning, I woke up early unable to sleep and finished packing.  Before I walked out the door, I went into Patricia's room to say goodbye to her since she was still in bed.  I waved and said "I'm leaving!" and went to shake her hand.  She grabbed my hand and when I tried to walk away she wouldn't let go.  I felt for the first time like maybe I really did connect with her and that maybe she really did like me!  I decided to think of it that way instead of looking at it as she probably just wanted me to help pull her up out of bed since she had a tendency of doing that.

I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece just after 7:30 and found my friend Aleksandra happily waiting for me.  Her boyfriend, his brother, and the 2 of us went back over the border of Greece into Macedonia to stay the night at her boyfriend's family's small summer house, then yesterday we went back to Thessaloniki to spend the day.  I suppose when people hear you say "I'm going to Greece!" they imagine you walking along the beach all day long and taking pictures of houses built alongside the sea.  But Thessaloniki doesn't really look that way.  It is along the sea, but the beach was pretty far away and the houses are farther inland.  We spent the day walking around the city and going in shops.  It was a good taste of Greece for the first time and now I am definitely looking forward to the day when I can go back to see Athens and other typical Grecian cities. 
From Thessaloniki, we drove back to Skopje, Macedonia which is where Aleks is from.  She lives in a small apartment with her brother and grandma who does not speak any English.  I finally feel like I am experiencing something new since Spain didn't feel much different, at least not where I was living, and I was able to communicate in either Spanish or English with almost everyone I met.  I've been told that the whole apartment building will be talking about the fact that there is an American staying here and that when we go out in the city, people will probably stare at me. 
I'm really excited for the next couple of weeks but I am also very ready to be home again and to get back to my normal routine.  And as I write that I can already feel myself eating my words.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Dear Reader,
Here I am sitting outside, feet up, contemplating life. 

Don't I sound so philosophical.  But let's be honest :
I'm sitting outside because I feel extremely awkward in the house while the housekeeper is cleaning.
My feet are up because I'm elevating my fat cankle to try to keep the swelling down.
And I'm not so much contemplating life as I am staring at the white curtains over my head thinking that someone should clean off the bird shit.

I digress.

And I confess that this post will most likely not be as entertaining as others in the past.  I don't know if it's because I really don't have any stories or if it's because the mood I'm in isn't allowing me to think of any nor give them a funny twist.  So I guess, I'm about to get serious.

As the end of my time in Spain approaches like the Ave (a Spanish high speed train), I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I've learned/come to realize.

1) Those personality tests really don't lie
Freshman year I took a 1 credit "career exploration" course along with a bunch of other lost and undeclared UWEC newbies.  We took a lot of personality tests.  I didn't really need to take one to know that I am an extroverted person, but there was always one question that stuck out to me :
"Do you get energy from being around others?" (or some variation of that).  I never really knew how to answer it because I never considered where my energy came from.  But one thing I was certain of was that I wasn't particularly a fan of being alone.  But not until this summer did I really understand that my energy does in fact come from other people.  I have spent the majority of my days here very secluded from other people.  My human interaction has mostly consisted of 2 painful hours everyday of English lessons with 2 very spoiled teenagers.  Most days I have absolutely no energy or motivation to do anything, so it becomes a vicious cycle.  I need people to feel alive, but I spend so much time alone that I lack even the energy to go out and be with people, which is what I need!  Getting the picture?  I also realized that the reason the question was difficult to answer was because until now, I have never been without close friends and family nearby or without a group that would become my close family and friends (here's looking at you, CRSA 10). 

2) Host families are great...
...But I have outgrown them.  Maybe it's my American upbringing, but this summer it's been made very clear to me that I just simply cannot handle a lack of independence at any level.  Whether it's buying my own groceries, making my own meals, going where I want to go and not having to say that I'm going, or just the choice of not having my bed made everyday (well I don't make it, the housekeeper does).  I felt the same with the first host family go-round in Costa Rica, but I just thought it was due to the circumstance I was in, living alone with the abuelita.  But no.  I realize now that I was raised to be an independent person and it's not something that I can switch off.   Nor do I want to.

3) I am never having kids
Seriously.  I know I always joke about this, but now I really think it's official. 
Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.  These kids really aren't the worst that they could be.  However, they are disrespectful, unmotivated, and have no sense of responsibility.  Not to mention they are beyond spoiled....which I have already mentioned.  But whose fault is that?  The parenting here certainly leaves a lot to be desired.  Last weekend, I went to visit a famous city with some of the other tutors that are here on the same program.  We spent the majority of the time venting about our kids and comparing parenting tactics.  Empty disciplinary threats and disrespectful kids (from ages 5-18) were common themes of discussion.  So maybe I will have kids, though at this point it's seeming unlikely, but at least I have learned some things about how not to parent.

4) The importance of social skills
More specifically, how to talk to people that come from different places than you and who have different personalities.  I know that one of my weaknesses is that I struggle to respect the view points of other people when they are different than mine, especially on points such as gay rights, politics, and other issues surrounding social justice.  At the same time, I think one of my strengths is standing by what I believe in.  So finding the middle is something I have wanted to improve on for a while now.  Anyway, the reason I mention this is because on the weekend trip with the other tutors, I found it really interesting the group dynamic considering that we were all from different parts of the U.S.  The Midwest dominated (represent!) with 3 of the 7 of us being from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  Two others live and work in South Dakota, but are originally from Minnesota as well.  Then we had both coasts with Massachusetts and California.  It was clear that our personalities were not all destined to click right off the bat, and it was also the first time many of us had met.  It was a good challenge to know how to act around each other, how to carry on conversations, and even how to make decisions.  Even though there were some times when you could cut the tension with a knife, I really enjoyed the weekend for the experience that it was.  I couldn't think of another time when I had been with that many people in differing stages of life from various parts of the country.

5) The future freaks me out
It didn't really sink in to me when school got out, but this is my last "official" summer.  I actually have to start to think about what I'm going to do after this school year, which I absolutely hate.  I am a here and now kind of person, so thinking into the future tends to give me anxiety.  I'm also not a fan of planning.  Basically, this situation is everything I dread in life.  So what next?  Good f....g question.

In 13 days, my bags will be packed, I will say farewell to the suburbs, and I will be on a plane heading to Thessaloniki, Greece.  From there it's 2 weeks in Macedonia and Bulgaria, visiting some very good friends.  This is the part of my trip that has given me something to look forward to and kept me going when those damn English classes make my hair fall out.
And despite this trip not being everything I had hoped and dreamed, I still love to travel and want to see the world, and I still am aspiring to be an expatriate (see Facebook profile, about me section).  There are a lot more things that I have learned here and there about myself, and I'm not done yet so I know there are more lessons to come in the last month I have away from home.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blue Eyes, Bad News

The end of another week has come and gone and I can't believe how fast the time is flying.  On Wednesday I will have been here for a month already, with only one month left to go.  This weekend was...interesting.  Not as crazy as last weekend going out in Madrid, but maybe it's a different kind of crazy?  I will let you be the judge.

Friday night, another language assistant who lives in Madrid sent me an e-mail and invited me to meet up with her and another girl at 7 in the Plaza Mayor, which is basically just a big square that seems to attract a lot of tourists.  We were supposed to meet at the statue right in the center.  Well, we had some communication issues because I had thought I wouldn't get there until 8 and said I would call them when I got there.  But, of course I got there just after 7 and, hoping that they just hadn't gotten there yet, I decided to sit on a bench, people watch until they came, and if I didn't find them, go home.  It was prime people watching hour since there were a ton of tourists groups, several of them American high school students.  I got a kick out of watching them wander around and at one point a few boys sat near me and since I have a bad habit of eavesdropping, caught some of their conversation.  "What do you want to do?" "I dunno...I'm confused" "I think there's like some big market thing over there *pointing in the wrong direction*" "I thought it was over there *pointing in another wrong direction*"  "Man...I don't know....I'm so confused."  I smiled at myself for not feeling like such a tourist anymore.

I had been sitting for about 3 minutes when in my right peripheral vision I saw an old Spanish man approaching the area holding a newspaper.  I would guess he was probably in his late 60's.  He stopped, looked towards my direction, then made a bee-line for the bench and sat RIGHT next to me.  Unnecessarily close since there was an entire circle of hot cement bench he could have sat on.  Oh, yeah that's the other thing.  This "bench" is basically just a circle of stone around a light pole made to sit on, however it was so hot.  I thought my ass was going to start on fire.  Anyway, I continued to scan the square watching for Amanda and this other girl, hoping my obvious attempts to be looking for someone else would discourage this old man from trying to talk to me, but could feel him staring at me.  He started talking to me anyway.  He had one of those "I've been smoking for most of my adult life" voices.  I was immediately reminded of those terrifying movies they showed us in D.A.R.E. of people who have to breathe through a hole in their neck.  I felt a little bad ignoring him, so I said hello but tried to use body language to get my point across that I wasn't about to have a conversation.  He kept talking to me, but I basically just answered whenever there was a pause  with "si si" and didn't really engage or listen.  Then at one point he said something and then was looking at me as if waiting for a response, so I said 'I'm sorry what?'  to which he replied 'Do you want to go?  With me for a tea, coffee, just a little place over there.'  I had to think twice if he was really, actually asking me to go with him to get a tea, coffee and quickly rejected this odd offer with 'No no thank you I am waiting for some people.'  Then he kept telling me something about he was going to leave and go for a walk.  I just kept nodding, thinking to myself 'Good for you...I am not going with you, Grandpa Weirdo'.  But he just kept staaring at me.  That's when I realized it was because he was trying to see my eyes because I was wearing sunglasses.  Finally he asked if he could see them so I pushed them up for a quick second.  After saying something about blue, skies, angels and some other weird stuff, he said he was leaving. After awkwardly lingering, still staring, he finally got up and left.  At that point, I thought I should probably just go before things got weirder.  But, I still was hoping to find the girls so I told myself I'd wait a little longer and leave at 10 to 8.  All this time in the square there are character people, like the people on Hollywood Blvd dressed like celebrities, taking pictures with tourists.  Near me was a Jack Sparrow impersonator who was going around bothering the little high school girls, taking pictures for and with people.  Not 5 minutes after Grandpa Weirdo left, he came and asked if he could sit down in the open spot next to me.  I nodded yes, and tried the scanning tactic that didn't work with Gramps in hopes that maybe this guy wouldn't talk to me.  Do I have to say that it failed?  However, he was less creepy (not hard to be) and seemed to just want to chat while he took a little break from prancing around in the sun.  We had a nice casual chat, but he too kept staring at me.  Then, just like the old guy, asked what my eyes looked like since I was still wearing my sunglasses. So I took them off but immediately felt weird.  There's something about wearing sunglasses that makes you feel like people can't actually see you.  Is there some book that teaches Spanish-speaking men phrases to say to women with blue eyes?  Because he basically said the same things about blue as the sky, angels, heaven blah blah just like Grandpa Tea, Coffee.  But, then he got up and went back to his Jack Sparrow antics and we said farewell.  After a few minutes I decided enough was enough and I should get out of there while I could.  As I was leaving, Jack Sparrow yelled after me and came and said "You're leaving? If you wait a little while we can go get a cup"  I definitely did not want to be in that Plaza anymore so I said "Oh that would be nice but I should really get going. I live kind of far away," so then he said "Well let's get lunch tomorrow! Why not?"  I paused.  Did one of those quick evaluations of the situation and my curiosity of this person who makes a living as a Jack Sparrow character got the best of me, so I said "Yeah..why not?" and agreed.  I promise he was not nearly as creepy as the old man.  Once I got home, I began to think "What the hell?  Why did I agree to that?"  But I couldn't bring myself to ditch out the next day and afterall, I wanted to meet some interesting people while I was here.  Just in case, I planned out some retorts in the event that things took a turn for the worst: "Excuse me Mr. Sparrow, but do I look like a bottle of rum to you?!?"  "*Face slap* You scallywag! I'm no bar maid!"

So I went back yesterday at 1 and there I found the Jack Sparrow man, not dressed as Jack Sparrow.  We went to a little restaurant he knew and had a nice lunch.  He's actually a pretty interesting person. I learned his story, that he's actually from Colombia and came to Madrid 6 years ago, a few months after his girlfriend/wife came, only to find that she had gotten with another man.  They have 2 daughters in Colombia and now the woman has 2 children with this new man.  A few days before had been his daughter's birthday, he said, and it was painfully obvious how hard it was for him that in order to try to make a better life for them he had to be so far away.  We talked a lot about what the U.S. is like, Colombia, a little politics (Che, because I said if he ever gets bored of Jack Sparrow he could probably pull off a Che Guevara), how he ended up as Jack Sparrow, music, among other things.  He was very nice, a little too liberal with the compliments but I decided to chalk it up to him being Latino.  When we parted, he gave me his phone number, but I still haven't decided if I will contact him again.  

Then last night the neighbors, Ibana and German, had a party.  Another language assistant, Kyle, just got to the area last week so they wanted to introduce him to me and Daniel, their tutor.  Kyle is from Minnesota and has been out of school 3 years teaching 3rd grade in South Dakota.  Poor fellow doesn't speak a lick of Spanish so he was glad for the English break with Daniel and I.  He was very nice -unfortunately, though, a Vikings fan.  At about 12, where most parents would be calling it a night, Ibana put on some music and everyone started yelling at the "Americanos" to get up and dance.  They started putting people into a line-dancing sort of formation, the men in a line on one side and the women on the other, paired up with a partner.  I was partnered up with Kyle who had less of an idea than I did as to what was happening.  Next thing we knew, everyone was doing some sort of Flamenco dance and randomly yelling "Ole". But for the most part, it looked like no one really knew what they were doing, or there had been a few too many vinos consumed by the masses.  So we created our own dance, a mix of "Flamenco", the Macarena, and Cotton-Eyed Joe.  After a while, the line-dance broke up, the Dads went to the table of liquor and the Moms continued to dance in a circle to some Spanish 80's pop, music from "their time" they kept saying.  By 1:30 a lot of the kids were begging their moms to go home.  Most people didn't leave until about 2:30, including me, at which time most of the kids were still up running around. 

I'm off to the pool now.  It's a heat wave here, although I didn't know it could get hotter! 

Hasta la proxima!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Skinny

A shout out and thanks to the love of my life Daven Raj for inspiring this title.  Since it's been a couple weeks since I posted anything, I'll give the best "skinny" I can and spare all the boring details, while still trying my best to entertain, mostly for Araceli and her hubby :)

Last time I wrote, I was planning my first bus excursion.  And indeed it was.  It was my first weekend and I wanted to get out of the house so I went to Madrid on Saturday afternoon, my host mom dropped me off.  There I met with my good friend Camila Pinzón's sister Maria who lives and works in Madrid.  Even though I was a little nervous, it all went stupendidly (until the return, but I'll get to that).  She met me at the random place I was dropped off at (still couldn't tell you where it was) and took me on my first metro trip to get to her apartment which is right in the center.  We met up with a friend of hers at a little restaurant for some drinks and conversation and after 2 tintos de verano went to the next place.  I am absolutely obsessed with this drink.  It's red wine mixed with club soda and it's soo good.  Summers are incredibly hot here and so this drink is really refreshing and probably going to become the best friend I will make during the next month and a half. We went from place to place, I got to see a good view of a different part of the city called Lavapies which is known for being where a lot of immigrants live (and we all know how much I enjoy my foreigners!) and then eventually her boyfriend met us after he finished work.  The best place was a bar/restaurant that was on top of a University library.  It was such a cool looking building with lots of character because it used to be a monastery and they kept all the old stone bricks in the new architecture.  However, I can't imagine much studying, or productive studying, would get done knowing there's a relaxing bar right above you.  I wonder if Student Senate would go for a new proposal for McIntyre...
Long story skinny, I had a really nice time with them and am really appreciative that they let me stay with them without knowing me beforehand.  Got lots of practice on my Spanish and got out of suburbia.  Sunday was the French open finals and we watched the match where, CLARO, Nadal won.
Then it was the true test of my ability to return to Wisteria Lane now that I had left.  The metro was super easy.  Then it came to the buses.  I had conflicting information because I remembered my host mom telling me that I should take either bus number 653 or 4 and Maria and her boyfriend had suggested 651 or 2.  All four buses go to Majadahonda which is a little town near my house and from there I have to take another bus to Boadilla which is the part I live in.  I chose the 2...but once on I started to realize all the bus stops are the same and since I don't know where to get off, I can't push the little button that lets the driver know to stop.  So a woman sat down next to me and I asked her "Which stop do I get off at to take bus number 567?" (That is my connecting bus number) She stared at me like I had just spoken Mandarin and in my head I rolled my eyes and thought 'Seriously..it's not that hard to understand someone who speaks WITHOUT a lisp..' so I rephrased and repeated myself to which she told me the next stop was the one.  I got off, took a look at the bus schedule that is on each bus stop seating area and as I saw that 567 would be coming any second, and turned to see it approaching.  Then I realized I didn't know if there was a secret signal you should give to have the bus stop.  A hand wave?  A hip thrust? I wasn't sure.  So I opted with no signal and thought making "eye contact" with the bus itself would solicit a stop.  Wrong.  Since it was a Sunday, the buses come less frequently, of that I was sure.  So I took my lended cell and called my host mom.  When she asked me where I was it was a long pause before I said "Uhhhh...Majadahonda?" "But where? What is near you?"  "Uhhhhhh....a white building that says De Diego and a round-a-bout." These are not very distinctive landmarks since there are as many round-a-bouts as there are people.  She frantically said she would try to find out where I was and hung up.  I wasn't worried since I knew I was in the right general area... I just didn't know how far I was from the right destination.  After a second phone call when I had found a person nearby to tell me what street I was on, which was Avenida España but I didn't understand that when they told me so I mumbled to my host mom 'Abenahialaa *trail off* España', my host dad pulled up and I was on my way to safety.  It should be noted that now, 2 weeks later, I have completely conquered the bus system as well as most of my way through Madrid.  My directional ability has either improved with age or maps got easier to read. 

The week that followed was uneventful, quite boring actually.  My host dad and brother and I went on a really fast trip to an old monastery called El Monasterio del Escolar.  I took just a few pictures because my host dad had a dentist appointment and was in a hurry. 

Last Monday, I was on babysitting duty and of course managed to get us locked out of the house.  Luckily the neighbors now have their tutor who is a guy from New York and he was able to find a ladder at his house and climb into one of the open windows.  I also attempted a tour/visit of Patricia's school on Tuesday, but it didn't go so well as the "boss of studies" of the English department was confused as to why I was there despite the fact that my host mom had spoken with the secretary the day before to OK everything.  She apparently had cleared it with a different "boss of studies" so the English woman (who was actually English and appeared offended when I insisted to speak Spanish to her not recognizing her accent right away) was less than helpful to show me around or take me to an English class.  

The English teaching has proved not difficult but not easy.  I'm finding it hard to explain why things are the way they are because...well I just don't know.  Being one of the rare grammar-nuts there are in this world, it comes easy to me and I've never needed to why things are they way they are so now I don't how to tell anyone else.  The mom and I have been having fun talks.  She is very interested in the US education system because she does not like the way Patricia's school works.  For example, she is just finishing this week her last week of school.  She is 13, in the 7th grade, and has to study for cumulative finals in all of her classes.  I don't know how many 13 year olds are able to memorize that much material for one test, but that's exactly what she does: sits with her book, reads it in her head trying to memorize the words on the pages rather than actually ever learning anything.  This is a trying task for most college students.  I can see Oli's frustrations.

Overall observations: one of the strangest things is the milk.  It was something I also noticed in Costa Rica, but they do not refrigerate unopened milk.  It's also sold in packages in stores and on shelves instead of in refrigerators.  Out of an entire isle, there was just one small section with a fridge of fresh milk.  Milk is already pretty gross to me, but milk that sits in a cupboard until you open it??? What is that!?  I was also expecting to eat more fresh meals/less processed food than I do at home but so far it has been about the same.  Most of what we eat is processed.  However, my mom isn't the greatest cook so that may be a factor.  She really likes to make a lot of things into a "puree" which I thought was just something mashed but in her technique it becomes a texture comparable to baby food.  Some days it's orange, and I'm only guessing from taste that it was something with carrots, and other days it's white/cream colored, something like potatoes.  I find it's better not to ask.  They also keep insisting I try this disgusting vegetable juice. 

As for the biking.  Up until Thursday I had managed to dodge all offers for bike rides, mostly from my host brother.  I think he is more relieved than I am when I reject his offers with something like "Ohh I was just going to take a shower!" or "Ohh, noo all of my shorts are in the laundry! (not)" since my skills on hills aren't up to par.  But when the dad offers I have a harder time saying no and it's good to have some kind of force making me go and do something.  Luckily, the chain broke and so I only had to suffer through 45 minutes of discomfort.  It must have something to do with the amount of years it's been since I habitually rode bike (in other words, the amount of pounds gained in said years), but I do not remember it being so damn uncomfortable in the buttox region before.  I did a little happy dance in my mind when after several mishaps throughout the ride, my host dad noticed it was broken and I got to walk the rest of the way.
I have gone on a couple runs which is actually a lot better.  But I think at this point anything I do will be better than riding a bike.  However, I need to go on a lot more of them because my host mom is more obsessed with ice cream than I am, which I had no idea was possible.  I actually fear I might die of Haagen-Dazs poisoning before the summer ends.

That's the skinny, sorry it's kind of still a fat one anyway.  Maybe more frequent updates will make for less of a task for my dear readers, if I still have any by this point of the blog.   

Friday, June 3, 2011

Vamos en Bici

Yesterday was my first day actually doing what I came here for (aka teaching English).  Oli wanted me to start with Jose, my "host brother" who is 18, at 10 am with our first one hour English lesson.  I had a little trouble waking up when my alarm went off at 9:30 because I am still trying to adjust to the time change.  I do fine once I'm up, but then after a few hours I feel like I haven't slept at all.  So I met with Jose who will have his English exam in September, as well as Math and Chemistry which he failed this year.  He has to take the exams over in Sept in order to get a good enough grade to go to University.  His summer is going to be spent doing a lot of studying.  We went through his English book and I realized I need to do some studying as well.  I asked him to tell me which units/topics he has the most trouble with and he said "I have trouble with the passive impersonal and the causative." And I stared at him like ".....the what?..." So I will also be doing a lot of studying of my own language while I'm here.  We did a few exercises but without being able to explain exactly what these tenses mean or why use them, it was a little difficult.  After lunch, I watched TV with my host mom, tried to stay awake, but alas took full advantage of the siesta time.  When Patricia came home from school we had our first hour together.  She "forgot" to bring home her English book so we had to use the notes she takes to study.  Her exam is in 2 weeks and it's on everything they have been studying since September.  She is 13, so I tried to follow the advice of my TEFL adviser who said 13 year olds will like gossip magazines and talking about boys.  Yeah. Right.  Practicing comparatives and superlatives (better/worse than, the best/worst) I said "Who is the cutest boy in your school?" She just stared at me.   Maybe older boys?  "Are any of your brother's friends cute?"  "My brother's friends are....mmm...feos"  So I thought, well she must think there are some cute celebrities? "What famous people do you think are cute?"  "I don't know any famous people" she replied.  I went on google images and typed in Brad Pitt.  Wasn't impressed.  Oookay still in the "boys have cooties" stage, I take it.  Thank you wise TEFL adviser.....
Then I thought okay maybe it's easier for her to identify that girls are pretty.  So I typed in Angelina Jolie and then Tina Fey.  Without hesitation she chose Angelina Jolie as being prettier than Tina Fey.  Haha.  Then I let her have the last 10 minutes for what I thought would be something fun and went to Youtube to find a clip of a 13 yr old appropriate American tv show.  Hannah Montana?  She doesn't like Hannah Montana.  I didn't protest.  So the only other thing I could think of was Suite Life of Zack and Cody.  I laughed...she stared...even though she said she could understand what they were saying.  When the hour was up she wanted to show me a video.  It was a 30 second cartoon on Youtube in Spanish. Something about a boy that didn't want to eat his dinner, the mom was this big scary lady that looked like a human version of a rhinocerous who came running at him yelling something in a deep voice and then chopped his head off.  Fin.  No wonder she didn't think Suite Life was funny....

Before dinner, Jose, Jose Antonio (the Dad), Patricia and I went for a bike ride.  Well, they first asked if I wanted to run since I had asked where I should go if I wanted to run.  And considering that the dad is a triathlete I thought I ought not embarrass myself right away by trying to run with the man.  They wanted to show me the "camino" (path) where they run and ride bike.  So I got on one of their bikes then quickly realized that I couldn't even remember the last time I rode a bike.  But I figured it wouldn't be so bad.  Well the "camino" was like a path only hardcore mountain bikers ride on.  Hills, sand, more hills, trees, divets in the road from rain.  Have you ever tried riding a bike in sand?? It's frickin hard.  Jose Antonio ran while the rest of us were on bikes.  I almost ate dust...or dirt rather...more than a few times and the chain kept falling off.  But overall it wasn't so bad of a ride.

Today, Jose and I had "class" again at 10 and we decided that Fridays would be a "free" day where we could just talk about whatever and not study from his book.  We mostly talked about sports and what he likes to do, and showed each other videos on Youtube of what we were talking about that one of us hadn't heard of before.  He told me he wants to go "base jumping" and showed me this crazy video of people jumping off of some of the highest cliffs in the world and just flying through the air in wingsuits forever before opening a parachute.  Insanity. 

After that I had my first session with Oli, the mom, who showed me on Google Earth where we are and explained some bus things to me.  Then I showed her Wisconsin and all the towns I live in haha.  Then she said "Now, go out and get some air with Jose. Go for a bike ride." Oy vey.  Another bike ride.  Well I couldn't say no.  But my god the minute I got back on that thing I realized how much my butt hurt from yesterday.  I had to pedal standing up for the majority of the first 45 minutes.  Not just because my butt hurt but also because that was the only way to get anywhere when riding through sand.  He wanted to show me a different way, the one he usually goes on I guess, which was much longer, and way..way..harder.  For the majority, we were going downhill.  Easy peasy.  Until he stopped and said we were going back and I realized that meant we had to go all the way back uphill.  Did I mention that pedaling in sand is really hard?  Did I mention it's even harder when going back up the way you've just come down?  I walked. A lot.  But it was good exercise.  Can't wait to see how great my butt feels tomorrow...
At 5, I had my hour with Patricia.  We worked on tongue twisters and pronouncing 's' and 'sh' which sound exactly the same when she says them. So, "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" sounds like "See sells sea sells by the sea sore".  Darn that Spanish lisp.  After our lesson she wanted to play badminton, so we played for a little while but there was too much wind.  Then she tried to teach me this game they have in their yard which is a smaller version of tether ball, but she hit me in the face with the ball.  So not only will I have a sore booty tomorrow, but also probably a black eye.  We went inside and played a safer game.  Monopoly.

I have weekends free so I am going to try to attempt to go to Madrid tomorrow using the buses.  I haven't used them yet but Oli has explained them a lot to me and I have to do it at some point. I am going to meet my dear amiga Camila's sister once I'm in the city.  I will hopefully take more pictures and meet some more people this weekend (unless I do in fact wake up with an egg for an eye tomorrow, then all bets are off).  Next weekend the American tutor will be here for the neighbors and hopefully we can do some exploring together.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And now....España

Buenos días!  Last year was an amazing year in my life because of the incredible experience I had studying abroad in Costa Rica - memories I still think about constantly.  Here I am, Summer 2011, and I am fortunate enough to be spending it in Madrid, Spain.  Well...almost Madrid.  I am living with a family, to be their English tutor, in Boadilla del Monte which is just outside of the city. 

I left on Tuesday, May 31, from Madison at 7am and got to O'Hare with 2 hours to spare before my flight at 12:45.  The lines were crazy, I think there was a group of about 30-40 Italians in front of me for check-in and they were also on my flight.  I arrived to Atlanta at 3:30 and misread my ticket which meant I went to Gate A when I was really supposed to go to Gate E to board my connecting flight at 4:05.  Needless to say... I was running.  If there is one thing I dislike, it is running.  If there's something I dislike more, it's running through airports.  I looked like a fool I'm sure but I made it just in time.  The lady next to me on the flight was very sweet.  She and her family are from Georgia but live in Madrid doing some sort of mission work and we had some nice chats about jobs and travel and teaching.  When we landed she gave me her contact information if I ever needed a "change in scenery".  The line through customs was also long and once I got to the baggage claim I thought that my larger suitcase was lost, but it turned out it had just fallen off the roundabout thing and the same woman on the plane helped me find it.  My host mom and dad were waiting with a sign that said "Katie" and they had been quite worried since the flight technically landed at 7:30 and I didn't get out to meet them until 9:00am (Wednesday).  They brought me to their house and we chatted along the way and I know already I am going to get along great with them.  They are very, very nice and easy going.  I was completely exhausted since it was technically 3am for me so when I got to the house they let me nap until lunch at 2.  When my mom came to wake me up I felt like it was a different day and I was still totally exhausted.  I had my first Spanish meal.  Not really sure what it was.  Two different kinds of pasta, one made with a tomato kind of sauce and the other was a bit like tortellini.  I made the mistake of telling my host mom when she asked me if there was anything I didn't like to eat that I didn't like milk so now she thinks I won't eat anything that's even made with milk.  She could not believe it when I told her.  "But...everyone likes milk, no??" I laughed and she said "No really....in Spain everyone likes milk."  So the tortellini pasta she told me not to eat because it is made with milk. I laughed and had to tell her that I CAN and like to eat things made with milk, I just don't like to drink it by itself.  We had a nice lunch, talked about lots of different things, mostly in Spanish but sometimes in English.  I see that Spanglish will be quite popular in the household while I'm here.  My mom, Oli, is so cute and we already have had a couple funny misunderstandings.  She asked me what time was it in the US and I didn't know because I didn't know what time it was at that moment in Madrid.  So I asked her what time it was and she thought I didn't understand her question.  So she kept trying to tell me "No I mean in the US" and I kept saying "I know, but what time is it here?" and back and forth. Finally we got it cleared up.

After lunch I unpacked, took a shower FINALLY and changed into different clothes.  Then Patricia came home from school and I got to meet her.  Oli says she is very shy so she made her show me around the house and yard.  She at first tried talking to me in English but was nervous.  Then her brother told her that I speak Spanish and that made her excited that she didn't have to try to communicate only in English with me.  Could be a downfall in my success as their teacher.  I'll have to lay down some laws.   Then Oli took me to see the train station and the bus stops that I can take to get to Madrid.  Then we went to the mall nearby where I quickly came to the realization that I did indeed over pack and will most likely be buying another suitcase for all my new purchases. No bueno.  Better to stay away from the mall for now.
It was not much different than any mall in the US, or the ones in Costa Rica, except it also has a grocery/Wal-Mart type store in it.  We bought some groceries, she tried to get me a card for the cellphone they are lending me but couldn't find one, and I bought a new watchband.  She also bought us ice cream so we are pretty much going to get along splendidly.   We ran into a problem with my laptop charger because I didn't bring an adapter with me.  While we were grocery shopping, Jose Antonio, my host dad, was trying to find a store that sold them but he couldn't find one.  On the way home, we had an idea to ask the neighbors across the road who have an English tutor coming in a week and a half to buy one and bring it with him when he comes.  Ibana, the neighbor, actually already had an adapter that an American who lived with her before had bought so she lent it to me for the time being, until we can find the place that whoever it was bought the adapter from because apparently they bought it here.

Now I'm finally in my room relaxing.  It's almost 9pm and its still very light outside so it feels a lot like home.  It also feels like 5 days have passed instead of just two.  I am reallly tired still, but trying to stay awake to get used to the time change.  Tomorrow Oli wants me to start doing some English lessons with Jose.  Haven't explored too much or taken any pictures yet but hopefully soon!