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News flash: Ricky Martin lives! October 26, 2007

Posted by Emily in Spain, Uncategorized.

And he’s even put out a song I really like, with La Mari from the Spanish group Chambao. She also sings in a new commercial for Andalucía.

Who knew he has so many tats?


Puttin’ me in my place October 25, 2007

Posted by Emily in moving, Spain, working.

When it rains, it pours. The internet is still in flux, so what follows probably should have been three posts, not one:

Sometimes Spain and I have a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, life here is so mellow–there was an article in yesterday’s paper about the fact they don’t have a translation for “workaholic.” Today, like last Friday and next Thursday and Friday, was a holiday. So many people work from 9 to 2, at which point they go home, spend time with their family, eat together…and then there’s time for walking around the neighborhood, for kids’ soccer games and dance classes, for shopping or meeting friends for coffee. Spaniards live in the streets–at 11pm on a Tuesday, the street in front of my house is filled with people chatting, kids playing. One of the teachers I work with told me this week that sometimes she feels like other countries don’t really appreciate the day–the whole day. On the weekend here, the bars are filled with young people, but there are also many couples, people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, out, dancing, having a good time…at 3,4 in the morning. Social life is huge and doesn’t seem to ever slow down much.

At the same time, the fact that no one really works all that much, along with the fact that Spaniards have a certain affinity for paperwork and no real need for efficiency, can make certain “simple” things much less so. I’ve been reminded of this on a couple of occasions in the last couple weeks. Luckily, events like these are fairly rare–certainly a lot more rare than holidays around here.

Despite all of the pains with my visa, along with paying the couple hundred dollars required to get one, the one I received is only valid for 90 days (which happens to be the same amount of time Americans can be in the Schengen states WITHOUT a visa….but apparently that’s beside the point). In order to work, I needed a visa, mostly because it serves as a ticket to the next level of bureacracy: the dreaded NIE (número de identidad de extranjero, or foreigner identity number). I had read on other auxiliar blogs about this process and had come to see it as a rite of passage here. But even when you know what to expect from Spain, it can still surprise you with its absurdity.

NIE Step One: Get a bank account. Simple enough, right? I opened one when I lived in Murcia, so I thought it would be fine. Well, after much asking around about good banks (some don’t have sterling reputations here), I was directed to choose between la Caixa, BBVA, or Santander, all from País Vasco (Basque region) or Cataluña (where Barcelona is). Funny that super-nationalist Spaniards recommend banks from separatist regions, but that’s beside the point. Since there’s a Santander near my house, I woke up early one morning to try and open an account, a requirement for a NIE. I gave myself over 2 hours. It was early and I was exhausted. After 45 minutes of being told surely I have two last names (as all Spaniards do), surely that isn’t my postal code in the U.S., surely I don’t understand the woman, so she should just keep repeating the same things over and over, surely my phone number is longer, or shorter or whatever, I looked up to see a little tiny sign for CajaSur, a local bank. I went into the wrong place. So I try to say I’m in a hurry, that I will come back another day, but after the hour-long interview, the woman wasn’t backing down. I left with a CajaSur bank account and was supposed to receive a PIN in the mail in a few days (note: it has now been over two weeks)

As I exited CajaSur, I decided (foolishly) that I had time to try again at Santander, that I would just close the CajaSur account. Santander and CajaSur both have red storefronts, have really similar logos…and are about 20 feet apart. There are more banks here than euros, it seems. No wonder I screwed it up.

At Santander, you walk into a front entryway and then have to step up to this glass door. It’s fairly common here to have to slide your card to enter a bank, though usually only after hours to use the ATM. I step up and another door closes behind me…it’s sort of like a phone booth, but smaller. I’m claustrophobic. Then I figure it out: Santander is from País Vasco, and it’s a metal detector to detect bombs. A woman gets on the phone to tell me to leave my metal objects in one of the lockers in the entryway. I can’t figure out what metallic objects I might have, but I put my purse in one of the lockers, minus my passport, and try to lock it. No go. Fifteen lockers, almost all with keys in the door, and I can’t get any of the keys to turn. I’m not going to leave my purse in the hallway while I’m inside for God knows how long. I go back into the scary glass box, hoping to ask her if there’s something I am missing, but she just shrugs at me. She’s not going to come out here and help a possible bomb-toter like me. Fifteen minutes later I decide I really don’t want an account at a bank I can’t seem to enter, and I head off to class. I’m a CajaSur account holder.

NIE Step Two (Americans only): Go to a random government office to get your ID number, so that you can put it on your application for the residency card. My principal only learned that I needed this a bit ago, so she tells me at 1pm on a Thursday afternoon. Friday is a holiday. I push my luck and catch a bus at 1, hoping to squeeze in before they close at 2. After entering two wrong doors, I find the office–about 1:45. Every chair at every desk is full. Magically, no “take a number and await your turn” machine, as there are at the post office, to buy bread, etc etc. A guy from the office asks me “How did you get here?” I reply, “Bus.” All 15 people in the office laugh, a bit too heartily. “No,” he says. “Work visa, student visa….?” Silly American.

NIE Step Three: Submit your residency card application at the main police station on the outskirts of town. Finally, I felt somewhat prepared. I’d read about what a nightmare this is. I’d seen photos of thousands of immigrants lined up in Madrid. Córdoba doesn’t have as many immigrants as most places, and certainly not as many as Madrid, so I knew it wouldn’t be quite as bad here, but I wasn’t sure how bad. I woke up at 5 am last Friday, took a cab to the station and arrived about 5:45. My spirits were high when I saw there were maybe 10 people on the curb. But within a few minutes, I realized the car across the street had 4 people in it, and 4 in the next car, and the next one…all the way down the street. They had slept there. Might be a long morning. I listened to my new iPod (thanks again, Megan!) for a little while, as subtly as possible, before deciding it wasn’t the greatest idea. The woman next to me had a big plastic bag with her–suitcase replacement? All she owns? I couldn’t be sure. About an hour into the wait, I realized people were walking to this random red car. They must have a list, I figure out. So I go up, knock on the window, and the Bulgarian guy insides hands me a pen and a piece of paper with handwritten names. Not the most official, but I am not going to be all high and mighty and then at the end of the currently non-existent line. I add my name to space number 31, after probably 5 or 10 people who arrived after me. Great. Two British girls I know (one I work with) and an American, all in my same program, arrive around 7 and I direct them to the random red car. “I feel like I just took part in a drug deal,” one of them says.

At 9, the station opens and all of us immigrants are directed across the street under a big tree, so we won’t be in the way of Spaniards going to the station. There’s two lines–for EU members and non-EU members. I thought being a non-EU would be a drawback, but I didn’t consider how many Romanians and Bulgarians, both recent EU additions, would be there. When the policeman came out and handed out random photocopied tickets with numbers, five for each line, I got No Comunitario 5. And then we waited. Apparently, every morning there are 25 appointments–but one has to get an appointment months in advance. Right now they are taking appointments for 2008. After that, they start admitting people from the lines. I didn’t know this at the time, so waiting outside for so long without hearing anything started to get to me a bit. Finally, at 11:30, a policeman deigned to walk to the lines and get those with numbers, myself included. We were lead into a small waiting room (of course, with more people than chairs) where a magical door would open every few minutes, a Spanish woman would present herself and yell out a number or a strange Spanish approximation of a foreign name. If your name/number was called, you ran to the door or she’d move on. Then she’d slam the door. Over and over again for almost two hours.

The woman next to me had two kids, one about 2 and the other about 5. She hit the 5 year old so hard, really slammed him on the head, on the chest, but no one seemed to think child abuse was strange in the police station. I had to move away when another seat was vacated. And then there were the Bulgarians and Romanians. All of the rest of the immigrants were from Central or South America (or one rando americana…) so they all spoke Spanish. But the Bulgarians and Romanians didn’t, there was one translator that they brought along for about 50 of them, so the scary Spanish woman would yell at them “Soltero o Casado?” (“Single or Married?”) again and again, then roll her eyes and slam the door. I could recognize the absurdity, but couldn’t really laugh about it until later, about the same time that I discovered that the tree under which we waited apparently had many birds, at least one of which had left a present in the hood of my sweatshirt. Let’s add insult to injury. I am smiling and shaking my head now, wishing I could tell this (very long) story in person. Brevity has never been my strength.

A little after 1, my number was finally called. They needed the original letters from the GF and Missoula police saying I wasn’t a criminal, the letter from my doctor (although the woman spoke zero English and couldn’t read it…), a couple other things, my fingerprints. Then I had to leave, go to a bank and deposit 5.59 euro, return to the station, wait for another 15 minutes, and give them the receipt. That’s it (well, except that I have to return in 30 days to get the card). My actual appointment lasted about 5 minutes. In the time the station was open between 9 and 2, a total of maybe 20 people from the lines were able to submit their applications. Another 75 or so, I would guess, will have to return another day. I got lucky. Despite the eight hours in line, the slamming door/child abuse room, and the bird poop, I feel like I’ve conquered the system…at least for the next 30 days, or until I try to submit my library card application. Or get the internet, for that matter. The customer service guy hung up on me yesterday when he heard my foreign accent, after about 10 words. Welcome to Spain.

Año Cero / Year Zero October 16, 2007

Posted by Emily in Spain, working.

(note: this was written a little over a week ago–Friday, Oct. 5–after three days of classes at the school and a lot of bulletin board building. As my roommates and I are currently engaged in a little do-si-doing with the internet company, this is the first chance I’ve had to post anything. For what it’s worth, the bulletin board still isn’t finished. )

After the long and mostly uninteresting orientation in Granada, where they told us to only speak English in the schools and that we should never be left alone in the class, I took a bus back to Córdoba on Tuesday night and reported for my first day of classes on Wednesday morning. Well, my school is in “año cero” of the bilingual program, or year zero. Many of the teachers speak no English at all, and the kids have only had it here and there for maybe the past couple months, often from these same teachers. There are a few teachers who speak fairly well, but as a whole, the English level is minimal. Now how exactly are we to speak only in English to these teachers who don’t speak the language?

About ten minutes into my first morning at the school, I was herded into a class of 9 year olds and left alone with a bingo game that was only 4×4 and whose spaces were blank. The kids had never played bingo before, as far as I could tell. The “only speak English” bit was somewhat shortlived, unfortunately. I explained that they needed to write words in the spaces, I walked around to make sure they understood (some much better than others) and then I read aloud some words for seasons and months, which I don’t know they had heard before. It was not a great success.

Apparently the P.E. teacher with whom I was supposed to spend half of my time, who is also the vice-principal, has a hernia, and thus won’t be in school for a couple months. I will be teaching 3rd year Science (to these same 9 year olds, I think) with a woman named Lola who is both extremely nice and one of the more accomplished English speakers. Next week we’re talking about the five senses.

The rest of my schedule is still up in the air, but may still include teaching P.E. The principal, in a bit of a pinch on my first day, asked whether I could prepare a lesson for the following day’s classes. I asked what kinds of things the kids were used to doing, and she replied, “I don’t know. I don’t think they play many sports. Maybe cooperative games or ways to know your body?” Uhhh…In the end, the vice-vice-principal guy took over and I went back to constructing a 12 foot high bulletin board on the U.S.A., which was being worked on by 6 teachers at one point on Wednesday. Lots of measuring and arguing about which colors are the best. We’re left alone on the content–the other auxiliar has the same space for England, but apparently got the message we were supposed to bring posters and maps and the like of our country/hometowns. My internet print-outs look pretty sad in comparison.

I think once things get a bit more settled in the school, assuming that happens, all will be well. The kids are cute and the teachers eager to learn. Plus, I have Fridays off. But come Monday…the bulletin board looms on the horizon. I kind of forgot how the artistic kids get awarded in grade school, while I always struggled just to cut in a straight line with my tiny scissors.

Practically cordobesa October 1, 2007

Posted by Emily in moving, Spain, Travel, working.

Phew. Despite all intentions to locate an internet connection earlier this week, I’ve been entirely preoccupied with finding a place to live and have really done little else. After arriving in Madrid on Tuesday afternoon, Pat met me and we took a train to Córdoba. I was glad to have him along for a number of reasons, including good company, as a bag carrier, and as a person with a Spanish accent, so the taxi drivers didn’t take total advantage of me. He was helpful on all fronts.

Córdoba is a beautiful city of mostly tiny, windy streets. When taxi drivers and buses drive down said streets like bats out of hell, people have to step into doorways to not be hit. The vast majority of streets in the casco antiguo are one ways, meaning one tiny two door hatchback can squeeze through if it folds the side mirrors in. Also, many streets, which already change names every couple of blocks, have two names posted–one is the old, the other the new. People use both, but maps only list one (but it’s inconsistent, naturally). This is when names are posted at all, which is maybe 40 percent of the time. Also, many apartments have old numbers and new, so the street numbers go like this: 4, 6, 8, 24, bloque 5, 12, 13. I knew piso (apartment) hunting would be an adventure, but perhaps this was more than I bargained for.

Also, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore when I realized things really WERE moving on the walls and it wasn’t just my jet lag. Lizards. Little salamander-type lizards, climbing on the walls. I don’t know how I feel about that.

As for the piso hunt, long story short–I looked at about 10 places. It was about 90some degrees outside and, despite wearing totally American comfortable shoes, the heat and the walking all day long led to some serious blisters. There was one piso in particular that I really liked, only 113 euros a month and with some Spanish guys, but in the end they didn’t choose me–it can be a bit of a popularity contest, and apparently my sweaty, tennis shoe wearing self wasn’t all that impressive. Huh. This was at the end of day 2.5 and seemed like a real roadblock.

So, when I finally happened upon a place the next day that was only a 7 minute walk to my school, I jumped at the opportunity, even though it’s a bit outside the center of the city and I’m currently living with two Erasmus exchange students–a French guy named Julian and a German guy named Sebastian. They watch TV with the subtitles on, dictionaries at the ready, and look up all the words they don’t recognize. They seem nice, and one room is still left to be filled.

The apartment is in a barrio called Fátima, and there’s a bar across the street called Bar Nene (nene is a term of endearment, like darling). Last night, the place erupted when Real Madrid scored. “Goooooooolllllllll!” I hear as I’m finishing reading Prep. At 2:30 in the afternoon, time for the main meal of the day, I hear frying pans; in the evening, it’s moms calling outside for their kids, people watching TV too loud, random flamenco music followed by “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. Someone in my building is a big fan of that song.

My room is decent sized and has a desk and a big closet. I had the choice between this one and another which was smaller but had its own patio. Seeing as how our apartment has three balconies, I went for the bigger room. I’m hoping to add flowers to the balconies soon–the flowers here are unbelievable.

The only really touristy thing I’ve done so far is go to the Mezquita one morning, since some old guy with gold teeth stopped me on a corner to let me know it’s free before 10 am. It was, as before, magnificent, and surely my photos won’t do it justice. Really, Córdoba as a whole is everything people think when they think of Spain. The walls are whitewashed, the people are animated, the tapas are (generally) free with beers, and people actually listen to flamenco. Should be interesting.

I’m here in Granada today at this amazing 4 star hotel for the orientation. The rooms are generally about 170 euros/night–the pool is beautiful, it’s totally modern, we’re having dinner here tonight and breakfast tomorrow. Also, there is a really intense automatic wash/dry/shower bidet electric thing on the toilet and a towel warmer that turns on when you turn on the shower. This, certainly, is luxury. 😉 Today, the lobby is sort of Americans as far as the eye can see, which adds another level of strange interest, too.

I’ll post more soon about my job and other interesting Spanish tidbits. I start at my school on Wednesday morning. Apparently, the regional government started this pluralingual program a year or two ago. All of the sudden, teachers who barely speak English were responsible for not only teaching half the time in English, but also ensuring that kids passed their exams. Take that, No Child Left Behind. So…I’ll be teaching the kids and, to some extent, the teachers. Carmen, the principal, seems really friendly and young and cool, and Natalie is the name of the British assistant who will also be at my school. More on that and other things soon.

About to add photos to Flickr and send out a new email with my address and cell phone number–my old number expired. Looking forward to hearing from you. Nos vemos!