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Lifted

Sooooo…I’ve had a very long hiatus, but I’m gonna give this blog thing another shot. Here goes:

It’s been two months since my return to Spain for my second year here as an English Teaching Assistant or, as we’re known here, auxiliar de conversación. I didn’t plan on being back here this time last year. I was certain I would return to the States, be applying to medical school, and participating in an Americorps program. But around late January, something stirred in me. I was passing by Palacio Real late one night, walking home, when I deeply breathed in my surroundings. “Can I take all of this in with the next few months to come?” a voice asked. This voice answered its own question immediately and told me “No.”

From there unraveled some of the most precious and memorable moments with strangers who have become so dear to me that the “No” that was a pebble grew into a boulder. And I began the process of my renewal, which Spanish bureaucracy makes painlessly easy! (note: please read sarcasm). I intend to make a quick summary of my last year with mainly the highlights from the months I failed to include in the blog. I struggled with trying to capture every detail and relaying it in my writing on this medium because for me, every detail was important and vital to constructing these experiences of my life as they were unfolding. However, after talking with Janel, she wisely informed me that I cannot bring you here with me to these sights and smells completely. As much as I strain, these are still just snippets of my currently reality and inherently not whole. Regardless, I still would like to include you on this journey if you would like the seat.

December-January: We had a break, a Puente, in early December. I got to go to my roomie’s hometown in Extremadura. I spent the time with her family and friends and getting to know the history of the city, Merida, which is pretty much built over Roman remains. I went home for the holidays…my first home, my birth home: London. I spent about 2 weeks there laughing in joy with my family. I bought Christmas presents on Oxford Street and in Wood Green. It was amazing to be back in London period. It carries parts of who I am. It was a little weird to be there during the holidays since I usually visit during the summer, when the English weather is tolerable for a distant grown Southerner, when I am out of school, and when the cost of the fare can be equally measured with the time spent. It was my first time there outside of this time from since 1993! Plus, I was without my brother and my mother. I’m used to one of them accompanying. But I had a blast!

February: Did a crazy thing and went to Barcelona for less than 24 hours to see Janelle Monae perform in the middle of the week. Two friends, Linnette and Aaron, and I took three separate flights to make it Barcelona on the day of the concert since we work at three different schools and thus have three different schedules. I felt bad about missing a day (even though I got the appropriate permission), so I wanted to make sure that I went to as many classes as possible even though I had a full day. I left my last class about 10-15 minutes before the bell and went straight to the airport. I basically left my school and walked straight onto the plane. By the time I boarded, everyone was seated; no one was even adjusting luggage. I was just happy to make my flight. An hour later, I was in Barcelona with about two and half hours before show time. Met up with my partners in crime, dropped bags and winter coat in the hostal, grabbed a bite, and went to the concert. It was an incredible show with confetti and balloons! It was definitely Wondaland! After a few strategic power moves, we got to meet some of the band members and a director after the show who knew Atlanta pretty well and relived memories of Buford Highway and Decatur. We also got into a deep conversation about I have come to dub as “the track,” the unspoken pressure we yungin’s sometimes feel from society in the States to already have a career, marriage partner (or close to), and children on the way. Then after feeling elated from our evening, we walked around Barcelona until we went back to the hostal to sleep in our bunk beds. Next morning, we explored a little bit more of Barcelona, turned our backs on a statue of Columbus, and reflected on the previous night on a pier, overlooking water.

I also joined an Afro-Contemporary dance class which my co-worker Irene would sometime attend.

March: I started off this month with the Global Classrooms conference. This is Model UN. I helped prepare 22 of my 3rd year students to speak, negotiate, and write about Animal Trafficking and Children in Armed Conflict as representatives of different countries. They all dressed up very “smart,” and I was proud to see them do so well. My little diplomats!!! 🙂

I also had the Fulbright mid-term Meeting in Pamplona. This is where they celebrate San Fermin with the Running of the Bulls. San Fermin is in July, so I was not involved in any of that. But I got to meet up with the Fulbrighters from around Spain and Andorra as well as Pamplona governmental officials and be spoiled by the Fulbright Commission on food, vino, and tours of governmental buildings.

I visited Erin and her hubby Luke in Bristol. We visited Bath and explored Bristol which was beautiful! My first real time outside of London (which may be just a little sad…).

I took up a piano class. Jazz and blues, baby! I love my piano teacher. I couldn’t ask for a better one. It’s just her, me, and the piano. No books. Just listening and playing and feeling.

April: Mommy! She came visit me for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is essentially Spain’s Spring Break. We stayed in Madrid and took day trips to Segovia and Cuenca. I really did miss her a lot, and I look forward to her coming to visit next year! My cousin also visited me this month from London. We did not watch the Royal Wedding and had a great time throughout the city. She supported me, along with friends Sam and Leah and co-worker/friends Kelly, and Irene, as I performed with my class at a metro stop for an event that celebrated dance! It was a lot of fun, and I did well enough that someone even thought that I was the teacher lol! Honestly, they were being too kind, but I did have a lot of fun. Afterwards, we went to a torta (Mexican sandwich) place and then a bar where we met up with my other co-worker, Cathy, and two more friends, Kevin and Renee. It was such a great night! Oh, and I got to see Adele perform.

May: My renewal was accepted. I am really loving my life in Madrid. I went to Granada with Leah which is one of the prettiest cities I have ever been to. I loved its ancient Arabic influence. The white buildings, the cheap tapas, and the Alhambra completed a series of breathtaking moments in springtime world I was lost in. If you ever get the opportunity to see the Alhambra firsthand, do not miss out. Its history is written on its walls. It’s amazing to think that humankind created such a gift, so perfectly blended with nature. It could’ve grown from the ground. I can’t even describe its depth without writing for the rest of the night. One of the best memories was a little kid in line named Yusef who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, plump cheeks showing a slight blush from the heat, a baseball hat, and big brown eyes. Every time his parents left him down, he would run into every direction. He locked eyes with me and complained if I tried to look away. He gave Leah and I kisses on each of our cheeks in appropriate Spanish custom. He added more joy to our blissful Granada.

Also, protests! Sol, a central plaza in the city, was overtaken by people protesting against the situation here. Unemployment is a little more than 20%. The plaza was jam packed on the first night. And continued to be full and people camped out and created their own little pueblo equipped with information tents to inform passers by as well as its own library, medical center, and farm (they took up the flowers that were around the statue and planted veggies).

June: Where had time gone? I was confused. My last month was jam-packed. I went to Andorra—got in and out without a passport. It’s a long story. Ask me when you see me. Andorra is a small country between Spain and France. I believe it’s the only country in the world that has Catalan as its official language. The Andorran Fulbrighters 2011 were an amazing group of individuals and were incredible hosts! I had another dance performance. I had a piano performance. I played “Birks Works” with a bassist and a drummer! I even had to improvise, but nerves overcame, it all worked out lovely. I had lunch with some professors on invitations to their homes. I felt such love and so grateful to all the wonderful people I got to meet and work with. I went to England for a week at the end of June until the beginning of July to attend my cousin’s birthday party. And some of my students found out that I speak Spanish…because obviously I don’t have a life outside of the school and since being outside of school doesn’t happen for me, having any knowledge of Spanish also isn’t necessary. I took a wonderful weekend road trip down South to Cabo de Gata in Almeria with my co-workers, Kelly and Irene, and Irene’s boyfriend Kevin. Spain is a beautiful country, and the landscapes change wonderfully. We hit the beach and relaxed and snorkeled! I meet up with one of my Spanish professors and the group of students his brought from Agnes Scott for the ASC Summer in Spain program as they passed through Madrid to Oveido. Oh and I saw Janelle Monae again, but this time in Madrid with the same partners in crime and some new ones who could make the trip this time.

July: I packed up, moved out, and went home to Atlanta.

September: Back in Madrid. I stayed with a professor I work with because I wanted to find a new place to live from my old apartment last year. She is one of the sweetest and most generous people I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths with. Her and her husband showed me such kindness for the week I stayed with them. I ended up moving back into my old spot due to some challenges with the new places and the love I have for the three women that I spent my last year with, although one has moved out.

Lots going on in Spain. There have been lots of protests against the cuts made to education. There have been quite a few strikes so far. The elections are coming up on November 20th. There was an Occupy Wall Street solidarity march on the 15th of October.

October: I’ve settled back in and begun work. I missed my kids. Everything seems a little easier this year because I know my role and I know most of my students. However, I have a lot of new students this year. How am I going to learn all these names?!

November: Present-day! I’ve gotten back into my routine and am officially a busy bee. I have continued my piano lessons and am looking to take up another dance class. I miss some of my friends from last year, but I’m looking to create new adventures.

When I was on the plane coming back, I thought, “What am I doing?” I felt a little afraid. I wondered if I was making the right choice. Everything that I have done and that has occurred since I’ve been back has told me “Yes.” I’ll be sure to tell you why.

We woke up on our last day with the intention of heading out of the general area we had spent most of our time. We were going to take a bus along the coast to get a different vantage point of the city. After breakfast, which we got from our gracious hostesses, we made our way back towards the place where we had started to catch the bus. That’s when Leah made one of her finest suggestions. There was a bagel shop we noticed on our way to the hostel and were so thrilled to see. We hadn’t noticed any bagels since we’d been in Madrid. While we didn’t necessarily have a craving for a bagel or missed it since we’d been away from the States, once we remembered that once upon a time they were readily available and how good they were, the desire for one kicked in. So Leah suggested that we grab a quick bagel before we take the bus, and it was so worth it. Tomato basil bagel with cream cheese! Oh how I, now, miss bagels! Quite satisfied, we headed towards the bus stop. Well, first, we headed towards the wrong one, noticing just in time to see the bus going in our desired direction stop at the right bus stop and take off. As the rain started up again (on and off throughout our whole trip), we walked to a bus stop further up slightly annoyed that we’d just miss our bus.

But then I’m reminded that sometimes you miss things for a reason, and you are exactly where you need to be in time and space. When we stopped looking down the road in hopes of seeing the next oncoming bus and turned around towards the sea, we found the most complete rainbow that I have ever seen in my life boldly holding its colors over the marine scenery. The man at our bus stop also took notice and seemed just as intrigued as we were. We three stood and marveled at the colors streaming above us, breathing in each hue delicately, for we knew it would not last, only linger in our memories.

We hopped on the bus and followed the coastline curves as they inclined to the high points of Marseille. Getting off on the last stop, we made our way down part of the route that we had come up by bus. I was reminded of New Orleans with some of the buildings and homes that I saw. I felt like I was back there for a second. After a long stretch of homes and buildings, we made it towards the Statue of David. The main attraction for me, however, was the sea. I am an island child, a child of the sun. It runs in my blood. I love hearing the layers of sound in the conversations of the shores: the water digesting the salt, the complicated sinusoidal pattern of the rise-fall-crash of merging waters, the deep throat call of sea birds, the smell of sea water rising above the movement. It captures all of me…Despite the grey clouds that followed us along our trip, sun shined scattered through their bellies and over and under their arms.

It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to even capture with a photograph. There’s always that one ray of sun that glimmers so gently on the sea’s surface that dissipates on the other side of my camera’s lens. But I make the effort to share these moments with you.

After that, we only found it appropriate to enjoy more French pastries. We shared this time, trying not to over indulge. We wanted to have North African cuisine for Lunch, and we didn’t want to ruin our appetites. There was district that Adele had marked on our map that had an Asian and African market. We thought that this district would have the cuisine that we were looking for. The bus had dropped us off at a metro station, so we headed back up to that point to hop on the metro and get closer to our destination. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find what we were looking for. There was a Mauritian place, but it was closed. However, we did find another church with great architecture and stunning statues and monuments.

We decided to keep exploring the city. Since we were near the train station, we went ahead and bought our tickets for the bus ride to the airport in the (early) morning. The station gave us a good perspective of the city and allowed us to get some nice shots, too. We stumbled through the small alleys and narrow roads of the city, seeing different neighborhoods and people. (Even found a Rastafari-inspired store). Since we were quite hungry by this point, we settled on eating at small place that served kebabs and the like with chips French fries.

Afterwards, we headed in the direction of the metro station to get back to the apartment of our hostesses. We found ourselves in a holiday market, and we browsed through the different items for sell. Leah looked for sweet, edible gifts for her family while I ordered a Nutella crepe.

We got back to where we would be staying for the night soon after and enjoyed another French dinner. After talking a bit with our temporary roommate, she left us to get to bed. (We had to be up at 4:00 am to get our bus and our flight.) We stayed up a little longer walking music videos (this becoming our theme song for the trip) and enjoying each other’s company with lots and lots of laughter, which pretty much took place the whole trip.

I really, really enjoyed my time in Marseille. I hope to visit it and other little cities in France, and of course, get back near the Mediterranean.

The thunder woke us up at 4 a.m., but besides that, we rested well in the hostel. We got ourselves ready and joined the other travelers in the kitchen, where we prepared a simple and satisfying breakfast of cereal and baguette. I really love baguette. Like really love baguette. And it was soooo yummy in Marseille. After breakfast, we decided to explore the oldest portion of the city; there was another cathedral there as well. As we waited in line to speak with the receptionist to give us some sense of direction, we started chatting with a young man from California named Robert who was there to try to join the French Foreign Legion. Since he was down for exploring, he accompanied us through our afternoon walk around Marseille.

Out the door and towards the shores, we came across a fish market. The fish was certainly fresh although the poor creatures were suffering a long, suffocating death as they weakly flapped about in a case with just enough water to wet half of their scales. We continued along the shores with the intention of checking out the oldest part of the town. There was a church that was highlighted on the map, simply marked as Cathédrale, so we subconsciously made our way there, not minding to step off the tourist path along the way. We marveled at the architecture as well as the street art that painted the streets until we undeniably reached our destination. Some of the church had been built thousands of years ago while the rest was more recent. It turns out that Robert’s studies were geared towards history and symbols, so he pointed out and explained the significant behind the different symbols within the architecture of the church. It was beautifully spontaneous how we stumbled upon Robert, how he joined us on our walk through the city, and just so happened to know all of the details behind the images and structures that we were engaging in this space for the weekend. It’s just something you can’t plan.

We lingered, moving along land with sea continuously at its side, noting the Notre Dame in the distance, a team practicing for a boat race, the rough rock face of sculpted buildings under the rainy grey skies of that afternoon. Eventually we ended up back where the morning fish market had taken place. Since Leah really wanted to try Marseille’s famous dish, bouillabaisse, and lunch had become the hour, Leah and I parted ways from Robert.

The restaurant that was recommended to us was not far from where we were. The restaurant was almost like a dining room. It was cozy and small with a warm personality. We were met by a hostess (who spoke English) and were seated in a corner to ourselves. There was no need to look over the menu, and we only had water to accompany our stew. It came with freshly made croutons and a garlic sauce, both of which you were supposed to eat with the stew. The combination of the three together was very flavorful, and we left satisfied.

With enough room for dessert, we decided it would be at a little chocolate shop Leah had found in a brochure. As we were heading up that way, we took pictures of the different monuments and impressive buildings. One monument in particular caught our attention, and we thought there might be more to it. It was in the other direction on the same road as the chocolate shop, so instead of having dessert just then, we headed in the opposite direction to get a closer look. It turned out not to be as expansive as we initially thought, but it wasn’t in vain (along the way I bought a pair of boots which I had been on the search for). We popped in and out of the stores along the long road and finally made our way back to the address listed on the brochure for some much desired chocolate to find that the spot had moved to another location. Since we had passed a bakery not too long ago, we decided instead to enjoy a French pastry rather than hunt for chocolate. After I bought one more pair of shoes (they were affordable and I had also been wanting a pair of this style for a long time….no judgments, people), we headed to the bakery. My imagination had been craving something with whipped cream and strawberries, and Leah’s macaroons. We were both in luck as the bakery supplied our taste buds’ desires and more! Since there was no room to sit and enjoy our sugary treats, we headed across the street to a little café and ordered cappuccinos. Since we didn’t know how to ask if we were allowed to eat food from outside of the café in the café (and didn’t have the desire to try to act the questions out with our hands and broken English/Spanish/Portuguese), we just drank our cappuccinos and headed back to the now vacant bakery to dine on our dessert.

As the day grew old, we realized that we should get back to the hostel, get our things, and head over to the house of the Coach Surfer that had offered to put us up for the next two nights of our visit. After laughing at a few Youtube videos together in the lobby of the hostel and eating the rest of our pastries in the hostel’s kitchen, we packed up and headed for the metro. Of course, as was only convenient, the skies opened up again and released a steady stream of rain. Yet despite our struggle to balance our umbrellas and bags with our wet hands and frustrations, we made it to the metro and our destination without much trouble. There was the car accident…but that wasn’t a problem. Once our coach surfer picked us up from the metro station in her car, someone hit us from behind. But it was a light bump, and there was no damage…”No pasa nada.” We arrived to her place where she and her roommate cooked us a traditional French dinner. We ate and talked over cultural perceptions and stereotypes about the French and Americans as well as the smaller things like their jobs and hometown.

It was a nice way to end another great day in Marseille.

I wish I could, but I can’t. I wish that my camera and words could capture all of the sights, rhythms, and aromas of my experience in Marseille. It was so full. Here is my attempt:

We, Leah and I, landed on Friday morning with tummies grumbling for food. After getting oriented, finding the bus that would take us from the airport to the city, briefly stopping at the tourism office, and arriving at our hostel, we set out for food. The clerk at our hostel, Adele, was so sweet and helpful. She suggested two restaurants to us. My travel companion is a foodie. Her research Fulbright grant concentrates on the Mediterranean diet, so she knows what to look for. One of the reasons we came to Marseille, other than the fact that it only cost us 20 euros, was a dish that it is famous for, bouillabaisse, which is essentially a fish stew. It makes sense that the dish would include fish as Marseille sits in the south of France right on the Mediterranean. Adele recommended a place that serve delicious yet affordable bouillabaisse and also another restaurant called Dos Hermanas. Once she assured us that it wasn’t Spanish food (which were trying to avoid just because we wanted to full immerse ourselves in the France and we can get Spanish food in Spain for the next few months), we set out to Dos Hermanas and decided to have the bouillabaisse for dinner.

We went the wrong way for 20 minutes. And while it was nice to get to know that section of the city, our stomachs protested the detour. Once we were finally on track, we found that our initiation to the French food experience still had not been paid; we had to walk up a large staircase and get disoriented again before we finally landed at our destination…a Spanish tapas restaurant. After we factitiously argued about whose fault this was, we were seated in the vacant yet vibrant restaurant by our hostess/waitress who thankfully spoke one of the three languages Leah and I knew between the two of us (on top of the Spanish and English, Leah knows Portuguese). We asked for the most French thing on the menu and were soon served a delicious creamy potato and cheese gratin served with a light side vinaigrette salad to accompany our small jar of white sangria.

With the freedom of having the restaurant more or less to ourselves (although we escaped Spain, we did not escape from the Spanish “timetable” and ate at the typical Spanish lunch hour of 2-3 o’clock), we fully indulged in the bright, enchanting flavors of the food, the “magical fermentation” of the sangria, and the laughter of company as we settled into vacation mode. After following up the meal with the light sweetness and dark richness of dessert, we headed to the cathedral Notre Dame by catching a bus.

The bus weaved through the city on the up path towards the cathedral. When we finally arrived, we were immediately enthralled with the view. The Notre Dame sits on a perfect vantage point of the city. From its heights, you can scan over the whole city, focus in on the shore and the yachts attached to it yet impatiently yearning to be carried away by the lull of the waves or the way the streets cut through layer of buildings and watch the cars disappear and reappear into the walls. We got there at the perfect moment: when the sky grew rich and dark in tint. The city gradually illuminated below us under the ink spilled sky. Taking a step back from each other and from the world, Leah and I wandered off to engage our own thoughts amongst the backdrop. I feel like I stood over that scene for a long time, drinking in the hidden corners and getaways of the city clandestinely away from thought and view when we were down below. It’s moments like these when time escapes me, and I escape myself and just…fade into the landscape…wander and wonder.

Leah and I rejoined to explore the insides of the Cathedral. The intimate glow and flickering warmth of the candles instantly captured my senses as we entered in from the cold. Seated in the painstakingly detailed religious trimmings of an ancient era, they ushered us into the quiet holy of the place supported by the echoes of the whispers and thoughts of the faithful and other travelers.

We decided to take the scenic route back to the hostel and walk down from the Notre Dame to the hostel through the uncovered spots now revealed to us high above the city. When we arrived to our hostel, we found ourselves surprisingly tired. Stuck on the “Spanish time-table,” we took a siesta, and then headed out for dinner, specifically heading to the same area in which we dined for lunch. As we browsed the menus hung in the restaurants’ windows, we did our best to make understanding out of the unfamiliar arrangement of letters that made up the French language. We got lucky with one menu since the chef was actually outside having a cigarette…well kind of lucky. He only spoke French, but his explanations came with elaborate hand movements that left a better impression of what was available for us to eat (i.e. pretending to cry as a symbol for onions). Leah’s culinary background came in handy during these explanations as well as she was quick to name the associations. Since we felt welcomed and well attended to, we decided on that spot for dinner. Trying to immerse ourselves in a French culinary experience, we selected a ratatouille galette and followed it with a chocolate, banana, and whipped cream smeared crepe. DEE-LISH-OUS!!!

Although our taste buds quickly became accustomed to the French palate, our tongues struggled to adjust to the French language. Most of the time, I started out with ‘bonjour,’ but ended up speaking Spanish quickly afterwards before realizing, “Oh wait, no, that’s not going to work here.” At one point Leah showed her appreciation by saying “grazie,” which is thank you in Italian. We eventually managed to get the hang of things and learned how to say simple phrases from the random and friendly strew of French people we met. Either way, it serves as motivation for the French classes that I hope to take in the near future.

After taking another scenic route back to the hostel, we prepared for bed and went to sleep to get rest for the next day of adventures.

I’ve made it through the first semester of the school year, and I realize that I haven’t told you about my experiences as an English Teaching Assistant (or auxiliar de conversacion…ETA is a terrorist organization in the north of Spain so that acronym is generally avoided), working, just my experiences outside of the classroom. As I have had time to understand and reflect upon the Spanish school system from multiple vantage points, I figure it’s time to share. A quick disclaimer, though. I keep in mind that these differences simply make it different, not worst or better. It is the cultural differences that make Spain unique, just like any other part of the world. And I would like you to keep that in mind, too.

My personal experiences within the American educational system have been rather positive. As a student, within the classroom I was accustomed to a certain format. As pupils, we listened to the teachers and did mainly as we were told. That’s not to suggest that we didn’t cut up every now and again; but in my high school’s honors and AP courses, cutting up mainly consisted of sneaking food or whispering in the back of class. We were very determined to do our best, which at times drove some of us into a highly competitive spirit. My memories of this particular ebb and flow of k-12 education dressed my ponderings of what Spanish classrooms might be like. I wanted to enter the classroom open, but when trying to quell the anxiety and excitement that kept rising within me before the first day of school, I resorted to the memories of my own positive experiences.

When I began working, I finally got to replace my memories with concrete experience. There were clear differences between two. First off, things in general were a little more chill. I tried to build up my professional wardrobe before I left, but it was all in vain. Jeans, a nice shirt, and my converses are more than acceptable for my job. The chill attitude applies to the lessons as well. Sometimes I won’t know what is going on for class until a day before, the day of, or even when I get there. However, this format allows my suggestions to be realized, and I get a lot of opportunities to plan lessons and lead in the classroom.

For example, back in the Fall, the kids were working on a stories and storytelling. It made me think of “A Children’s Story” by Slick Rick. Not quite sure of the appropriateness of its content for the standards of the school, I then thought of the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I thought it’d be a way to engage their listening skills and their understanding of the content (and get their attention of course!). Well it took a little while to get off of the ground, but it has evolved since that initial idea. The teacher I had pitched my idea to suggested a whole presentation on rap music and then, later, a series of presentations: rap, reggae, and rock. This past week, I have implemented the first presentation: hip hop/rap. I only got halfway through it during the first class. However, after talking it over with the teacher, we molded our plans once again, getting them more involved by teach them a bit of “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang, which of course was accompanied by them learning a dance move or two (the Running Man, the Cabbage Patch, the Wop, and of course, they walked it out, too J). These ideas and revisions are possible and welcomed due to the laid back aspect. However…

At times, it is difficult to adjust to the fact that there is no syllabus and what feels like a majority of the time, the lack of a curriculum. Coming from the mentality of having to have things so ordered and specific in the classroom (before the semester even begins) and working on an outlined continuum, it was surprising and a bit disorienting that lessons did not appear outright related from one week to the next in some of the classes that I was in.

I’ve already mentioned how this laid back atmosphere applies to censorship in my “Things Done in Spain” entry. I’ve heard cuss words within the classroom, and it’s just something that happens. It’s not really a big deal. It’s like someone speaking while the teacher is speaking: a quick diatribe is given and class continues. It expands the material I can use, too. Material is not completely dismissible for an allusion to specific topics or certain word. One teacher told me, “It’s real.” And it is true that sooner or later the kids will be introduced to the realities of the world (if they haven’t already). I see it as the fine line between wanting them to maintain their innocence as long as possible, but also giving them credit and not treating them like they are toddlers, rather than teenagers, who are wholly ignorant to the complexities and realities of the world.

They are definitely not babied when it comes to criticism on their grades either. I was surprised when a teacher went through the roster and called out each student’s grade for their last composition followed by personal commentary on how well and bad they did. Later on in the class, the teacher told one student that if he were to be graded at that moment, he would fail. And then something happened that I have never witnessed happen in my k-12 education. Two students (what is commonly referred to as the “good student”) stood up for the “bad student,” telling the teacher that that was inappropriate and asking who knows how well he’ll do at the end of the semester. Along the same lines, another teaching assistant told me that in one class when their grades were being called out, a student that usually doesn’t score very well did a great job on this assignment, and the whole class cheered and congratulated him. So while it seems harsh that teachers call out grades, I can honestly say that I have never seen students advocate for other students in that way. I found it incredible.

However, this is not the whole of my experience. Nor are the things I have mentioned everyday events. I have had teachers who model the teachers and system that I am accustomed to in the States, and those who have not. And if you ask another teaching assistant, you may hear different stories. I have. Some are similar, but our experiences are all different.

I can honestly say that I love my job. There’s such a variety as far as my role within the class and the classroom dynamics within each of my six classes. (I have two different sets of students in each level from 2nd year to 4th year, and I am in a variety of different subjects with each class. The subjects include English, Social Science, Science, and Computer.) Sometimes I take a group of students out of class and work on activity or hear their presentations (helping them perfect English grammar, pronunciation, and understanding) and sometimes I am in class as a glorified dictionary/thesaurus. Sometimes I prepare my own lessons and teach class, and sometimes I follow the activities designed and organized by the teacher.

Right now, a lot of my work is devoted to Global Classrooms (aka Model UN), and I and other assistants are preparing the students to write papers, negotiate, and tackle word issues in their second language. There are a lot of skills to be taught to do all of that by the conference at the beginning of March, but I’m up for the challenge. And I know my students are, too. I’m driven by wanting them to get a certain concept and then watching their understanding and abilities grow.

Sometimes it’s weird. When I’m conscious of what I’m doing, standing in front of a class full of students, teaching, I forget that it’s me. I’m consumed by getting the job done, getting the knowledge out that I forget that it’s me doing it. I came from the girl who was self-conscious about raising her hand in class although I had something to say to become a person working in front of the classroom with no hesitations or qualms. And I hope that my presence and my lessons speak to the kid afraid to raise his/her hand, afraid to stand out, afraid to speak up although they have something to say, and I hope they say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You can do it, too.”

 

Happy and humbled to be living in the trajectory of the legacies and traditions of all of those (in the words of Saul Williams “Coded Language”) “who burned, those still aflame, and the countless unnamed.”

Reflecting.

The Angle of Rainfall

I try to find the appreciation in the things that I do like art. Examining it closely, getting full sense of it, living it in for a few moments.  Sometimes it’s easy to do. It flows as effortlessly and as easily as conversation that pulls you in and out of the consciousness of your environment. After one such conversation and dinner with my friend Jaselyn, I took the longer way home. I had been meaning to head by Sol to get a look at the Christmas tree all alight. It’s a beautifully tall tree of lights that occupies the center of the plaza, but I think I most enjoy the ornaments strung above the streets adorning the city. It’s as if the city is a Christmas tree itself with these lighted ornaments ablaze in holiday spirit throughout the branched corridors of the city. Walking through the city gone slick from the passing of rain glistening from the deep, radiating, glowing light of its street lamps, unraveling the charred skin of castañas asadas, humming the Christmas versions of Nat King Cole and Donny Hathaway, it was easy to find the appreciation of the angle of rainfall, of the taste of roasted chestnuts in their smell, of these travelling moments, of these passing sounds, of this life. It makes me appreciation this holiday season in what is really a new season of my life. I still wish I had some cinnamon laced apple cider and the company of my loved ones (yeah, that’s you, good-looking ;)), but I’m happy stretching out my soul in this new place, finding out the who I am in a changed context. I still got lots of molting to do. But today, I feel like I’m getting to the ever-changing “there,” and for now, I’m just content to close this day with reflections, writing, and jazz.

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I have lots more to share about my experiences in and out of the classroom. I hope to update you all soon during this time off. It just takes a lot of time and intent to try to put the detailed weight of these moments into entries. But thanks for being patient and hanging in there with me.

Erin’s Visit

I arose out of my funk just in time as the following weekend Erin visited. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and a half, so it was great to be able to catch up with her as well as introduce her into the life I have settled into in Madrid. I tried to show her both the tourist experience (as we travelled to Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Retiro) and the daily life of people in a bustling European city (tapas, nights out, and partying with your co-workers). I hope she got a thorough and entertaining look at my current life and knows that she’s welcomed back anytime! I can’t wait for my next visitor…

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 It finally happened. It finally got to me. Being here. Being away. The new and foreign surrounding, if not engulfing, me. I was in a funk. After two months, the new, exciting adventure had metamorphosed into a consistent flashy reminder that this was not home, that I was not home. More than anything, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was walking around in a haze that blurred my understanding of the body I was occupying and the person that existed within it. I felt like my surroundings were changing me. I was unsure of myself, in what had seemed a confident resolve to be radical and bold enough to be my true self. My environment felt like the firm push of pressure on my spirit. It’s easy to be who you want to become when your environment is a constant uplifting reminder of your hoped for destination. But when no such reminder exists, in an environment that’s not really antagonistic but still contrasts, how do you remain consistent on your journey? How do you remain your constant self in a new environment, in a new context? But I think that’s where I found the problem: trying to remain static.

Life brings change. Hell, life is change in all aspects, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I couldn’t have gotten here being the person I was five years ago, nor can I get to where I want to be in five years completely being the person I am now. It’s not that I have to change the core of me, but I think I need to be refined in some ways to handle the obstacles I’m sure to encounter further down the road. I think I forgot that although my role has shifted in the classroom, I am still a student, that I can still learn and still need to learn, and that this experience should to be one of learning and growth. So I’ve taken some honest looks at myself. I’ve gauged the person I am after my college years, acknowledged that growth and wisdom I’ve attain through those years, and have become aware that it should be built upon.

Growth is a frustrating process by itself. Coupled with the frustration of being in another country, being away from loved ones, people who know you from the inside out, being away from unspoken cultural understanding, to be in an uncomfortable and at times alienating terrain, it gets to you some days. Or at least it did to me. Although I’ve travelled and I understand the up-down joys, bumps, and bruises that accompany travelling, the feelings that come with exposure to a new environment and culture flush in as if new. While it could be that I’ve never been away for this long, I’ve come to learn that some lessons, you have to learn more than once.

During this funk, it was hard to express exactly the what and the why to the feelings that I was experiencing. But as I met with and talked to my friends here, the explanation began to unravel and show its center. Most of the people I spoke with had the same knots in their spirits. Most of it stemmed from cultural differences and cultural insensitivity and the task of having to explain, defend, and make understanding out of the cultural roots of themselves while facing those barriers. And sometimes, personally speaking, I wish I could just fly home where I could have someone see it, know it, and feel it. It takes a lot of effort to try to dissemble these stubborn barriers, and it’s draining most of the time. But it’s part of the job description and part of the reason that we were chosen. To have these difficult conversations with the greater communities in which we live and with ourselves, not necessarily to change minds, but to give it all a human face and dynamic perspective. I’m a cultural ambassador, inside the classroom from Monday to Thursday and, as I have learned, outside of it, when I’d rather relax and rather not.

I got back to clarity by meditating and fasting for a day. While before the end of 10 months seemed to exist on the other side of possibility, I’ve found that it will really fly by. It will December next week for crying out loud! And then 2011! And although I’m getting back the anxious feeling of needing to get things done yesterday and get more involved, I’m being patient in knowing that everything has its season, in todo se va y todo se pasa, and in the great advice a friend’s mom gave her: maybe this year is just about knowing yourself and knowing how to take care of yourself. As much as I would like to have all the seeds I’ve planted come to fruition, I’ll take time to learn in the quiet moments of in the meantime and confidently keep moving forward.

Getting Lost

I normally hate getting lost. It usually always happens as I am trying to make an appointment or already running late somewhere. It’s always frustrating and annoying. I remember driving around Atlanta (a city I know better as a pedestrian) leaning and squinting over the steering wheel of my burgandy 90s-something Honda Accord with the feeling of anxiety pumping into my chest.

And I have felt that way here, too. Getting to know the city, you misjudge just how much time it really takes to get from point A to point D. But I don’t feel that way all the time. Yeah, I’ve had places to be. And yeah, I’ve gotten a little disoriented and turned around, even with my map. And yes, I’ve most definitely arrived late a bunch of times. While a few of these moments did arouse the familiar frustrations of not being able to find my place on a highlighted path, I always ended up finding my destination, my companions, and my cool. Maybe it’s because in Spain, it’s normal to arrive a little late in lots of (but not all) circumstances.  But more likely it’s because I have a lot more free time here. On my time off, I purposely derail from “what I know” to “what’s down here.” My three fondest tales of these adventures happened with companions.

A few weekends ago, Leah and I headed to one of our favorite spots, Llao Llao. For those in Decatur, it’s like Yogurt Tap. For those in the West, I’ve been told it’s comparable to Pink Berry. It’s basically a frozen yogurt joint where you can add different toppings, from nuts and fruit to syrup and coconut shavings. From there, we made a brief tour of the Sol/Callao area, hitting up H&M and browsing through the crowds. We took the metro to La Latina and stepped away from what we knew. We discovered beautiful art work on the side of a building, a plaza centered around a tall fountain, vegetarian and mexican restuarants, and some of Spain’s most personal and vibrant streets. By simply allowing ourselves to be drawn into the scenes that most captured us, we made our way back to familiar stomping grounds, particularly Palacio Real. It’s crazy how you can be “lost” and then end up right where you need to be. We could’ve ended up there the old familiar way, but the sights, sounds, and rhythms we experienced on our journey would’ve been lost to our senses and memories. Ignorance may be bliss, but the knowledge and experience that can replace that ignorance is irreplaceable…Anyways, we headed to Plaza de Espana from there, checked out the outdoor market, and enjoyed some Chinese dumplings on the bench against the humming of people enjoying a warm Saturday afternoon-evening.

I got lost (this time not on purpose at all) with Jaselyn in La Latina again. I thought I knew my way after that one visit with Leah to lead us to a yummy Mexican restaurant. We managed to find one that was way too expensive and another that was closed. So we just tried to find a decent eatery. We decided on a place with typical Spanish cuisine (the gazpacho, patatas bravas, tortilla espanola, etc). My food wasn’t anything spectacular, but the place had an original vibe which we digged which is why we selected the place.

The next time I was got with Janel. We went to Puente de Vallecas. After I wasn’t able to get my ripe plantains the first time I went there, I wanted to head back, and I invited Janel along as she is a foodie. After hitting up the market, we wandered around the area: the best decision we could have ever made. We found Dominican colmados that mimicked the feel of the Dominican Republic so well that it fooled my senses out of their Spanish reality and mocked my rationale for trying to convince them differently. Once we left there and continued throughout the area, we found a Spain dressed in the demeanor specific to the southern region of the Americas. Janel and I most readily identified the familiar warmth of the community to Mexico, where we had both been and had both fell in love with the distinct intoxicating and inviting world that sits below the home country. But the community through which we walked was a mosaic of South America. We didn’t visit many of the other small grocery stores, but one we did go into was run by a Bolivian. He offered us a sweet, glazed coconut treat and devulged recipes to us as he showed us items around the store. It’s always great meeting friendly people in small, intimate settings like that. Walking through the colorful moods across the faces of the buildings and cannibus scented parks where groups of old mature gentlemen gathered in the cardigans to play chess, complimenting the innocence running, skipping, and gliding through the adjacent playground, we watched the sun set down for the night sky, and found our way back to our new definitions of home.

I suppose it’s more exploration than getting lost. I’m never really looking for anything in particular, just really opened to letting the world roll under my feet, just really opened to enjoying the journey without a destination.