Monday, 7 November 2011

In Galicia Samaín, In America Halloween!

October 24th to 31st

After having such a busy weekend, finding an apartment and exploring nearby villages, jet lag hit like a Mack Truck. I took a couple of days to rest. It was a good decision too, because for the first time I saw what a true Atlantic storm looked like and I sure didn’t want to be outside in the middle of it.

I moved into my new house on Tuesday. Marga, my roommate, welcomed me with a traditional Spanish dish: tortilla española. This is not what we normally think of as a tortilla in Canada. It is made with fried onions and thinly slice potatoes and later mixed with eggs to make a thick egg-potato pie. It is delicious and it was a wonderful welcome. Marga is great. She is very Spanish, so I will be able to practice my language skills with her. This is important because, as I have experienced, everybody and their brother wants to practice English with me. I will have to work hard to get the practice I need. It was nice to be able to fully unpack and settle in. It’s important to feel like I have a home here. It is a nice area to live in; conveniently one of the teachers at the school is able to bring me to work. I just have to walk a short five minutes to her house!

Friday at school was very exciting because we were celebrating Halloween. In Galician culture, they have a similar celebration called Samaín. Many of the kids that come to our school have gardens or hobby farms nearby. As a result, we received many pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns from their families. The kids maintain the thought that Halloween should be super scary. I, however, chose to do Halloween Canada-style and dress up as a fairy. The drama teacher brought me a flowy pink skirt and a set of wings and painted my face. My costume was a big hit among the children, although they all complained that it wasn’t scary enough. Rafa had more planned for this day then I realized. He did a big presentation with a Magic Spell, which we both said in English and then Rafa did in Galician as well. Then, naturally, had me sing in front of the whole school. (If you want to see the magic spell and applebob click on the Halloween Presentation link at the bottom)

Here is the “Spell”:

In Galicia, Samaín
In America, Halloween
Black, yellow, orange and green
These are colours in Samaín

Black, yellow, orange and green
They are colours in Halloween.

Witches, ghosts, bats and cats
Are you ready to be glad?

The kids were adorable but at the same time kind of disturbing in their various costumes. I saw plenty of three, four and five-year-olds dressed as vampires, witches and zombies. We also did an apple bob, which they call Bob-Apple. Only a few kids participated while the whole school watched and cheered. It was all very fun and festive. I tried some chulas, which are typical to Galicia. They are essentially little pumpkin pancakes- but without maple syrup! After a fun-filled day, I returned home with glitter everywhere and prepared for another night of activities.

Right: A couple of four-year-old witches and a skeleton!

Below: Some of my third-grade students putting on a show for us.

Lita invited me over for empanadas so that I could get to know the girls that live with her. I had already met Maureen (from California) but it was great to also meet the other two ladies: Sara and Sara, who are Spanish. We ate some delicious empanadillas (small pastries filled with meat) and shared some wine. It is fun to be surrounded but such passionate and intelligent women. The Saras speak very quickly so it will be great practice talking with them. I had to scoot out early to meet Rafa and some of his friends at the movies to go see TinTin- my very first 3D movie! I generally don’t like dubbed movies, but I couldn’t really see their mouths moving that much so I enjoyed it. Spain has one of the most prosperous dubbing industries. The only issue with this is that they are not trained to hearing English. Since American movies are so popular, they would have had an immense exposure and increased comprehension. Instead, it is incredibly difficult for them to understand English-especially my relaxed Canadian accent.

Saturday I went to the Cíes Islands. They are beautiful islands off of the coast of Vigo that are protected as national parks. It happened to be a lovely day, which can sometimes be a rare and wonderful thing between rainstorms. Maureen and I loved being there; we couldn’t comprehend the beauty of it. The sun was so bright and the water was clear blue and glistening. We wandered around and up to the lighthouse and just took in the true beauty and stunning vistas.

That night I returned to my home-away-from-home to hang out with Diane. Porriño is not a very big town but it has its own charm to it. In the morning, we went to Portugal for breakfast…AMAZING! It is literally fifteen minutes away across the Miño River. In a town called Valenca, we had some delicious pastries and coffee. Then, we took a tour of the old fort. The Portuguese really held on to their sliver of the Iberic peninsula and it had much to do with this fort in Valenca. The river helped both sides see when the other one was going to attack. Across the river you can see the beautiful Spanish town of Tui-which I laugh at every time I see it because you literally pronounce it Toooeeee. 

Left: The fort of Valenca...we just barely fit through!

After breakfast, we headed up to Santiago, the capital of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is the destination of El Camino, the famous catholic pilgrimage that traditionally starts in France, but has many routes. The cathedral there is truly spectacular. I saw many pilgrims arriving tired, dirty and happy to the cathedral. We took a long walk around the city’s various parks and paths. It was absolutely wonderful, topped off by have a café-con-leche in a quaint garden terrace.

After so much gallivanting, it was time for a rest…and time to get back to work!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Tip of the Iceberg

This is a little delayed folks. Pretend this is a week ago!

This first week has been non-stop for a good way. I haven't had a chance to let jet lag take over until now. I had to hit the ground running at school. It has been very fun but also very tiring. The kids are at all different levels, so it is very fortunate for me that I get to work with them individually and in small groups.

On Thursday, Rafa (the English teacher) took me to the University to look for apartment listings. I then got a tour of the port and the old part of Vigo. It is truly beautiful. Vigo began to prosper and develop during the Industrial Revolution; as such, it continues to thrive in industry. The main industry is shipbuilding, but fishing is still a large contributor.

Here in Vigo, we should be in the same time zone as Portugal. But, since the Spanish government wanted all of Spain on the same time zone, we are one hour ahead of them. This means that it is still dark at 8:30 in the morning but that the sun goes down at 11 in the summertime and around 9:00 right now. The sunsets are lovely here with the water.

Friday, Marin (my Canadian friend) helped me look online for apartments. Talking on the phone in Spanish is one of my least favourite things to do. However, after the first couple of phone calls it became a lot easier. The main concern is if there are smokers in the house. It is still very common to have people who smoke in their houses. Smoking is now prohibited inside most restaurants but smoking is still quite common. They have vending machines that dispense cigarettes.

After we weeded out all of the non-desirable situations, we had three meetings. I had called one lady who responded by shouting into the phone that she couldn't really talk right then because she was in the street. Because I had phoned so many people, I had forgotten to call her back or rather forgotten which was her number. Then she called me back to see if I was still interested in seeing the apartment. I told her yes. She seemed like a very spunky woman and I had a feeling I would like her. We made an appointment with her at before all of the rest of them. When we arrived, we knew it was meant to be. The house was beautiful and I had a great feeling there.

This woman, Lita, was helping her cousin Margarita look for a person to rent one of the rooms in her house. She lives alone now that her kids are grown up. There is a big room with a double bed and my own bathroom. Margarita is literally the older Spanish version of me: blonde, tall and likes costume jewelry as much as I do.  After that, I almost didn't want to look at any more places. I went to one other just to say that I had and, as expected it was subpar to what we had already seen.

Instead of seeing the other two, we went across the bay in the ferry bus to a town called Cangas to venture into the world of seafood. We ordered octopus! Although it looked a little creepy with the purple suction cups, it was super fresh and spiced to perfection. I am glad that I tried it, but the texture might deter me in the future. In order to make it softer, they often beat the dead octopus to soften the meat.

We then took a relaxing stroll down the beach. They are having unusually warm weather for October so there were quite a few people out tanning in bathing suits, including two grandmas in rather modern bikinis. One of them was brave enough to take a dip in the chilly Atlantic. Galician women are known for their strength. Maybe that strength comes in part from their Viking heritage. At some point, the Vikings settled here. They joke that instead of pillaging, they decided to produce and multiply with Spanish women. Because of that, there are more blondes and redheads here then I have seen in any other part of Spain. Therefore, people don’t look at me like I’m an alien! The more I learn about Galicia, the more I love about it. There is so much to discover still and I am so excited to see as much as I can.

Tidbit: This is a very typical ending to a phone call or encounter with a Spanish person:
"Venga vale, ciao, vale un beso, ciao, hasta luego, ciao un besito."

Translation: Well, ok, bye, ok, kiss kiss, bye, see you soon, bye, kiss kiss.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

First Day

The first week of school went very well but very quickly. I use the term “week” liberally as I only work three days a week. Tuesday through Thursday, I work from 9:30am to 2:30pm. On the first day of school, I was waiting at the gate with a few kids when I heard them talking about the Canadian teacher who was going to come teach English with “Teacher”-which is what they call Rafael. They were very excited. As much as it is a novelty to have a foreign teacher, many of the students are from different countries as well. When I was introducing myself to the classes, I met students from Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh, and Morocco. This is very uncommon for this area of Spain. Galicia is somewhat isolated from the rest of the country in the Northwest corner, they are not used to this amount of immigration. Rafael is embracing this wholeheartedly and we’re going to share about each of our different cultures. Rafael is the English teacher for the school, but also teaches arts and crafts and computers. He’s a very enthusiastic and passionate teacher and wants to incorporate English into his other subjects and projects. He cares a lot about his students and about improving his own English.

The school is of a decent size. There are three floors in the main building with a playground and shared basketball courts with the cummunity. They have another building with the offices, a kitchen and dining room, and the pre-school area. The children are in class from 9:30 to 2:30 with a short break at noon. Then they eat lunch in the dining hall and have extracurricular activities until 5pm.

There is a fantastic little coffee machine in the staff room. As many of you know, coffee is one of my favourite things in life. So now I am going to break down one of the most simple but key characteristics of Spanish culture that draws me in.
Café con Leche (literally means coffee with milk)

1 espresso (or about an ounce of very strong coffee)
1.5 oz of steamed or heated milk
Add sugar as desired

It is just a little slice of heaven for me. I seem to have one maybe 3 or 4 times a day. This doesn’t even add up to one large coffee in Canada so I don’t feel too guilty.
         On the subject of food, I had the most delicious meal on Tuesday.  After classes, we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant. The other teachers suggested that I get a fillet of steak with French fries and salad. Together with a half pint of beer and a post lunch coffee it cost me seven Euros! I think that was the best beef I have ever had….the cows must be different here…fewer hormones and more exercise.

¡Hasta Pronto Amigos!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Aquí Estoy

After one last meal at Swiss Chalet at the airport and a tearful goodbye with my Mom and Aaron, I sat down in my own row on a flight to Oporto, Portugal. I was grateful to have a multitude of “plane letters” to read from my wonderful friends and family. Soon enough though, the limited sleep and gravol kicked in and I was napping…until the flight attendant woke me up for dinner. Heaven forbid we miss a meal! (And this description is for you Mike) They served beef with gravy and vegetables with a side of shredded potato. I quite enjoyed the potato and gravy but skipped the diner roll and the chocolate cake that was for dessert, as I was still quite full from the rotisserie chicken.

I enjoyed listening to Portuguese on the plane. I could understand a few words here and there, but the pronunciation is quite different from Spanish. After a seven-hour flight, I arrived at 8:30 am local time in Oporto, Portugal. Unfortunately for me, I had just missed one of the three busses that went to Galicia that day, so I had to wait until 1:30pm to take the next one. Among other things, I caught some shut-eye on a bench and learned how to say thank-you in Portuguese (Obrigado if you are a male, Obrigada if you are female).

On the bus, I met a nice young man named Roberto (of course!) from Basque Country. El país Vasco, as it is called in Spanish, is a region that lives somewhat apart from the rest of Spain in terms of culture. I plan to visit there this year to try their supposedly very tasty cuisine.

Around 4:30 (Spanish time), the bus pulled over the hilltop and started to drive down into Vigo, where we should have been able to see a beautiful harbour and the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, we saw a sky filled with smoke due to the recent forest fires. Galicia is normally a very rainy region, however, they have had a very dry fall and as such have been having a lot of these fires.

My new friends, Mark and Diane, picked me up from the bus station and began giving me a tour of Vigo. From what I could see, it is a beautiful city. I am so thrilled to be able to live and explore here. We went out in their town, Porriño, for a café-con-leche and a walk around.
 Today, I am trying to adjust to the time difference. I start working tomorrow with the kiddies. I don’t really know what to expect but I’ll let you know how it goes!

YES, there are palm trees here!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Getting There

One of my favoured Spanish professors sent me a link one day about working in Spain after graduation. The government of Spain was hiring North Americans to come over to be language assistants for eight months. Reading through the criteria, I thought: "This is perfect! I LOVE Spain, I speak Spanish, I have lots of experience with kids....NO problem!" But of course, procrastination took form, as it always does with me, and I left it to the last minute to apply.

So in March, I submitted my application and prepared to wait. In April, I called the Spanish embassy to ask how far along they were, only to discover that I was number 4,865 and there were only 2,000 positions. I gave up on the idea and continued on with life. Midsummer, I got some emails saying that they had more positions that needed to be filled. Of course, I had not made any other long term plans yet, so I emailed back saying I was still interested.

On August 2nd, I received an email saying that I had been placed in the province of Galicia, in the Northwest corner of Spain. All I had to do was accept and they would start working on assigning me to a specific school. Naturally, I accepted and then prepared to wait. They specifically detail in the instruction manual to have "patience" during this portion of the process. That is a lot easier said than done....especially when it is the middle of September and you are supposed to be living in another country starting Oct 1st. On the 21st of September, I received the official letters I needed to go get my visa. After a few minor corrections, like changing my nationality from "American" to the correct "Canadian", I was able to take those letters to Toronto to ask the consulate to let me into their country. Now, with visa approved and plane ticket in hand, I am preparing to move to a lovely city called Vigo, Spain. I hope that you can keep reading from time to time.