Rain, rain, go away…

It would happen that the first day I go to my IES to get an informal welcome to the school and meet the other teachers, including my to-be carpool from Granada, the entire region has been rained out. CM and I came across more than one roadblock on the way here, including a pretty serious-looking accident that backed up the oncoming traffic for several vehicles.

On the plus side, because half (or likely most) of the teachers are still stuck on the road, school is cancelled–in other words, there’s nothing for me to shadow today, so I am sitting in the teacher’s lounge and working on my statement of grant purpose, which is due to Pomona on Monday and to Fulbright in just over two weeks.

But the teachers who normally come from Granada aren’t here, obviously. So I can’t go home today. This puts a dent in my plans, for sure, but maybe it’s better because it’s probably raining in the city, too, so I wouldn’t be able to buy things for my piso, and this way I am in an academic atmosphere which usually helps me concentrate. (I’m only blogging to get my escritora-juices flowing, you see?)

My only option now is to take the morning bus to Granada tomorrow… I just wish it hadn’t turned out this way. I didn’t purchase a combined ida y vuelta ticket at the station yesterday evening, so I’ve essentially wasted 1.65€. That’s a tapa!

Speaking of tapas, the rained out carpool also means that I have to miss the Auxiliares’ tapas event in Granada tonight. For someone who isn’t sure how to go about meeting new people in a new city, organized mixers like this one are kind of a godsend. Wo de peng you zai na li?!

OH, JUST KIDDING.

CM found another teacher (O) who is going to Granada later today to finish moving out from Plaza de Toros. She’ll be in Iznájar for the year, which is the same thing that the government and school expect me to do, but come on: there’s nothing at all to do in the pueblo. But anyway, at least I’m going to be back in Granada later, because O graciously offered to give me a ride. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I don’t know how social I am going to be for tapas anyway. Also, they are planning to go out on the side of town that is approximately a half hour’s walk from my piso. The rain will make the effort to go out tonight much more difficult, especially considering that I didn’t bring rain boots or an umbrella with me to Spain. I don’t even own a waterproof jacket.

I feel like I’m in a really weird situation, where, yes, this is a job and my transportation to work is my responsibility, but at the same time I’m the most important part of the bilingual program, so what are they going to do if one day I can’t make it, like if the carpool fails and there are no more buses? Even if there is a bus, it seems like it’d be sort of impossible to make it on time because of how slow they are. The teachers who would have taken me to Granada weren’t able to make it to the school today because of the rain, and they weren’t scolded… At least, from what I saw/heard, the general attitude was along the lines of, “meh, they’re not coming, shrug.” So why was I given such strict orders that I have to be at my lessons on time–as if I wasn’t going to honor that obligation?

It’s been difficult for me to navigate the customs here as to what is considered polite and what is within my rights to stand my ground as an employee. When I asked (quite respectfully and humbly, in my opinion) what would happen if I were late or could not make it at all, CM gave a curt, roundabout answer: my backup transportation was not her problem. I tried to specify that I was inquiring about any repercussions, but I don’t know if she understood what I was saying. Maybe I need to ask last year’s auxiliar about the policies. CM kept stressing that they’ve done so much to accommodate my choice to live in Granada, and that I should be extremely grateful and not… pushy. Basically, CM told me that if I could not make it to work the way I was expected to (not being late, not missing days), she would have to ask/(demand, really) me to move to Iznájar. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

CM has been really helpful for a lot of things, letting me stay at her house for a few days and feeding me all the while and dropping hints about how to get settled in Spain, but she was very clear that she had nothing to do with my daily transportation and was frustrated that I was asking her about the carpool schedule. “This is their system. I do not know anything. You have to ask them, NOT ME.” Was it offensive that I don’t understand the way people organize timetables here? That I don’t know every single word in the Spanish language? I just wish somebody would tell me when I’m being rude, and when it would be okay to ask for help, and what exactly is okay to ask about. I would never, ever mean to offend anybody–honestly, why would I want to make enemies so soon? in a foreign country where I know nobody and am unfamiliar with the culture? She keeps saying that she is happy to help with whatever she can, but this carpool thing really set her off for some reason. It’s confusing to me because she says that she is happy that I found a place to stay in Granada, and, having studied there, she also loves Granada and thinks it’s a great city, yet at the same time, her tone and body language today would suggest otherwise.

As a side note, I was trying to work on my Fulbright essay since there was nothing to do, but CM intermittently kept asking to show me around the school and explain my position further. The problem is that I don’t being inefficient with my time, which is something the Spanish are, alternatively, very, very good at. CM stopped to socialize (mostly complaining about the rain and oh my goodness did you see the accident? etc.) with other teachers in between doing whatever she wanted to do with me, and in turn I ended up just standing there, wasting time. I felt that I was being taken advantage of, if just a little bit, since the program doesn’t officially start until October 1. And on top of today, I am supposed to come back to Iznájar on Monday even though I technically don’t have classes. Isn’t my contract 12 hours a week? What the fuck? She wants me to meet the teachers, but she won’t even be available to introduce us.

Okay I’m done complaining. I guess there’s not much I can do. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to help out with the school and put forth my best effort into teaching the kids (and teachers) English, but my Fulbright application is also VERY important to me, and I wish CM would have understood that I wasn’t just jacking around on my computer. It’s due on Monday, and yes, that means I have the weekend to work on it, but an essay as important as this doesn’t just happen over the weekend. I need all the time I can get. Not to mention, I also need this weekend to make my house a home. I take my work seriously, and I don’t like being patronized like I was.

Piso hunting

I arrived in Granada on Sunday morning (cue Maroon 5 and/or Wilco). At this point, I’d been staying with CM and familia and enjoying a very laid-back, socially oriented lifestyle. I received offers via CM for housing in Rute and work in Lucena. (Gotta love being a native speaker of English. Privilege much?) It all sounded pretty good to me… I made the trek to Granada, just in case, to see if it was worth the almost two-hour commute in lieu of this picture of life that had been painted for me in Rute.

Turns out, I fell in love with Granada the moment I stepped off the bus. Just suck it up and commute, Tiff–who needs sleep anyway?

Following directions from the girl at the information desk, I grabbed the next 33 from the bus station to the city center. She told me to get off at the Cathedral, but seeing as how it was my first time in the city, I missed the Cathedral stop and got off near Recogidas. No matter. It was still mid-morning, and my hostel didn’t allow check-ins until 2:00 (so said HostelBookers, which I think was a lie), so I took the opportunity to wander. The city was still waking up, the weather was perfect, the rooms for rent were advertised aplenty on flyers flapping in the breeze.

I read online somewhere in the blogosphere that the best thing to do was to walk around and see what barrio or area of the city was most attractive to me. I meandered toward Plaza Trinidad since that’s where my hostel was located. I actually got lost looking for the hostel and wound up in Gran Capitán. Luckily for me, there’s also a GOWEX Wifi (I’m starting to pronounce this as “wee-fee” like the Spaniards) stationed in the plaza. I sat down with a treacly pain au chocolat and soaked up the rays of the Internet. All around me were typical tesseract-like apartment buildings. Not too shabby.

I spent most of the day piso hunting, collecting slips of paper with telephone numbers, sometimes with more details like the address, price, number of rooms, gastos included, amenities available. I ended up with a dozen or so by the end of the day and hadn’t called a single one of them because I hadn’t come out of my shell yet. I still haven’t, probably, but now I feel (slightly) less embarrassed to speak in Spanish. I mean, I already look different from everyone here; it’s no surprise that the words coming from my mouth aren’t Andalusian.

One guy came up to me while I was perusing the anuncios in Trinidad, asked if I needed a piso, and offered to show me one he was posting flyers for. I followed him to Plaza Gracia, where he took me up to the flat his mother was renting. Everything there was approximately 20-30 years old and, while in workable condition, was not indicative of somewhere I’d like to live. They were nice people, and even offered to have me over for Christmas, but it was time to move on.

Unfortunately, most of the (16?) pisos I visited between Sunday and today were in similar pseudo-dilapidated states. There was always something off-kilter about the flats: location, heating options, weird roommates. After days of walking everywhere, getting lost, being late, and not knowing how to apologize cordially in Spanish, I was tired. The decent pisos had all been rented to other people by the time I decided I might want to live there. And that amount of time was usually less than a day–I started to panic since all the good ones were going fast!

It started raining on Wednesday–only lightly but it’s enough to be a nuisance–and I still had pisos to see. L has been gracious enough to let me crash on her couch for the past few days, but I obviously can’t stay here forever! Finally, though, the second to last flat on my day’s schedule turned out to be perfect, if expensive (for Granada; rent in Spain is all significantly cheaper than in the States). The apartment is brand new, and it’s only a 2-3 minute walk from the bus stop that I have to take in the morning to go to work. I’m mostly excited about 1) the beautiful oven and kitchen, and 2) my room is ginormous and has a balcony with a (slightly obstructed) view of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevadas.

I’m signing the contract in a couple of hours. I’m significantly less stressed than I was a couple of days ago. Now that I’ve found a piso, I can focus on filling up the rest of my time in Granada with things like giving private English lessons, taking a Spanish class (maybe finding an intercambio), learning classical guitar, joining a yoga studio, and training for that Málaga half-marathon in April. Everything is falling into place!

Málaga, Rute, and the NIE/TIE in Córdoba

I’ve been in Spain for three days, but it feels much longer.

I’m still getting used to the different timing of things here. Yesterday I ate lunch with CM and familia at approximately 3:30 PM (dinner was later around 10:30 or 11), had my first siesta (the best nap I’ve had in a while–all thanks to jet lag), and listened to music at a flamenco club in the village (notably, flamenco-dressed covers of Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Hey Jude by The Beatles). Every time I notice something here that contrasts with the life I know back in the States, which amounts to about every ten seconds, I catch myself smiling. This is a good sign, no? I’m enjoying la vida española so far.

Well, let’s backtrack a little.

Málaga

Upon arriving in Málaga on the 19th, I waited around the baggage claim carousel for almost 40 minutes until it stopped. Some other guy was waiting ’til the end, too, and I followed him over to the lost equipaje counter. They looked like they were about to close, so I was a worried, but way too tired to be angry or panicking. More of a qué lástima and pobre mí sensation. Anyway, luckily, the man told us that we had to go to the next carousel for non-EU travelers. Waiting there were my two 50-lb luggages! They made it through Frankfurt after all, despite my hour flight delay from Houston. Relief/success!

After asking a woman at the tourism booth for a map and pay phone location (this is when I started hearing Adam Levine in my cray sleep-dep head) in unrehearsed Spanish, and after not being able to use a pay phone because those things are before my time, I paid for ten minutes of expensive Internet at the airport to let my host know I was about to get on the bus to the city center. I didn’t know that the bus had free wifi, but I’m not complaining since I took advantage of the twenty minute ride to Pair G, to iMessage W, and to GroupMe the cousins to let people know I landed safely. I also checked my messages; Juan was on his way to meet me at the station to help me with my bags (aw!). His flat is located 450 m from the bus station, so it was very convenient. Thank goodness, because I had been so tired/dehydrated from traveling that I might have collapsed in the middle of the street trying to figure out where he lived.

I’d originally planned to explore the nightlife in Málaga instead of going straight to Rute on Wednesday, but like I keep saying, I was exhausted. In the 48 hours prior I think I had only gotten 4 hours of sleep, if that. I took a quick shower, changed, and promptly went to bed.

The next morning I woke up at 7:15–still extremely tired–and started planning my day. Tasks on the to-do list: get a phone number, go to the beach, eat some food. Check, check, check. I didn’t leave the apartment until late in the morning, though, because I’m slow and possibly overly careful when it comes to planning an itinerary. It’s hard to do things on the fly without Internet access 24/7, especially in a brand new city. What was life like before my smartphone? This, apparently.

But basically I had located Yoigo and a TripAdvisor-recommended restaurant on my trusty rusty tourist map from the airport and just started walking in the general direction of old town. I found Yoigo somewhat on accident–had a overall painless exchange with the associate stationed there, and left ten minutes later with a brand new 5 EUR pay-as-you-go SIM in my old Pantech. Hooray, a phone!

It was getting hot. I almost got to the restaurant when another tourist came up to me to ask if I could take a picture of her in front of some monument in the plaza. She was pretty friendly (Marini?) and I spent the rest of the day wandering around with her. The map highlighted thirty something sights to see, so I just tagged along M’s route. We visited the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, the paseo del parque, and la malagueta on the beach. I forgot to bring my swim suit, but I dipped my toes (more like I ran to the Mediterranean for sanctuary from the hothothot sand) in the cool water. A nice day, though I was burnt by the end of it because I am a lazy person and never bothered to buy and put on sunscreen. Got back to Juan’s just in time to grab some pan del día and cured ham from Día, took a quick shower, and got to the bus station on time.

Rute

I fell asleep and awoke multiple times on the way to Rute. I forgot to check the itinerary before I lost Internet access and couldn’t remember when I was supposed to get off, so I made sure to surreptitiously check road signs as we pulled into each little town. It turned out that Rute was the last stop, and CM had been waiting for me for almost an hour because of my miscommunication with Berna. Whoops. I also never received a call from either of them, which I had been expecting, and which also was why I kept waking myself on the bus for fear I’d miss it.

Before we got out of the car, CM mentioned that she could arrange a sort of taxi service to Córdoba for me the next day, so I could get started on the NIE application process. It was cheap (25 EUR for a round trip), and seemed extremely helpful–kind of like a personal courier–so even though I had been thinking about going to Córdoba on Monday to do it, this sounded like a better option. I took it.

CM welcomed me into her home where I met her twin daughters and husband whom I’d spoken to earlier on the phone while CM was still at work. I’d arrived just before 10, and they were only about to prepare dinner! People don’t kid around when they say the Spanish eat late. It appears that various types of bread, cheese, ham, olives, and pate are staples for every meal. I could get used to this. After dinner we had some of the freshest, most delicious figs I’ve eaten in my life. They wouldn’t let me clean up after myself, so I just went up to my room (I’ve hijacked one of the girls’ bedrooms for my temporary stay here) to get ready for bed since I had to get up early the next day. Still soo freaking tired.

Córdoba

Domingo came around 7:30 AM with two other men in the car who also had business to take care of in Córdoba. Goodness me, when I climbed in, I couldn’t tell if it was my not knowing how to use my weird new “mineral salt” deodorant, or if the people in the car just had really strong B.O. In any case, I was glad I could fall asleep ASAP because I sure as hell am glad I missed out on being conscious for that smell. I can watch the sunrise over the olive grove-covered mountains some other day.

When we arrived in Córdoba city, we dropped off the two men at a hospital and headed for the police station, which is apparently on the outskirts of town. Domingo came to make sure I was at the right place, fortunately, because I was definitely not at the right place. They told us to go to the subdelegación del gobierno which I think qualifies as la oficina extranjería, as specified on the application. The process after this minor mishap was fairly simple: take a number from the front desk, wait 60-75 minutes, show all documents to the information counter when called and look as pitiful as possible with (again) my timidly broken Spanish. Domingo was with me to translate (sort of; he hadn’t spoken English in 18 years, he said), which put me at ease, if anything. This NIE application process is notorious for being terrible and confusing and drawn-out.

But mine went pretty smoothly. I showed my pre-filled EX-15 and EX-17 and in my quietest inside voice said, “Em… Quiero este” to the woman at Mesa 1, who went to ask someone else, then grabbed something from a file cabinet and forwarded my documents to the Mesa in the next room for me. I only had to go over and mention my name to get service. Awesome! As expected, I was asked to make a photocopy of my entrance stamp, pay the 15 EUR tasa at the BBVA across the street and come right back with these last documents. My US-sized passport photos were okay; she said she would cut them to the right size for me. She asked me to sign a couple of things, took my fingerprints, and handed me a stub with my shiny new NIE and told me to return in 5 weeks to recoger la tarjeta between 12 and 1:30 PM. All in all, I was taken care of in less than three hours. See? Painless.

After all this, Domingo took me to a cafe where I had toast for breakfast at 11 AM. I feel like that’s all I eat here. Bread with olive oil and some sort of savory spread, made of either cheese or ham/pork. The best part about that little meal was the freshly squeezed OJ. The weird part was that I asked for water and he ordered for me and I forgot that food establishments in Europe don’t typically give you tap water to drink for free. I will learn in time.

Our next stop was the mall–basically to kill time while waiting for the other guys. Domingo had been listening to a rock station in the car (104.1 FM, go figure), so I made some small talk about music. Honestly, I was just surprised to hear Smash Mouth and U2 all the way over here in Spain. But he was happy to share his tastes with me and he played the jazz CD he bought at El Corte Inglés in the mall. Now, here’s to hoping that I can find some sort of common ground with everyone else I meet here.

I fell asleep on the car ride back to Rute, again. I’m pretty sure the men in the car were making fun of me drooling all over myself, but I didn’t have enough energy to listen or care. Jet lag, I’m telling you, makes these siestas all the more wonderful.

The final leg

Nope, I’ve never run an actual marathon*, but I’ve had plenty of practice in packing marathons. You’d think I’d have learned to start earlier (instead of only thinking about how much in advance I should begin to pack) after all these years of all-nighter packing races with the clock. Maybe you actually can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I’m taking a break from staring at my never-ending wardrobe, from making micro-decisions on whether or not I should take such and such item with me across the globe. No biggie. I also spent the better part of the past hour filling my new ticket stub diary (from my show soulmate T) with the stubs in my now-empty purse.

Anyway, back to the garment grind. Hopefully I’ll be done by morning… (ha – don’t forget the laundry!)

*This is another can of worms: I’m planning to run the half in Malaga this coming April. More on that later, of course.

Sometimes I can’t believe it

I’m moving… to Spain.

I’m in the process of frantically getting everything together before I leave, making sure that I’ve got all my bases covered. I’ve got a little over two weeks left… So far I feel like I’ve been doing things backwards.

I purchased a weekend pass to Optimus Primavera Sound, a music festival in Porto, Portugal going on its second year. The one in Barcelona has been around longer and attracts big names as well as local acts, but unfortunately the 2013 edition of San Miguel PS is still during my Auxiliar contract, and I don’t want to mess with that. Besides, what better reason to pay a visit to Portugal? It’ll be the beginning of the end of my Iberian adventure. 🙂 I’ve also purchased a me-and-two-friends pass to the smaller Granapop festival happening the first weekend of October. A has expressed interest in going, so I have but one more friend to make! I’m sure it shouldn’t be a problem, considering the number of responses I’ve gotten on both FB and CS, and also the rate at which tickets have been selling out this weekend. RIP the only VIP pass I’ve been able to afford–they sold out the day I planned to buy one.

Anyway, sorry, I get a little wordy when I start talking concerts.

I applied for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees today, but I really should have done this about a month ago. Even if I get approved, I’ll probably be out of the country before it comes in the mail. Oops! At least I submitted my tuition reimbursement application as soon as humanly possible (i.e. immediately after grades were posted), though HR is being a big butt (yes, I’m mature) and not helping my case get to payroll before my last day. Speaking of which, I’m not even sure I officially gave my two weeks’ notice… Yeah, I should take care of that.

Um, what else? I’ve made a mental note to print my NIE/TIE forms and Granapop ticket at work Tuesday. I should order more contact lenses ASAP. I already requested my absentee ballot and stocked up on my medications but still need to gather various painkillers, cold medicines, etc. Maybe I should also print my Optimus ticket at work, too. So many things to keep track of!

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