3.5 weeks later, I’m kind of useful

(My internet is way too slow to upload any pictures for the blog today… so, sorry about that)

VILLA 21

Well, my frustrations with the slow teaching schedule and an overabundance of free time led me to start volunteering a couple of mornings each week. Someone at the Fulbright commission put me in contact with an Argentine Fulbrighter (who’s leaving for the U.S. in July for his Master’s) who has been volunteering in las villas for years now. Villas are the slums surrounding, or sometimes inside of, major cities in Argentina… especially Buenos Aires (think: Favelas in Brazil). In the last 10 years, the number of people living in the villas of Buenos Aires has skyrocketed (it was 163,000 in 2010), especially in villa 31 and villas 21-24, where I’m going now. I take a bus Tuesday and Wednesday mornings across the city to Barracas. I’m not totally clear on the exact makeup of the area but it seems like many of the families/households have been here for years and years, more than a generation, and the kids come from families who immigrated from Paraguay. As sketchy as this sounds going out there or as worried (or, actually, apathetic) as most people here seem to be about these villas, I’ve felt totally fine. I meet with a number of volunteers from this organization (it’s a Christian NGO, Caacupé) right where the bus drops us off and we all walk in together. We spend most (or all) of our time inside a building that’s some kind of church/cafeteria/school combo.

The awkward part? Standing silently while everyone prays and crosses themselves over their food or in the church before classes. Even if I wanted to fake along, I have no idea what they’re saying.

I work with an education program that helps out during mealtimes, with homework, and other activities for kids from 9-12 before they go to school in the afternoon. When we first get there, we help pass out hot milk or tea to the kids and pieces of bread for breakfast (that’s it). Then there are announcements and the kids separate according to age (1st - 3rd graders and 4th - 7th graders) and gender for the older kids. So far I’ve helped out with the older girls during homework time and with the youngest kids during some kind of arts and crafts activity.

When I was introduced to the older class, they tried to guess where I was from. They were told I spoke English… "ESPANA!" they guessed. Nope. Some of them had no idea where the U.S. was or that we spoke English. One girl asked me if I knew Justin Bieber. I told her that I didn’t, and that he was actually from Canada. Once she found out that was an entirely different country she didn’t care so much where I was from.

If I had any doubt that my time in Buenos Aires would be challenging, just picture this. I’m helping 11, 12, and 13 year old girls with their math homework, I haven’t done math in 5 years, I’m reading upside down, AND I’m doing this for the first time in Spanish. Do you know how to say the math operations in Spanish? I didn’t until Tuesday. I kind of fumbled around with a lot of different verbs and vocab until I stumbled upon the ones that made sense for them. I can now talk about adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, squares, the order of operations, etc. in Spanish… and hopefully these girls can kind of do it too (teaching about ‘borrowing’ in subtraction was a particular challenge). 

The little ones… So cute, way too energetic. There were 2 assistants (including me) helping out the ‘profesor’ (who I’m not sure is much more qualified than I am) deal with 30 screaming children in a room that echoes way too much. One girl told me, “parecés extraña cuando hablás” (you sound funny when you talk). Thanks, sweetheart.

One hour commute each way and only 3 hours with these kids saps quite a lot of energy out of me… but at least I’m somewhat useful now.

THIS CITY WASN’T BUILT FOR RAIN

Monday night it seemed like all of Buenos Aires was subjected to the wrath of the underworld. A nice dinner and evening stroll were ruined when a few drops here and there turned into a MASSIVE DOWNPOUR when I was 4 blocks from home. My apartment is on a major avenue… which was completely flooded/submerged in water within seconds. Roommate arrived moments after I did, equally sopping wet. And the next day? The sun came out and everything dried like it never happened.

BUENOS AIRES PAUSES

The city was quiet today for a ‘paro general’ (what they call a strike). I remember these strikes from last time I was here… this one is nationwide, and everybody ‘works’ from home and there’s no subway, no buses, nada. Most shops and some restaurants close too. So where did I go? Back to the movies, since BAFICI is still going strong.

Today I saw Mujeres con pelotas (the official translation is something like, The Story of Women with Balls, which I love). It’s an Argentine documentary about the terrible culture women face who want to play soccer, the paradox of a country who “breathes soccer” but shames female players. The directors juxtaposed interviews with girls who said things like, “yeah, they call me futbol slut” and “I have to do all the chores before I can go play; my brothers can go whenever they want” and [mostly] men who supported this idea that women not only shouldn’t, but physically can’t play soccer. A sports journalist cited how genetic differences make men’s and women’s soccer as different as a professional sport and a kids’ game. A man on the street said “Thank God I’ve never been to a girls’ soccer game”. A mother said that she wished her children would play with dolls instead of soccer balls. Others said girls should just stick with [field] hockey - the most common female sport here - since it’s less violent and aggressive (then they showed a clip of a girl getting smashed in the face with a field hockey stick). They shared the stories of women who are opening girl’s futbol schools and starting club teams despite a severe lack of funding and access to facilities. They showed a group of girls playing on a dirt field in villa 31, and how the boys refused to stop running through their game and stealing the ball as they tried to practice. They talked a lot about how women’s soccer is never, ever televised here so there’s no way to break through this barrier. They talked about the abundance of opportunities for boys to start playing soccer at the age of 7, and how girls try for years and often can’t find a way or are too ashamed to play until their 20s (hence why they’re often seen as poor players here). The film was funny in a disgusting sort of way, and I kept scoffing and grunting throughout the whole film whenever something re-machista was said (but so did everyone else in the audience).

Side note: I met a girl volunteering who’s from Salta (northwestern province of Argentina) and she plays with a bunch of girls every Sunday. We exchanged numbers, and I’m definitely hoping to crash that party. I’ve never been anything special when it comes to soccer, but at least no one ever made fun of or shamed me for wanting to play. Grrrr.

Teaching? Not so much. Let’s go to the movies!

So, classes finally begin tomorrow. But the first few weeks will be slow due to students changing classes, city-wide strikes (this Thursday), and Easter. I’ve met with a couple of professors to discuss how I can help with their classes, and no one seems to need us (the ETAs) very much yet. So what am I doing with my time now? Going to the movies.

BAFICI (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) is an international independent film festival in the city for a little under 2 weeks, showing (I think) more than 400 films. Tickets for each movie are only 26 pesos, and if you ask for the student price, it’s 20 pesos. So… $2 per movie? Done. I’ve bought tickets to see six movies. So I’m essentially seeing six movies for the price of one in the U.S.

On Wednesday evening, my roommate and I rushed out to Almagro after our respective workout class/run to see the festival’s opening event: The Congress (starring Robin Wright/Jon Hamm/etc.), for free, in an amphitheater at Parque Centenario. Well, free doesn’t mean all can see it. We got there about 20 minutes late, and apparently BAFICI is the one thing in this city that you have to be on time for. The theater was full so we just walked around a little bit and then got pizza and beer (well earned after our workouts). I did see this handsome bookworm on our way out of the park:

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The movies are being shown in a number of locations all over the city but, lucky for me, most of the ones I bought tickets for/wanted to see are being shown at the Village Cines in Recoleta… 15 minutes from my apartment. Here is my not-so-artsy foto of the multi-story banner inside the movie theater:

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On Friday night a friend and I saw El color que cayó del cielo, an Argentine film/documentary tracking the whereabouts of supposedly ‘lost’ meteorites that fell in Northwestern Argentina. It was…interesting.

Yesterday, I went by myself to see Geographie Humainea fascinating French documentary that takes place in the Gare Du Nord, a train station in Paris. The team interviews passengers, passersby, and employees in the train station to find out where they’re from, where they’re going, how they identify (ethnically, nationally). For anyone interested in demography, immigration, and/or France as a destination country, I definitely recommend it. People interviewed in the film hailed from the Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, the DRC, Mauritius, the UK, Belgium, Cuba, the U.S., India, Vietnam, and more.

Over the next week, I have tickets to see:

The True Story of Palestine (Israeli film)

Algunas Chicas (Argentine)

Mujeres con Pelotas (Argentine)

Al fin del Mundo (Argentine)

So… maybe I’ll start doing something soon that’s relevant to why I’m actually here? Maybe…

When I grow up…

…I wanna be Claudia.

Claudia is my referente (mentor) at Lenguas Vivas, the tertiary institute where I’ll be an English language assistant. I met her on Friday and then, trying to be as “proactive” as possible, e-mailed her immediately afterward saying that I was eager to get started on whatever, whenever. So we arranged for a chat yesterday.

This woman is a force of nature with a delightful British accent (and perfect English). She’s adamant about integrating more American English into the program, and gets visibly angry when she tells me that the Phonology teachers only want the assistant from the UK to help (because Americans talk real ugly). She casually inserts into our conversation that she used to visit Los Angeles every summer with her husband before he died young. Oh and she doesn’t drink mate anymore because she had cancer. Apparently a type of fungus can grow in mate that’s bad for those who are prone to tumor growth…

I don’t know how old Claudia is, but let’s just say 50 or so. She has her PhD and is currently the Regencia (or manager of some kind) of the school, in addition to a million other roles with the government and as a teacher educator worldwide. In the month before I got here, she e-mailed me from Mexico, Colombia, and at the last minute rejected an invitation to speak at a conference for educators in Brazil. She just accepted an invitation to speak at a conference in Porto, Portugal next month. She told me this traveling is exhausted. At least they don’t send her back and forth to Southeast Asia all the time anymore! Ha ha… ha?

Oh, the weather outside is DELIGHTFUL.

Having just come back from a beautiful walk, I have to say that I don’t know what I was thinking last time I was in Buenos Aires. Granted, it was “winter” and I lived much further from Recoleta and other central things, but I remember thinking I couldn’t breathe in this city, and that it was so grimy. Now I live in Recoleta, 2 blocks from a gigantic spread of parks and plazas and museums. I’ve gone on two “runs” this week (let’s face it, I’m basically wogging) around these parks and the weather is perfect. Today, I went to the feria (fair, see picture below) that’s in Recoleta every weekend (and filled with toursists/yanquis) and bought some funky earrings (that my mom and sister would never be caught wearing) and fresh-squeezed orange juice (since ‘juice’ that you buy here is really just tang).

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If you were so inclined, you could buy small boxes with the Pope’s face on it:

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I then wandered by a glorious large hill covered with people sipping mate and playing with their dogs. SO MANY DOGS. I think this is where I’m meant to be.. in life. On this hill, with these dogs. I will say that porteños have a significant obsession with hot dogs (I can’t spell their real name), gigantic golden retrievers, and frilly little dogs with either shaggy or curly fur that look like large rats.

As I write this I am eating too-salty chips with my homemade guacamole after finding a verduría near my apartment that sells avocados for 8 pesos each (or about 80 cents). This isn’t crazy cheap as I remember from last time, but it’s cheap enough that I can make avocados a part of my daily diet again.

Anway, here is a recap on my life since I last wrote 7 whole days ago.

Last weekend I went to an asado (kind of like a very, very long BBQ) at a former Fulbrighter’s house. I ate a lot of very slow-cooked meat which was, yes, very delicious and enjoyed their fantastic roof with a great view. He has two dogs who, unfortunately, were far more interested in my food than my affection. Afterwards, I went to a cumbia concert at this cultural center/bar in Palermo and jammed out for many hours.

I went to another asado last night in el centro (which is a little strange because people don’t really live over there) and ate a lot of meat again. When my friend and I shared our thoughts about bringing and grilling vegetables on the side some time in the future, one of the porteños said “we have vegetables… potatoes and mayonnaise.” Muy ricas, he said. Well… those aren’t really vegetables, we sadly informed him. Anyway, here’s the meat mid-cook (to give you an idea, we got there around 10:30 and didn’t eat until 1 am):

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Last Sunday I went to the ‘Buenos Aires Market’ which is kind of like a giant farmer’s market/market for people selling healthy foods that happens once a month and rotates around different areas of the city. It was amazing! There were veggie burgers, hummus (which I invested in), and various vegan things (3 years ago I don’t know if you could have found so many people here who even knew what vegan was).

I went to a cafe in the evening with my roommates for a bit (just to get out of the apartment) and then, all of a sudden, around 8pm, my body stopped functioning. The rush of activities and high of being there suddenly hit me and I passed out for 13 hours, más o menos.

Monday, March 24, was a national holiday. This year was the 38th anniversary of the last golpe de estado/coup in 1976 and the 10th anniversary of converting la ex-ESMA (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), which was one of the military’s worst secret torture centers, into a national memorial. I went to this plaza/location for la March por Memoria where a ton of (very leftist) groups rallied to celebrate and continue pushing for the recognition of human rights abuses and equal rights for all. Posters everywhere said ‘memoria’ ‘identidad’ ‘justicia’ ‘verdad’. Given what I spent researching for my thesis for 18 months, this was very relevant and super interesting. Hundreds of people sported ‘peronismo militante’ t-shirts and others held flags and banners that bore the face of Néstor Kirchner (Cristina’s late husband), who did a lot for human rights and died suddenly, making him an untouchable god for many here. 

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I finally had a few meetings this week about the reason I’m here… TEACHING ENGLISH… which was sort of? a relief but not really because they raised more questions than they answered. In summary, what I DO know is that I’m teaching in a beautiful old mansion formerly owned by one of the city’s richest families and will be teaching mostly tertiary students, but possibly some secondary. I will NOT be assigned to classes but instead need to be ‘proactive’ and communicate with the DOZENS of teachers in the English department to see who wants me. This means my schedule might be different every. single. week. That part I’m not so thrilled about… Well, let’s see how this goes. 

Last but not least, shoes. There are some weird shoes here. My two favorites (not that I would wear, but that I love to stare at) are what I call the ‘hoof’ and the ‘ginormous platform*’. Here are variations of each, can you guess which is which? You see them EVERYWHERE. 

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*A better ‘ginormous platform’ picture to come. This was all I had.

Tonight I will be doing some birthday-related shenanigans with my roommates and a couple of the very few friends I have made so far. Hurrah!

Guess who’s back (back again)

I arrived in Buenos Aires Monday morning and have been dreading having to write this first post more and more each day. The last few days have been full to the brim with things to do and limited time to sleep or absorb anything that’s happened so far. I’ll try to recap the important things for my adoring fans (hi mom)…

FLYING ON AN AEROPLANE. The early highlight of my day came when the Delta Airlines guy didn’t charge me extra for my 51 lb. suitcase. Didn’t have to take out my frisbee and peanut butter! I connected in Atlanta and met a few of the other Fulbrighters on the same flight. We chatted it up and enjoyed a relatively peaceful, uneventful flight—minus the medical emergency during the first 10 minutes after takeoff (a woman took medication that she didn’t know the name of and went into some kind of shock; numerous announcements were made for any doctors or nurses to come to her aid. There happened to be a group of real southern, American doctors traveling together and swapping jokes but who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Everything turned out fine). The food on the flight was SHOCKINGLY edible … kudos to Delta Int’l. We landed on time/a little early at the glorious hour of 6:45 am and then proceeded to stand in line at immigration for over an hour. 

EL HOTEL (translation: the hotel) & DAY ONE. The Liberty Hotel in BA is glorious in no way. What originally seemed to be a punishment - that the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) placed in BA were only permitted one night in the hotel (while providing lodging/accommodation for the 15 provincial ETAs for 3 nights) - turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Between arriving at the hotel Monday morning and boarding the bus in the afternoon for our city tour, a few fellow ETAs and I embarked on our first sketchy adventure to swap dollars for pesos (at the higher, black market rate). Following a recommendation from the guy at the front desk of our hotel, we followed a man smoking outside into the shopping center next door and waited in line to enter into a small room next to a café where I walked out with 10.6 pesos to the dollar, instead of the official rate (8:1). Then I got to eat my first [real] empanada in 2.5 years. The place I went was out of caprese (my favorite, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this cebolla y queso (onion and cheese):

Before…
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and 10 seconds later…
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The city tour proved okay but… difficult. Everyone was tired and I personally find bus rides to be enormously relaxing so… oops, I almost fell asleep again thinking about it. At least they gave us chocolate treats overflowing with dulce de leche.

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We saw some of the major landmarks and drove through a bunch of different neighborhoods. I will wholeheartedly admit that the city—basked in early autumn sunlight rather than the cloudy winter I endured a few years ago—looked like a completely different place and made me more excited to be here. After the tour, I went on a mission to buy an adaptor (for the equivalent of $2, take that Target) and get a sim card for my phone (THANKS KERRY FOR THE FREE AND FABULOUS PHONE THAT DOES HAVE GOOD BATTERY LIFE). I successfully purchased a monthly plan plan that has free texts/minutes with other Claro members, 85 additional minutes and 200 text messages, and unlimited data for 160 pesos/month. Sorry, did you miss that? I said UNLIMITED DATA FOR 160 PESOS PER MONTH (ie, $16-20 depending on your exchange rate). Unbelievable. Try not to vomit at the idea of how much companies in the U.S. are ripping us off.

I went to dinner with fellow ETAs at a random restaurant near the hotel (nothing special, but then again that area of the city is nothing special). I did get to enjoy my first glass of Malbec in the city since 2011… unfortunately no one else at my table partook in the festivities so I was quite alone in that. 

ORIENTATION, ORIENTATION, ORIENTATION. Fulbright packed hours and hours (and hours) of talking at us into 3 glorious days. On Tuesday we spent 9 hours at the commission’s office trying to stay focused and/or awake. On Wednesday and Thursday we went to the building of the national Ministerio de Educación and sat through 2 days of orientation that, unfortunately for my 4 BA partners and I, was catered specifically to the 15 ETAs placed in provinces around the country. Their referentes (or mentors) traveled up for a few days and they all sat together and got to know one another throughout various discussions and activities while the table all the way on the end was reserved for the bad kids (ie, the 5 BA ETAs). We tried to listen while doodling, yawning, and drinking water to stay awake. I scowled a little bit every time someone said “ALL OF YOU… except these people” and then pointed to us. We were apparently invited as a courtesy…

Oh, side note: this is the first year that the Fulbright Commission in Argentina has placed ETAs in the city of Buenos Aires. It was previously never an option, but this year they have a new cost-sharing agreement with the city. So our assignments are different and so are our funding resources. They’re still figuring out how to deal with us.

There were some interesting takeaways… namely 3 things:

1. There are people here who are genuinely dedicated to improving the education system and value the role that language plays. There was a lot of talk about our role as ETAs to stress the culture, content and practical use of American English rather than just the grammar. It’s nice to hear that… especially since traditional language learning in the U.S. is so not focused on pragmatic material. I look forward to being able to share slang, idioms, and hilarious American customs. This will be interesting.

2. One of the presentations discussed Argentina’s infamous economic situation (did anyone read that article in the Economist last month? Harsh) and the people’s attitudes. As someone put it, everyone is dramatic and paranoid and every single month (regardless of the current economic crisis) thinks everything is going to hell and awaits impending doom… “que todo se va a la mierda.” 

3. I’M GOING TO BRAZIL. That’s right. I spoke with someone a few months ago who was an ETA in Colombia back in 2009 or something and she mentioned that all ETAs in the region were flown to Mexico City for a Fulbright conference during her grant term. While joking around with some ETAs during a coffee break on Tuesday, I mentioned how it would be sweet if they did that every year and this year’s conference were in Brazil. I’M PSYCHIC. There is a mandatory regional ETA conference in São Paulo August 19 - 23. YES YES YES YES. I am 98% sure (and thrilled) that this means Fulbright will be paying/helping with our visa fee ($140, ugh) and flight…which were the two major deterrents keeping me from visiting Brazil while I’m here this year. 

MY APARTMENT. Through a great connection I made through my last job, I’m spending the next 2.5 months in an apartment in Recoleta, a very safe, well-located, and ‘ritzy’ neighborhood. There are a ton of parks surrounding my street, like the edge of this one with a giant bench:

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Emily, one of my roommates, picked me up at the hotel on Monday evening and we took a cab to the apartment. My room is kind of a small closet but the rest of the apartment is spacious and comfortable, which is fine! I don’t intend to spend all of my time in my room like I did when I was confined to it during homestays. I get to share the whoooole apartment… including a kitchen! In case you weren’t made aware, I decided to take a one-year hiatus from my vegetarian lifestyle (which was 6 years old and going strong) to have a healthier and less torturous experience while abroad this year. Last time in Buenos Aires, my diet lacked nearly everything… especially protein. However, I plan to keep the food I make for myself at home vegetarian, limiting the amount of meat I eat to when I go out (which I’m sure will happen weekly). My roommates are American but have both been living here for years (one for 2.5 years and the other for more than 5, I believe).

BEING SOCIAL. Last night one of the Fulbright research grantees invited those still in the city (the majority of the ETAs in provinces left yesterday afternoon right after orientation ended) to his very nice apartment in Las Cañitas (a really nice neighborhood all the way out near where I used to live in Belgrano). There was wine, empanadas, and good conversation. I proceeded to a “concert”/bar in Palermo with a few other ETAs before coming home to PASS OUT. I haven’t slept enough over the last few days. Mix that with a 10-hour plane ride and an unnamed ETA sneezing on the back of my head numerous times during orientation and I have a bit of a cold and truly benefited from a good night’s sleep. I have nothing to do Fulbright-wise until Tuesday when the BA ETAs finally get our own orientation, so I plan to enjoy this long, beautiful weekend (oh, by the way, Monday is a holiday here). For those reading this from the east coast where I see snow is in Tuesday’s forecast, please drool over this:

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MY MENTAL STATE. I’m a little overwhelmed but I finally unpacked today which symbolically helped a little bit. Last time I was in Buenos Aires I had a great time, but it was my first time abroad and I didn’t really know what I was doing with my time. I ended up wasting a lot of it, not taking advantage of the city, and spending too many weekend nights at boliches (clubs) and too many weekend afternoons recovering (going out here is usually 2am - 7 am, unbelievable). My friends were also exclusively composed of Americans and Brits. I’m hoping to be better and more strategic this time. I’m signing up for a coed soccer league, and already have a list of things I never got around to last time or want to revisit/do again. Tomorrow night, a Fulbrighter from last year who moved back is hosting an asado (grill/bbq type event) and so I will do my best to mingle with his porteño friends (as BA locals are called) and snatch up whoever I can. 

That’s all my tired brain can think of for now.

Roca diaries, entry #29749384720

(at lunch today)

R: you don’t want to eat more tomatoes?

K: Not if you want me to finish this huge bowl of stew

R: But the tomatoes are so good

K: I can’t eat them both. I always tell you that you can give me a smaller bowl of stew.

R: Well the stew is good, eat it all

K: I CAN’T eat it all. I never can

R: Eat what you want! What I always say… only eat what you want!

(5 minutes later)
 

R: Eat more cheese, it’s delicious

K: It’s good but I already had 4 pieces

R: Eat more!

K: I can’t finish the stew and the tomatoes if I eat all of that cheese!

R: Just eat the the big chunk there. Oh and that slice. And that one.

K: Fine, but no more cheese after this.

(5 minutes later, tomato and cheese plates are empty, a few garbanzo beans left in my stew)

R: So you’re not going to finish the stew?

K: I can’t. I’m full.

R: It’s so delicious, though.

K: Yes. it’s good. But I’m full

R: We’re going to have to throw that out, you know how I hate throwing out food

K: Why do we have to throw if out if you have another huge bowl of it? Let’s just put it back

R: Nah, we’ll just throw it out

K: But you hate throwing out food

R: It’s just a little, it doesn’t matter

Bored… in Sevilla?!

So about… 10 days ago? 12? was the last night of our program, so our teaching group went to las setas/giant mushrooms/basically a cool place to see a great view of the city from, and drank sangrias and said our goodbyes. It was sad saying goodbye, especially when I knew they were leaving for home and I was staying behind. 

The next day I headed out to PORTUGAL with Nicole, her brother, and Sarah. This marked the beginning of Nicole and Sarah’s crazy Europe travels, so at least I could look after them for the first three days or so! We were in Lagos for three days, which is your typical small, touristy beach town. But it was good for 3 days to celebrate the end of the program! The town was nice, the weather was beautiful, everything was pretty cheap, great beaches, bars, etc. My goal was to find a beautiful private beach at some point. We spent two whole days at the beach and all received our punishment from the sun (my blonde friends a bit more than me). But we did find a beautiful beach! Unfortunately it came with a very, very old, very very naked man. But mostly empty otherwise…

I’ve been back in Sevilla for a little over a week now, and I’ve got 2.5 more to go! I’m sad to leave, kind of ready to be back in the US, not at all ready to leave the Spanish friends I’ve made here that I know I may not see again, very ready not to live with Roca, but also very bored. Very bored. Since 3/4 of my classes have finished… That leaves one. My university [geography] class, which is only Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for an hour and a half or less. While that sounds like paradise, most of my Spanish friends work during the day, and I only have about 4-5 other friends here. Plus I love sleeping so that’s a constant inner argument.

Aaanddd… there’s a strike/protest going on because the government wants to significantly raise the price of university education (still can’t figure out why U.S. students haven’t protested…). So class was canceled today, and all of next week. Wow. !!! Spain, what are you doing to me.

So tomorrow we have class, just in time for me to FINALLY do my group presentation on Estonia (which, by the way if I haven’t mentioned before, I am terrified about because it means speaking Spanish in front of 70 Spanish college kids who have made no effort to welcome any of the foreigners in the class). I was supposed to present yesterday… but the groups before me interpreted the 15 minute limit to be a 15 minute minimum, and talked for 45 minutes about NOTHING. Frustration.

So I’m trying to be constructive… but organizations I’m emailing about to meet with about my research are not responding. So I’m delaying my daytrip to Madrid until they do… I went to buy some presents for people today. I’ve done some homework for this class…

I went running last night and tonight. It’s really nice to run by the river. Now let’s see how long I keep it up for.

Aaaand… ever since feria I’ve been almost incapable of falling asleep before [at least] 3 am. Which means I am unable to wake up before [at least] 11:30 am. I tried reading myself to sleep, but I chose a scary book last week, and had to finish it. So I fell asleep at 5. And tomorrow the Sevillan heat returns. Kill me.

Yesterday Roca bought a shirt and came into my room to show me. I responded with the appropriate “qué mona!/how cute!” and then I asked her if she knew what it said. She looked at me and said, why, is it English? And I said, yup. That’s English. So I translated it for her. The dangers of buying clothing with a foreign language on it when you don’t speak a word!!! … Luckily it only says “Welcome to paradise”.

She also is doing much better—don’t know if I ever posted about it, but she was reaaaally sick. Like passed out on the couch, coughing up her lung, moaning all the time right around the end of my program. She still coughs a lot… and though she think I can’t hear, she’ll hack and spit while I gag in my room. But she is doing much, much better. As I type this she is doing just fine bursting into my room without knocking and closing my window when I had it open. Earlier today she told me she was going to see her doctor tomorrow. I said, why? You’re doing so much better! You’re going out with your friends, you’re sleeping, your cough is almost gone… and like a six year old child, she coughed right after I said that and said [in spanish] “look at that, I’m worse.” Ohh how I wanted to roll my eyes. These spanish señoras can be so dramatic!

But she did teach me how to make a spanish omelet this morning. I wrote down the recipe and plan to add a few more things before I leave. 

Look at this beauty:

I successfully flipped that—with the assistance of a plate—twice. My roommates next year should start thanking me now.

No one likes change

So this is the last week of my program here in Sevilla (but as I’ve said many times, my university course doesn’t end until June, so I’m here for another month). I’m thrilled to stay (really, I love it here and am not ready to leave), but it just seemed to hit me yesterday and today that everyone ELSE is leaving. I’ve been aware that my last month here will consist of a lot higher temperatures and a lot more free time (only one class and many less friends), but I guess I didn’t really…”get it” until today.

Everyone is so stressed about their finals (and I understand, everyone has more than I do) and excited and sad and so many other emotions about leaving in a few days. I just want to make sure I get to say proper goodbyes, since I know making plans to see each other in the U.S. doesn’t always pan out. But everyone’s so busy studying and packing and doing last minute things! I partly blame my program. I think it’s extremely abrupt and unfair to stop providing housing for students the day after their last final. So many of my friends have 4 finals over the next two days and are kicked out of their living situations and head back for the U.S. first thing on Friday. That would overwhelm me a lot. 

To top everything, our teaching professor was in a really bad motorcycle accident over the weekend and broke his femur (OW OW OW OW) and is unable to leave his house, so our last teaching lessons and classes with him have been changed pretty dramatically. Poor guy. He’s always so upbeat, and apparently he’s pretty down in the dumps.

Aaaanddd, my program is broke and not throwing and end of the semester party like it always does. My señora keeps coming into my room and asking if they’ve sent an email yet about a special event for us. I keep telling her no, and she grumbles and walks away. She ain’t happy with them.

Luckily on Friday I get to help two of my friends—Nicole & Sarah—begin their travels. We’re going to Lagos, Nigeria (just kidding, Lagos, Portugal—Mom did you get scared??) for some quality relaxation and beach time. 

When I come back… it will be time to begin the 10 assignments for my university class that I’ve hardly touched, do more for my research project, and of course spend as much time as possible with my spanish amigos before I, too, must leave in June.

Yesterday was my last day teaching, and even though he was in an horrible accident, it’s a good thing my professor didn’t end up coming to observe my last day teaching (like was originally planned). The kids were OUT OF CONTROL. For the first 15 minutes in my 6th grade class yesterday morning, the kids would not calm down. I’ve never had such a tough time getting them quiet. I made kids move seats to try and calm their chatter, but it barely did anything. Finally, one student (blessed Juan Emilio..) asked, “What are we learning today?” WELL HALLELUJAH. I took out my secret bag of candy—which was supposed to be a PRESENT for them—and threw him a piece and thanked him for being a good student. All the kids’ heads snapped towards Juan when they realized I had thrown candy, and instead of talking to each other, they started whining… which was worse. “PLEEEASE TEACHER, PLEASE KIMBY, JUST ONE !! PLEASEEE”. I told them if they were good, I’d give them candy. I told them bluntly that I had 35 minutes left to teach them and then they would never see me again, so please be good. Some were sad. Others looked at me blankly. Multiple times during class I re-emphasized that IF they wanted candy and IF they didn’t want me to be mad on my last day, wouldn’t they please be quiet…

I took a picture with them at the end, and Trini (teacher that I worked with) kept having to take another one because they were going crazy and my facial expression wasn’t happy. Here was the best one we got…

*The two kids sticking up in back (boy all the way to the left with his mouth wide open, and girl on the right) were the two worst trouble makers..

Then I went to my 5th grade class—aka, the angels—and we were pretty unproductive there too. They were significantly more adorable, though. At the end of class, they gave me a bunch of cards they had written (one girl wrote me a poem), and all over it, in english and spanish, it said things like “you are the best teacher in the whole world” and “good luck”. One girl wrote me a personal note and said I could only read it once I got back to the U.S. I cheated. It says:

"Hello Kimby, I am Sandra: you are very very list, simpatic, and sund, you smile is very big and beautiful. For my you are the best ticher a love. Sandra. Goodbye Kimby"

List is supposed to be her english translation of list@… ie, clever/intelligent, and simpatic should be nice. No idea what “sund” is… Oh Sandra! Then her and 3 of her friends sang me a song (“Como te voy a olvidar”) and hugged me lots. And what should have been a clean goodbye ended up me promising to come back to visit because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my wednesday classes…

Front right with the glasses is Alejandro, my little parrot. He loved to imitate what I said and “compliment” me on my accent if I said something in Spanish. The girl right above my head is darling little Sandra.

72 hours of FERIA

So I’m long overdue for this post; what else is new? Feria started last Tuesday and went until Sunday. I was there for Thursday-Sunday which was probably the perfect amount.

My intercambio and a lot of his friends have private casetas (tent-like structure things where you eat and drink and dance inside), so I was pretty lucky to go all over with them. The weather wasn’t too great, but inside of the casetas it was fine.

Most of the time we just talked and drank rebujitos (manzanilla—a type of wine—+ sprite). Someone always had a pitcher, and you just drank them out of little tiny plastic cups, and refilled them endlessly for hours, so you never really knew how much you drank..  We also ordered food (a lot of bars/restaurants close down for the week and work inside of the casetas) and ate etc etc. I did a lot of sitting and gawking as I watched people dance Sevillana. My intercambio & his girlfriend eventually forced me into learning the dance—at which I was horrible. By the third night I could kind of almost follow along, but it was best if the room was full of people dancing and I was just a tiny dot in the middle. A lot of spinning and counting..

I wore my señora’s dress the 2nd night, which was so nice of her to offer and amazing that it (kind of) fit me. There are some parts of our bodies, however, that are quite different, so the dress did not fit me nearly as perfectly as everyone else’s did. But still, I was able to slightly blend in with the Spanish folk..

Here are some pictures that will hopefully help illustrate the experience…

In addition to a lot of traditional get-up worn (like the flamenca dresses), men wore old-fashioned suits and hats and rode around on horses that were unfortunately (for them) decorated like this:

By about 8pm, though, the horses could rest, and the city washed their poop off the streets so the night could continue.

This is on one of the streets of feria (it’s like a mini city during this week each april) at night; you can see the lovely lights and people outside of some of the casetas.

Here’s Nicole and I that Friday evening before we headed down to feria. My señora had borrowed a dress from her friend so that Nicole could blend in with me. She got a bunch of shocked faces and waves from little kids in this dress… our current theory is that they thought she was Big Bird…

Anddd here’s a picture of my intercambio and some of his friends. Unfortunately the friend that took the picture refused to take a decent one, so I’m stuck with this live-action shot.

Only one more week til my program finishes and 85% of my american friends jet off. Luckily I still have another month and only one class during that whole time whoooo!

Barcelona & Basque Country

So my 2nd spring break began last Thursday night/Friday. Saturday morning I flew into Barcelona, and met with Nicole and her parents (who graciously let me crash in their hotel room for two nights). Unfortunately the weather in Barcelona was pretty bad… cloudy all the time, patches of rain, and too cold for my liking. I also found a lot of the people there (example, guy at the receptionist desk in our hotel…) extremely unwilling to compromise on the language issue. I would ask whether I should speak in castellano (traditional spanish) or english, and they would say “neither; catalan or french”. Yet I guarantee that 95% of the tourists in Barcelona don’t speak catalan, and many don’t speak French. But we did eat fantastically. 

To solidify my experience, when we went through Montjuic (where the Olympic stadium is and also this huge museum), we saw this:

Oh well. I’m going back in June with my mom & sister and I have a feeling the weather will be better. Plus there are quite a few things on my list that I want to see.

Monday evening I flew from Barcelona to Bilbao, and met up with a friend from high school and two of her friends. Bilbao was rainy but pretty beautiful.. And even though I’ve never been, they confirmed my opinion that it looked a bit like a city out of northern Europe (Germany or the Netherlands etc).

We found our hostel easily, and it was really great. Apparently the only hostel in the “old town” of Bilbao, and it’s only a year old. If anyone needs a recommendation, ask me!

Tuesday morning I took a 2 hour bus to a city called Irun, about 30 seconds from the French border, for my first incredibly nervewracking interview for my research. I met with a woman who runs the office for SOS Bebes Robados in Basque country, and she told me her story (which I realized was in the book I’ve been reading since January ,I just didn’t realize it was her!), and I asked her a zillion questions. Seeing as the entire interview (~45 min) was in spanish, I recorded it. I was so nervous that my spanish fell apart a few times and I made sounds that I’m sure are not a part of any language. She spoke fast but… at least I have it recorded! One interview down, how many more to go?

Also, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m doing a massive research project about Argentina and Spain… it’s going to occupy my entire summer when I come back to the U.S. and is my senior honors thesis project next year. 

Anyway, after the interview, I took a train into San Sebastian to meet up with my friends. Even though the weather was supposed to be horrible in Bilbao and San Sebastian the whole time we were there, we ended up with a cold/windy but beautiful day in San Sebastian! 

We went for a traditional “pintxos” lunch and then sat on the beach for a while. I watched dogs play and tons of surfers, but was unfortunately wrapped up in my jacket the whole time. Oh well. Still beautiful.

Wednesday we did some traditional Bilbao stuff. We walked through the old town and along the river to see some beautiful Bilbao. This is a picture of some of the old town houses, with this modern building in back. The bottom part, the green part, was our hotsel. 

We were good, ol’ fashioned tourists and went to the Guggenheim. It was pretty cool—especially considering that I just don’t get art. Send me to whatever museum about natural history and animals… but… art…? Still, only 5 euros and it was a cool experience. That night we bought stuff to make (pretty bad) bean burgers, and bought a bottle of the “traditional” hard cider from Basque country… I couldn’t finish my glass… tasted like black olives. 

Flew back to Sevilla (damn, 3 flights in 5 days) Wednesday night, got back to my apartment around midnight, and then crashed in preparation for… FERIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Ideally I’ll post something massive about my feria experience on Monday. All that I’ll say now is that I am literally nocturnal. Woke up at 2pm today, planning to take another nap later, and then I go out from 10pm-6amish. I love feria. Also, I’m logging in a sold 20 hours of pure Spanish conversation with my intercambio and his friends, so that’s a plus. HASTA LUEGO.