Well…I have arrived! On Wednesday, I packed up 9 months worth of belongings into one medium-sized suitcase and a backpack (go me!) and was on my way to the O’Hare airport. I bade farewell to my mom with a kiss and hug while the train pulled away to Terminal 3. The adventure began.
The flight was uneventful for the most part. My suitcase weighed 22.2 kg and the limit is 23 kg….so it was close. When I found my seat on the plane, I was in one of the middle sections (set up 2, 4, 2). I prefer the window because I can lean against it and sleep. Luckily, the couple in the 2 seats against the window were having problems because the seat in front of them didn’t stay up. They wanted to stay together, so I offered to trade them (there was an extra next to me as well). But when I sat down in the new seat against the window, the flight attendant comes up to me and says I can’t sit there for safety reasons! Of course, she began rattling this off to me in spanish and the older man goes, “English, I think”. I was simply trying to understand what I could of it in preparation. 🙂 But it all worked out and I simply had to move during the take-off and landing (during which I sat next to a wonderful woman named Sharon from a suburb of Chicago, retired 2nd grade teacher of 35 years, and off to visit her son who studied in Spain and then married a woman there and has lived there 10 years…she shared teaching ideas and anecdotes about her son’s experiences and wedding). The stewardesses continued to speak to me in Spanish, though…apparently I looked spanish?? I wanted to say….¡No soy española! But it was fun and good practice, too.
The layover in the Madrid-Barajas airport wasn’t too bad…I sipped on a “café con leche” (coffee with a lot of milk) and did some people watching. However, the airport was sooo spread out. I walked for hours to get anywhere, it seemed like. Upon arrival, I thought my luggage was missing as I watched everyone else grab theirs from the retrieval thing and then the belt stopped moving…..I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I was the only one left standing there. Luckily, it ended up coming on a different plane and all was okay!
Ana, one of the ‘bilingual’ teachers from the school (she teaches biology and geology combined), picked me up and we grabbed a Galician lunch in the new part of Santiago de Compostela. She told me it would have to be quick…..I ate zucchini with potatoes for the first course, some sort of fish, rice, and green pepper for the second, and chocolate mousse for the dessert (“postre”….yes Mom, my favorite thing ever. It was “riquísima”…delicious.). And of course, Ana explained, we have to end with a coffee. An hour and a half later, we departed from our “quick lunch”. haha. We did some other things and picked up a teacher, then headed to Pobra for a Parent’s Meeting at the school that night. By that point, I was still wearing the same clothes from the plane, had only brushed my teeth once, and looked a complete wreck, but I met the others and the four administrators of the school and sat through an hour and a half of a meeting where I didn’t understand anything. It was in Galician. Entirely Galician, which is a mixture of spanish and portuguese. When I read it, I can discern some things, but when they speak, it all runs together so much!
By the time we arrived at Loli’s house in Boiro, a nearby town, at 10pm, I was beyond exhausted. I met her kids, Pedro (10) and Alicia (7), along with her husband, Toño (short for Antonio). At school the next day, I went with Angel, the secretary who basically runs all the financial stuff and knows the technology for the school, to Ribeira. Ribeira is another nearby town where we went to the police station for some legal things and set up a bank account, etc. Angel doesn’t know English too well, so it was good practice for both of us! In the evening, I went with Loli to the kids’ activities (taekwondo, guitar, swimming…and then ballet class on Saturdays!), but the moms all go to a “cafetería” during the activities. I sat with her and her friends sipping on a drink. At the cafeterías, you do not eat usually, but just get a drink…and then they bring you free tapas, which are basically small snacks!
Forewarning…gross part ahead: Loli’s husband is a veterinarian, so we stopped by his clinic while in the centre of town. He was castrating a cat….I watched. Well, I should say I watched only half before I felt sick. I’ll spare you the details, but it was….[shudder]. They slice open the balls and cut off whatever part it is and then have to tie the strings of the reproductive system into a knot. And blood. Ugh. Then I left.
Finally, we’re heading home on Friday and it’s again 10pm. We ate dinner at a restaurant where one of the tapas they gave us were “mejillones” (or in Galician, “mexillones” and you pronounce the “x” like “sh”). What are “mejillones”, you ask? Mussels. Well, a lot of you know I do not care for seafood (“mariscos”), but per my life philosophy, I told them “Lo probaré”….”I will try it.” And I did. I tried two, but nope….do not care for it. And I tried tuna in a sandwich. Nope. And then we got “calamares”, which is squid. I didn’t necessarily like it, but it had a light batter so it was not too awful. I’ve also now tried “empanadas de mejillones”, which are like mussel pies, but nah. However, I never used to like sushi either, so I’m going to continue trying different things. Especially because this area of Galicia is known for the “mejillones”. In the bay of Boiro, you can see the “bateas de mejillones”…mussel farms where the mussels grow on ropes! It’s neat.
Tomorrow we are going to have paella, which is a traditional Spanish dish. But when we were in the plaza today, Loli got many of the main ingredients for it…..allllll seafood. And get this–they’re ALL ALIVE. It’s a market of mainly seafood items and some other meats (and a couple stalls of breads and produce). The crabs are giant and crawling over one another. The shrimp were moving their giant eyes and legs (remember my reaction in Dubrovnik, Katelyn? And those were dead.). All were ALIVE. I was so grossed out that I wanted to puke, also because of the smells. And Loli bought a variety of these living animals, we put them in a plastic sack and then I had to carry them around the city….I made sure to hold the bag away from me a bit. I’m interested to see how I do with the paella.
Speaking of food, the Spanish eat at very different times than the United States. They have a small breakfast when they awake, usually coffee and a piece of toast. (Loli puts olive oil and jam on hers.) Then they don’t eat again until “la comida” around 3pm…I’m usually SOOO hungry by then because breakfast is usually my biggest and favorite meal. Then they eat “la cena” about 9:30 or 10:30pm. It’s an adjustment from my eating habits, for sure. Today we had a wonderful comida though….lots of different types of meats, bread made from corn, a salad of endives, corn, and carrots, and roasted red peppers. ¡A mi me gusta!
Well, enough about these details….if I’m being honest, it’s been hard so far. Really, really, really hard. My spanish comprehension is horrendous and then I keep forgetting words when I try to speak. Plus, I think in English and then it comes out wrong and I have to fix my comments….needless to say, my speech is stuttered and I often don’t understand. I will sit in the group of Loli’s friends and have no idea what is happening. It is even worse because they so often speak in Galician. However, I know they are making an effort to speak in the castellano spanish for my sake sometimes. Even after a few days, though, I’m starting to feel a little bit better. I understand the accent of Loli’s family more and since she is pretty much bilingual, she helps me out and I help her with words and pronunciation! No one is fully bilingual here though…even with the teachers, it is a term I use loosely. I have to speak very slow….I feel like I am speaking slow, but they still tell me to slow down. Pues, I guess it is an inherent problem I have already! And I’m constantly needing them to repeat or slow down…usually I still don’t understand. I just try to get the gist. Hopefully in a couple more weeks, I’ll be better and have a larger vocabulary. I am using the little tiny notebook that my sister gave me before I left as a personal dictionary….to write down words and phrases that I don’t know.
I brought many brochures about Indiana and IU and Warsaw here….I was showing them to Loli and Toño tonight. They were blown away by the cost of college in the states, even at a public university like IU. The thought of school loans was foreign to them…college here is almost free.
All in all, it’s been a good start….even if I panicked at first and it was truly, positively awful. I can’t complain. This family I’m staying with it wonderful. They have a beautiful home. We went to the beach today and I kayaked with the kids. I’m trying new foods, even if I don’t like them. My spanish is improving. It’s a beautiful place. Yep. I’ve given too many details already (such is my nature), so I’ll quit. I’m going to look for a “piso” (flat/apartment) on Monday and get a Spanish prepaid phone. Loli and I already compared the prices of all the different stores. 🙂 Here are the only other pictures I’ve taken so far: (You can click on them to make them bigger.)