Nelson Mandela Through the Eyes of a 7-year-old:

Before my trip to South Africa I really wanted to read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom so I bought the book. I brought the book to South Africa and it sat on my night table for five months, unopened. Then I decided to jet set off to Europe and I didn’t bring the book with me which is good because I managed to accumulate an entire suitcase full of books while living in Sweden. When I went home for Christmas at the end of that year I got a Kindle. I figured this was going to help a lot with my packing issues so when I was packing for Spain I decided that Long Walk to Freedom would be the one real book I would bring to Spain. Again, Nelson Mandela found a nice cozy place on my night table where he sat for another five months.

In those five months he became a novelty for my six-year-old that I au pair for. He would come in, look at the book, look at me and ask me why I still hadn’t finished this book. I would read ten pages or so and put it down. One day he came in and asked me:

“Liz, when are you going to finish this book on Obama?” I looked at him.

“Fernando, this isn’t Obama this is Nelson Mandela.”

“Who’s that?”

Who is Nelson Mandela? How do you put Nelson Mandela into words so that a six-year-old who thinks that the only famous man with black skin is Obama will understand? I don’t remember how I responded but he probably looked at me like I had six heads and asked to play something else.

After this I was determined to find a kid-friendly book on Nelson Mandela that would do a better job of explaining this amazing man than I ever could. (Aside: I finally finished Long Walk to Freedom while bouncing around Germany, Austria and Italy this past summer. Once I got into I couldn’t put it down.) I found Who Was Nelson Mandela? A kid friendly biography that is a part of the “big head” biography series that has the picture of the books’ subjects on the covers with, you guessed it, a big head.

This all brings me to the other day when I finally started reading Who Was Nelson Mandela? with my now seven-year-old. We snuggled under some blankets and began to delve into the life of Nelson Mandela. We made it through the first few pages with pictures depicting Mandela in his village in traditional clothing without too many questions. The questions started when there was a picture of young Mandela and Oliver Thambo opening their law firm wearing western styled suits.

“Liz, what are they wearing?”

“Bathing suits, what does it look like they’re wearing?” (if my kids learn nothing more from me at least they will learn the art of sarcasm)

“They wear the same clothes as us?”

Oh boy, I thought. This was going to be mind blowing for this little one. I began to explain that yes, people in South Africa wear the same clothes as us. To prove this I took him to my computer and showed him some pictures from my trip. He couldn’t believe it. I showed him pictures of kids about his age wearing the same type of clothes he wore to school. He couldn’t believe it. Then he saw some cars in one of my pictures.

“Liz, they drive the same cars as us?”

I then explained that yes they do drive the same cars as us in Spain but they drive on the opposite side of the road like those crazy people in England.

“Liz, show me a picture of him.”

“Of who?”

“Of Nelson Mandela.” He said with as if it was obvious whom he was speaking about.

We then started to Google pictures of Mandela. It became a bit of a game as he tried to find a picture of Mandela wearing the same shirt he was wearing on the cover of the book. Then we came across a picture of Mandela mid dance move. So, I showed him a video of Mandela doing his famous dance moves. This made him laugh like crazy. (He now goes around the house moving his arms back and forth much like Mandela did when he danced.)

As we continued to Google and look at pictures from my trip more questions came.

“So people in all of Africa dress like this? What do people in Egypt look like? What do they dress like? What type of cars do they drive?” (He’s recently been learning about Ancient Egypt in school and has a new obsession with sphinxes and the Nile River.) As we continued to Google he saw pictures of women wearing scarves and asked why they dressed like that. I explained that that was a part of their religion.

The questions continued. “Why are there trees in these pictures? Isn’t Africa a desert? What do you mean Africa isn’t a desert? What do you mean Africa isn’t a country?”

I then pulled up a topographical map of Africa and explained where there were deserts and where there weren’t and how Africa was a continent and not a country. He didn’t quite understand so we spent a little bit more time on how many countries make up Africa.

As we got back to the book I could see his head was doing flips, he couldn’t get his head around everything that he had just learned. The next part was going to blow his mind too. I had to explain what an apartheid is. To bring this down to his level and emphasis the absurdity of what had happened in South Africa (and in the United States too) I explained that they tried to separate people based on their skin color. This really didn’t hit home for him. I asked him:

“What if I could only use that door to get into my room because I have green eyes and you could only use that door to get into my room because you have brown eyes?”

This sounded crazy to him, as it should have. We continued to read about the different levels of segregation from living locations to benches and everything in between. Every time I brought this back to eye color to emphasize how we wouldn’t have been able to do the same things because we don’t have the same eye color.

We’ve been reading a little bit each day and he’s slowly starting to understand more and more. The first day after we started reading he wanted to draw me a picture of something I like to do. Since reading was too boring for him to draw he choose traveling. To depict this he decided to draw a map. In drawing Africa he once again realized how many countries make up Africa and how The Sahara is not actually a country but a desert that spans over many countries.

For the past few summers my host family’s cousins have hosted a girl from “The Sahara” that comes and lives with them for the summer. I asked them where she was from and they just answered “The Sahara.” It never occurred to them that she had a country. To them she just lives in a small village in The Sahara.

As Fernando and I continue to journey through Nelson Mandela’s life my eyes are opened. Once upon a time, not too long ago, I too was ignorant to many race issues. I am still ignorant in many ways but I am continuously trying to learn more and share what I do know. Like Fernando, I try and put it into terms I can understand, for example to him apartheid is:

“When people are separated by the color of their skin; like if you had black skin, Liz,

and I had blue skin.”

“Blue skin Fernando?”

“Liz, I just like the color blue.”

He’s my future Avatar Rights Activist. This is one of my contributions to breaking the danger of a single story, may there be many more to come.

P.S. We found a picture of Mandela wearing the shirt depicted on the cover of the book:

Mandelawho was mandela

For more on The Danger of a Single Story:

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Shit my “Profe” Says:

On top of teaching 26 English classes a week and being an au pair to 3 lovely children I am also in the process of attempting to learn Spanish. Like with most things in my life I want it to happen instantly. I want my students to instantly be able to speak English just like I want to instantly be able to speak Spanish but it’s not going to happen. So I’ve decided to seek some help. I have enrolled in a course at the local language school.

To set the stage, there are 8 students in the class including me. There are 4 Brazilians 2 mom age women, one girl my age, and one guy that I’m still trying to figure out his age. Then there is one Russian grandma-aged woman, a French girl that is also about my age, a young pregnant Dutch woman that hasn’t showed up since the first week, and yours truly. Now mind you this is a very interesting dynamic to have in a classroom. Not many people have the opportunity to be in the same place with some many different cultures on a regular basis and I’m pretty sure that is why my profe (teacher) decided that he was going to take full advantage of this group dynamic. Since the first day of class (over a month ago) we have completed exactly two pages of a textbook meanwhile we have had classroom discussions on everything from Ebola to women’s rights to Russia’s supposed submarine in Swedish waters and everything in between.

Now to a person that likes to stay up to date on current events and has spent some time studying human rights issues in addition to calling herself a feminist this would be an AWESOME class, if only I didn’t have to speak in Spanish and I maybe had one supporter in the entire class. But this is not the case. Instead take an extremely complex issue, add a dash of frustrating language barrier, with a dollop of ignorance, a hint of human rights knowledge, throw in some stereotypes and you get a Liz three times a week ready to smash her head against a wall. Thus I will now recount a few fabulous moments from my Spanish class from Hell.

 

Topic: Racism

 

Some things I need to point out to better understand this story:

  • The Spanish language in of itself is racism. You see in Spanish, at least in Spain Spanish there is one word for skin colors. You are either carne (meat) colored or you are not. Now according to my last years teacher you cannot be pálido (pale) unless you are sick. And if you have black skin you are a negrito (according to Spaniards when you add –ito to the end of a word it makes it softer). So your options are carne or negrito to describe skin. Excellent start.
  • I did not speak Spanish all summer and thus I was a little rusty on day three of class.
  • I prefer to refer to people’s skin color as a characteristic like hair color of eyes color. i.e. I say “a person with black skin” Not simply a black person.

 

As we started discussing racism my blood began to boil, as it usually does when Spaniards discuss race issues simply because the Spanish language has not advanced itself to accommodate the globalized world we now live in. I had so many things to say but no vocabulary to discuss it. Of course, I tried to avoid speaking my looking down the entire time at my notebook, my lovely profe took this as me saying, “Call on me I would love to talk!” Idiot.

So when asked if race was still an issue in the United States I tried to calmly explain one of the most current issues in the USA referring to Ferguson, Missouri. Now because the vocabulary words to tell this story are so often used in my everyday Spanish life this was not a problem at all. Words like “to kill”, “hold accountable”, “shootings” and “protestors” always roll right off my tongue. So this was my first issue. The second was that I was trying to tell the story as I would in English “a police officer with white skin shot a teenager with black skin.” Every time I went to say “a person with black skin” he would correct me to say un negro. This was infuriating. He continued to interrupt and also insisted on trying to help me by saying things that, believe it or not, were not the words I was looking for. In fact, I was NOT trying to say that the teenager was dangerous, I was NOT trying to defend the white police officer, I was NOT trying to say that the protestors are overreacting.

We were off to a fabulous start.

 

Topic: Gender Gap

The gender wage gap has been a hot topic these days with Obama making a push to close the gap even if he hasn’t started this fine initiative in his own office, aka The White House. So I started, talking about how women, on average, make $0.77 for every $1.00 men make in the United States. They listened. My teacher interrupted. And so I carried on. Then after it was my turn my profe asked my Russian classmate to explain how it was in Russia. I then found myself listened to a 10 minute diatribe, in Spanish, about how in Russia women ALWAYS get paid the same amount of money and that it was crazy that in the United States they don’t get paid the same. I wanted to launch out of my seat. Luckily, she did admit that it is harder for women to get promotions in Russia but other than that the United States is the one with moral issues.

At the end of class, after I had reattached my head from popping off, our teacher decided he wanted to learn more about the gender issues in our respective countries so he told us (the two women in class for the day- not a great day for attendance) to write a paper on this topic. Then he turned to the one male student in the class and asked, “What would you like to write about tonight?” If my head had been a bobble head it would have popped off its spring. I turned and said, “What?! Why doesn’t he have to write about women’s issue?” This was somehow both obvious and funny to the two males in the room. Obviously he shouldn’t write about women’s rights because he is obviously not a woman and thus has no knowledge about these issues. I sat and starred at them as they continued this conversation. Once the student decided that he wanted to write about music, specifically Bob Marley, and my profe agreed I lost it. “This is the issue! Men need to learn about women’s rights too! He is just as capable of writing about women’s rights laws in his respective country (Brazil) as we are!” Needless to say after saying this rather loudly and in Spanish in both the profe’s and student’s faces they found me comical. They laughed out loud as I walked out the door. Needless to say I did not do my writing assignment that night and I was flabbergasted the next day when the male student actually brought in an assignment on reggae music.

Topic: Capital Punishment

We were discussing something most likely completely different when my profe decided to switch topics to Russian life verse American life (my profe has a sick obsession with watching my blood boil). I was respectfully listening to the way Russians are all blissfully enjoying all their Human Rights in Russia, when I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to gently ease into the issues currently taking place in Russia revolving around LGBT rights. I was simply saying the it is not true that Russia should be the new poster child for Human Rights when my profe decided to cut me off and say “oh and everyone has human rights in the United States?” Now I will be the first to admit that United States has a loooonnngggg way to go on many issues but at least we have legalized same sex marriage in 32 states. Travelling around the world tends to make me extremely homesick and also never want to return all at the same time. But before I could even bring up gay rights my profe was in my face asking about capital punishment and how I felt about the subject. Now, unfortunately, Capital punishment is also legal in 32 states. And yes, Japan is the only other industrial democracy in the world that has the death penalty. But just because I am an American does not mean I agree with this subject, or disagree. But before I had the chance to speak freely on this subject in Spanish (because, again, this vocabulary is so useful) the wriest smirk crossed my profe’s face and he decided to open the textbook.

Topic: Feminism

On this fine day in class we were actually working from our textbook trying to complete another page (wahoo page three!) when gender issues presented themselves. We were learning about how to write a CV and the vocabulary necessary to explain how long you have done something i.e. from x year to x year you have done x. To do this our textbook had a job-opening ad in it and next to it two candidates and their qualifications. One candidate was a woman and one was a man. Once we had finished reading the two candidates’ profiles the profe asked us which one we would choose for the job. The Russian woman thought that the man deserved the job. I was zoning out when the profe then asked her why. “Because the woman has a child.” Say what now? My head was back in the game. Now why would that be a reason to hire or not to hire a person AND both of the candidates have children! I was explaining that this was not a reason to hire or not to hire a person a woman when profe cut me off and asked which one I would choose. I said the woman. At which point he turned to me and asked, “why, because she’s a woman?” As if my feminism was something to mock. As if my thoughts on how women and men should be treated equally were the dreams only fairytales could fulfill. As if hiring a woman over a man is something only a woman would do. I turned to him, keeping my head on my shoulders, and said, “No, because she is more qualified.”

Mind you the wanted ad required a person to be able to speak both English and Arabic and the woman had 8 years of English and 3 years of Arabic training while the man only had 4 years of English and no Arabic training. The man also had a 3-month-old baby, while the woman had a 10-year-old child. I made my case based around the former point rather than the latter point and told my fine profe this at which he laughed at and dismissed the class.

Topic: Spanish Verbs

Randomly, while we were in the middle of the exercise profe decided to tell us how when Indians are learning Spanish they tend to speak on the in the infinitive. Now I dost protest. I turned to my profe and said, “Um, I do that too it’s not just the Indians.” And then, believe it or not, the Russian woman and I actually agreed on something. We agreed that Spanish verbs are absolutely ridiculous. Now I know nothing about the Russian language but I do know we weren’t going to get any support on this subject from those in the class that speak French or Portuguese. Our profe didn’t appreciate this attack on his language; imagine that! So I decided to make my point.

“Spanish people do that too when they are learning English.”

“Oh really?”

Yes, you dumbass because learning a new language is hard.

“Yes, when Spaniards speak English they throw the word ‘to’ all the places it doesn’t belong because in Spanish correr means ‘to run’ or ser means ‘to be’ etc. so people often say ‘I to be happy’ rather than I AM happy. Or ‘do you to run?’ ” He looked at me and laughed. I continued.

“Yes many people do this, but obviously not my students.” I was about to lay it on him because after one full week of teaching I felt superior to this profe.

“Oh yes? And how many students to do have?” Profe asked.

“300.” (more accurately 289) But the class looked at me like oh look she’s saying the wrong words again. I then explained that I wasn’t.

Then the profe looked at me and asked, “Are you an auxiliar de conversacion?” As if that was somehow a lesser position than someone else that teaches English.

“Yes.” I said. He nodded his head, looked down at his paper and moved onto the next subject.

 

Stay tuned for more blood boiling stories that are unfortunately bound to occur!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramblings of an ESL Teacher: Day One: Apparently, You Can Pay Me to Go Back to High School

I used to say “you couldn’t pay me to go back to high school.” All the time. Okay not all the time. I wasn’t harboring some five year old grudge against my high school (there were and still are some amazing people in my life that wouldn’t be there had I not gone through my public school system) just that when anyone mentioned high school or high school problems I thought about how going back to high school could easily be placed on any of Dante’s rings of hell and I would have found it aptly placed. This was also my general response when talking about teaching. Over the years many people have told me that I would make a great teacher, granted some were more blunt than others by supplementing that suggestion with “only high school though” comment. People have not only suggested being a teacher but also a guidance counselor and I have always disliked these ideas for two reasons 1) you couldn’t pay me to go back to high school and 2) the monotonous repetition of repeating the same lecture five times a day year after year to a bunch of kids that could not possibly care less about the subject would be utterly mind numbing to me.

Then I became an English teacher in Spain. For some reason the limits you place on yourself in the US (or your respective home country) compared to those you place on yourself in another country are vastly different. Kinda like the limits you put on yourself at summer camp or the limits (or lack there of) you put on yourself your freshman year in college/university. They are just different. Can’t explain it, well I could but I’m not going to, you can figure it out. For example, living in another country with a family and taking care of children five days a week would sound like a jail sentence in America but place me in Europe near a Ryanair accessible airport and I’m all yours! Or place me in front of a classroom of stinking teenagers (and I do literally mean stinking, deodorant people!) in the United States where 90% of the students would be donned in a combination of any or all brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, American Eagle, Coach, Michael Kors, Ugg, Northface, Victoria’s Secret, etc… and I would laugh in your face. But, put me in front of teenagers that are learning English as a second language because they have a desire to move outside of Spain or simply want to go to London and it’s worlds different (not that I have actually taught in the United States but just based on my very limited exposure to the teaching atmosphere). And I obviously know all of this because I have taught English for all of one whole day!

Today was my first day of teaching, incase you didn’t guess. This is a huge feat in of itself because the Spanish government, no surprise, decided to screw me over at the last minute. Now it wasn’t exactly the Spanish government that screwed me over as it was the agency that writes the contracts for my school. You see this whole idea about teaching English this year was spawned last year when my host mom decided that she wanted to convince me to stay longer and I decided it was going to take more than five months to master the Spanish language (surprise, surprise). At last that led me to decide to spend another year as an au pair with the added bonus of also being an English teacher. Being me I, of course, planned out exactly how I could get my Spanish visa and my working permit before last summer so that I could go on a wonderful summer vacation and spend all my money knowing that I would have a nice pay check and job waiting for me when I got back to Vigo. Several different Spanish entities decided to put a stake in this plan.

The first was my Spanish school. They refused to give me paperwork saying I would be a student this year before I passed my exam (second week of June) and got my grades (third week of June). Thus I needed to wait until August to apply for my visa and thus would have to come back right after getting my visa to apply for a work permit. This was all very squishy because I had heard the visa process could take anywhere from 2-6 weeks and the work permit required 3 months. With a potential October 1st start date this was not really going to work. But then some fabulous news came; I didn’t need the work permit! The agency (damn them!) told me that as long as I had a visa I wouldn’t need a permit. Perfect! This works perfectly. I could go home in August apply for the visa allow for the 2-6 week process and come back to Vigo and not have to worry about the 3 month-long waiting period for the working permit. Wahoo! This was made even better when my visa process went as smooth as tequila running down a spring breaker’s throat. (While I’m here I would like to send a shout out to all of those who listened to me vent, stress, and FREAK OUT about my visa process. In the end you were right and it was easy.)

With my visa in hand I headed back to Vigo and sat in ignorant bliss until one week before my anticipated start date when my principal/ landlord/ fair host mother/ co-English teacher/ food provider came in and asked me for my NIE number, my work permit number, and social security number. I stared at her. Had I been a cartoon my eyes would have been the size of my face and wide open with only two quick deliberate blinks to the *tink tink* sound blinks only make in cartoons or my head would have simply just popped straight off as many heads did on Tuesday night’s episode of NCIS. Neither of these happened, nor did I scream, “You told me I didn’t need it!” Instead I slowly, figuring out what I was going to say word-by-word, said, “I have my NIE, but I don’t not have the other two because the agency told me last year that I wouldn’t need it.” She looked at me and calmly said, “ahuh” and turned and walked out of the room.

To make a long story shorter I had to apply for the work permit which required me to find two different parking spots, speak Spanish to an umpteenth amount of Spanish speakers and go to two different offices of the Spanish government. I was able to get the information I needed. After a run around town, a test of my Spanish proficiency, lighting a firecracker under the agency’s butt, returning to one of the said offices, going on an emotional rollercoaster ride, and waiting 4 business days I received my work permit. Three-month waiting period be damned! Turns out that agency had a few connections with the work office and after they sent in the big guns, since they realized they had royally screwed up, and pushed the right buttons they made this go a lot more quickly than usually. In turn I only started two days later than I was supposed to! Which is why I started today with my 8th, 9th, and 10th grade students rather than my 3,4, and 5 year old students on Monday. I jumped in headfirst. Little kids are easy. You give them candy, let them jump around, sing, and scream and they love you; high school students are the hardest on teachers, I should know because I was once one.

I was fine with this because I was actually super excited to teach these grades because, like many people had told me before, I believed these grades would be my strengths. That is why I was totally fine all morning and wasn’t worried at all about teaching. I had this in the bag! I had my PowerPoint explaining how I am in fact from New York but I do not live in New York City because, get this, New York City is just an “itty bitty” piece of the entire state of New York.

(Now I actually described New York City as “itty bitty” to every class in Robin William’s Genie voice quoting “itty bitty living space” when he was referring to the fact that his lamp/living space was in no way proportional to his “phenomenal cosmic power.” If you’re still not picking up what I’m putting down watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfTfXLLJlzM . Unfortunately, no one got the movie quote but they did find me entertaining. It’s fine I suffer from this problem when speaking with some native English speakers too. It truly takes a certain type of introvert and/or couch potato to have watched the number of movies and TV series I have watched.)

Moving on to the entire point of this blog post… Today after teaching six different classes (one advanced and one not advanced class of each grade 8th -10th) I realized that going back to high school now would be AWESOME! 1) Smart phones are fabulous! (Though the tells for students being on a smart phone are way more obvious than texted one handed under a desk by feeling the keypad I would have figured something out.) 2) While my hair and dermatological issues have not changed much over the past five years I have one thing that I didn’t have back in high school and that in confidence! Dear lord has it changed since high school! I stepped into that classroom and I could instantly tell who was popular, who was smoking something, who was dating whom, who the braniacs were, and who the soon-to-be drops out were. While I could do this all in high school I had to adhere to the rules of these social parameters, meanwhile, as a teacher, I hold all the power. Mwahahahah! Just kidding. Not really. And this is what made me feel like I could take on this year of teaching 26 lessons a week spanning 13 grade levels.

Some other random things I learned my first day:

  1. Advanced kids separate themselves like boys and girls at a middle school dance while non-advanced kids tend to intermingle. More pondering theories on why this is to come in the future.
  2. My psychology major will not only help me understand these kids, but it also has an unknown-to-me intimidation factor. Cool.
  3. I was made to be the fly on the wall, observing human behavior is absolutely fascinating!
  4. “Has got/Have got/hasn’t got/haven’t got” make my ears bleed. Has/Have and DOESN’T/DON’T have. Done.
  5. Being a T-Rex must have been excruciatingly difficult. While I did say I was the picture of calm cool and collect before my classes started I was fighting some typical fight or flight emotions once students actually entered the classroom and all eyes were on me. Especially when I handed the class over to the students and allowed them to collectively ask me five (yes! only five) questions about myself. Since I refused to be dubbed “the teacher with sweat stains,” because, let’s be honest, we all remember at least that one teacher/professor that had the most horrible sweat stains. Mine: Mr. O’toole 7th grade Language Arts and Biology for Jocks professor who’s name I have since forgotten but his pit stains will live on forever in my memory – as will his subconscious cursing. So with this in mind once my sympathetic nervous system decided to betray me I kept my arms from my elbows up glued to my sides. This made doing my this-is-how-big-New-York-State-is and this-is-how-big-NYC-is gestures very difficult. And for my third and final TV/ Movie reference please refer to the following link to understand what was going through my head, aside from Mr. O’toole and forgotten professor’s name’s sweaty pits.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ7rezDwqEI

 

When life gives you grapes, make wine!

The rain has stopped, the jet lag has passed and this week I have reacquainted myself with Vigo.

The first few days I slept all “morning” (until 2pm) and earned myself the nickname Sleeping Beauty, personally, I was okay with that. Then I decided to venture out into the city and make friends. I spent Saturday watching Harry Potter (in Spanish) then Sunday the rain stopped and it was time to get back into the swing of things. While the kids went to their surf lesson I went for a nice long run along the beaches and then we headed to Paradise (my host mom’s parent’s summer house) in Parada.

After a spectacular lunch of Fabada and some time hanging out in the sun we were ready to head home. As we were leaving, they asked if I would like to come back tomorrow to help “smash the grapes.” I looked at them a little strangely and asked them to repeat that. I heard them correctly they wanted my help in mashing up this year’s batch of grapes to make this year’s wine. I said sure, excited for something new and followed the sunset home to Vigo.

The next day after a surprisingly successful encounter with the Spanish government (those who have ever experienced the Spanish government understand why this would be surprising) I headed home to spend the afternoon with the kids. Again, they asked me if I would like to smash the grapes. At this point I had to show them what I was picturing in my head every time they asked me if I wanted to smash grapes.

At which point I introduced them to I Love Lucy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzFFRAh7Y-U

(I stopped the video after the first half to prevent any ideas brewing about starting a grape fight)

They told me that was it, that’s what I was about to do. Well okay then, what does one wear to smash grapes? I put on shorts and a t-shirt and was ready to go. We drove to “Paradise” and got ready to smash some grapes. My 9 year old and I walked around practicing how we were going to smash the grapes. Then I saw the size of our barrel we would be smashing it, it was about a tenth of the size of Lucy’s.

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Two at a time we starting smashing the grapes, starting with the top of the barrel and slowing working our way down as the grapes became juice and we dropped further and further into the barrel.

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And so we smashed, and smashed, and smashed some more until we were waist deep in juice. Things got pretty cozy.

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I was not prepared for that. I didn’t have a change of clothes or a bathing suit to jump in the pool, but my 13 year old didn’t seem to see that as a problem as he pushed me right into the pool – fully clothed glasses and all. After I was dry again I helped finish up the wine process.

We gathered all the grapes and juice from the barrel

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and put them into the press.

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Then all the juice from the press went into this 300 liter tub where the juice will boil for two weeks at a very specific temperature.

They said it was the best batch of juice they’ve ever had and they are willing to hire me back for next fall. 300 liters of juice, and by March we’ll have some delicious tasting wine! I can’t wait!

P.S. Did I mention that my Sunday run was meant to break in my new sneakers? I ran for an hour and a half and got some nice blisters. Good thing they boil that juice 😉

Strangers on a Plane to Porto

Today I took off to Vigo, Spain for the second time.

This trip was much easier than the last one considering I was able to bypass the Swedish detour and head directly to Spain (of course by directly to Spain I mean I flew into Porto and took a bus to Vigo where I met up with my host family). This was an extremely easy trip considering the drive to Newark airport was such a breeze it allowed me to check in, jump to the next terminal to get my last Pumpkin Spice Latte from the only Starbucks in the airport, jump back to my terminal and hang out with my parents at Chili’s over Pomegranate Margaritas and bottomless tortilla chips before boarding my flight. In case this travel experience couldn’t get any better I boarded my flight to land myself in my very own personal 4-seat row all to myself. Now for those who know me and are aware of my vertical challenged-ness you will understand how epic this was. I could not only lie down but I could lie down comfortably! This was definitely a Snapchat worthy moment! I attempted to angle my camera to get my beautiful four seats without getting the strange ladies across the aisle from me on the other side in the shot when the guy sitting across the aisle closest to me asked if I wanted him to take a picture for me. Mortified that I had officially become that ridiculous looking person trying to get the right photo angle I explained I was simply just trying to show off my seats.I never did get that picture.

And thus began my THREE hour conversation with the guy sitting across the aisle from me. We started talking about times we’ve flown before and gotten lucky to times we’ve gotten not so lucky to then discuss where we were headed. I said Vigo and whether it was because I was finally on my flight to Porto (aprx. Two hour bus ride from Vigo) or this man was just well traveled he actually knew where Vigo was. Amazing! This then lead us to discuss our perspective trips. I talked about how I was going back to Vigo to teach English and how he was going to visit family.

We continued this conversation and jumped from current events to recent life experiences through travel and other experimental learning. Turns out though he lives in Michigan half of his family lives in Connecticut (the half that doesn’t live in Portugal) at which point I mentioned I am a UCONN graduate. Thus began the Huskies conversation spanning from sports to the effect the NCAA has on athletes and schools and whether the way athletes are pushed through university is really acceptable, also mentioning my personal experience with athletic stereotypes as I was a UCONN athlete my four years there.

The conversation wound itself back to current events somehow and continued to discuss the trouble brewing between Scotland and England and the impact this will have on the trouble brewing in the Middle East. Of course we were referring to the recent ISIS video and proceeded to debate whether someone who had grown up living and breathing the ISIS mentally is more of less of a threat than someone that has chosen to adopt the ISIS mentality. (Luckily, while the flight was boarding, I had been able to read a few key articles in my free International New York Times paper on these very events.)

This somehow brought us about to Putin and Eastern Europe comparing what is happening now to what was happening many moons ago with Hitler and the beginning of WWII. Discussing the persecution of Jews, that is still present today not only in Germany but also in the United States. This of course led to institutionalized racism and Spain and Portugal’s blind eye to racism compared to the United States’ and Brazil’s racism levels (he had spent some time living in Brazil). We were talking about how the United States does still seem racist, and is still racist, but how our melting-pot background is going to give us key advantages in the future.

This then led me to discuss South Africa and my internship at an HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention focused nonprofit that allowed me to point out key failures within the organization from a ground level all the way up without fear of stepping on people’s toes nor worrying about overstepping my bounds. He then proceeded to tell me this is an American trait that is being actively recruited by companies these days because up and coming companies do not want the European one-track-mindset nor the Chinese or Latin American do-not-question-mindset but rather the American question-everything-mindset.

We found ourselves discussing issues a little closer to home at this point when he divulged two key doses of perspective: 1) You don’t know what you don’t know and 2) you MUST live in the now.

The first key point was referring to how I saw things as an easy fix in the company I was working for in South Africa but ultimately did not know all the key factors such as funding restricts, though this was the first time this came up he mentioned this line a few more times over the three hours.

The next was because his younger brother had recently been diagnosed with a rare frontal lobe brain disorder that has taken away his personality along with his ability to spell his name and recognize those he had had strong relationships with.

Though this conversation escalated quickly we were able to keep up for quit some more time discussing linguistics of languages since he’s fluent in English and Portuguese and I had spent some time studying Spanish over my previous time in Vigo. Which of course brought us back to the Spain v. Portugal conversation and the institutionalized racism issues that are embedded in their languages.

This continued until we were halfway through our flight he decided to try and nap and I decided sleep was not nearly as important as finally being able to watch HBO’s The Normal Heart since I had been trying to watch it since I had finished the play over a month earlier. I don’t know why I did this because time after time I tell myself that since I have read the book/play I will be immune to the typical emotional turmoil of said heavy book/play such as The Normal Heart. (Side note: The Normal Heart was originally written as a play by Larry Kramer spanning the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1981 to 1985 from a gay activist’s perspective in NY. It was recently adapted by HBO and made into a movie starring Matt Bomer, Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts just to name a few. Amazing play and movie, I highly recommend both!)

So, as I should have well known, the movie made me cry like a baby only moments before the entire plane lit up like a Christmas tree telling everyone to wake up breakfast was about to be served. I was in no shape to be seen, as tears were still streaming down my face, so I hid under my sweatshirt and blanket and curdled up in my row of seats. I placed my tray table down to receive the breakfast of which I only ate the mini Twix bar and continued to hide under my sweatshirt. Finally, I was able to pull myself together and pretended the redness in my eyes was just a testament to the aptly named red-eye flight I was on. My talkative friend next to me tapped me on the shoulder to see if I had slept well and thankfully ignored the redness in my eyes. We bantered for a bit before I actually fell asleep for the first time on the flight. As we disembarked we stayed close to each other and he decided to use his American passport to go through customs rather than his Portuguese passport. (Must’ve been because of my brights and shining personality.)

We both made it through customs and he asked if I would watch his bags while he went to the bathroom and he returned the favor upon returning from the restroom. Once I received my bag (for once I wasn’t the last bag out of the plane!) we shook hands and said our goodbyes.

I walked out into the Portuguese sun to wait for my bus to Vigo. We never saw each other again.

***

He was 68. He is an international business professor at a university in Michigan and was flying to Portugal to meet up with his wife and half of his family. Before heading out on his flight to Portugal to meet up with his wife he had stopped by to take care of his 61 year old brother with extensive frontal lobe damage and bring his 6 year old granddaughter to see the Connecticut beaches. He had hopped his son would have attended Norte Dame but unfortunately he was diagnosed Bi Polar and was unable to do so due to medical issues. He had lived in Brazil for 19 years and had faced numerous ups and downs in his life. He shared all of this with me, a complete stranger, over a 3-hour conversation on a plane. He told me about how his and his sister’s lives had changed after their younger brother was diagnosed with this frontal lobe disorder at 61 years old, for it could happen to either of them or both of them too, at any time.

And with that I embark on my next adventure: teaching and au pairing in Vigo, Spain. Remember to live in the now everyone and you don’t know what you don’t know!

Thanks for reading!

The Eyebrow Saga

The thing about Vigo is that you really need to know Spanish to get anything done, while in Madrid or Barcelona you may be able to get by with English Vigo it’s your choice between Spanish or Galician. Those are your choices. Thus, this can sometimes makes the simple things in life, like getting your eyebrows done, a bit difficult.

When I first arrived here I made a Spanish friend that lived next door and kind of became her shadow. One weekend when I was following her around she asked me if I wanted to go and get my eyebrows done. Sure! was my first thought because when I get to a new city I always try and find a good place to get them done. So we embarked on what has now come to be known as the eyebrow saga.

First time I was berated, in Spanish, for waxing my eyebrows for well about as long as I can remember… Then I was told that I needed to let my eyebrows grow out so she could fix the years of horribleness I had bestowed upon them.

So I started to let them grow out. I had once seen an Opera episode where Opera hired this eyebrow guru to fix these women’s eyebrows and how to shape them and all that and I thought, ‘Hey! Look at that I don’t have to be on Opera to get the perfect eyebrow.” I pretended that if I wore my glasses no one could see my eyebrows. They grew and grew until finally I could take it no more and I went back. But it was Monday and they are closed on Mondays. It took a few Mondays for me to remember this.

On Tuesday I went again on my way to tutoring but with the number of people waiting I didn’t even walk in I turned around and left.

That Friday they were super crowded, again.

On Monday I went and they were closed again, obviously.

I let it go for a week and then decided I really needed to get them done. I went on Friday after coffee with the girls. I thought in my head about all the possible things I have to say. Hi is Mariel here, can she do my eyebrows? Is Mariel working today? When does she work next? Thanks. I thought this would suffice. But then I got there and asked for Mariel. Mariel was on lunch. I hadn’t thought of a response to this. I couldn’t seem to spit out “When does she come back? Or how much longer? Or okay thanks then I’ll come back tomorrow. So I stuttered and ultimately decided on Vale, gracias, ciao.

The next week I was a bit busy so Friday rolled around again and I was determined to get my eyebrows done. I went before coffee to put my name on the list. When I walked in and asked for Mariel the women looked confused.

“Maria?”

“No, Mariel?”

“Maria?”

“Espera.” (Wait.) I had a card in my bag with Mariel’s name written on it and as I went to grab it the women I had been talking to starting screaming over me. “I have a foreigner here and I can’t understand who she is asking for!” Listen lady, I have understood everything you just said, I have said the correct name three times and you refuse to try and understand my Spanish. It you want to play that game lets talk English and see how that works out. So this other women came over, the one I’d had a few conversations with at this point and spoke Spanish to me, because that’s how they handle foreigners here, they just speak Spanish until you figure it out. She told me to wait a minute and I stood there. Then I realized she might have meant a Spanish minute and not a normal minute so I sat down on the bench and pulled out my book which happened to be a Geranimo Stilton book. For those who don’t know Geronimo Stilton is a rat that has written a series of children’s books about his adventures. So there I sat in this swanky, high-end pelicularia (hairdresser) and waited. I got a few looks for reading my book but I didn’t care.

Finally the planets had aligned and she was there and I was able to come back at “uno y cuarto.” (1:15), or so I thought.

I went back at 1:15, running through the door to make sure I was there on time only to be met by my lovely friend, the secretary, who just stood there shaking her head.

“Pero uno y cuarto, no?” I asked (But 1:15, right?)

She continued to shake her head.

“Uno MENOS cuarto.” She said emphasizing the menos as if she just wanted to rub it in some more. I shook my head.

“Menos?! Ay dios mio.” I was so ready to get my eyebrows down but again I had struck out. I got a sympathetic speech on how it’s hard to do time in other languages and I just gave a small nod.

“Y mañana? Mariel trabaja?” (And tomorrow, does she work?)

“Si claro, puedes llamar… Puedes llamar?” She answered as if I should have known that already. (Yes, of course, you can call. Can you call?”)

“Si! Vale me voy.” I said yes but I really meant no, the thought of making a telephone call in Spanish terrified me. I hate making phone calls in English yet along Spanish.

On Saturday I came prepared. I walked in armed with a book and ready to wait however long it would take to get my eyebrows done. My friend at the desk saw me and I was greeted with a smile and “venga” (Come). I followed her and went to talk to Mariel. At last! After they talked about me I was ushered into another chair. I pulled out my book but by the time I opened it she was already at my side ready to do my eyebrows. She was very pleased to see how long they had gotten and went away plucking each and every hair she wanted gone.

When I was paying I was talking to the same woman that had helped me through this debacle. She said “You did it.” and I said “Finalmente!” (finally!). She then whispered under her breath “al fin.” She couldn’t even let me have that one win.

Nonetheless, my eyebrows look great.

A few days later, on Ally’s last day, she wanted to get her eyebrows done and since we had been running errands I went with her. She went to a different place, walked right in and got them done. One her first try. Oh. And she paid a third of the price.

Esa es mi viva.

(This is my life.)

Let me tell you a little something about Galicia:

Now that I’ve been living in Galicia for over four months I decided to share a bit about this fine area and the fine people, preempting it with this article:

http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/piss-someone-galicia/

We’re just going to go through this one by one for entertainment purposes…

Number one: Ask about the Galician language, and refer to it as “your dialect.”

Galician is, in fact it’s own language, (don’t worry I didn’t know about Galicia, Vigo, or Galician before last November so it’s all good.) Spain in fact has five official languages Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Occitan, it sure does make things interesting. And if anyone asks it’s better than protugeuse. Just say yes. Do NOT argue with a Galician.

Number two: Assume we like flamenco and bullfighting, eat paella all day, and are outgoing.

Just like the north and south of the United States are DRASTICALLY different from ways of life to people, with some exceptions i.e. Ally Vitale, the north and south of Spain are drastically different as well. Weather tends to do that to people, as does distance. While we do eat a lot of seafood here paella has not happened yet though I have eaten pulpo (octopus). No not calamari that has been deep fried and disguised I’m talking about tentacles that have been slices up into nice big chucks with their little suckers still attached that have only been cooked in oil and dashed with paprika. Also the people here touch a lot less, yes they give two kisses but the constant need for touching and hugging aren’t really present. Works for me!

Pulpo

Pulpo. I ate that.

Number three: Say it always rains in Galicia.

Okay so yes, they are in fact right it does not ALWAYS rain in Galicia but yes the majority of the time it is raining. In fact, this winter they had a record-breaking amount of rainfall. The most rainfall in 40 years! Lucky me! Also, there was a lot of excitement this past week when it started raining again after a beautiful week of sunshine because it wasn’t just raining in Galicia but all over Spain! Yay!

View from my house

Beautiful sunset from my house, because it was sunny!

Number four: Doubt the quality of Estrella Galicia.

I don’t drink beer, but I do have an affinity for Porto wine – don’t tell the Galicians!

Number five: Do an impression of our accent by adding -iño onto every word. And then say we sing when we speak.

I still trying to figure out Spanish so I don’t really attempt the Galician thing except Que fas!? (What are you doing?) Just because it’s so short and sweet and in a German sort of way you can’t really say it without sounding angry.

Number six: Get offered a shot of coffee liquor or some other homemade spirit, and don’t drink it.

I learned this the hard way. My first few weekends here were a bit interesting and since I was in Say-Yes-To-Everything-Mode because I was in a new place I ended up at in a lot of places that I would have otherwise never found myself. One of those places being a hole in the wall pub with delicious food, a lot of alcohol, and my host mom’s younger sister. I ate more than I should have, drank two beers (not that I enjoyed them), and decided I had played my extrovert part well while pretending I wasn’t dying of second hand smoke inhalation. And then the coffee liquor came out. There were two bottles; one dark and one that looked liked Baileys. Neither of them had labels. I knew nothing. And then the shot glasses came out and next thing I knew everyone was looking at the now full shot glass that sat in front of me and waited. I had to do it! I had no choice! No way out! There were too many of them against little old me. So I drank it and, and you know what it was damn good. So another! But this time I wasn’t allowed to pick it up with my hands I hand to grab the shot glass with my mouth and throw my head back to take the shot. This continued and the next time I found myself in this exact same situation there was a creepy toothless fat guy sitting in the corner of the pub that got WAY too much pleasure out of watching me and my host mom’s sister sit there and take shots with our mouths. Gross. Side note: The creamy colored one tastes better than Baileys the dark one will kill you. Just take a whiff and you’ll understand what I mean so if you get a choice go with creamy colored, if you don’t I’m sorry but you’re still going to have to drink it.

Number seven: Claim table football was invented by the Germans.

We have a foosball table in my house. I’m better than my host kids. We haven’t discussed it’s origin.

Number eight: Say you prefer Mediterranean beaches because the water is warmer.

Woah woah woah! Now coming from Long Island I know a thing or two about beaches and claiming that the Mediterranean beaches in Spain are better than the Galician beaches is comparable to saying that the North Shore or Connecticut has better beaches than the South Shore of Long Island. I went to Valencia this past summer and while it was a beautiful old city the beaches freakeded me out, you’re supposed to be able to go into the water to cool off not go into the water and feel like you’re in a bathtub with the immense amount of other people that are in the water AND no waves! It just felt like a breading ground for diseases.

A Caruña Beach

 

Playa Samil, Vigo

Amazing people

Bairona with amazing people (Ally and Leni)

A Caruña

A Caruña (north of Vigo)

I know none of these pictures really show waves, but at least there are tides, and there are waves, I swear.

Number nine: After hearing where Galicia is, say, “Oh, so in the Basque Country.”

It’s like saying New York is in New England, New York is too big for New England and Vigo is too cool for Basque Country.

Number ten: Lose interest when you realize we are neither Basque nor close to the French border.

Vigo/Galicia is awesome! And yes they do play the bagpipes and wear skirts sometimes, don’t worry I’m still confused about that whole thing too.