Instead of making what I believe would be a mostly futile attempt at updating you on the happenings of a good 2 months, I’ll jump in right now.
Summarily: things are wonderful. This country has crawled in and infected my soul with a slow, sunny, golden kind of affection I remember feeling in Andalucía three years ago. I don’t know how I’ll leave so very soon, knowing that I’ll probably never come back again–at least not to live, not to be part of a city in the way that a resident, not a tourist, is. I am afraid that I’ll always yearn for it here, but always have my life in the States. An odd feeling, to be caught between two worlds. Then again, I guess that I never really did like to be comfortable; comfort, to me, is always being crushed by the weight of two different choices. Looks like I’ve fulfilled that desire beautifully by making a temporary-but-beautiful life here. teehee.
Madrid at the first blush of spring is a truly beautiful thing. Trees begin to open their tiny blossoms, birds twitter with a long-buried gusto, and that special Spanish sunshine wakes up at an even earlier hour to drizzle itself lazily over people like myself, walking to work or sitting in a café with a coffee and tostada with tomato. In Madrid in the springtime you can actually feel the energy of a previously sluggish and frigid, nylons-and-wool-coat-clad city pick up and shift—to unserious tee shirts and copas on the terraza, to 2 hour lunch breaks that feel like the majority of the day, to weekends spent outside in the tower of babel that is Retiro park. My springtime in Madrid has been beautiful for all of these reasons, but doubly so because I was able to share it first with my mom and aunt who came to visit in March over Semana Santa, then with my sweet Greg, who made his second journey out here only a day after my family left. I had the pleasure of showing both sets of guests Córdoba and spent a little time in Granada with the momma and auntie, with whom I went to some museums, caught up, went out to eat, and cooked a lot. Greg and I, as usual, passed most of our time rambling around the streets of Madrid and Córdoba, sitting on benches and making out which, naturally, is more than fine with me–and quite possibly preferable to museums. 🙂
My life here over the past 9 months has proven to me–and shockingly!–that I love small children and I love teaching. My work life has done a complete turnaround since the last angsty news you had of it in late February because, working with the Fulbright Commission and the Spanish ministiry of Ed, I changed from my old school in the boonies of Madrid to a new one uptown. Since March when I started at the new school, I feel like I can breathe again and like I can smile again and mean it. I arrive there every morning at 8:50 a.m. after a 35 minute walk in the sunshine (and the crappy rain, but we’ll look past that for now), ecstatic to see my kids and ready to work. I’ve been partnered with a wonderful Spanish English teacher who is very much like the Spanish mother I never had, and the rest of the faculty there has been warm, open and kind to me. I feel very fortunate.
The children are by far the best part of my new job. True, the school itself is rather pijo (stuck up, well-moneyed, upper class); you see, the parents of most of these children are scientists who work for the ministry of science and education, reporters for newspapers, novelists, artists, and university professors, but the children themselves are wonderful. Being small ones who have never experienced want the way my kids in the first school must have, they are not greedy with their materials, with their time, or with their attention. They are excited to learn and listen and give me their markers and pencils and chocolate truffles to celebrate THEIR birthdays (no–I’m serious! They give ME candy for THEIR birthdays!). Their level of English is astoundingly good–so good that they pass the Trinity exam (oral, blingual school exams administered by live british examiners in May each year), at one grade level up from whichever they’re in, and I can have full, sensible conversations with them. They have so much verve and so much personality, talent, sparkle. I look forward to seeing them every day. Because of the way I work at that school, each class with a small group of 3-6 students in workshop-type settings with readers or key vocabulary, I also feel like I’m finally actually making a difference. Goddamn, does that feel good.
Switching schools has afforded me a lot of much-needed perspective about my experience at my old school. I alluded to the most important realization up there in the previous paragraph but I’ll rehash it in a broader sense now. At the school in the poor/working-class suburb where previously I taught English people were not very nice. In my opinion, the teachers and staff were not as warm or open. Certainly, they did the right thing by inquiring as to how everyone was, smiling warmly if disingenuously at one another upon passing in the hallway, but at the end of the day, no one really liked or trusted one another and it showed–priority number one was the self. The other? Well, that other could just go to hell–they probably sucked, anyway. No one at that school was a bad person–the problem was that everyone was overwrought and overworked, pulled in too many directions to be extremely good at any one thing, or beyond-the-call-of-duty good to one another. With a few exceptions (oh, Araceli! Encarna! Eli!) I found them to be ungenerous with their time–as when the teachers wouldn’t show up to my classes, but expect me to make lessons for them anyway–ungenerous with their materials–we couldn’t ever print there, and materials we as teaching assistants took to use in class from the supply cabinets were heavily policed–and we were treated more like tools than like partners.
At my new school my experience has been totally disparate from what I knew at the Vic. I’ve found that the teachers I work with want to know me, want to teach me and help me do my best, and want me to have a good experience working with them, too. I am not just a tool–I am a teacher and, also, I am a guest who is to be helped and appreciated and held accountable to her own supposed goodness in a respectful, not suspicious, manner. My new school is generous with computers, poster board, markers and human interest. The teachers are well provided for there, as are the students, and it shows. It struck me within a week at my new school that these people were generous because they could be. They, too, are always in meetings, always running to and fro to see parents and plan lessons, but they have decent checks, they have classroom supplies, they have the support of their administration. Unlike the folks at my old school, they are well enough provided for that they can provide–happily–for others. It’s a beautiful thing that makes me feel lucky to be where I am now and very sad for my old school and the people who are still there, struggling with too little time and resources and far-too-high expectations.
Well–on to happier subjects: yesterday was the beginning of a glorious weekend. I grocery shopped, bought the wherewithal for burritos and, in addition, fresh peaches, strawberries, and good Valencian oranges. I had a tremendously good work out despite the fact that I seem to have lost my pushup prowess (GRR!), and came home to shower, lounge, and read some of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, one of the most captivating things I’ve picked up in years. Later, I was invited to Morgan and Charles’ beautiful apartment. Once there, these two sweet friends sat me down with a glass of water and a smile and entertained me with colorful stories of their uniquely awful days; Morgan was refused from a flight to Barcelona because she had her Spanish ID card, not her passport; Charles was detained by corrupt Coslada police, probably just for being black, and questioned while he was rushing to class from the metro. As we talked, Morgan made tea while Charles rolled out the dough for a delicious, sweet bread made with whole wheat flour and honey. The bread rose deliciously in the oven as we chatted with their winsome Guatemalan roommate and her boyfriend. Morgan topped the bread with fruit salad and honey-cinnamon sauce and I gorged and basked in the good, good company. Later, Charles and I went to the pub quiz at J&Js (but only after downing a king-sized tortilla bocadillo apiece!), where we came in third to last and spent only a little time with David, but had a great time. All in all, life is good.
Other things: in the next month I’ll finally be traveling to Portugal and Morocco, two trips for which I’m very excited. Apart from those two excursions, though, I’ll be staying in Madrid, soaking up its goodness (and pollution) in the scant days I have remaining. The future looks…well…I guess good, but in a conventional way that can’t help but seem a little less attractive when compared with the adventure I’ve been enjoying for the past one. This summer will begin a year’s worth of an apartment in Hartford with Marisa, working at Fathom as a full employee with benefits and salary and things, applying to graduate school and maintaining what seems like it will always be a long distance relationship with the boy, who will be at grad in Oregon beginning in August. I’ll miss Spain–in fact, I almost made the decision not to leave in the next year–but when I think of spending time with my mother, of decorating a Christmas tree with her, of seeing my Greg more than twice in a year, of petting my cats and eating sushi and edamame whenever I want, of joining a writing group, of living with Marisa and seeing my friends at Fathom every day, of re-learning how to write in the English language (fuck, have I lost a lot), of possibly taking a French class, and of paying student loans and getting my career in academia underway by researching and applying to programs, I think I’ve made the right–if not the most interesting–choice.
Now, below, I’ll leave you with three things from the past two months: the first, me and my sweet, tiny mother on the patio of the zoco in Córdoba. The second and third items are my favorite things I see on my daily walk to school.
This little guy is part of the Merry Go Round outside the Corte Inglés on Serrano. 🙂
I enjoy that the National Library of Spain in Madrid has heart spires. It makes me smile every morning.
Oh God! And one more thing…
Check out the last rule on the left, written in red, noted with an asterisk. These are the rules posted in my third grade classroom at the new school. No truer words have been written.
And so I’m back. Expect more updates. 🙂