Monday, May 25, 2009

The End

With only a couple days left in Huelva it’s hard not to think about all the things I will soon miss about Spain and even Huelva….

1) Above all I will miss the relaxed, leisurely lifestyle I live over here, which consists of doing whatever and whoever (only kidding, of course) whenever I want. You can’t even begin to imagine how relaxed one becomes after a year free of stress, bills, any real work obligations or studying. On the contrary, this year has been full of all the siestas, sangria and sun one could ever ask for. Throw in some serious fiestas and unforgettable adventures and you have my life for the past nine months. Now if only attractive men actually existed in Huelva life would've been perfect

2) As much as I complain about my job, I'm going to miss my work schedule...a grand total of 12 hours a week (10-2 Tuesday-Thursday) I don't think it could get any better. My weekend is longer than my workweek…. just how it should be


3) The concept of Andalucía time, that is to say everything can wait until tomorrow. There is never a rush for anything.....emergencies? please.....it’s Andalucía.....people don’t even know how to run down here. Everything is done at a slower pace. I can't even begin to imagine going home to the hurried, rushed American mentality

4) Cost of living, you’re considered upper-class with a salary of 2,000 Euros a month.... enough said

5) Luxury of traveling.... from riding camels in Morocco to climbing the Eiffel tower in Paris and biking through Barcelona…I will miss hopping on a plane, train or ferry and exploring Europe whenever we feel like it

6) Spanish grannies...being a conscious narcissist I've appreciated the constant reinforcement of my already oversized ego from men routinely breaking their necks every time I walk down the street...for some reason being called beautiful never gets old

Siestas
1euro cafe con leches
Pan tostada
Beautiful backyard beaches
Plaza time
Going out for tapas


However the list of things I'm looking forward to coming home to the states is also quite lucrative

1) First and foremost.... of everything I have missed the most... hands down has been my BED! When my Mom came to visit in December she commented, “what is this? The anti-sex bed? At least I don’t have to worry about anything happening here” I don’t think a less comfortable bed exists…. and CANNOT wait to crawl into a little piece of heaven and finally have my bed back!

2) A shower where sex in the shower is actually a possibility because as it is now in Roque Barcia (our piso) you couldn't even fit two anorexic midgets in that pathetic watering hole that some architect called a shower

3) American men and fashion...I simply cannot appreciate Spanish men...how can you date a guy whose jeans are tighter than yours, has more gel in their hair than your bathroom and sports a bigger purse than you, all shamelessly…. simply unacceptable.

4) My houses...after living in a coat closet for nine months I cannot wait to walk around my house and actually fit comfortably in the kitchen without having to suck in


With only three weeks left in Europe it would be a tragedy to leave without visiting one of the most beautiful places on earth so we decided to take our last European adventure in Greece!! We will be setting sail from Bari, Italy and cruising over to Corfu, Greece. We’ll also visit Athens and Santorini. Fortunately for you, I will not have the time nor energy this summer to blog about that trip so no more making all of you jealous. I hope everyone has enjoyed the blog and we will be back in the states soon, too soon!


Besos
Ally

I am no longer a kid anymore.... so sad, so sad

Hello all, this might be the last blog for this adventure from Huelva, and I am just going to warn everyone that this might be long, somewhat boring, and randomly written. So if you insist on reading I advise get some popcorn or gomitas (if my addiction has contaminated you) and see how I try to summarize my time here.
As my days are winding down here in Huelva, Spain I have really started to think how fast time flies. For me the first few months were horrible and I really questioned whether this was a good decision. Now that I look back on the cold days in our piso and the hard time getting the stupid thing called the NIE and all the hardships that we encountered our first few months it all seems as if it was some other time in my life.... some time years ago, not only months ago. Itś difficult to describe how much this city and this country has become a part of me. I honestly cannot remember what it is like to live in Seattle, although I was just there 3 months ago. I cannot imagine myself waking up and not walking down Roque Barcia hearing ¨buenos dias" o "que hay". For the last 8 months this country has become my home, and I must admit that although I have complained and said some bad things about this place, it has left a great impression on me, and I will really miss being here, and the life that I have here.
When I leave here and return to Seattle, I´m going to miss many things but to save you guys from falling asleep I´ll keep the list and explanations short: I will miss
1. the pace of life... Never in my life have I felt more free to do absolutely nothing. At first it was weird and I felt bad about it, but it is what Spanish life is about... relaxation. When I am stressed out with school and a hectic schedule I will probably slip back and daydream about my times on the pier and the plaza enjoying life.

2. the chance to practice the language... Although English will always be my first language, i will definitely miss having the opportunity to use Spanish and hearing it all around. i know it´s going to be very different when i hear the TV in English all the time. Being forced to speak Spanish has reminded me why I fell in love with this language in the first place, and how the language is what brought me to Spain.

3. living cheaply... no longer will i be able to buy things so cheaply... gone will be the cheap good fruit and the gomitas... I really don´t know if i´m going to survive... but luckily I have my mom to help me out with that.
4. padel... what a shame we discovered this game so late... although I´m not going to front and say that I´m good at it... but I guess trying counts for something when I´m playing with a person who grew up with a racket in her hand... I guess you can´t really play padel with just your hand right? If i ever come back to Spain i would definitely pick up padel and they should also bring it to the states, it is probably one of the greatest games out... so fun. I have to admit I must work on the whole finess thing.

5. getting into places for free... soccer games, basketball games, clubs (although we don´t go to them often), it´s so nice to not have to pay for entrance fees to these things, because it´s a small town or we have nice friends that get us in.

6. the people i have met along the way... although we have not mad a ton of friends, the ones we have made have been great friends who have helped us adapt to Spanish life, and I will miss them dearly.

-Juanjo and Manolo or intercambios turned padel playing partners. I will miss our times together talking about random topics but usually converging to one in particular (which I will not name..) I don´t think i´ve ever thought i´d be friends with librarians but I´m going to go ahead and give Juanjo and Manolo the "my favorite librarians" title.

-Concha and Family. This family has become my family away from home. Concha is the mom that feeds me, and makes sure that I´m ok. I´m going to miss our weekly conversations and coming over to her amazing house. i will miss Jose´s nice funny remarks and the way that he reminds me of my real father. It will be hard to say goodbye to Maria and our weekly classes. I feel as if she has truly learned something. She is so bright and i know that with time she will definitely be able to speak English, probably better than me. She has become like a sister to me, taking the place of my younger sister while I´m here.

- Nia, my great co-worker. I will never be able to go drink coffee with anyone but you. Who will listen to me as i complain about the kids and how they are going to be the end of me? I will miss our weekend adventures and our crazy conversations. But I guess you only live on the other side of the country. We´ll see each other soon right? Remember change your status if something happens. :)

As for the things I look forward to... the list goes on forever, however, mainly I'm looking forward to seeing my family and my friends. My mom's incredible food, sitting in my room and being surrounded by my own things, and feeling as if I'm not living out of a suitcase. I would really like to look forward to an American guy who has that swagger, that the Spanish men are missing, who's tall, and has a frame that doesn't look ridiculous, and of course who speaks my language. :)

My job this year has taught me many things, however the biggest is that I love children. There have been times they drove me to the brink however I am going to miss my students... especially Pablo, who's sooo cute, and the biggest Betis fan and who is going to be a mathematician when he grows up. I will miss them saying hi to me everyday and their energy. Their outlook on life reminds me to try to be optimistic and to live life without fear of falling from a swing or tripping when trying to play soccer and that a kiss makes all wounds go away.
My year here has given me a new found respect for teachers... I bow down to all teachers and all that they do... but all I really know is I am meant to be a student, not a teacher. I have enjoyed some of my days at work, because the children can be very sweet and adorable, but I will not lie and say there hasn't been any hard days. In the end, there will always be fond memories along with bad ones... and I'm going to try and delete my memories of my first class on Tuesday morning ASAP!

This year has given me a lot of time to think about myself and what I want to do with my life. I have truly missed school and being apart of a University atmosphere, I miss my backpack and my pencil pouch... I know that is nerdy, but I am looking forward to hopefully going back to that. Being so far away from home has taught me that I can make it on my own... I do have discpline when it comes to saying no to nice shoes, that might come as a shock for people, but I am very proud of the way I've grown as a person. I now cook, clean and do everything necessary to live on my own, and I think my mom would be proud of me. I guess since I'm turning 23 soon... I'm not a kid anymore, although I really just want to go to recess all the time and play some dodge ball.

With my year of exploration almost behind me... I'm ready to return to my life, and start a new chapter, getting started on the goal I've had all my life. Although I'm leaving Spain at the end of this week, this may not be the end of my stay in Spain, I can see myself settling down here, but that is way down the line, once I've completed my dreams and my education... that gives me enough time to find a Spanish man to marry, someone who is tall and doesn't think I'm from China.

Before I go, I'd like to say that this year would definitely have not been the same without Ally with me. We have gone through a lot this year and I don't know if I would have survived without her. Spain would never be the same if we hadn't experienced it together because the memories are endless. Although we may be going separate ways next year, that doesn't mean the adventures of "la rubia y la morena" are going to end, we have future travels in the works. We would definitely make a great team on Amazing Race... so look out for us there. There may be many things about this trip that i cannot express fully to you guys at home, but I will always have Ally to understand me. So... Chica, thanks for learning to do the laundry, cook and wash dishes.. it has made being stuck with you 24/7 less awkward, and no one had to get hurt. Now we're off to Greece, and taking a 3 months separation because we've spent too much time together the last 9 months, but don't forget we have Text Twist Fridays. :)

Thanks everyone for reading and wanting to know about us. I hope you've enjoyed our adventures and as always I wished you guys had been here to experience them with us. Hasta pronto!!!!

Con carino,
ngoc :)



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saying Adios to the Good Life

Before coming to Spain I thought a blog would be a great way of updating friends and family back home of my life abroad.... however I didn't anticipate the Spanish culture sucking all the ganas (energy) out of me and have failed miserably at updating this thing. At least I can say I have successfully emerged myself into my surroundings and have become just as lazy as my native born next-door neighbors. As I read over past entries there are so many great tales that have gone untold. Then again, this is a PG blog so I guess the best stories are better left out of print...

There is no rhyme or reason this blog...just a random collection of recent events which I've been too lazy to blog about.... typical.

Ngoc and I started couch surfing in March and loved everything about it, from free housing to the trepidation that comes with showing up at a stranger’s house and sleeping on their couch. After all, what would Europe be like without near-death experiences to spice things up. To be honest, I have been quite disappointed this year with the lack of scary situations we have found ourselves in compared to our time in Granada. Unfortunately, living in Huelva, aka Booneville, we haven't received many requests from travelers wanting to crash on our couch. However, when I received a couch surfing request from an American cycling through Europe I was thrilled at the chance to finally play host after so many surfing experiences. We were only slightly concerned about the guy sleeping at our place because he had no information on his profile nor any recommendations or references. His photo didn't look like one of a serial killer though so we said yes. Little did we know, but he was far from a serial killer, he was actually a little celebrity! Well not quite, but you know I can't help but exaggerate; he was the art director for a famous Gatorade commercial starring Derek Jeter. Within 5 minutes of his arrival he pulled out a knife big enough to do some serious bodily harm and said "I guess I don't need this right now." While my heartbeat was skyrocketing into triple digits I tried to keep a calm face but apparently he saw the fear in my eyes before I could say anything and assured me he only planned on shanking someone if he was attacked while camping outside during his trip. I was still slightly skeptical and decided I would not be offering half of my bed to share...the couch it was for him! He turned out to be a really nice guy and we had a lot of fun over the weekend. Given there is all of nothing to see in Huelva, sightseeing was out of the question. We dragged him along to watch me play in a local tennis tournament in El Portil (beach town). I felt bad forcing him to watch woman sports, which are about as entertaining as watching paint dry. Afterwards, we took him to one of our favorite restaurants over looking the port and dined over great food and a beautiful sunset. There is a bowling alley in Huelva, which we had never gone to and figured this would be a great time to go. I don't talk about this, because quite frankly, it's just embarrassing for the obvious reasons, but I'm a pretty good bowler. I only had 2 open frames (the fact I even know bowling terminology is not something I am proud of) and bowled a 188 despite not touching a bowling ball since I was 16. Moving on, hosting proved to be just as much fun as surfing and I hope to have more hosting experiences in the future.

Ngoc already blogged about the communion we went to, but let me just say it was ridiculous, in every sense of the word. If you thought you had a nice and/or over the top wedding you need to see Spanish standards. The rich and fabulous do not joke when it comes to fiestas and celebrations over here. Apparently they have fully embraced the slogan “Go big or go home.” The party had to cost more than the average persons yearly salary for a girl who hasn't even entered the world of double digits. If only she had a brother. Only joking, of course.

We were invited to talk on a local radio station here in Huelva about our blog not to long ago. A DJ somehow came across our blog and found it very entertaining. I didn't even think about the language barrier of the blog given its written in English and he is Spanish but he reassured us he understood it. When I questioned him further and asked what his favorite entry was he admitted he really only enjoyed the photos...I got a good laugh out of that. Nonetheless, the radios interview was quite fun. It was actually our 2nd time being invited to talk on the radio in Huelva.


The past several weeks have been so relaxing and enjoyable making the thought of leaving in just 1 week very sad. I never thought I would come to like Huelva but after living here for eight months and forming friendships I refer to it as “my home” without hesitation. Despite not traveling as much as we normally do, spending the past few weekends in Huelva has actually been quite nice. I will miss: Sunday afternoons outside on friends’ patios enjoying five-hour lunches and conversations. Having the time to spend countless hours in the plaza playing cards while laughing about tonterias. Walking to the Pier and enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean. Walking along the beach and watching the sunset over a glass of sangria. Being able to go to the basketball and soccer games for free because the players are your friends. Going out for tapas and then staying out until 7 or 8 in the morning and sleeping until 4 the next day. I can’t believe I am going to say this but….I am going to miss Huelva! I guess the expression “home is where the heart is,” really is true.


Besos
Ally



video
Here is me playing in a tournament on red clay in Spain....match point...I won :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's the wedding going to be like?

Hola everyone!!!! No I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth... I've just been lazy as usual or haven't been inspired to really write anything. However, this weekend, Ally and I went to Bollullos to attend a Comunion (I think it's called Confirmation in English) for Meme, one of my students. Let's say I was probably the least religious person there... but it was still cool to be invited. Apparently it's suppose to be super important in Spanish culture.
So we head to Bollullos and hang out with Nia. We go with Concha's family to the event... it was being held at Meme's uncle's vineyard thing. So we enter and everyone is dressed nicely... we knew to expect this and luckily we managed to comb our hair and put on a little makeup before showing up or that would have been incredibly embarassing, as we were the only Americans there. Let me try to explain what we saw... lots of wine barrels and tables set up for a wedding like thing. There were appetizers being passed out waiters. There were also waiters wearing really tight high-waisted pants asking if we wanted some beer. But it was crazy... this all for a 9 year old?????? Anyways, we were then introduced to the family members of Meme... there were tons of them. Try keeping remembering everyone's name and how they are related to each other, but thenames all seem to be the same. It was also besitos central... I don't remember how many cheeks I kissed.
We then sat down to eat, and lets say that the food kept coming, and coming and coming. We reach a point where we thought the zippers on our dresses were going to burst. I really don't understand how the Spanish manage to eat so much but still stay thin... whatever they are doing, I need to do more of... maybe I should step away from the Gomitas. They had a separate menu for the adults and the kids. It was out of control. The desserts were to die for... unfortunately no matter how hard I tried, I failed miserably and couldn't get them done...
Being with Concha was nice, she definitely made sure we didn't feel left out, introducing us to her family, and her family was very nice, and we managed to chat it up with them. I can't imagine what a family of 6 girls and 1 boy would be like... poor poor Miguel. One of the down sides, is that we weren't introduced to any of her available nephews... or any other eligible bachelors in the family... I think the most eligible ones we saw were around the ripe age of 12... we will have to wait on them a little. But I guess, we'll have to hold out for El Rocio and maybe her cute available nephews will decide to join the family festivities.
So after our first Spanish Comunion I've realized that Mercedes and Paco spent a ton of money on a party for their 9 year old daughter, who spent most of the time running around with her friends. I'm trying to remember the most money my parents spent on a party for me... This party probably cost as much as someone's wedding, but either way, when Meme get's married I hope I'm invited because if her comunion is any indication of the fiesta... I can't imagine what her wedding is going to be like.
Now we have gone to one of the most important fiestas in a Spaniards lif'e... we only have a Baptism and Wedding to go to... so if anyone is having one of those anytime in the next two weeks... let us know we are available.
Hope everyone is well and we'll see each other soon!

Besitos,
ngoc :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2 weeks notice

Where did the year go? Everyone always says the older you get the faster the time goes. This year was no exception. The time is flying. I thought senior year went by fast, then again that is expected when your only awake for a third of it, but this year went by in a blink. It seems like yesterday I was sitting in SeaTac airport and now we are ready to set sail on our cruise through the Greek isles before returning to the real world.

I have learned more about myself and other invaluable life lessons from my year abroad than I ever could have anticipated. I never could have imagined how much I would grow and mature just by working in a bilingual high school in Huelva, Spain. In all honestly, I thought this year would be nothing more than a time delayer full of fun and traveling. However, working as a teacher this year clearly illustrated, more than college ever did, just how important an education really is. Estuaria (name of my school) opened my mind to so many things I never realized or given thought to. Growing up on an Island where almost everyone’s fathers name is followed by MD, PhD, MBA, JD, or DDS I always thought everyone went to prestigious colleges and then onto professional schools and had high paying careers. And then I came to Huelva.

If you are a new reader and haven't read previous posts let me be the first to tell you that it is in fact possible to live below the poverty line. I receive a grand total of, brace yourself, 700 Euros a month to live off of. I didn't think it was possible either and then I gave up food and found out it was indeed doable to support yourself on a few pennies a month. Thankfully there is no charge for oxygen so I can scrape by every month and with any luck I find a few pennies on the streets and spring for a stick of gum. Despite my perception, people in Huelva repeatdly tell me that this is a great salary. Do the math, 700 times 12 is under 8,000 Euros a year after taxes. How can anyone say that is a good paying job? Well, when you don't have an education nor a good job than I guess any amount of money is a good salary. Of everyone I have met this year, I can count on one hand the number of doctors, lawyers, dentist, ect. I have met. On the other hand, I have met more factory workers than I ever knew existed.

I wasn't too eager to start Law School right after college. In fact, I looked into every possible post-graduate scholarship program to avoid the inevitable, more schooling, and luckily found this program, which allowed me to become fluent in Spanish and travel through Europe. It was like finding the last pair of jimmy choos at Nordstrom in your size and on sale! However, I wasn't expecting to get as much out of this year as I have. With every day I am in the classroom with my students and see their pathetic lack of effort I think of their bleak future that awaits them. That is, if you are in agreement with me that flipping burgers at McDonalds for 5.25/hour is bleak. The fact that they cannot speak a word of English, despite having eight years of English classes is miniscule in comparison to their apathetic mentality towards education. I often find myself very frusterated by their lack of compassion for learning. I continually ask them if they even care and they spout the same sad responde day after day "me da igual," which means "I don't care." How can you teach someone who doesn't even want to learn? Some of them don't even bother bringing school supplies with them to school unless you count cigarettes and/or marijuana as substitutes for pens and paper. It's truly tragic. I wonder when the value of education was lost on them. The sad reality is, I doubt the importance of having a college degree was even instilled in them. I look at my BA like a high school diploma.... how can you NOT have one?

I remember senior year and being scared by my lack of a job but worse yet lack of a definite plan for my future. Sure, I knew I had options for the immediate future...Teach for America or my current job in Spain, but they were both just temporary options before I started working towards what I really wanted to do. I had always known myself as a tennis player. Since 4 years old that is who I was. I woke up every morning and played tennis. Rather than go home after school and open my book bag to study, I was at the country club opening my locker getting my rackets for a few hours of tennis practice. Every single vacation was to some Podunk town in the United States for national tournaments. Three out of the four weekends a month were spent driving up and down the west coast playing and winning, I might add, junior tournaments. Junior tennis was all I knew growing up. I occasionally went to school when the principal called and said I was in danger of being kicked out for truancy. No joke. Sad thing is, I still managed to graduate from Mercer Island with 3.9 GPA.... just goes to show what they call "one of the best high schools." Pretty sure Wilson would pass MIHS with flying colors, just as long as there weren't in Bulldogs to intimidate him. In college, things were no different. I was on full scholarship for tennis and identified myself as an athlete before a student. Ironic, huh? Of course I was in college to get a degree but my mindset was about improving my tennis game and winning matches. Fortunately for me, the program fell apart when there was a coaching change after my freshman year. With a team that couldn't beat a triple A high school team I finally gained some perspective on life after tennis. I thought about what most ex-tennis players do (teach tennis) and finally realized that you are nothing without an education. I knew once I graduated I a transcript with high grades would do a lot for me than memories of insignificant matches won. Because no one really cares who won, its the honest truth. Who won the Super Bowl in 2004? You don't remember do you? No one, besides you cares about the outcome of a sports game/match once the outcome is three days old. I didn't fancy being amongts one of the many an ex-athlete losers and shifted my focus from tennis strategies to political theories.

With only two weeks left of employment I have never thought about my future as much as I have these past couple of weeks. After looking into the vacant eyes of my students for a year where not a care was given to their education I couldn't help but wonder what their futures held for them after high school graduation. College certainly wasn't in the cards. I never thought they could teach me anything but they proved me wrong. When I ask my students what their favorite city in Spain in and I'm always shocked when I find out most of them haven't even left Huelva. How is that possible I ask? Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid are only an hour away on a plane. I have only been in Spain for a year and already seen the above plus Santander, San Sebastian, Santiago, Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba, Malaga, Granada, Bilbao,...etc. And then I'm reminded their parents don’t have an education nor job, which could provide for the luxury of traveling.

I never could have predicted that my students would serve as motivators for me given they are the least inspirational people you could imagine. Nonetheless, after imaging the painful monotony awaiting them in mind numbing boring jobs such as busing tables, folding clothes or packaging in a factory, I am more motivated then ever to pursue a graduate degree after working in a highschool where the gradution rate is less than 50%.

Besos
Ally

Monday, April 27, 2009

Oops, we did it again

If you know me, you know my name is synonymous with stupidity or if you're one of those people who look at the glass half full maybe you’d say naiveté. It's really a miracle I haven't gotten myself killed in the year I've spent abroad. I certainly put myself in more than enough dangerous situations than was ever necessary when I studied abroad in 2006, from wandering down the tiny, windy alleyways of Tetuan, Morocco alone (not exactly Island Crest Way) to sleeping on the beach in Malaga (in theory this seemed like a great idea until I felt a mans hand in my purse trying to steal my passport). This year has been no different. Our travels never fail to create worthy lifelong stories.

This past weekend our friend and honoree third roommate, Nia, came over to go to the beach with us. Summer has arrived in Huelva and the thermostats read in the high 80's sometimes even into the 90s. Luckily we are only a quick bus ride away from the coast. After spending most my free time, that is, all week at Punta Umbria (nearby beach) we decided to try a different beach a little further away. The gods were clearly not in our favor because the wind blew constantly the entire time we were there. As beautiful as the beach was I just couldn't stand the sand shower the wind was creating. Whoever says sex on the beach is good is clearly lying and or has never done it. After spending a few hours at the local beachside bar we decided to take an earlier bus back home. After waiting for an hour or so we realized the bus wasn’t coming. Nia and Ngoc didn't have saldo (money) on their phones to call anyone and I refused to call any of the men who pester me with coffee date invitations and ask for a ride. It was either being stuck in Mazagon for who knows how long or hitchhike home.


I don't even think in the danger involved in most of the things I do now. I wish I could say I'm fearless but we all know that’s not the case. The way I look at it, we're all gonna die sometime, so might as well go down in an adventure. I sat shivering under the covered bus stop while Nia and Ngoc each took one side of the street with thumb in air. With every passing car our hope of getting a ride back to Huelva looked worse and worse. Finally, after thirty minutes of nothing but the standard rude, quizzical, Spanish stare we decided to just start walking. Ngoc thought making a sign would help whereas I was more of the mindset that taking off some layers of clothes might get a little more attention. Who knows what one worked but a handsome man driving an Audi pulled over and we screamed with joy that we wouldn't be stuck in Mazagon for the night. He was sporting none other than Ngoc's favorite outfit and was looking sharp in his suit. He told us he was late for a wedding in Seville. Please note, we needed to go to Huelva (the OPPOSITE direction). He said, "no pasa nada," and agreed to drive us home. As soon as he picked us up he did a U-turn and told us he needed to go back home to get something. The gun, I thought. Great. As he ran into his house Ngoc got out to snap a picture of me outside the car, I thought it would be a good idea to leave some clues for the police investigation that would follow as they were searching for our missing bodies in the Mediterranean. I remember seeing him come running down his front porch stairs with gym bag in tow. Too many movie scenes flashed in my head of killers with a gym bag slung over their shoulder with ropes, guns, knives, etc....as I wondered what his weapon of choice was I got a glimpse of his face for the first time and thought "you're good looking." Maybe death wouldn't be so bad, after all. I was quickly relieved of any stress because someone so good looking couldn't possibly be a bad guy. Right?

He turned out to be very nice and no harm was done. We arrived safely in Roque Barcia after his front door service and thanked him for his help. Hitchhiking might not be the safest thing around town but life’s too short to always be concerned about safety, just kidding Mom.... we will be taking the loser-cruiser (aka, the bus) from now on.

Besos,
Ally

Monday, April 20, 2009

Life's a Beach


















If you have the tendency to sport the little green monster on your shoulder and/or he easily appears after discovering someone else’s good fortune, I caution you now not to continue reading as your jealously will only heightened after hearing about my leisurely lifestyle with jet setting European weekend adventures sprinkled in every so often. Mind you, my weekend is a bit longer than most, as I only work 2 or 3 days a week. Tough first job. I like to ease myself into the real world. I'm thinking of taking a job next year, which requires me to work 20 hours a week. I gasped too when I saw how many hours it was. When I'm not teaching English, which is the majority of the time, I'm working on my tan under the Spanish sun. Some say I get paid to live in paradise. I call it my life. Anyway you look at it; there isn't much to complain about. That is if lack of mental stimulation isn't a problem for you. Max, this job is calling your name.

After spending many a days on some of the most beautiful beaches Mother Nature has to offer, I felt it necessary to share the beauty of my backyard with my faithful followers. Also, it's just a little fun to get back at all those annoying business majors in college who bragged about their jobs out of college with, won't name any names, but big financial firms that are now bankrupt and or firing faster than you can say crisis. So I guess my year abroad on a post-grad scholarship wasn't such a bad idea after all. How's unemployment and living at home with your parents working out for you? Because Rome, Paris and London were great! Also, there is no feeling I like more than walking barefoot along the beach and feeling the sand between your toes as the waves gently crash against your feet. I have never felt sand so soft in my life. I don't know what you're doing in Seattle still reading...see what you're missing out on!

As I've said many times, before coming to Huelva I had no idea what to expect. Rather than be rational or realistic and think of all the challenges and obstacles that would soon face me in a foreign country, I could only picture myself laying on the beach, soaking up the rays of the Costa Del Luz and enjoying a slight breeze from my Latin Lover fan boy with Margarita in hand (Virgin, of course, because such a sweet soul would never dip into the world of alcohol). Let's be more honest, my max limit for a drink is a euro so poolside margaritas are just slightly out of my schoolteacher stipend. If I had known that money stopped growing on trees when I left home I wouldn't have been nearly as anxious to move out. When I arrived to Huelva, there was no beach in sight, no tall, dark, handsome men and worse yet, people didn't even speak Spanish, they spoke Andaluz! What have I gotten myself into I thought? Such simple tasks as grocery shopping were like mini adventures as my rose tinted glasses started to slide down my nose. Let's just say that the naiveté of life abroad is long gone and I no longer have any stereotypes about life in Spain or Spanish culture. Before I just thought they were lazy now I know they're lazy. I'm no longer sporting those rose tinted sunglasses, reality has set in...work is no fun and while money might not buy happiness, poverty certainly doesn't buy it either! Despite the lack of 0's in my Spanish bank account I am truly enjoying this experience for what it is. Paradise. (can you hear me laughing from Huelva?)

While meeting guys didn't prove to be very hard, making true, genuine friendships with, can I say normal people?, proved to be a whole different story. I never could have imagined how lonely living in a foreign country can be at times while enjoying the comforts and comraderity of my friends and life back home in Seattle. I guess you never know what you have until it's gone. I have traveled extensively through the United States of America and seen more than enough Red States to be able to appreciate the beauty of Mercer Island, where I grew up. I already knew that life on Mercer Island was not normal. When the cofounder of Microsoft is your neighbor and million dollar homes line the street, they are just slight clues that maybe you grew up in a skewed version of reality that most the world never experiences. Despite my culture awareness that I thought I had, upon arrival of Huelva, I didn’t know just how much I should appreciate my fortunate upbringing. The world perspective I have gained from traveling through small Spanish pueblos to some of the biggest European cities has changed the way I look at things. Excuse the cliqueness but it's the truth. Things I use to think were life or death, I am going to save myself some embarrassment by not stating such petty issues, now seem like nothing, knowing there are more people on this earth than those that I think about on a daily basis in my little bubble. There have been so many times where I've been sitting in a plaza (so Spanish, I know) doing nothing but just enjoying the company of whomever I'm with and I think to myself "this is such a different world." No one sits in a plaza in America mainly because we don't have them, but that is beside the point because even if we did, people wouldn't "waste" the time to sit down and just enjoy some rest and relaxation time. After living in a small Spanish town I've just now realized how rushed, hurried and frantic most Americans are. I hope to bring the "Spanish stroll" as I call it back home and not be in such a rush.

At first, I didn’t like Huelva at all. No, that's not true. I hated Huelva and thought it had to win first prize for ugliest city in Spain (which it still might) although my impression has improved considerably since our arrival in the end of September. I would even go out on a limb, on a positive day, and say I have a favorable impression of my new home. Although, not so much can be said for my job, or lack there of. I am on a postgraduate scholarship as a cultural assistant in a bi-lingual high school. My only work requirements are to show up 3 days a week for a grand total of 12 hours....I work from 10-2 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Strenuous schedule, right? While I can't complain from being a workhorse there are times I wish I had more mental stimulation in my day-to-day life. I kid you not, there have been times I have pulled out my GRE or LSAT book (because they're both just SO intriguing that I just can't seem to choose between one or the other) out at a beach side bar and started studying. Best part is, I'm not even going to grad school next year but I still study out of sheer boredom. For all the exaggeration I due this is the frightening truth about the state of my mental boredom. Despite my fortune to have Ms. Math Major Ngoc to help me brush up on my rusty math, its so basic that even she has forgot what y=mx means. Ok, only joking, although we did struggle to answer a question that ay given freshman math student could do in a matter of seconds.

This brings me to the point of this post. Sorry for the Spanish explanation beforehand. What can I say, after living here for 7 months and talking to Spaniards day in and day out I just can't get to the point before going off on every possible tangent beforehand. After having an excessive (too much if you ask me) amount of time with no responsibilities or obligations I have had plenty of time to think and reflect. I realized that I am, like most Americans, very guilty of valuing material possessions over memories. That is to say, in America, or on least Mercer Island, so much emphasis is put on what you look like, what you drive, whom you hang out, what you own, etc and so little on what really matters in your life. Your happiness. It’s all about appearances. After really emerging myself in this pueblo lifestyle where I haven't seen one person toting a ridiculously overpriced handbag or sporting jewelry that is only bought to show off wealth, and the latest designer clothes I really believe the expression is true that "Spaniards live better." Maybe my neighbors in Huelva aren't as rich in terms of money than my neighbors on Mercer Island but there is no doubt in my mind that their life is richer. For example, Spaniards spend hours rather than minutes at lunch enjoying conversation and laughs while American lawyers eat a sandwich on the go and stop for a business lunch wondering how many hours they can bill for it. In Andalucia, it's not abnormal for children to live with their parents into their 30's whereas in America teenagers count the days to their 18 birthday and "freedom." One cannote even compare the difference of value that is put upon family life between the two cultures. I'm embarassed to say I don't even know my nextdoor neighbors names. In Huelva, the neigborhood is like your neighbor. There have been times this year I have sat watching the sunset at Punta Umbria or have been up on the Pier overlooking the ocean without a care in the world and felt ridiculous for sucumbing to the materialistic mindset that is American culture. Their isn't a handbag out their that is worth the memories created on a trip. After living for a year with very little material possessions and no access to dinero to buy anything I’ve truly realized that things don't bring you happiness....it’s moments in life, that can't be bought, which really put a smile on my face. The intangible memories I have from traveling and living here are priceless.


I use to walk by plaza's and see people just sitting and I would think "what are those people doing?" What a waste of time. Plazas are always full of people in Huelva ranging from toddlers to grandparents. While I was always in a hurry to get to my next class or run an errand I never took the time to just sit down a bench and enjoy a conversation. Now that the weather is beautiful, let me repeat BEAUTIFUL, you can't help but spend all day out in the sun. I couldn't be more grateful for this year abroad and all it has taught me. Of course, I feel more independent and confident after fully supporting myself in a foreign country but I also feel like I've gained a different perspective, which will enrich my life. Because in the end, when you die, all you have to take to the grave is your memories. Don't get me wrong, despite my new appreciate for Huelva, I won't be returning, ever again, but I will look back on this year abroad with very, very fond memories.

Besos,
Ally


PS. These are some of my favorite photos from nearby beaches. It's where I spend the majority of my time. Your next thought should be....do I want to look for tickets on expedia or cheaptickets? We always love to have visitors! :)