Climbing La Peña!

When you drive towards Martos, La Peña is the first thing you see. And even from a great distance, it is impossible to miss the castle sitting on top of it. The name, La Peña, basically means “the promontory”, just a specific geological formation, nothing romantic.

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La Peña is an awesome thing to live next to. When the sun sets, it glows pink. When the rain comes, it is shrouded in mist. And at night the moonlight reflects off of the limestone. We also like having something close by that we can hike on, just to escape the city for a brief while. AND, it has a castle on it.

Basically, as long as people have lived in this area, there has been a fortress of some kind on top of La Peña. And people have been living here for a loooooong time.  The ancient Iberian tribes, followed by the Romans, then the Moors, and finally the Christians all looked at it and thought “hmm, bet that would be a great place to have a castle”.

But to answer a common question “when was it built?”, probably in 1340. At least the bits that you can see today.

Because of the castle in the city, which was already pretty formidable, and the castle on La Peña, Martos was considered the most important stronghold against the Moors for a pretty long period of time. I can’t tell if La Peña was ever attacked, (the historical information that I am finding is like 99% from Spanish sources, and it’s not like I am writing my grad thesis on this or anything.) I am going to assume that it was at some point. To attack it, an invader would have to capture the city first, then find the singular route up to the castle. After that, they would have to walk up a series of narrow switchbacks (which according to the tourism office’s website takes 40 minutes) getting shot at the entire time. El Castillo de la Villa, the castle in town, was certainly attacked a good number of times. One of these attacks spawned a famous legend, which we have written about here.

Another legend, that I just learned about via a Spanish website, talks about “Los Hermanos Carvajal”, or “The Carvajal Brothers”. These two brothers were knights in an order that controlled Martos. The story begins with the brothers being blamed for the murder of a fellow knight. The king, after carefully reviewing the case, considering both sides, hearing out various expert witnesses, examining the evidence etc, decided to have the brothers put inside spiked iron cages, and thrown down the cliffs of La Peña. They had insisted that they were innocent, and that the king had made a mistake. Before being thrown, they told the king that he would be summoned to heaven where he would stand trial in front of God for the crime of being bad at judging. They said that the trial would take place within thirty days. And yes, within thirty days, the king died in his sleep. Spooky.

People who live here talk about hiking La Peña as if it was a 14er. It was tough, but mostly because our hike started from our front door, not the trail head. To get there, we walked up through the old town. This alone is an ass kicker. The streets are very narrow, and the turns are very blind, not to mention it’s almost a labyrinth. And, honestly, the steepest streets either of us have ever seen are in old Martos. Eventually you will make it to the poorest neighborhood in Europe. I don’t know that for a fact, but wow. Not much has changed here since the castle was built. The street here is filled with animal poo, there are holes in the walls so you can see right into peoples houses, and most of their furniture seems to have been stolen from cafes (unless Coca-Cola brand plastic patio furniture is actually sold somewhere, who am I to judge). So once past the old city, you  take a circular route around La Peña. You get some pretty cool views of some farms, we saw an entire field being tilled by hand by two old guys. Not to mention lots of horses and donkeys going about their business.

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“The poorest neighborhood in Europe”. Spain is a developed country for sure, which is why it is strange seeing streets like this.

The castle is simply fantastic. It isn’t the same as the one we saw in Almeria. That castle was a well-studied highly up kept national monument. The one on La Peña has not been maintained at all since the 1400’s. But what makes this one neat is that there are no barriers, no off limits areas, no ropes or guard rails. There isn’t even any information posted about it, aside from a little blurb at the trail head which basically says “Hey, there is a castle up there”.

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A view from one of the towers.

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The largest structure remaining is the “Torre de homenaje”, or just “the keep”. It had three stories back in the day.

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As I said before, an attacking army would have to work their way up the switch backs, getting shot at the entire time.

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The cisterns that stored water are mostly still buried, but this one is open. The sad part about it being so open for exploration is all the graffiti and trash that inevitable gets left behind.

Kaeti and I like to talk about the best hikes we have ever been on. Currently in the lead in no particular order, we have the “Golf Club” hike in Guam, the “Tallest Mountain in the World” hike, also in Guam, and the “Lost Half-Naked Norwegian Man” hike in Italy. The hike up La Peña probably is not in the top 5, but we really really enjoyed it. It was close to home, it was relaxing, and it gave us a new outlook on our little city. And best of all, it’s a hike we can take over and over because it’s just around the corner (sort of).

For fun, here is an additional photo showing what the castle would have looked like. It was made by a group in Martos that wants to rebuild the castle. I really hope this happens!11138639_1433713473595647_7294152974297049948_n

Olives!

 

In the US, olive oil is generally a fancy oil that we pull out when we want to make Italian food or a fancy salad. If we want to fry something, we use something cheap like canola. We do this partly because olive oil is a bit expensive, and also because it has a low burning temperature, meaning it burns quickly and adds carcinogens to your food.

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In Spain? I mean, we’ve SEEN other kinds of oil, besides olive. But it was more expensive than olive oil, and there wasn’t a super great selection. And really olive oil is probably the second most common table condiment, besides tomato (not ketchup, literal tomato crushed onto bread). And most of what we order has at LEAST a drizzle of olive oil on it. Funny side story. Back in Germany, I had a Spanish floor mate. One day, he decided to make French fries for dinner. How did he do it? He took a out a wok, filled it with half a bottle of olive oil, added 3 potatoes worth of raw potato, and just deep fried it then and there, in olive oil. The whole building smelled awesome, but it blew my mind at the time. How could you use that much tasty oil for something as simple as french fries? After living here for barely a month, and having already gone through 3 bottles of olive oil, I think I understand.

So what’s the deal with Spain and olives?

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Olive trees are hardy, stubborn things, and also probably the only things capable of being grown in this climate without requiring serious effort. I used to wonder how the farmers managed to water all of the trees, especially when we learned after we got here that it hadn’t rained for 6 months. They aren’t irrigated, they aren’t connected to a central water system. They just sit there magically producing fruit.  Olive trees don’t give a damn about where they are growing. Actually, that’s not true, because if the soil is TOO fertile, or the temperatures TOO pleasant, the trees can get diseases and they produce less fruit.

Kaeti and I have driven through most of the Midwest USA. We’ve seen the massive corn and wheat fields that go on for miles and miles. And still, we have been truly astounded by how expansive the olive groves in Spain are. As far as the eye can see, up every hill and mountain, from the exact border of the city to infinity and beyond, 60 million olive trees. So yes, our province truly is the world capital for olive oil production. 45% of the worlds supply of olive oil comes from Spain, half of that is from our province alone.

Our town is ringed with oil factories, at least three major ones. When they start production, boy is it obvious. When they are making oil, there is a cloud of….something lingering over the entire city. It has a very distinct and strong smell. It isn’t necessarily a bad smell like when we lived in Greeley next to the feed lots. Actually, for the first week we were here we thought it was the smell of people grilling chorizo. It smells earthy, kind of like a spicy paprika mixed with an old salad or something. We were so used to the smog in Korea that when we first got here and saw the haze, we assumed it was smog. But nope, olive oil.

My school gets a regional newspaper delivered every day, and sometimes I read through it. It’s good Spanish practice, it lets me know more about our area, and it keeps my co-workers guessing (“Wait, how well can he speak Spanish?”). A few weeks ago, I came across this cool news story.

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Basically, two business guys are trying to convince local farmers to break tradition, and start growing Aloe Vera. It’s just as hardy, and just as low maintenance, as olive trees. So they would grow it, and sell the gel to cosmetic and pharmaceutical businesses. We’ve seen a few individual aloe plants out there, so maybe it’s taking off for real. That’s pretty much the most interesting news article from our city, as far as I can tell. Not much happens here…

We have talked briefly about the “Via Verde de Acietes”. You can see it in the picture above, it’s the little path running through the grove. But in case you forgot, the Via Verde is an 80 mile bike path running through the endless olive groves. Spread all throughout the olive groves are ruins that look like this:

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Actually, the ruin in this photo looks somewhat decent, most are not in this good of condition.

Some look like factories, others look like plantation homes, but they are all abandoned. Like REALLY abandoned, the roofs are gone, the walls are collapsing, there are no roads leading to them, or if there were they have long since been planted over with olive trees. There aren’t just a few of these either. There is a ruin on pretty much any halfway decent hill. So far, it’s a mystery. Someday we will get closer to one of them, and maybe it’ll answer some questions.

 

 

We don’t know for sure, but we have heard that you can walk into one of the factories and buy a five liter canister of pure fresh olive oil for 20 euro. Maybe we will sometime in the future, just to see if we can. And then we can make a blog titled something like “basic and advanced home repairs with olive oil” since things keep falling apart in our janky apartment, which is a story for another time all in itself.

 

A Trip to Almeria

IBecause of a holiday we had a 5-day weekend a few weeks ago. Sadly, because we had only just gotten internet we couldn’t book bus tickets or hotels (they were already all booked up!). So we stayed at home and took it easy. As a redemption trip for the 5 day weekend that wasn’t, we recently took a trip to Almeria.

Almeria is in a different province from where we live and on the coast. It’s actually just across the Mediterranean from both Algeria and Morocco so it’s fairly far away from home. Google maps says its 2:30 minutes by car. We don’t have a car and Spain hardly has train routes compared to Germany. So we were stuck with the bus that ended up taking 5 hours.

That’s because the wonderful buses here have a top speed of potato (potatoes don’t move and that’s the joke). Also no one cares about anything (if you haven’t got that idea from my blogs about my school I don’t know how else we can convey how little everyone cares about anything). So when the driver took a 15 minute break to pee and have snacks we actually took a 35 minute break. We left just after work on Friday and arrived just before 11 at night. Stop tempting us to get/rent a car, Spain.

We had a pretty rocking  hotel in the center of town for cheaper than some hostels were quoting us. If anyone is ever in Almeria we recommend it (Hotel Torreluz Senior).

On Saturday we went shopping. Jaen (the nearest big city to us) really doesn’t have shopping unless you have drum roll a car. So you Almeria provided us with the clothes we desperately needed. Turns out I only brought 5 short sleeve shirts. The rest of my luggage was pants and sweaters. Given that this is the forecast almost every day:

I need more short sleeve shirts. I can’t keep wearing the same shirts every day and don’t want heatstroke. So we shopped til we dropped. Er, at least until siesta hit and everyone closed up. When siesta started we went to get some tapas. We have been generally avoiding tapas at home and I’m not sure why. Tapas are always free. Always (at least in our region). You order a beer, wine, or even a coke and they’ll ask you what you want. Not only are they free but you can choose what you want. Every time you order you get a new choice. So you can just sit and drink and eat for hours. That’s kinda the point, actually. So we embraced this a lot more on the vacation (because we couldn’t run home to our apartment and cook for ourselves).

The tapas aren’t crap, either. They’re not a cracker with some spread. Here we have curried chicken in a bowl. I have teriyaki chicken with fried rice and a bread stick. Again, can’t stress this enough: this was free with the drink.

This was such a posh restaurant (Lila’s Cafe, you should go) that we weren’t even sure if it was free. So we only had two rounds and two orders of tapas before we asked for the check. It was only $10.

Full of tapas and contented by the low alcohol content of a tinto de verano (we didn’t get drunk for lunch, guys.) we decided now was the time for a hike. Heat of the day, no water, let’s go!

Given Spain’s history (you read that post about the Moors vs Christians in Martos, right? Or more recently Chris’s fantastic history of The Reconquista). You can guess being that close to Africa made Almeria a contested area in the battle of who own’s this land. Almeria actually comes from an Arabic word Al-Mari’yah. Since it was a contested area that means it was a hot-spot for crusades and castles. And boy oh boy is there a cool castle there. It’s called the Alcazaba (alcazaba actually means “walled fortification” or al-qasbah in Arabic, the same qasbah The Clash wanted to rock). We had been told the Alcazaba was closed for siesta so we went to a nearby overlook.

The castle is on the left and the overlook (and more castle and a religious icon) are on the right. There is a huge wall going across the valley between the two ridges.

We saw a lot more wall that would’ve gone around the city.

I couldn’t get over how cool the top of the wall looked with the spiked battlements. I’ve actually just been informed these are called “Merlons” which is “the solid part of a crenellated parapet between two embrasures.” An easier thing to say would be “those spiky bits at the top.” I like these spiky bits at the top.

From the top we could actually walk around parts of the castle that were outside of the protected pay-to-enter bits. And all of this was….just sitting there, free to be discovered by anyone willing to walk up the hill. Notice in the above picture that there are apartments about a stones throw away from the castle walls. Just think about that, this could be your back yard.

From our side of the castle we could see the whole wall and the “real” castle across the valley. Don’t forget all the awesome merlons.

The view of the city and ocean were great, too. The landmass in the distance is not Africa (it’s not that close). But if you squint really hard and just straight up imagine you’re seeing it, you’d be looking straight at Algeria (Morocco would be to the right of this picture).

After being in the heat of the day on a humid coastal area (in the 80s) we were thirsty. The castle was open so we just went straight there. They don’t have water but sad little spigots you can use to splash hot hose water into your mouth if you’re desperate. As an American I’ll never get over the lack of accessible water fountains.

At the entrance the man asked if we were students. We said yes (technically we are with our visa) and asked where we from. We barely finished answering when he said “free.” Not a full sentence or anything just, free. So people not caring about anything can be beneficial sometimes.

So, free Alcazaba. So many wonderful things to see and learn. A history that goes back to 955 and sees many changes of hands. The Catholics captured it in 1147. Then it went back to Moorish hands in 1157. Then in 1489 it’s back to the Catholics. An earthquake probably destroyed a lot of it in here somewhere (I can’t get a straight answer). But now it’s here. It’s the 2nd largest Muslim fortress in Andalucia.

Besides all that tedious history loads and loads of movies have been filmed here. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had Indiana walking around the castle. (Lots of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed in the Almeria area including the part with his dad flapping the umbrella at the birds, and the part with Indiana getting drug around by tanks).

Here is but an incomplete list of all the movies filmed at the Alcazaba.

It’s hard to see but the best ones are Cleopatra (1963), Rat Patrol (1966 TV), Patton (1970), Get Mean (1975), The Story of David, Conan the Barbarian (1982), Queen of Swords, James Bond Never Say Never Again (1983), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Gospel of John (2014), Game of Thrones Season 6 (2016) and Risen (2016). Besides filming at the Alcazaba, Almeria itself has been the site of 432  movies and TV shows according to Wikipedia – aka countless Spaghetti westerns.

John Lennon was in Almeria to film Ringo Starr’s spaghetti western “Blindman.” Lennon actually wrote Strawberry Fields Forever and found his penchant for rounded glasses while in Almeria. So enough about how awesome the area is. Onto the castle.

We were greeted by these gorgeous Arabic style keyhole arched gates.

The whole first layer used to be a huge city. It’s all water features and gardens now but this would’ve all been a gated city for Muslims back in either 955-1147 or 1157 or something?

There were water features everywhere. Above, you can see a small trench of water coming down by the stairs, and the larger pool to the left. They all flowed into an even larger pool which had fish swimming in it. These would’ve actually existed back in the day to get water to people. Now they’re just a tripping/drowning hazard and I guarantee these would be blocked off in the US. Look at those merlons, looking great.

Here’s a view back to the other side of the valley where we had just been hiking. 

Like all good castles it had 30 layers with mystery stairs up and down or sudden changes in elevation based on when someone decided to add more/renovate. So it was easy to get turned around or miss something.

We headed back to a reconstruction of what a Muslim home would’ve looked like (middle left of the picture where the person in the white shirt is standing). It had artifacts from the times including kid’s toys and  cookware. Most impressive was the courtyard in the center of the house. Instead of a ceiling it had a bolt of fabric draped over it, which kept it shady and breezy, even in the heat of the day it was very pleasant in there.

In the far back is an addition the Christians added when they conquered the castle. They eventually added gun ports for cannon, and tons of crosses carved into the stones.

A lot of the living areas had been constructed, re-constructed, and re-re-constructed based on whoever’s religion was dominating the castle. So it’s an archaeological area now where you can just find a party bag of Christian/Muslim things stacked on each other like a religious lasagna.

This courtyard area is where most of the movies are filmed.

There was a temporary exhibit here showing where many movie scenes had been filmed so we went back out to find the Game of Thrones bit. It’s Season 6 so don’t google it (Mom. Don’t google it) as someone straight up dies here but it looks like this in the movie:

And looks like this in reality:

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They took some pretty serious liberties when they edited this scene, but the basic feel remains.

Pretty good. We ended the castle with one more view of the city and, of course, the merlons. 

The next day we went to the history museum of Almeria. It started at the actual beginning when people were figuring out how to bang a couple rocks together for effect. The next group had these amazing mass burial chambers. They would make a dome of rocks and earth, then carve the middle out of a large rock to make a round door. They would place bodies in there with their possessions, and then seal it off. They looked wicked spooky.

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Eventually the Romans showed up and wrecked everything with their engineering, art, and hedonism. The Muslims took over for a while and then the Christians (and then the Muslims/Christians/Muslims/Christians) and now we’re here.

The world is so big and people have been doing crazy crap for so long. It’s amazing to take just a snapshot of a little region and chronicle the whole history. We were in the museum for probably 4 hours and that was just this area’s history. After a comprehensive area of this tiny little part of this world we needed some tapas. So we went to another posh bar and got free food with our drinks.

Pictured here are patatas bravas swimming in sauce (Chris’s). Fried potatos in a spicy ketchuppy sauce and mayo. I had “Russian salad” a type of potato/tuna salad combo that’s not too bad. When people wonder what we’re eating – we’re not sipping margaritas and eating taquitos. We’re drinking wine and eating Russian salad. Our second round we had an empanada filled with blood pudding and apples and a mini bread bowl filled with fondue.

And not to keep talking about food, but we found an amazing Italian restaurant for dinner called “Maro & Broders”, and it was better Italian food than we ever found back in Italy. Probably because they had no illusion about what good Italian food is supposed to be, your choice of noodles, with your choice of sauce, and some cheese stuffed in a to-go box.

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That was mostly it. The last day was mostly us traveling back home.
We only had two choices for buses. A 9:00 am bus, and a 5:30 pm bus. We thought we might like a few more hours to enjoy our time in Almeria, so we took the 5:30. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. We checked out of the hotel at noon, and had nowhere to spend the five and a half hours. If you think that doesn’t sound difficult, then you are forgetting about siesta.  Between 2 and 5 most everything is closed. So we spent that time bumming around any cafe or bar that happened to be open, doing the whole drink and tapa routine, which is fun, but feels forced after a while. To make a long miserable story short, the trip home consisted of us waiting around for five and a half hours, taking a three and a half hour bus ride to Jaen (It was the express bus this time), and then waiting 30 minutes more to take a 45 minute bus home. Why didn’t we do something else in Almeria to kill time? Remember, so much is closed for siesta!

We had fun, and Almeria is a great place, but I don’t know if we will ever take that long of a journey via bus again. Next time we feel like going somewhere, it will be much closer to home.

 

 

 

 

 

History Lesson: The Reconquista!

Since arriving in Spain, everywhere we go we see traces of “The Reconquista”.

And every time we have a question about something specific, the answer usually lies in “The Reconquista”.

Why are the foods like this?

Why are there so many castles?

Whats with the architecture?

Why are there so many Spanish words that start with “Al”

The answer to all of the above questions is essentially “Because of The Reconquista.”

Pretty interesting, especially since we never really learned about it in school.

So, as something different, we will lay out the super basic explanation about “The Reconquista”, what it was, and why it’s important.

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Vamos!

First, the most basic bits.

Reconquista=Reconquest

The Reconquista was a time of war that lasted just about 800 years between the Christian kings of northern Spain and sometimes France and Italy, and the Moorish (North African) Islamic kingdoms. The war probably started in 718 and ended the same year Columbus sailed to the new world (1492).

800 years is a very VERY long time. I just thought about it, and less time has passed between the war’s end and today (525 years), than between the start and the end of the war itself.

So, without too much detail, what actually happened?

In 711, North Africans invaded and took most of Iberia (that’s Spain!) from some small fry Christian kingdoms. Then they got a bit greedy, and invaded France which sparked an 800 year long shit show that went something like this. Two “sides”, with each side spending most of their time arguing about who should be in charge of their side. Then, when one side decides which “faction” should lead them against the enemy, they start some trouble, only for it all to fall apart for any reason you can think of, thus starting the process over again. Sometimes the Muslims and Christians are both busy fighting EACH OTHER. Sometimes everyone is dying of the plague.

Back and forth this rocks, until around 1340. The Islamic forces had been pushed pretty far south, and they attempted one last invasion of the now Christian north. They failed, and retreated back to their last remaining region, Al-Andaluz, in the far south of Spain. If that sounds like Andalucia, where we live currently, that’s because it’s the same word.

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This map shows how the Islamic territory shrank from start to finish.

Three powerful Christian kingdoms have evolved at this point, Portugal, Castile, and Aragon. They spend the next 100 or more years making the parts of Spain they had already reconquered as Catholic as possible.

This is when the Spanish Inquisition gets going, the Jews get kicked out/murdered, and all the Islamic people who stayed behind get…you guessed it, kicked out/murdered. Or I guess tons were force converted to Christianity, but they were always treated with suspicion/and/or scapegoated for every small thing that went wrong, which usually led to them being kicked out/murdered.

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When Spain (excluding Al-Andaluz) was suitably Catholic, Castile and Aragon joined their kingdoms together with a royal wedding. Portugal got folded into the new super alliance and was then ignored for 200 years.

The new super kingdom invades Al-Andaluz, and finished the Reconquista by taking the city of Granada, which had been the seat of Islamic power in Spain up til then.

The Spanish crown, probably bored with the idea of not waging war on a different culture, celebrates by sanctioning Christopher Columbus’ voyage  to the new world that same year.

All this fighting, spread over a vast period of time, left a huge impression on the landscape. The province we live in was on the front line between the Christian and Islamic kingdoms for about 150 years. Today, it has the densest castle population of any province or region in all of Europe. Just about every single village has a castle, be it a ruined castle or a state funded restoration castle. We can see two from our balcony, we can walk one village over and see another, and if we hop on the bus we will see 3 or more in less than 30 minutes. The castles built in our area aren’t the most picturesque in the world, they were built quickly and abandoned as the fighting moved further and further south. The real pretty castles are the ones that sat behind the front lines for hundreds of years.

And why do we care today?

The kings might have been fighting each other, but Christians and Muslims seem to have been living together just fine, sharing food, language, architecture etc.
In fact, during Islamic rule the people and the general culture flourished. Jews and Christians were at least tolerated by the Islamic kings, science and philosophy spread. And, most enduring, many of the most famous architectural landmarks in Spain were built during this time.

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The Alcazar, featured in Game of Thrones. We actually visited this, but we’ll post about it later.

Also super relevant, today, something like 8% of the Spanish language is directly based off of Arabic. Here’s a fun fact, Al- is Arabic for “the” (generally speaking). So when the Spanish adopted Arabic words, they usually just kept the “Al”.

For example:

Alcohol – Alcohol (English got this word via the French/Spanish who got it from Arabic)

Algodon – Cotton

Alcalde – Mayor

Almohada – Pillow

Alcachofa – Artichoke

And on and on.

Besides the Al- words, tons of common Spanish words are Arabic as well,

Hasta – untill

Guitarra – Guitar

Mono – Monkey

Sandia – Watermelon

Barrio – Neighborhood

We haven’t really talked about what Spanish cuisine consists of, mostly because the answer is very complicated. There is no real defining “thing” about Spanish food. The best description I can think of at this moment?…. Mediterranean (meaning olives, olive oils, cheese etc) with ham and potatoes. And apparently a lot of it was introduced directly or indirectly, by the Moors. Arabic scholars invented an advanced still, which was used to make the first Brandy in Spain. Almonds and most spices, vinegar preservation (pickles and onions yum), marzipan etc were all originally brought from the middle east at this time.

Well there it is, 800 years of history and cross cultural analysis  rolled up into one blog post.

Has this been generalized? Yes, but we really want to explain Spain, and the region were we live, so this should help give all of you some context for how complicated Spain is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween in Spain

A question we get a lot is: does Spain celebrate Halloween? Many countries have adopted it (including the USA. We didn’t start it, you know), other countries purposely avoid it because it’s too “American.”

If you’re wondering it started in the UK and Ireland as far back as the 16th century. So it’s inherently European.

Anyway, the short answer is: yes, and they’re trying hard to make it bigger. The long answer is, only some age groups and it’s complicated.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween there were signs. All the chinos (dollar stores) started filling up with decorations, masks, and kids costumes. Posters were put up announcing a city “Casa Del Terror” (Haunted House) and a medieval market.

The grocery stores had a very tiny section of Halloween candy next to the huge Christmas section. Yes Christmas things are already out. They don’t have Thanksgiving to trigger “It is now socially acceptable to be Christmassy.”

Also the week before Halloween the grocery store had these cute little sugar pumpkins (not the monster carvers we have in the US). They had put black tape over it to make it look Halloweeny.

I had seen tons and tons of Halloween printouts for the kids in the copying room. Loads of teachers (not just English teachers) were making skeleton, witch, brew/potions, jack o lanterns, and costume printouts for coloring/projects. So I figured I could get away with wearing a costume. Plus I figure “I’m supposed to be a cultural ambassador so whatever.” I brought a Harry Potter costume from the US. Just a t-shirt with a clip on tie and glasses.

The kids were enamored by it but didn’t know at all what it was. Most thought I was a student (it looks similar to the Catholic school uniforms here) and alarmingly, train conductor. “Teacher! Choo choo!” Not at all, Maria. Not at all. What train conductor wears a clip on tie and huge glasses?

A few die-hard Harry Potter fans (older kids) got it but for the most part it was “And what are you supposed to be little girl?”

I was the only teacher dressed up, though. I chose not to draw a scar on my forehead since the principal and his goonies were already giving me dirty/confused enough looks. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one dressed up. All the 1st and 2nd graders were dressed to the nines. They looked great.

Quite a few were Dia de los Muertos masks. We’ve really gone full circle with Spain bringing Catholisism to Mexico and adapting their local death celebrations to be religious. Now Dia de los Muertos is bigger here. A couple girls had some amazing ammmaaazzzziinnngggg face paint done by moms (or dads) to look exactly like the Dia de los Muertos masks. Their hair was all up in skulls or bows, too. There were quite a lot of witches. The boys were all devils, draculas or skeletons. One boy was the perfect Joker and was the only boy who managed not to smear his facepaint everywhere. He’s pictured in the back since I figure his face paint protects his anonymity.

The girl in the pink tutu was a really awesome doll. She had paint to make it look like her jaw was on a hinge like a dolls and she had huge doll eyes painted over it. Her friend had a past princess costume that was ripped up to be a zombie princess (hell yeah!). Her mom/dad had done her hair to look matted and zombie like. A lot, and I mean a lot of effort was put into these. Only one kid had a homemade costume on, he was a cute little clown and had a 3 piece green suit with ric rac sewn all over it. His facepaint combined with his naturally bulbous nose and big child eyes made him look adorable.

One girl was dressed as what I would consider inappropriate, but more power to her (or her parents). For one it was a character from the R rated (and generally terrible) movie Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn is a sexually-violent-psychotic character who wears booty shorts, a crop top and has red and blue hair. This girl was dressed exactly like that with the booty shorts and crop top. Except she’s 7.

In the back were the Jack o Lanterns hanging up. They do carve here but they carve watermelons, not pumpkins. Also they always carve slits on the side to hang it up (we carve the lid to go back on, but here they carve string to carry/hang it). There were live candles in it (of course there were. It’s Spain!).

Also check out the cool Spongebob and Patrick artwork.

My favorite thing that never would’ve been acceptable in the US was the huge pile of weapons the kids had. These had been collected and stored in the coat room (yes some classrooms have coat rooms) after too many kids were tripping over them.

All these violent weapons then the little light-up wand discarded at the bottom.

As for our Halloween we watched Stranger Things on Netflix. I don’t have a stomach for horror at all but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone for the story. Also we tried a new recipe for Caramel Apple Sangria that we both really enjoyed.

White wine, Apple Cider (homemade, can’t buy that in Spain) and caramel vodka. Adjust the ratios to your taste or follow an actual human recipe.

Apartment Tour

Our apartment looks like this:

When we moved in there were 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. We rearranged it to be 2 bedrooms and one office. Also everything that wasn’t nailed down was relocated to make more sense for us. Also you’ll note the bidets in the bathrooms – not second toilets.

This is what it looked like before. Yellow highlighted objects were ones that were moved.

We moved everything that is glowing yellow.

When you first walk in there is a looonnggg hallway across the whole house. Every single room has doors (kitchen door, living room double doors, etc) that are usually shut. Since we’re used to more open concept houses in the US we keep all the doors open.

The entryway has a mirror, a place for keys, and a hat rack. Behind the pictures of the suns is the circuit breaker and other not-pretty things. So the suns are functional little blemish hiders.

Old habits die hard. We did take our shoes off everyday for 3 years in Korea. So we still take our shoes off. The whole house is hardwood and impossible to keep clean. So taking our shoes off helps (not really). In Korea there is a little step to contain the shoes and act as a mental trigger to take them off. We put a rug down to simulate this – no shoes cross the rug. It is known.

The first room you come to in the long long hallway is the kitchen. 

It’s very dark wood. The dishwasher, freezer and fridge are all covered in wood pattern to match the cabinets. We added some teal rugs and trash can (not pictured) to brighten it up. All the dishes you can see are clean but not dry yet. They just stay out until they’re used again so we’re not going to put them away just to impress you. This is what it really looks like.

Behind where this picture was taken is the wall that fell apart (now successfully with tile on it again) and a large walk in pantry where Pantry Jesus watches over us all.

When we first moved in there was an entire table in the middle of the kitchen, the table is now in the pantry so it’s not walk-in anymore. It’s like a junk drawer except the entire pantry is the drawer. There were about 30 plates (bread plates, entree plates, saucers, etc) extra cups and probably 20 knives. We don’t need that much so there is an entire box of all the kitchen things we don’t need/have space for.

Next to the pantry is the laundry room. It’s half inside, half outside. This is where we can open the window and see all the neighbors houses. Our apartment building is a large square donut. The middle of the donut is where everyone hangs laundry (in the middle courtyard bit). When our neighbors above dry something large like sheets, it hangs down into our view. It’s all very cozy. Our biggest fear is dropping a sock/item from the clothesline down onto the bottom floor neighbors.

The white thing on the wall with all the pipes coming off of it is our hot water heater. The bombona lives under the sink. Since people don’t know what it looks like:

A bright orange bomb full of gas.

Here is the courtyard. The neighbors across from us clearly use their drying room as a storage area.

Exiting the kitchen/pantry/lanudry room and back into the hallway. On the opposite side of the hall is the living/dining room.

There are 2 huge entertainment centers/shelves. We populated them with random trinkets since we own exactly 2 books. Still they seem a little empty, er, minimalist.

The TV came with the apartment and we get 5 channels for free (a movie channel, Discovery, Disney, Cartoon Network and a soccer channel). Everyone gets these for free regardless of if you have cable or dish or whatever. So we actually watch a lot of movies in Spanish (you can change it to English but we don’t).

Behind the couch is the dining room area. We thought it made way more sense to have it back there instead of next to the windows like it used to be.

It’s a full 6 seater. The table looks thin but we can pull out a hidden bit and make it twice (thrice?) as big. It’s hard to tell. We also got really lucky and have good art on the walls. There are old maps of Andalucia and pictures of Martos from the 50s.

Behind the table is one of two ways to get to the balcony.

We keep a singular sad chair on the balcony because someone left it outside and the chair will never be clean again. When we take wine or tapas onto the balcony the sad chair serves as a table.

You can just see the road just below. It’s busy almost all day (it’s the main street through the whole town). So it’s loud all the time. Because there is farmland (olives) and farmers nearby we also have tractors, dirt bikes (loud!), 4 wheelers and actual horses that go up and down this road. We’ve also had religious processions going all around this road. Everyone was dressed in white and carried a huge thing up to the church.

Speaking of the church we have a great view of it from the balcony.

The huge wall is the backside of another apartment. Behind the huge white wall we can see La Piña, which has a castle on it, and the church, which is built on top of another castle. So yes, we can see two castles from our balcony.

The balcony can also be accessed through the office which is the next room on the tour down the loong hallway.

There is a built-in desk, and we moved another desk in. So we both have desks and chairs. Of course one chair is a lounge from the living room. 

We have minimalist decorations, postcards from our honeymoon and my jewelry.

The room next door is the guest bedroom.

There are 2 twin beds pushed in there together. There are no sheets or pillows (the covers on them are just covers to make the house look better for real estate). If anyone comes to visit we’ll get some real sheets. We use this room as a dressing room and a place for our backpacks.

Across the hall is the main bathroom. This has a bidet, toilet, vanity and bathtub. Something Spain does  is put the showerhead in the middle of the bath rather than on one side or the other. So showering together is easy as you can just push the water to the other side (instead of having to switch sides and walk around in the tub).

Finally we turn in an L from the long hallway into the master bedroom. We still don’t have a comforter even though the weather is changing dramatically now. We’ve hung up some art from Japan to cover up huge holes in the wall.

The other side of the bedroom is a wardrobe bigger than a truck.

It has tons of windows and could hold a person in each of it’s 6 doors. Behind that is the floating laundry basket. There is a huge mount for a TV (and old style TV not a flat screen). So laundry goes there, obviously.

Off of the main bedroom is a half bath. It has the shower from hell (doesn’t drain, sprays out of the shower and leaks everywhere). Also there isn’t a toilet paper holder so we have to just put the TP on a shelf next to the toilet.

 

Things Get Stranger

Things just keep getting stranger. The school is already strange enough with its layout. The teachers are characters (both in a good and bad way). Also the school is half broken all the time: the internet usually doesn’t work, the toilets don’t have seats or toilet paper, half the computers are running Microsoft 2006, and once the water completely stopped running.

So we descended into more madness with a complete 360 with another teacher, a failure of technology, a complaint, and finally the ultimate bullshit. We’ll just break these into fun micro stories. (This is a long post but it’s the last I’m going to write about my school for a while so read it at your leisure).

A Complete 360

You maybe remember cool teacher. He was too cool to help with the first graders who understood nothing but was also this really good teacher. I left his class feeling like crap that the students hadn’t understood anything and upset he hadn’t helped. I was really dreading going to the next 1st grade class with him. But he ended up helping a lot, he translated things and asked questions to get them interested and actively learning. It was, as the title suggests, a complete 360. Turns out he had never worked with an assistant before. So last week he had probably been too nervous to help/didn’t know how we could work together. Now he had made coloring sheets so we could actually talk about how to work together.

We talked about what the upcoming holiday is: Columbus Day. No way. He handed out a coloring worksheet that showed pilgrims meeting the Spanish (we have the exact same coloring pages back at home). He talked about how Columbus landed in Puerto Rico 525 years ago on October 12th. Spain celebrates it every year because it changed everything for Spain (and everyone). Spain didn’t used to have tomatoes or potatoes, or wealth. “They didn’t have ketchup” he said.

“Mmm ketchup” a few kids said in the background, still coloring. They were learning through absorption.

We kept chatting and he kept apologizing for his fluent English. For a full time teacher who learned English as a hobby one year ago he was conversationally fluent. Unbelievable. All hail this teacher.

A Failure of Technology

On the first day teaching real lessons I brought home 5 serious viruses on my USB. So the 3 (three!) computers I plugged my USB into at school gave me 5 viruses. If my computer wasn’t brand new it wouldn’t have caught them. I’m still not sure if there is more we missed.

In the past I’ve mentioned I spend 5-10 hours on a powerpoint. I’m not exaggerating. In Korea I really did spend 20 hours a week making 3 powerpoints for the 3 grades. Now I have 6 grades and 12 different classes to prepare for and I’m spending about 2 hours per powerpoint. This is a powerpoint that will only be used 1 time but I get obsessive over it. Can the kids understand this? Better find a clear picture to demonstrate what I’m saying. I make fun elaborate games that are great but just so time consuming.

So this cannot continue. Overworking a powerpoint is a bad habit that I need to break. Not to mention the viruses are inevitable if I keep doing this. So I’m done. No more powerpoint, no more technology. I sat down to lesson plan and it took me 1 hour to think of activities for 8 classes. Boom. Easy.

Except everyone is already spoiled with the powerpoint games. So when I mentioned I’m not doing powerpoints anymore they told me “I have to” and “5 viruses really isn’t that much. Don’t worry about it.”

Someone commented on this blog that the teachers didn’t really show compassion towards students who got injured on the playground. They don’t show anyone compassion. The kids who fall or trip or sprain ankles are ignored. Kids who make mistakes in class are given a forceful “No!” with no explanation as to why it’s wrong. If a student makes a point or a comment they respond with a short “claro” (Clearly. Or that’s clear/obvious). So there’s no way I’m going to get any sympathy if a school virus completely destroys my home computer or stops me from working. They’ve said it loud and clear: having a virus or preventing a virus is no excuse for not doing your job the way I’m telling you to do your job.

The good news is I did a lesson without powerpoint and it went great. 3 different classes played Taboo (where you can’t say 1 word but can use other words to describe the word). We played it with science terms and they begged to play a second round. So it was more student centered than a powerpoint would’ve been and they used more English than just answering questions or playing games from my powerpoints. It’s a clear choice, just one they’re not happy with.

A Complaint

During a quiet moment my head-teacher asked me if I was settling in. “Not really.”

“Why not?” He said, surprised.

  1. I hadn’t seen all of my classes yet (with the holiday interrupting things).
  2. None of the teachers had even introduced themselves, and by now it is too late to ask “by the way who are you?” They all knew my name from the papers but never introduced themselves. They just said “start your lesson, now” and went to the back of the room. When I would try to catch them after class they would just disappear.
  3. No one knows what to do with me.The couple times they have spared a second to talk to me I’ve asked what I need to do to prepare for their class. “I don’t know just make a game.”

Oh. Okay. About what? Exactly? There’s a 70 page book with about 15 pages per chapter… what chapter? What page? What game? How long should the lesson take?

So to answer his question I said that I hadn’t really had a chance to talk to the other teachers and hadn’t even seen a few classes. Not to mention half my classes were substitute art/math teachers who just killed time.

“Also, one class doesn’t even have a teacher” I mentioned. I’ve gone 3 times. There isn’t a teacher. I’ve stuck around long enough to see no one ever comes. There is an empty class of 24 eight year olds alone for 45 minutes.

“Well that shouldn’t happen.” He said. Clearly.

“Anyway, I was talking with the other teachers and they had a complaint about you.”

“Oh?”

“They say you never say goodbye to them after class and they think it’s rude.”

I laughed. “I do say goodbye. I’ve walked out of classes with them talking to them. We say goodbye.”

“Well they probably don’t hear you so you need to say it louder.”

Oh dear. How pitiful. Full grown adults who should be worrying about classes who have no teachers didn’t get told “goodbye.”

Half these teachers have literally walked away from me when I’m asking them questions. These teachers never even introduced themselves. These teachers don’t help in class or don’t really care about the kids. They’re upset I won’t be doing powerpoints anymore. And yet, their feewings are hurt I didn’t say “bye bye.”

I really have to laugh at this one. Of all the things that matter in this broken, broken school and it’s me not saying goodbye loudly enough.

 

The Ultimate Bullcrap

I want to recap things I say in every post but that I feel are necessary to repeat:

  1. It’s basically illegal for me to be in the room alone.
  2. Even if it isn’t illegal I cannot teach alone. So yes I can sit passively in a room, I guess. But I shouldn’t be teaching without a licensed teacher present.
  3. I don’t remember anything about science. I guess I haven’t said that in other posts but I’m teaching stuff I do not remember learning. Photosynthesis –  phloem and xylem. Prokaryotic vs eukaryotic cells…. ?
  4. I also barely speak Spanish.

Combine all of those things at once and try to force me to do it. No. I draw a heavy line.

I walked into the same exact class I had been in the night before. This was the one with the teacher just killing time asking “what pets do you have” “what pets do you have?” I expected her or someone else to show up. But no, no substitute teachers were there. No one was there. I sat down in the back and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Kids were throwing things and acting crazy.

25 minutes after the class was supposed to begin the principal and head of teachers (think vice principal) came rushing in.

“Oh thank god a teacher was here” one said in Spanish.

“What are you doing alkajdlfkajdlfkajdlkfj” the principal asked me pointing wildly.

“lakjdflakjdflakjfdlakdjf” he asked again. He looked angry that I didn’t know.

“What…. class?” the head teacher asked in English.

I showed him my schedule.

“It’s social science!” he shouted to the principal. Then to me, “do your lesson”

“I don’t have one. I’m supposed to just watch this week.” I mimed all this to help.

“She’s not prepared.” he told the principal.

“You’re not prepared?!” he said angrily. He opened a science book. He asked some kids what they were doing in it and flipped to the right page.

He brought it to me. “Teach this chapter!”  He demanded. The book was all in Spanish.

“No uh yo…” I tried to think of how I could explain how that wasn’t going to work.

“Teach it” he said again forcing the book into my chest. I didn’t take it.

“No” I said forcefully this time. I’m drawing the line. I can’t and won’t teach this. I can’t speak Spanish on this level if you hadn’t noticed.

“She doesn’t understand me!” he told the head teacher.

I understand you fine. I wanted to say. You’re asking the impossible and being a real jerk about it.

“Just go back to the sala de profesores?” the head teacher said in Spanglish. Just go to the teacher’s room. 

Gladly. I stood up to leave. The principal tried to stop me. He grabbed my notebook out of my hand and started trying to read it. I snatched it back from him. What was his problem?

“Just go” the head teacher ushered me out.

I’m a pretty prepared person. I prepare for all kinds of things that can happen in class. But wow. I didn’t think anyone would’ve ever expected me to teach a lesson in Spanish alone.

The next week I asked another teacher about it. I had to go to that class again and wanted to make sure a teacher would be there this time.

“So last week…” I explained everything. “Oh yeah I heard about that. (oh great) But don’t worry about it.” she said.

“Well the principal seemed pretty mad… (she said nothing to confirm or deny) Also I’m really not supposed to be alone in the room.”

“Yes they are quite naughty” she said, “but don’t worry, I can come to that class with you and you can do a summary of the whole chapter.”

Oh great, more work. So I worked all that afternoon to make a summary for the whole chapter. I hadn’t made the decision to go cold turkey on powerpoint yet so I wasted 2 hours making a powerpoint. The next morning I headed to that class, she wasn’t there. No one was there. So I went to her office, she, of course, wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. I shoved the USB in, did a quick lesson and then left. Left them all alone in their room. Everyone else kept doing this. I’m not such a criminal for doing it too (even though it really freaks me out). I’m just so confused. What is even going on? How can you just leave a class of 8 year-olds alone for 45 minutes? They’re losing so much educational time. What the heck is wrong with everyone that they think it’s okay to not hire a substitute? They knew she was pregnant, they knew she would leave this month. How is this a surprise to them?

 

Conclusion:

My school is unbelievable every day. It’s an adventure every day. Something new breaks or disaster strikes every day. I’m a little tired of the adventures but keep holding out that someday, maybe it will start feeling normal. Some days I go in with an attitude of excitement- what crazy shit is going to happen today? And then crazy stuff does happen and it’s entertaining. Sometimes, though, it’s exhausting and I’m starting to dread going (we’ll get that sub maybe next week??? That should help.) It’s also difficult to write about without sounding like I’m whining. I’m not I’m just struggling to deal with some of the curve balls. So we’re not going to write about school for a while.

Chris’ Situation

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The main entrance. To get through the gate, you have to ring a bell and hope that the front office will let you in.

 

Basically, I am in the nicest school in the city. The school itself is old, some of my co-workers were students here, but everything was rebuilt recently and is still very new still. The classrooms all have smart boards and computers, the walls are clean, and best yet… the teachers break room has a coin operated coffee machine.

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I don’t really have many pictures of my school yet, so here’s the aforementioned coffee machine.

That doesn’t mean that the computers or the WiFi work all the time, or that the lights don’t randomly flick on and off every now and then, but hey, it’s Spain.

And, interestingly, I am not really an English teacher. Instead, I work entirely with the bilingual program. I will never teach “English”, even though some of the English teachers (of which there are 4) keep asking me to put in extra hours to teach some of their classes.

Instead, I work with History and Math teachers in an attempt to create a bilingual learning environment. The routine that seems to have developed looks like this: The teacher and I talk a week in advance about what he or she wants from me. They usually fail to set clear goals, so I just sort of attempt to fill in some gaps to make things more interesting, or to introduce some words that I think are relevant/important.

Also, as a fun bonus, I get to work with some vocational training classes. These students are adults that are spending two years in classes that act as a sort of apprentice program for the giant factory in Martos that manufactures headlights for most of the cars sold in Europe.

Why does this factory located DEEP in the Spanish countryside want it’s employees to learn English? It is run by Valeo, which is a French company, with offices and factories all throughout Europe. English is how they generally communicate with all the Polish, German, Spanish, French etc employees. This is also how they presumably communicate with the German, Italian, British, and Czech car producers spread throughout Europe. Your average employee probably doesn’t need English, but knowing it is the best way to advance in the company or to transfer to a more desirable position. So far, I have participated in teaching about contracts (the specific language used and the different parts), and how to professionally introduce yourself.

ALL of my classes are supposed to be taught entirely in English. And from what I can tell, the teachers I work with seem to have been “volunteered” for the bilingual program for various reasons. “Oh, you have a certification in English from three years ago? Welcome!” “Oh, you aren’t a fully licensed teacher yet? Want to work at our school? SURPRISE, welcome to the bilingual team!!”

All my co-teachers were nervous as hell to teach in English, and they do it really well, I just worry that the students might have trouble learning about complex historical, mathematical, and vocational topics in a second language.

 

I came into this knowing absolutely nothing about how Spain educates their kids. What I have learned so far is that the classes (at least in my school) are separated by level. So level A is very high in every subject, and C is the lowest.

The C level students are C for a reason. They are typically behaviorally challenged, there are numerous kids with ADHD, and they all have a general disrespect for authority. They aren’t just bad at English, they are bad at everything else school related. That being said, I like them, they have been generally nice (if a bit out of control) so far. 

Their English level is ALMOST as low as can be, but they get really happy when they say something in English AND I understand them. The regular teacher typically doesn’t understand them when they try to speak English, and I think it’s discouraged them a bit,  but after living abroad for 4 years, and traveling to all those different countries, Kaeti and I can understand pretty much anyone with any accent no matter how bad their English is.

In the A level,  the average student is pretty capable of understanding almost everything I say, but not so good at speaking.

The adults are a mixed bag. Generally, only about 25% of them seem to understand more than half of what I say. I don’t blame them, the 18-19 year olds stopped learning English a few years ago, and the 45-55 year olds stopped a LONG time ago, if they ever started.

 

Nobody at my school knew anything about Colorado (no way!) other than that it means “something red”, so they were full of questions.

My favorite line of questioning came when I mentioned that Colorado has history with Indians, Spanish explorers, cowboys etc. They had no idea that the native tribes in Western America are still around, when I said that I had native friends in school, they instantly wanted to know, “what do they dress like? Where do they live? Do they speak English?” And so on. They really wanted to know if they were “domesticated” (best translation available at that moment), or if they were like the uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Also popular, “what is the local food in Colorado?” In Spain, each region has is traditional soup, ham, liquor, or sauce with a history of local production stretching back before the Romans showed up. In America, not so much. Sure, some broad regional specialities like lobster in Maine, and Grits in the south, but I am not sure about Colorado. Southwestern food, sure, but it isn’t Colorado specific which is what they were asking about. I just said that we all eat pizza, just like they do in Spain, and left it at that. Maybe I forgot something, let me know in the comments!

The adults did appreciate that my hometown (which is smaller than Martos by 6 thousand people or so) has like 6 breweries and 1 distillery though.

 

Also, when I showed them a picture from our wedding, they couldn’t understand how we could get married outside (¿En un campo?), and not in a church.

 

My fellow teachers are all really neat, the one I taught with was telling me all about her village, and how her husband is the mayor of it, and another was telling me about a Medieval festival happening in HER village this weekend. My handler (the guy in charge of helping me) has been such a great help, his name is Eduardo and probably about 57 years old. I’ve personally witnessed him chastise the school principal when he referred to me as “that guy”. And, I originally had Fridays off, but when Kaeti’s school screwed her over and made her take Mondays off, my co-workers all banded together, and changed the schedule so I could have my extra day off with her. They didn’t have to do this.

 

Basically, my school has been everything I had hoped for. After Korea using and abusing us, I was hesitant to expect better here. But it’s really been great so far.

 

How to Find Your Textbooks Online

This is obviously not for folks back at home but rather for the people in the program.

I know most of us have been told to prepare material for the class but haven’t been given any of the books. This means we have no idea what the students are learning or what we can expect from them. When a teacher says “make a review game for Chapter 1” you’re going to need the book.

So instead of getting copies of all the books (which your school probably likely won’t give you), you can probably find them online.

First: Find the maker of your book

A common one is Anaya so I’m going to do a tutorial for how it works. Your own books are probably very similar.

Anya Webpage 

Vicens Vive

Second: Find the teacher’s portal

Click on that, then click Nuevo Usario

Third: Create a New Account

Enter your email (twice), create your password.

A second last name is required so I just did my full name (middle name served as my Primer apellido)

You will need your NIE or Passport number.

Then put your address and phone number.

To find your school enter the type of school (public/private) and level. Then hit Buscar centro. By entering your zip code you’ll be able to see most of the schools in your community.

Finally for Datos profesionales click all levels you teach. On the side under Materias que imparte… all the different books will pop up. Yes there are tons for all kinds of random things (chess, holidays, Catalan, etc). Scroll to the bottom to find the books in English (Social Science, Natural Science) do not click on Ciencias Natural unless you want the book in Spanish.

If your schedule is still changing or you forget to add books/levels you can add them later. Don’t worry.

The bottom part involves you clicking if your school uses the books or not.

Click Enviar. A pop up will arrive saying that they’ve received it and you’ll get an email when it’s ready.

Accessing the Books

After logging in you should be able to see all of your books.

Click on the ver libro of the book you want to see. The website will look completely different.

Go to the chapter you want and you’ll be able to see tons of audio recordings (great if you don’t want to read the chapter aloud). At the bottom there are “photocopiable resources” if you want to print a worksheet or something to go with the chapter.

This is well and great but it’s not the whole book. If you want to see the whole book go to Teacher’s Guide at the bottom, then click the chapter you want to see.

The top shows what the student’s book looks like. The bottom is all the resources for teachers including ideas for Language Assistants, answers to the questions on that page, and more English tips (effect vs affect). There should also be more worksheets to print at the end of the chapter.

Don’t forget you can screen capture the book and put it directly into powerpoint lessons. This helps the students see which page you’re working on or you can have the answers pop onto it directly.

Play around on the website as there are other resources to download or use. Hopefully this can help some people. I know I wasn’t the only one who was told “make a lesson for page 15” but wasn’t given the book. So this is the solution to that.

Observing Classes

My first week not doing my introduction lesson (as in my first week really being at proper school) was supposed to be spent observing. I was told just to observe, my coordinator said he would spread the word that I would only observe. How can I teach or plan lessons for classes I know nothing about. Like with the textbooks how can I even know if they’re on page 8 or page 30 if I don’t watch. But of course everyone doesn’t think that way.

My first class Monday morning went like this: “Do you have anything prepared?” the teacher (who I had never met!? How does this keep happening?!) asked. She introduced herself quickly and then immediately asked what I had prepared.

“No. I was told I could just observe this week.”

“Oh. Okay watch in the back.”

I sat in the back and took notes. It seemed we were learning about feelings. But how far in depth does that go, which ones do they know. Afraid, surprised, angry, mad. But what about embarrassed, shy, hot, cold, tired, sick? I didn’t know. How could I know?  5 minutes later she showed up and handed me a stack of large flashcards. “Ask them.”

I stood up reluctantly. “Ask them what?”

“Yes.”

“What? Ask them what?”

“Don’t be afraid. Be brave.” Lady I’ve taught for 3 years I’m not afraid, I’m trying to coteach! What the heck are they learning right now! What is the purpose these flashcards? The picture showed an androgynous child eating popcorn and making a surprised face. The back of the card said “Afraid.”

“Ask them what emotion it is.”

“What emotion is it?” I asked the nearest student.

“No! Ask them “How does the boy or girl feel?” We were practicing, apparently, emotions and also personal pronouns. So the target answer is “He feels ___”

I still didn’t know if this was a girl or boy. “How does the, uh, boy feel?”

“She feels hungry.” The kid said. There was no reason the answer was wrong both because it was androgynous and because it had popcorn.

“No!” the teacher snapped. “She feels afraid.” So it’s a girl.

I walked around asking the children in my vicinity “How does the boy feel?” “How does the girl feel?”

The next class was with the same coteacher who suddenly respected the plan of just observing and didn’t ask me to do this again. Maybe I did it so poorly. Maybe everyone is just crazy like the building and nothing anyone says means anything. I’m genuinely starting to believe this and might start playing the game, too.

She mixed up the lesson a lot. She used the flashcards but also had a spelling game. The “game” worked like this: she said a letter and the student wrote it on the board. At 7 or 8 years old this is actually a game.

“H” she said. E the boy wrote.

“No!” she said more forcefully than I would ever with a little kid. He just smiled blindly up at her.

“AYYYYCCHHHHH. H.” She enunciated slowly. The boy wrote a lowercase a.

“Sit down.” she told him almost disgustedly. Another volunteer came up.

 

“H” she coached.

The boy proudly wrote a sane sized H and then went to sit down. Game over, right? I mean, no one explained the rules and so far no one had been able to make a sane H.

“Are you done?! There is still more word!”

“Oh!” he hopped up to continue. But he had lost his chance. Another volunteer. This was a cutthroat game.

We got to Happ. What emotion could this be?!

“Y” What!? No way!!!!

We played hangman but because that’s too violent or something we drew a coconut tree with five coconuts and there’s water below it, and a hungry crocodile was coming out of the water. This is certainly the lesser known Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile game. When you guessed a letter incorrectly, a coconut was crossed out. The crocodile or water had nothing to do with it other than aesthetics.

The bell rang. Drawing out Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile Game takes time.

I headed to a 4th grade class. No one was there. This keeps happening and is basically illegal. I’m not a licensed teacher so there is no reason I would, should, could ever be alone with them. But that crap would happen if I was here or not. They leave elementary kids alone more than you could ever do in the US. Usually classes sit quietly, this time, though, it was serious. Two boys were nearly at each other’s throats in a near fistfight. I sat in the desk impassively. Not my monkeys, not my circus (at least until it’s serious).

A girl approached me, in Spanish she told me that she had some problem with the boys in her vicinity. “Okay” I told her empathetically. Noted.

Another girl approached. “Those two boys are fighting” “I know” I told her.

The room got louder and louder, the near-fight was starting to become a real grabbing and shoving. That was enough.

“Okay everyone sit down.” I said loudly. It was clear a distraction was needed.

“We’re going to play hangman”

“Como?” some kid asked.

“Hangman.” I drew it on the board. Blank stares. For the love of Pete do we really have to do the Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile?

I started drawing the blanks where the letters would go. A ripple of understanding rushed through the classroom. It got dead silent. Fight Club kid finally sat down like his peers. Then every hand shot up. Hangman is serious business for the good folks of class 4B.

The word was science. Since this was a science class.

“A” was the first guess. A fine start. “B” was the second guess. We can’t do this in order but at least C is going to work.

Everyone was standing up freaking out “Ooh oh!” “Yo! Yo! (me! me!) “Señor!!” For some reason all my kids call every teacher Señor. They drop the A with their accents.

One student guessed B, again. “B2” I wrote on the board and hung the man further. “Nooo!!!!”

The teacher who should’ve been here 10 minutes arrived and looked relieved I had the kids under control.

We took 5 more minutes to finish the word. “Science!” they shouted. Hurrah!

The teacher didn’t introduce herself but asked what I had prepared.

“I will watch this week and next week I’ll have something ready.”

“You won’t help? I need help this week. I don’t speak English. (she said in English) I went to another classroom, that’s why I was late.” Someone worse than me? Another teacher, an actual Spanish teacher who couldn’t find her way around the school or do anything? We would make a fine pair.

I observed until she couldn’t handle it anymore and gave me a book and told me to read it outloud, slowly. It was about cells and photosynthesis. There was no way anyone really understood it.

“Too fast” the teacher said when she couldn’t understand the last paragraph about cells.

“Okay.”

I watched the rest of the class. The kids all took turns reading the Spanish version of the book out loud. It was boring for everyone.

Turns out this woman is the pregnant co-teacher’s substitute. She’s not even a substitute but an art teacher or something who works at this school but happened to have this hour off. So she got roped into science with the Native English Speaker. So there isn’t a substitute, only teachers who have an extra hour of time.

The next class was worse. The woman was a math teacher who didn’t even acknowledge me coming in or sitting in the back. She spent the whole time sitting at the desk just asking random questions to kill time. She was also a “substitute” for the pregnant coteacher who was gone.

“Sooooo … what kind of animals make food?” she said from her desk. The lights were off and her feet were up like it was a big casual thing.

Kids volunteered cow, pig, chicken, etc. She kept asking for more until we were getting philosophical “well do cows really make the cheese? Is it the cow making it?” “An egg doesn’t make food, it is food.”

Running out of this, finally we went student by student to ask which kids have a pet. Good science, right there. We’re not collecting data or learning anything: we’re killing time. We have art and math teachers getting pulled out of their planning period to cover these classes. Then you have me, who is equally unqualified to teach since no one tells me what they’re even learning. What are we learning? No “science” isn’t an answer. What kind of science?! There are 60,000 types. Not to mention the art and math teachers can’t communicate with me so we’ll never actually work together.

I went to find my minder after this boring 45 minutes of watching kids say “dog” or “cow” in Spanish.

“When is the substitute coming?”

“Oh we’re not even looking yet. We’ll start looking in 15 days.”

“Okay. I had a question about how to get the student’s textbooks online.”

“You can’t.”

“Okay, one more question-” he walked into the men’s bathroom, cutting me off. Screw me for asking questions or caring about the kid’s education I guess. Fine, you don’t care, I don’t care. Don’t care that the kids will be losing over 3 weeks of educational time to farcical situations that would make a kid’s TV show. The Misadventures of the teachers who can’t even talk to each other as they bumble through a subject they aren’t qualified to teach. So they don’t teach it. The end.