Bringing a little ‘Sun’ to a Madrid unemployment office

Ya hace dos meses que ocurrió esto, pero solo acabo de verlo hoy, y me ha calentado el corazón un poquito en un día lleno de nieve aqui en Canadá.

It seems appropriate to post it here since this is my little corner of the web with Madrid memories and stories – plus, I am missing los niños (and the sun).

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March 20, 2013 · 3:59 pm

Bye bye blog.

I think it’s time. 

Nobody calls me Ice Cream anymore. 

I don’t live in Madrid.

I’m back home, where people hold doors for you, say please and thank you, and are conscious of personal space.

If you drink on the street here, you get a ticket. Staying out till 3am constitutes a very late night. I’ve gotten used to speaking without planning it out in my head first. My grocery bills have grown exponentially, and my vitamin D levels have fallen. This is, very much, not Spain.

This blog was an interesting experiment. I wrote a lot more than I posted – I’m still internet shy, and it still seems strange to post (personal) things that anybody could read. But it did get me in the habit of writing more, which I’ve carried through to life in Canada (I’m taking a class, even!).

I wanted to have some kind of concluding post, instead of leaving it hanging back in April with my story about buses, beers and bunnies. I’m glad I started the blog, and I hope to have another one sometime soon. In the meantime, you can find me in Halifax, sitting under my daylight lamp, reading the Globe and Mail, listening to the CBC, running in Point Pleasant park, drinking pints of Garrison, studying at the King’s library, reading plenty of fiction, teaching Spanish classes to kids instead of English, dreaming about travel, and planning my next adventure. 

 

ImageAdios, Madrid. Te echo de menos.

 

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Bus Beer Bunny

These three things happened in one day.

Every morning I ride the bus to school. This particular morning, when we were about 10 minutes away from work, the bus pulls up to a stop, and the doors open to let on a passenger. Nobody was waiting to get off the bus, but the driver presses the button to open the back doors as well. He stands up, opens the little gate to let himself out of his seat, and quickly strides to the back of the bus and out the door. We watch as he approaches a lady sitting outside selling lottery tickets at a kiosk. He jokes around with her for a minute, pays for a ticket, hurries back to the bus, through the back door and settles back into the drivers seat.

That afternoon I was returning to work after lunch. As I enter the front gates into the parking lot, a man is crossing the pavement wheeling a trolley with several stacked cases of Mahou Clásico beer. I climb the front stairs, and he pushes the cart up the ramp and strolls into the school, with about 200 cans of beer.

I still have no idea what it was for.

Next, I make my way downstairs to the kindergarten wing to teach one of my classes of five-year-olds. I get the kids sitting down on the floor in a circle, where they eagerly pull up four or five chairs at odd spots in the circle, hoping that I will choose their chair and sit next to them. With a bit of difficulty I sit and get the class started… when moments later, a small, black, fuzzy animal darts under my chair and we realize that the rabbit, who is visiting for the day, has gotten loose from its cage and is making a run for it.

All in a day.

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Frustration

I hit my limit today.

Normally with the Spanish bureaucracy I take an “all-in-good-fun” attitude. Acknowledge the inefficiencies, and move on.

But today I had had it.

I had a frustrated lump in my throat.

People are so RUDE.

People are so DISMISSIVE.

No one ever takes any ounce of responsibility, and nobody EVER apologizes for ANYTHING.

Cognitive distortion: Overgeneralization.

I had had it.

I was seething (for me that’s a bit like wanting to cry).

I had been sick for more than a week; I knew that the 24-hour general strike was going to mess up my day tomorrow, and I was tired of everything being so convoluted and impossibly drawn out. (Nine months to get a residency card? I could have had a baby by now. Let’s get HIM a residency card.)

THIS is what I mean when I say, “In Spain you don’t wonder why there’s a crisis. You just wonder how they managed to hold it off for so long. It’s a wonder that the country hasn’t ALWAYS been in crisis. It’s a wonder that anything gets done at all.” (There’s a reason why ranting is the Spanish national pastime. Really. Look it up. No. Don’t.)

And then I got home.

As I jaywalked across the street from the metro toward my house, a man got something out of his car, (parked illegally on the sidewalk) and ran across the street holding a big walkie-talkie.

Vindictively, I thought, “I hope he gets a ticket.” He did, after all, park halfway on the sidewalk just metres away from a traffic police (agente de movilidad) office.

Curiously, I thought, “Who seriously carries around a walkie-talkie that isn’t a police officer? This isn’t my siblings and I playing in the backyard…

The man jogged up to his “companions” – a guy his age and four Roma-looking girls around my age.

“…And none of you have any identity documents?” I overheard the other guy ask, dubiously, writing on a notepad.

Oh.

Plainclothes police officers?

Stopping foreign-looking people on the street and requiring them to show their papers or be taken into custody?

In the interest of blending in (not standing there gaping, as I wanted to do), I went up to my apartment and watched a bit from the living room window. They talked some more. Two police officers in uniform arrived and escorted the girls away. The plainclothes officers followed.

I’ve realized that the process of getting my NIE is going to be, at minimum, a ten-month ordeal. If I do get it, it will be within two months of my final departure from the country. A nice souvenir, rather than an effective identity document.

I’ve realized I’ll need to devote Friday morning to the pursuit of travel documents. And my underpayment of a tax by €1.68 because of outdated information on an official government website requires me to return to the office AGAIN before I can start the 45-day countdown to getting my real card.

But this reminded me. In Spain, my able-bodied, white girl privilege means that I’m not being stopped and detained and required to produce residency documents on demand. “Foreign-looking” (latino, black, non-white in general) people, friends and acquaintances, are stopped regularly and treated like second-class citizens.

This – the NIE, the fees on top of fees, the lines, the rudeness – this is not nothing. But this? This is not that.

 

 

In other Spanish news:

This story has been in the international news this week. It is not surprising to anyone in Spain, or anyone who has ever walked down or seen or heard about Calle Montera (one of the most central streets in the city), or walked on most any street in downtown Madrid in general.

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Autorización de Regreso, Part 2

It’s now five months since my original appointment to renew my NIE, and I have heard nary a word on its progress. I doubt very much that I will get it before I leave the country.

This presents a problem. Because, as previously discussed, each time you leave the country with the intent to return, you are supposed to have a costly (10 euros and TIME) piece of paper that says you are allowed to come back.

Back in November, I got my first Autorización de Regreso with the plan to use it for Christmas travel. Sidenote: On the day of my flight back to Spain from Canada, I helpfully misplaced the folder where I’d put it for “safekeeping,” along with my other travel-related photocopies. (Sorry Mom.) (I put it away absentmindedly while cleaning.) (I found it before I had to go.)

I connected through Frankfurt on my way to Madrid and no, nobody asked me for it.

Autorizaciones de Regreso are valid for three months, so that one expired on February 14th.

Over Semana Santa (Holy Week – the big-deal Easter holiday) I am going up to Irelaaaaaand, the homeland. So I need another Autorización de Regreso. It’s been so long since I got my first one that I consulted my own blog post to remember what I had to do.

And guess what I discovered? They have made the system EVEN WORSE. Marginally, yes, but in an important way.

When you go through the steps of getting an appointment to get the Autorización it leads to the page where you can select an appointment.

Back when I did this in November, you could select from a number of dates with a number of available appointment times.

I usually don’t work on Wednesdays, so I could choose a Wednesday appointment time. NO MORE. Look at this:

Now you get the choice between three specific times. No more, “choose the time that works for your schedule from a list of available times.” No. NO. Now it’s “Here are three available times. You can choose one of these and if they don’t work (for example, if you HAVE A JOB) tough luck, you can hit ‘cancel’ and try again later and hope for some different times.”

 

WHAAAAT THE WHAT? Why are you making this so difficult? Why can’t you let me choose from any number of available dates in the near future? Why do you insist on complicating things? Why do you make me feel like, actually, I don’t WANT TO COME BACK. Why don’t you love me? Can’t we just get along?

Anyway. Trip begins Friday, March 30 and I’m going to spend some time clicking and re-clicking to try to get an appointment time that works with my schedule. There are plenty of stories out there about whether or not anyone actually cares if you have an Autorización de Regreso, but I have heard of enough (I’m cautious… so even one would have been enough) cases where people weren’t allowed to leave without it (in-Spain passport control) or weren’t allowed to come back that I’m going to suck it up, pay the 10€ and click away waiting for a suitable appointment time.

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Post for the sake of a post

I have a lot of half-started blog posts in a folder on my computer called “blog? … do I really want to do this?”

I think of something I want to write about, I write it, then I leave it and go, “no, this isn’t worth posting.” This explains the long gaps in between posts.

It may explain a lot of things, in fact.

Here are some titles saved into the folder:

  1. Sparkly girls
  2. m&ms
  3. Afghanistan, paperwork
  4. Madrid balance sheet
  5. Top ten things my students say to me

It goes on.

We have had a streak of unseasonably lovely weather. This leads to two thoughts:

  1. I have a lot of good reasons for going back to Canada next year. But how good are they really? Good enough to abandon months and months of sunshine and wintertime sweater weather? What qualifies as good enough to give that up? Like… really?
  1. I did a number on my leg and have an MRI coming up then physio for the foreseeable future. Running time has been replaced by a split between reading time (don’t ask how many books I read in February) and gym time. And time spent looking out the window going, “I really wish I could go for a run in this perfect weather.” Wamp wah.

Anyway. The next few months are full of travel, the promise of spring, and hopefully some developments on where I’ll spend the second half of the year. In the meantime I’m trying to figure out the appropriate reaction to the kids (mostly grades one through three) telling me random pieces of information – what do they really want me to say? I haven’t quite mastered the art of the response, beyond an appreciative “Ohhh, cooooool.” (Yeah… I want to teach my students the word “cool…” It’s not catching so far.)

In case you had forgotten (i.e., don’t spend much time with 7 and 8 year olds and find yourself personally rather at a distance from that cohort) one of the biggest accomplishments at that age is losing your teeth. One girl lost one of her front teeth and the tooth fairy (in Spain it’s a mouse called el Ratoncito Pérez) (???) brought her TEN EUROS. €10. In that case, instead of “Ohhh, cooool,” my reaction was more “OH MY WORD, I wish you were joking, but that is great, child.”

So. Happy March. Remember to appreciate your (more or less) full set of real, grown up teeth, and remember the joy of wiggling baby teeth, hiding them under your pillow, running your tongue through your gappy, gummy mouth, tracking the growth of your new, gigantic, solid, big girl or big boy teeth and awaiting the magic of a surprise from the tooth fairy. And if you’re a kid in Spain, pocketing ten euros and telling your friendly neighbourhood conversation assistant all about it.

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So, that happened.

I’m teaching kindergarten and pre-school this week. 2-5 year olds. Yes.

On the bus I overheard an American girl and boy, probably university exchange students, probably in their third year, talking. One of those conversations that is impossible to tune out, no matter how you try. No matter how many threatening “I understand you, annoying guiris” glances you send back at them. I was deep into Sputnik Sweetheart and wanted a quality 20 minutes of uninterrupted bus reading time before delving back into 3-year-old-la-la land.

They were sitting at the back of the bus, and I was exactly in the middle. It was an ordinary bus, not one of those OC Transpo style giant articulated monsters, but still, with enough space that other people’s voices, the noise of the bus running and the sounds of traffic should have been enough to drown out a conversation from that far away. Mais non.

Girl, who thought herself very experienced and sophistiquée, was giving advice and admonitions to boy. Girl: “You haven’t hooked up with anyone since you’ve been here. Name one person you hooked up with!” Boy:  mutters something unintelligible Girl: “You haven’t hooked up with anyone. You’re going to regret that. If you leave here without hooking up, you’ll regret it.” Boy: “I might regret that down the line” Girl: “You will. So why don’t you just do it!? Just hook up with someone!”

Mmmnngggh shut up before I bash your heads together!

Then again, the lack of originality was fitting since Sputnik Sweetheart seems to be essentially the same story as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, with the same devices, in a different setting. I’m not sure if criticizing Murakami is a permissible thing, but there I go. This week has me feeling very competent. Short segments of time spent with three-year-olds (45 minutes or so) can have the effect of making you feel like a very capable human being. My experience.

Anyway, eventually the bus ride ended, and I got to school.

And this is the story of how I bit someone. A child, to be exact.

I have a poster of a park up on the wall, and the kids stick little pictures on it. We’re learning toys, so there are pictures of cars, teddy bears, balls, dolls, etc. For some reason, the kids LOVE this game. Can’t get enough of it. Isn’t that strange? It’s kind of boring. But they adore it. They were coming up in pairs. The group was sitting on the floor and kept inching closer, and closer, and closer to me and my tiny five-year-old sized chair and the poster. Soon they were right there, and sticking their hands up in front of my face and shouting “Me! Me! Me!*” to get a turn to go next.

If this is doesn't look like the best game ever, you are probably not 3 years old.

And then it happened. It wasn’t a hand in front of my face. It was a little hand, with little fingers, in my face. And as it shot up there, I guess my mouth was closing. And as it got to its destination, one of the tiny fingers somehow got trapped, for the slightest fraction of a second, between my teeth.

The kid connected to the hand looked up in shock and surprise. He wasn’t sure if he should cry out or shut up, and in the next couple seconds he looked like he was weighing out his options. I think he decided that he probably shouldn’t have had his hand there anyways, and that he would be quiet and wait his turn.

At least I think that’s what was going through his mind. Maybe it was actually more like “Did the weird English teacher just bite my finger? Discuss.”

To conclude: I have been washing my hands like a maniac. Dry skin abounds. If I get to the end of the week without a new cold it’ll be a miracle. Kids are dirty and sometimes stick their fingers in your mouth.

Artwork depicting toys, by the five-year-olds

* It started, of course, as “Yo, yo, yo!” but I corrected them to say “me,” at the very least.

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