The Pros, Cons and Pitfalls of Intercambio

Since moving to Vejer I have been introduced to practices and events that are ‘normal’ for here but new and sometimes alien to me. Intercambio being an example and, rather like the metaphoric skinning of a cat, there’s more than one way to ‘exchange’ as I’ve come to discover.

My initial introduction to Intercambio, Spanish-style, came shortly after arriving when a friend suggested the weekly event would be a great place to meet new people and practice actually speaking Spanish.

Every Thursday evening an eclectic and ever-changing group of people come together at a local tea shop/bar to exchange language and conversation. The group switches from Spanish to English at fifteen minute intervals. As you never know who you’ll be sitting next to and there are no set rules about the topics you cover, the evenings are always lively and challenging. And I ‘get’ them. I understand that the payback for the listener having to suffer through 15 agonisingly slow minutes of my appalling Spanish, is my complete and undivided attention when their turn comes to butcher the English language. I love the equality of the evening – sometimes you drag yourself through treacle trying to converse with someone who either won’t speak or appears to have nothing very interesting to say and on other occasions you’re immediately immersed in a fascinating (if stilted) conversation with someone of real interest to you.

The benefits (to me) of my second introduction to an intercambiar are slightly less tangible at this, admittedly early, stage of the exchange. Having volunteered at a Punto Solidario (an organisation working to improve the quality of life for all in Vejer through projects and a FairTrade shop) the head lady recommended me to a local man looking for an English tutor for his son. “It’s an intercambiar” I was told. ‘Okay’ I thought not entirely sure what I was being offered in exchange. Off I trotted to meet with said father who speaks no English and is a form of alternative therapist that I’m not entirely sure I’d understand even in my native tongue but his explanation was way beyond my limited Spanish comprehension.

In for a cent, in for a euro as they quite possibly say over here. I have committed to two hours a day, five days a week for the next fortnight, to tutor a thirteen year old boy in the run up to his English exam on 1st of September. In return I’m being offered something that I don’t understand and am not even sure that I want.

“They saw you coming” was my husband’s helpful and motivating comment once I’d explained the arrangement. Although I don’t think they can have done, because their offices are at the back of the building and don’t overlook the road I walked down to get there?

In the spirit of: adventure, putting it out there, trusting the universe and givers gain, I’m honouring my agreement confident that I’ll benefit in ways that might not be immediately obvious. After just one hour for example, when supportive hubby asked “So, what have you learned so far then profesora?” I was able to reply that my pupil is an only child, his father has 3 sisters and a brother, his mother has only one brother, I know the names of both sets of grandparents , that my pupil has a medium sized, black, water dog and that Spanish Water Dogs don’t moult. Not bad huh!

I Am That Drowning Man

There’s a religious story told about a drowning man praying to God to be saved and turning down all the help sent his way because he was looking for something specific.

I wonder sometimes whether this is the parable of my life. I feel like there’s something I’m ‘meant’ to be doing but not sure what it is and am hoping the universe will send me clues.

I’ve always claimed that I want more time to myself, to immerse myself in creative writing. And there have always been plenty of good reasons why I can’t find this time. Until now that is!

Here I am living in a beautiful pueblo blanco with no family around for me to focus my energy on. I have a few friends and am beginning to become involved with some community activities. I’m really enjoying looking after the home, exploring local markets, buying and cooking our food and growing an abundance of plants in our patio garden. But there’s always a niggling feeling that I ‘should’ be doing something else.

Today it occurred to me that I am that drowning man. Having spent years claiming I want the time and space to write – the universe has provided me with the most perfect opportunity and I spend my days on distractions and tasks that provide varying degrees of satisfaction without ever actually having to sit down and write.

In Vietnam my excuse was that while I was sitting in front of my computer I wasn’t out experiencing the wonderful culture and life all around me. A valid comment you may agree. And the same does apply here to some extent but …. It’s now so hot during the day that all my neighbours and friends escape to the beach every afternoon to cool off, relax and play. That’s not something that hubby and I particularly enjoy so at the very least I have several hours every afternoon to ensconce myself in my lovely study, turn up the fan and write.

A lightbulb moment! Eureka, Karen, you finally have the time, space, energy and commitment to writing – all at the same time. Stop procrastinating! As an author friend once wisely commented: writers write.

If I want to be a writer, I’d better get writing!I

Matters Medical

First up I confess it – I’m a dreadful nurse.  My sympathy lasts all of 5 minutes, 10 maximum, after which I think we should all just move on and pretend nothing untoward is happening.  Given this insight into my empathy skills,  you may have some sympathy for my husband who has been suffering from tooth ache for the best part of three weeks now. For the first couple of visits to the clinica dental, armed only with his 3-months worth of Spanish lessons and a few specific phrases translated via Google Translate and our impressively large Oxford Spanish Dictionary, he bravely set off alone and returned with a numb mouth and prescriptions for medication he wasn’t entirely sure how/when to take.

Showing a remarkable degree of pity I suggested going with him last week.  Whilst no expert, my Spanish is marginally better than hubby’s and anyway, I figured two beginners are probably better than one.

Sure enough, we did seem to make a little progress in understanding the problem and likely healing time.  I’m pleased to report that he is, slowly but surely, on the mend.  Yes, yes, I know, tooth ache is horrid and you can’t ignore it and, and … But come on, if you can eat chocolate, it’s not that bad!!!

Where else this week are you going to read about teeth and babies in the same post?  And not even the teeth of babies.  I’m talking newborns.  And more precisely the little girl born prematurely in Spain a few weeks ago to an English mother who was then separated from her daughter for 3 weeks whilst DNA tests were carried out.  This story is still all over the media and it’s driving me crazy.  The lady in question had her baby in Spain, not in a hospital but at ‘home’.  She went to hospital the next day – to a place where she was completely unknown with a newborn baby and presumably no medical records, paperwork etc.  In Spain the law (I believe) dictates that her and the baby should remain in hospital while tests are carried out to make sure a) they are both in good health and b) that the baby does indeed belong to the ‘mother’.

Had she abducted this baby – yes, I know she didn’t but bear with me.  Had the baby been abducted and the media picked up the story and the hospital had to admit that yes some completely random woman had walked in with a newborn claiming it as her own and they had done nothing to check the validity of her claim – they would be being crucified in the media by now and everyone would be screaming about how this could happen.

My gripe is that, in my personal opinion, the media is making a big deal out of a non story.  The lady in question was in a foreign country – she was not in England where she speaks the language and could presumably have explained her situation better.  Don’t we have enough issues in Europe at the moment without creating divisions and demonising another country’s professionals for acting in perfect accord with their own laws?    Silly season or not, watching a new mum saying she’s so traumatised she might never come back to Spain is just plain trouble making.  Come on media – I for one expect better from you.

Facebook: friend or foe?

Whenever I bemoan the lack of time I have to do everything I want to do in a day, my husband helpfully reminds me how much time I ‘waste’ on Facebook and I wonder again if I should come off it, even if only temporarily?

Unlike many in my age group, I signed up to Facebook in those early days when, as a mature student, FB was adopted by university students en masse and the concept intrigued me.  Gradually many of those young ‘friends’ have dropped off – as virtual friends at least – to be replaced by people I actually know and am friends with ‘in real life’.

I would agree that there are times when the site frustrates me – I don’t need a blow-by-blow account of your cat’s latest illness, or hourly updates on your husband’s recovery from an ingrowing toenail operation.  However, with friends and family scattered across all corners of the world and spanning several generations, Facebook is a brilliant way to keep people in my life who would otherwise disappear off the radar, as well as sharing and receiving information at a local and international level.  It provides a continuity and sense of community that might otherwise be missing in my life.

Where else could I:

  • Support a campaign to stop Dubai (or Abu Dhabi?) opening a SeaWorld;
  • Read Ricky Gervais’s pithy and poignant comments on animal cruelty;
  • Follow the plight of Nepal as the international struggles to provide support;
  • Share the adventures of my globe-trotting sister;
  • Enjoy the incredible wit and humour behind some cartoons and jokes shared by friends;
  • Connect with friends around the world who speak different languages and share items globally at the touch of a button?

Yes, there are days when I think I really shouldn’t spend so much time on FB and times when I vow to return to keeping a book of Crossword puzzles next to the kettle to entertain me in the couple of minutes whilst waiting for it to boil and not immediately reach for Facebook on my iPad.  But, on balance, I think FB is more friend than foe and enriches rather than impoverishes my life and so, while ever that equilibrium is maintained Facebook has a place in my life.  Hubby be darned!

Abba with Attitude

It was with huge excitement last Saturday evening that I walked to the Teatro de San Fransisco in Vejer with some of my news friends to enjoy the concert by an Abba tribute band.  My children might be surprised, and a little perturbed, at my use of the words ‘huge’ and ‘excitement’ in the same sentence as ‘Abba tribute band’ but let me explain.

teatrosanfrancisco

The excitement was less about the band and more about the event.  Having visited Vejer for over 10 years we watched the Teatro undergoing a transformation but – incredibly – have never actually been inside.  So finally going to an event there was a little bit exciting.

Add to this my overwhelming need for friends: people I like, respect, enjoy being with, learn from and laugh with and you can see how the excitement level went up several notches.  I have friends!  People who went out of their way to include me in an event, happening in my new home town.  And not only friends but a group of women.  Gaining admission into the elite world that is a group of female friends is not to be taken lightly.

And finally, Abba are pretty good too eh, had the odd hit record and all!

I’m kicking myself that my phone battery died so no photos of the social event of the year so far but, it was fabulous and slightly surreal at the same time.  Watching two high energy, raunchy young Spanish ladies cavorting around the stage and belting out hit after hit, predominantly in Spanish, accompanied by some backing dancers who confidently mixed dancing in sync with ‘do your own thing’ (Okay, okay, they weren’t the best – but they were very enthusiastic) and you have yourself the makings of a great evening.  Combined with the singing-along, dancing and ear-splitting applause from the audience and you’ve got yourselves a hit.

And all for 5 euros a ticket.  No wonder it was a sell-out.

Viva las diferencias

One reason for living abroad, or indeed just travelling, is to experience first-hand the differences in life, even in seemingly shared experiences.

Having lived in Vejer de la Frontera for just 4 weeks we were a little perturbed to discover two speeding tickets in our postbox one morning.  Dating from our first week in Spain our concern was with how many more might arrive over the coming days!

Anyway, the 200 euro fine would be halved if paid within 20 consecutive days.  No one seemed sure when those days started but everyone agreed that one would be quashed as, at 109 kms in a 100 zone we were within the 10% margin of error.  Wrong – that has been stopped, at least in the Jerez area, as vehicle equipment is apparently now so sophisticated that there is no error – and therefore no margin. Nothing, nada, zip.  100 kms means 100 kms!

Having tried to pay online and almost lost the will to live we decided to head to our local Santander bank, with the promise of desayuno (breakfast) in our favourite bar on the way back.  As an incredibly rusty lower intermediate Spanish speaker my automatic assumption when confronted with speech I don’t understand is just that – that I don’t understand it.  Sometimes though reality is a little more complex and, in fact, my understanding has been spot on linguistically, it’s the concept I don’t understand.

The very friendly lady in Banco Santander explained that we could only pay there for free on a Tuesday or a Thursday; between 8.30 and 10.30 and between the 10th and 20th of each month.  All other times, there is a 3 euro fee per ticket.

As I said, actually I understood her words but still didn’t appreciate the concept, until she showed me the sign pinned up on the wall where, sure enough it confirmed the 3 requirements for fee-free fine payment.  She advised us to come back the follow week when we could ‘save’ ourselves 6 euros.  All well and good until I asked her when the 20 days started from and she confirmed that it would take us to either the 9th or 10th March, she wasn’t sure.

By now exhausted and in need of my cafe manchado with tostados con tomato y aceite (milky coffee with toast, tomatoes and olive oil) we decided not to take the risk, paid 106 euros for the two fines and left the bank heads spinning.

images

On one hand this seeming bureaucracy could drive you crazy, but on the other hand – it’s why we aren’t living back home.  Viva las diferencias!

Countdown

And so begins the countdown to another move. This time next week … This time tomorrow ….

A week today Sally will be waiting patiently in the kennels while we try to fit all the possessions we’ve accumulated over the last six months, plus her sleeping crate, into the back of a Skoda Octavia. We’ll be cleaning like crazy whilst doing a treasure hunt around the house armed only with an inventory and vague memory of how things looked when we moved in.

And I just know that, this time next week, when I’ve run out of time, I’ll remember with startling clarity all sorts of things I ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda‘ in the words of the fabulous Miss Beverley Knight. But to continue with the quote these ‘are the last words of a fool’.

So, I’m trying to enjoy the week ahead, to do a little every day and to trust that experience and the universe will see us through!

Friday 23rd January 2025 – Goodbye Miskin, Pontyclun. Monday 26th January – Hello Vejer de la Frontera.

Wherever You Are, Be There

Feeling rather restless and rootless at the moment I am constantly reminding myself to:

  • live in the moment,
  • be present,
  • accept the present/intend the future
  • this moment is as it should be because the whole universe is as it should be

I eat well, meditate daily, walk in the countryside, rest, have fun and generally love life.  But. I find living ‘in between’ incredibly difficult.  My brain is screaming to get stuck into projects, communities, things, things, something to keep it active and busy.  I panic that life is passing me by and I’m not achieving anything, not fulfilling my purpose, wasting precious time.

Beautiful South Wales

Beautiful South Wales

And then I take a deep breath, slow down that monkey mind chattering away and remember that my life, right now, is filled with blessings, love, discoveries, good health, friendships and all the things that make it so magically wonderful.  So what’s the problem then?  I think that it’s the void.  We have been living in Cardiff for four and a half months and really love it here (partly because we know we’re leaving soon?).  It’s a fabulous City, great culture, architecture, people, scenery and so many things to do and keep us occupied that we’ve barely scratched the surface.  But it isn’t home.  We came here because it’s the city of my birth and I wanted to be closer to my parents for a while.  And I’m loving spending time with them and with the City and all it has to offer.  A lot of time though is spent planning and preparing for our move to Spain at the end of January so my heart is only ever half here and the other half across the water.

There is something to be said for that feeling of discomfort and ‘being’ in the void as I’m convinced that that is where the magic happens – where creativity can bubble up to the surface and be heard.  It’s like the analogy of dropping a pebble into a raging sea and it having no impact whatsoever, whereas the same pebble dropped into a calm lake sends ripples far and wide.  Today then I will enjoy the calm lake and drop pebbles of creativity into it and see what happens!

Back

Well, having spent a few months trying out Blogger instead of WordPress and acquiring a new iPad mini along the way, I think I’m back!
They say to embrace change but I wonder when I’m changing something just because I can, or to try out the latest ‘thing’ and when change really is to the benefit of me and those in my community.
Having struggled to access WordPress while in Vietnam I switched but it occurs to me that I prefer WP and now that I’m back in Europe there really isn’t any reason not to return.
So, here I am, back up and running and plenty to share from the last few months – about life, identity, family and a sense of belonging.
To be continued …!
Smiles,
Karen

The Hanoian Kite Moth

The Hanoian Kite Moth

Isn’t this unbelievably beautiful? At first I thought it was a small kite thrown from a neighbour’s window into my garden. Then I realised it was alive and was blown away by its beauty. It’s an Atlas Moth and they have no mouth, living instead on everything they’ve eaten as caterpillars. The females only live around 7 days – which got me thinking that if this creature had been created by man most of us just wouldn’t have bothered to go to so much effort for just 7 days. Truly there must be a higher power – my heart soars just thinking about it :-)

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