It is December 1st and George and I are soaking in the Spanish life sitting at a cafe by the beach, listening to Barbara Streisand and Olivia Newton John in the background. The passage of time continues to mystify me with Christmas and our four month marker right around the corner. The task of remaining present feels more challenging as we are constantly reminded of the amount of time we have left here.
Following my mother and uncle’s visit, we celebrated Thanksgiving over paella at a nearby favorite spot and expressed our gratitudes. I was surprised to hear the kids take the conversation more seriously than usual and make an effort to really reflect on what they notice and appreciate (including not having abusive parents). Days later, my aunt and her friend came through town for three days to learn about where we are and what we are up to. We made a repeat visit to Fragiliana but this time explored more deeply into the narrow streets of the pueblo blanco (white village) and had one of the best meals yet in Spain (Mediterranean food with an Indian twist).
The kids have all had their first basketball game. We bussed over to La Herradura for Quinton’s game where his coed team (including one girl) played an all girls team. Later in the week, we bussed in the opposite direction to Salobreña to watch a jamboree of sorts in which Hadley and Davis’ team played two basketball games and a soccer game. We were the only parents to make the trip and we watched eagerly while enjoying the sunset over the Salobreña castle and the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains with palm trees in the foreground. Kids’ local sports teams are less competitive and the coaching is a bit elementary so while it can be frustrating at times, we are trying to embrace having a break from the more intensely competitive sports scene in America.
Our Spanish is slowly progressing and we are now in class with several northern Europeans. The kids have also shown more development. When I woke up Hadley the other morning to ask her a question, she suddenly bolted up, half asleep, and said “por qué, por qué?” (why? why?). To add to my schooling here, I have dived into painting classes and am having a blast experimenting with watercolors and a bit of oils, appreciating the ability to access my creativity for a change. Annabel Keatley, a British woman who moved here 24 years ago, has been my inspiration and instructor (http://www.annabelkeatley.com).
We are also getting quite an education from our British friends on different uses of the English language. Turns out, our languages differ more than we thought and we are often interrupting each other to clarify the meaning of certain words or phrases almost as much as when trying to converse in Spanish. Learning phrases like “it drives me potty” (crazy), “bits and bobs” (this and that), and “higgledy piggledy” (all over the place), feels like we are studying two foreign languages at once. In return, we have taught them the meaning of “hell in a handbasket” and a “buoy.” We’ve also learned some interesting remedies such as sticking a garlic clove in the ear for treating an ear infection (George had a mild one). We were cautioned not to stick it in too far which lead to lots of laughter about creative ways to get it out (like sticking a banana in the other ear and pushing it through), and what do ya’ know, George had to recruit me to dislodge the thing with tweezers.
Whether its learning about British phrases or Spanish grammar, adjusting to new meal times or being quietly cooped up in the afternoons for siesta, it’s an interesting balance between integrating into another culture and maintaining our own. How much does one need to change how they live and behave in order to gain enough understanding about another culture? Are we supposed to be fluent in Spanish by the end of our stay, eat dinner at 10pm every night and strive to be off schedule to consider this experience a success? Is it ok if we watch some American movies, meet up with friends at McDonalds (the main hangout in town for kids ages 10-18) and cook the kids’ favorite mac n’ cheese every now and then? Adjusting to change is hard work but at times, I have felt like we are not doing enough to “be Spanish” and the desire to deny my American identity has been strong, but is that really the goal? We are American, afterall (whether we like it or not right now). Perhaps it is alright to still be ourselves while appreciating and trying on various Spanish ways.
Even if we don’t become fluent or completely adopt a Spanish lifestyle, I know that our own cultural identity is becoming more clear, which is another benefit to this experience. Our values of education and productivity contribute to who we are as well as our materialism and sexual hypervigilance. The Spanish take “family time” to a new level by prioritizing it and slowing down enough to enjoy it. This creates tension with our more familiar American value of fierce independence and our rapid fire pace of living. We continue to wrestle with and explore these cultural paradoxes every day as we navigate through our understanding of who and where we are.