Bicultural?

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.

 

 

Starting to Feel More Like Home

I am happy to report that our wifi is fixed and much improved, George and I are slowly but surely recovering from some nasty head colds, and we have our first visitors from the United States!  My mother, uncle, and cousin have made the trip.  They met us in Madrid, where we spent the long weekend, and now they are here with us in Almuñécar.

We traveled to Madrid by train from Malaga and had some time to spare in Malaga before departing.  What started out as a fun exploration of old town Malaga turned into a stressful morning of comforting and supporting Quinton after he realized he left his camera bag (with three different camera gadgets) on the city bus.  He practically collapsed on the street when it occurred to him and Davis burst into tears of empathy.  I was sure we would never get it back.  Hadley immediately went into crisis management mode and came up with the idea of looking at our bus ticket to identify the bus number.  And as Quinton tried to get a hold of himself, we turned a corner and found a bus information booth.  Within an hour, the same bus driver handed Quinton the camera bag and we were all breathing again.  Nothing like a giant leap in blood pressure to create a moment of family bonding.

The two hour train ride to Madrid was rapido and passed endless rolling hills of olive trees, looking more like a forested region than intentional orchards.  George was a master at guiding us through the streets of Madrid in sunny, clear but chilly weather. We toured the city on a double decker bus, visited the royal palace, strolled through Madrid’s own version of Central Park and learned much about the food culture of this huge city.  An enchanting book about Spanish food and culture, Grape Olive Pig, by Matt Goulding provided me with inspiration and intrigue during our visit.  One example is a well known market, Mercado de San Miguel, which is filled with booths of exquisite food choices, many tapas-like, and with very little elbow room.  But instead of everyone carrying their shopping bags, they were all walking around with a glass of red wine.  Hadley and I enjoyed little sliders of fresh mozzarella, smoked salmon, arugula, tomato and balsamic while Davis and my cousin shared some paella, including black paella made with squid ink, and George chose to try Madrid’s infamous fried calamari bocadillo (sandwich).   Hadley was on a macaron cookie hunt all weekend and we had to hit the Chocolateria San Ginés, a critical stop for chocolate lovers.  And of course, there are meat stores everywhere!  One of the most fascinating tidbits of knowledge that I gained is how pigs are fattened up in their final months with nothing but acorns!

As exciting as Madrid is, we were all happy to return to our little Almuñécar on the coast and have never felt more reassured of our choice of location to live.  The kids now go everywhere on their own and they know almost every narrow path through the maze of old town.  Since we have returned, however, I have taken our guests to Granada for a day and yesterday, we drove up towards the mountains to a charming little town called Frigiliana where we had lunch and enjoyed a beautiful view of the valley with the sea beyond.

I am also glad to report there is a noticeable shift in the kids’ adjustments.  Davis had his first fútbol match and gave us plenty of opportunities to cheer with pride.  Hadley braved school and a field trip on her own while Davis stayed home sick (yes, that’s a big deal) and Quinton is more often returning from school now glowing with pride from the Spanish conversations he is able to have more and more with friends and teachers.  I’m now the one asking the kids for help in translating Spanish words-a good sign.

Familiarity is now a part of our lives here and reflecting on the process that got us to this point is always interesting to me.  Going from overwhelming unfamiliarity and endless unknowns to feeling oriented with some predictability and even a routine is a gradual process involving brain connectivity and emotional trust and patience but it is inevitable with time.  The more we can experience this process, the more resilient we become in a world of constant change and adjustments.

 

 

 

Hadley’s Thoughts from the Battlefield: Being on Both Sides

I thought about this blog during school while I was sitting in my chair listening to the teacher go on and on about something in Spanish that I did not understand. I was thinking, “this is called the Brew Crew Abroad travel blog but my mom is the only one posting on it. That does not sound right.” Then as we were walking home from school I thought, “I should post about my thoughts and how I am doing!” It took me a couple of weeks to figure out what I should talk about. But then I was texting my friend and we were talking about what I miss the most and casual things like that. Suddenly I just could not stop typing and texting about what I really missed and thought and I realized I have a lot to say!

Sometimes I think about the past in Seattle and I think about going to a restaurant and ordering food…so…so…easily. And then I think about the life I’m currently living and I’m like “did I really have a life so easy, and I did not even notice?” Here I have become more  quiet due to not being able to understand or talk much. Here I’m a shy girl trying to fit in and make friends.  It’s harder.

Another thing I realized is that everyone in Spain wears English brands of clothing and shoes and they talk about Justin Bieber. Everyone has been taking English since preschool. When I told them I was from the United States, they erupted with WOW’S and OMG! Everyone wanted to get to know me. But to be honest the second thing they asked me was “have you ever met Donald Trump?” I was suddenly like… Okay, this is how it’s gonna be.

In America, fewer people wear Spanish brands or talk about Spain or Spanish song artists. My mom said that’s because America is one of the most powerful, and biggest countries in the world.  It makes it sound like America is the best option, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true. Every country has something to offer. In fact some people have some negative opinions about America. Maybe that’s why the mopeds get louder here when they zoom by us.

In the end, you can’t understand how different life can be until you have experienced it differently. It feels like being on the other side of a battlefield.

-Hadley

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Fall is Here!

Much time has passed since my last blog post and I guess it’s reason enough to say that’s because we have gotten busier.  Adventures, more time with locals, and truthfully, not wanting to compete with the kids for the wifi, have kept me away from my computer more but as I lie in bed now with a head cold, it’s never been a better time to write.  However, I regret not being able to include any photos with this post since our wifi is having issues so stay tuned for photos at a later date.

A couple weeks ago, we had our first airplane trip within Spain to the north.  We visited San Sebastian and Bilbao and met some friends there who also happen to be living in Spain (Barcelona) for a year with their children.  How different it was from the south-almost pacific northwest-like with the pine trees and rain much of the weekend.  We rented a home in San Sebastian that looked over at the beaches in France and experienced “pintxos,” or small bar bites similar to tapas.  You grab a plate, help yourself to samples from any or all of the dishes laid out on the bar and when your plate is clean, you follow the honor system and report to the bartender how much you ate and therefore, owe.

We explored, in the true sense, as Google Maps was no help at all when it came to finding a restaurant that you could not drive to but was well worth the frustration.  Our friend, Amy, and I hiked a part of El Camino de Santiago that went along the coast while the kids took a surfing lesson (which sold the boys to the sport of surfing).  On the drive to Bilbao, in the pouring rain, we stopped in the town of Gernika, where the Nazis dropped an experimental bomb during the Spanish civil war (killing hundreds).  This event inspired Picasso’s famous painting of Guernica and the town has consequently become a symbol of peace.

One of my very favorite sites along the drive to Bilbao was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (try pronouncing that word), basque for difficult castle or “The craggy fort.”  As we hiked the 231 steps up to a castle (or church) on the islet, we were transported to another world in another time.  The site looks like it is straight out of Lord of the Rings (turns out Games of Thrones was filmed there) and one is instructed to ring the bell at the top three times for good luck.  Bilbao, itself, provided an impressive visit to the Guggenheim art museum and a restful night before we flew home the next morning.

Since our return to Almuñécar, we have continued to work on our Spanish (both George and I have made our first dinner reservations over the phone in Spanish), hosted more visits with neighbors, both adults and children, in our home, and made use of our temporary rental car to see some of the more immediate surroundings.  I volunteered at Hadley and Davis’ school last week, helping to make bocadillos (sandwiches on baguettes) and selling to the children to fundraise for a class trip.  In addition, I am enjoying experimenting with Spanish cooking, which, more truthfully, turns out to be Span-erican dishes.  In addition to my daily avocado and tomato salad (my current addiction) last week I made Huevos Rotos which the kids gobbled up-basically, hashbrown potatoes with some added veggies of your choice with a fried egg on top.  Here’s a recipe in case you are tempted:

http://spanishsabores.com/2012/01/23/huevos-rotos-spanish-broken-eggs-recipe/

Along with a more familiar routine, our family roles are becoming clearer with time.  George is the explorer, I am the connector, and the kids like to advocate for us to chill out at home.  Even though the competition is tough at times, it is a good balance overall.

 

“Being” in Spain

Its Saturday morning and I am reading my book on our rooftop terrace overlooking the castle next door, listening to the birds chirp and the Spanish conversations between neighbors.  My book is called Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and is about trauma exposure response and how to care for oneself when caring for others, as a healing professional; a book I have had on my reading list forever, it feels like, and I am finally finding time to read it.  I know, nothing like a light-hearted read for a lovely morning in Spain.

I notice how hard it is for me to focus on my book when all I can think about are things I could or should be doing with my time here in Spain.  I should be talking to the locals in Spanish, I should be enjoying the sites, I should be volunteering somewhere in town or at the very least, I should be engaging my kids in some unusual activity that they would never be able to do back in America.  A familiar sense of guilt fills my gut.  At that very moment, I come upon a section in my book on “guilt” as one of the many signs of trauma exposure response and funny enough, a common self-judgement for Americans when one is not feeling productive.  I want so badly to relax and restore myself and yet, I’m terrified of missing out on something and having more time pass before I take the opportunity to get involved in helping others in a part of the world that I have been dreaming about getting involved and helping for so long.

George joins me on the terrace and we proceed to attempt some understanding about what turns out to be a shared experience.  Part of what we are adjusting to is the culture of slowing down.  In reference to my last blog post, Spain may not be our best choice to live for its substance use and partying habits but it sure is the best choice for challenging us to experience a different pace of life.  The locals chatt away outside their homes and on the streets (about what, I haven’t been able to figure out yet), businesses close for hours in the afternoons, and to-go coffee mugs are non-existent (our Spanish teacher literally laughed at me when I brought my own coffee from our house).  Family meals are a priority in the afternoons when kids return from school and babysitters are a rarity as kids of all ages stay up late with their parents to spend time together.  We ran into a neighbor late morning on a Friday and when I asked if he didn’t have work, he responded “of course I have work, I’m home for desayuno” which is the late morning meal.

Spanish life leaves much to be admired but it also challenges an American who prides oneself on productivity and purposefulness.  It presents a tension for us between slowing down, enjoying leisure time and being lazy.  It feels like we are on holiday because we are not working in a traditional sense but working to build a different kind of daily life.  Though, with a hungry mind and a dwindling bank account, we both think we should be productive and providing so it creates some angst.

With further reflection, it presents questions such as ‘am I making choices because of what I want to be doing or because of what I think I should be doing.’  George points out that if we were home, we would be running around a million miles an hour, driving from sporting event to sporting event, working on obligatory house projects, squeezing in social obligations all to end up exhausted by Monday morning when the kids return to school and we return to work.  These activities serve and stimulate us, no doubt, and I don’t believe there is a right or wrong here.  However, clearly, the Spanish culture is trying to teach us the value of being more than doing.

The question for us is, can we manage to slow down enough while we are here to truly appreciate this different way of life and if we do, will we be able to maintain it when we return to our American culture?   The guilt festers… as I type this, I feel guilty for the privilege I have to be able to reflect and write about this publically.  As we start to discuss with the kids what we want to do today, George says, “ok, but let’s finish this blog article first so we can accomplish something today.”

 

 

La Fiesta de San Miguel

We just survived a three day fiesta right outside our front door.  La fiesta de San Miguel is an annual festival that honors San Miguel, one of the three archangels who is known for fighting off evil.  Our house was right in the center of the fiesta.  And I do mean the center.  A bar with table and chairs were set up right in front of our house and our front stoop served as a social gathering spot for the locals.  The weekend-long event included flamenco and Zumba performances, live music (both traditional Spanish as well as hip hop cover bands), lots of eating and drinking, neighbors conversing and kids playing.  Davis participated in a fútbol tournament and the kids had their first paella while we tried our first migas, a traditional Spanish dish made from leftover bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika, and olive oil and comes out tasting a bit like couscous.  Most notable was hearing the music (and vibrating bass) until 3am both Friday and Saturday nights and until 11:00pm on Sunday night.  Once again, the Spanish proved how good they are at enjoying life.

The fiesta gave us an opportunity to get to know our neighbors better and practice our Spanish (none of our neighbors know English).  One neighbor, in particular, an elderly man, insisted on treating us to some food at the neighborhood community center where we sat for an hour and talked with him and others about the differences between Spanish and American culture.  He then lead us down the street to watch the San Miguel procession (men and women carrying a statue of San Miguel through the neighborhood followed by a local band).  Despite our limited comprehension of each others’ languages, we managed to have a great time together and appreciate each others’ company.

Our Spanish learning continues although George and I are slowly weaning ourselves from our formal class schedule while the kids are increasing theirs.  Quinton now has Spanish class two hours per day, four days per week and we are hoping Hadley and Davis will receive the same soon.  All three kids have started basketball and Davis has also joined a fútbol (soccer) team to which some of you may ask “wasn’t the point of getting away to have a more simple family schedule?”  The answer is “yes” but unlike home, these activities are a 10 minute walk from our house and on different days.  Plus, they provide more opportunities for the kids to interact and communicate with the locals.

While the fiesta was radically different from home, the fact that our kids have gotten sick at the start of school feels very familiar.  All three kids have missed school in the past week due to a cold or fever and George and I are struggling to maintain our energy.  I guess eight weeks of change, adjustments and acclimatizing is finally catching up with all of us.  We may also be impacted by the recent shift in climate as it has cooled enough in the evenings and mornings that complaints of being “freezing”(!) have been expressed.

Finally, we are appreciating more of what it takes to be an outsider and to try to belong.  Davis said recently, “the longer I am here, the more I appreciate home.”  As the kids realize how difficult it is not to be able to communicate freely with their new friends, they have been reflecting on what it must be like for some of the foreign students in their American elementary school to adjust to a new school, community and language.  They also remain curious about our choice of location.  During the fiesta, Quinton asked why we chose to come to a country where people drink, smoke, and stay out all night (as a contrast to typical Brewster activities.)  By all accounts from others, we are in the most difficult phase of transitioning but hearing the kids reflect and share their insights makes it all worthwhile.