Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Calatravas

Calatravas is a shopping center housed in the Palacio de Congresos de Oviedo, designed by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
You can see more pictures here.

Little things

I got my library card in the mail today! The smallest things can brighten your day.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Survey

I’ve posted a poll over on the right because I’m just curious what brings people to read my blog. If none of the categories fits you, feel free to leave something in the comments.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh Happy Day!

Check it out...only I would end up shopping at the post office. I couldn't resist this cute unicef mug or the mailbox piggybank. But see it was a learning experience. I learned a new word, hucha means piggybank.

And! See that little black box there? I HAVE INTERNET IN MY PISO!!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pasteles Salvadoreños

These are basically the ugliest pasteles you have ever seen. In the US I never had to make them, I could just eat the ones M's cousin made. Here, I don't know what's making me all cocinera Salvadoreña, but I have a long list of foods I want to try and make. Salvadoran pasteles are like empanadas, but usually orangish colored cause you put achiote in the masa. Well I tried soaking the achiote in water, and it did turn orange, but when I mixed it, it imparted no orange color =(  These are filled with chicken and mixed vegetables. They should be media luna shaped but clearly...this was my first time. I brought them to my friends at the locutorio who said it didn't matter how ugly they were, they taste good. I think they'll eat whatever I bring them though. Next on my list to try and make are arepas, which aren't Salvadoran but Colombian/Venezuelan. It looks like you make them similarly to pupusas though and the señora in the locutorio sold me a different masa to try and make them, so we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Must.Stay.Away.

Corte Inglés is a dangerous place. They always have exactly what you need plus what you didn't know you needed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Locutorios

The locutorio is the bane of my existence. Most people I know have internet in their apartments because they are in shares and thus the internet was already there when they got there. But since I'm renting my own place I have to sign up for internet on my own and it's been a royal pain. Locutorios are what they call internet cafes but they also have phone booths where you can make long distance calls and they sell phone cards and you can buy minutes for your cell phone, called recarga, or literally ''recharge''. They also do money transfer, Western Union, Money Gram, etc. Basically, they're immigrant central, which is why I feel like I live at the locutorio. I'm here every freakin day. I try to switch it up and go to other locutorios but I always come back to this one. The locutorios also function like little mini convenience stores selling international foods from places like Morocco, Senegal, Romania, Brazil and the rest of Latin America. And food is what has led me to search out different locutorios. Someone told me about one locutorio that had a lot of foods and so I went on the hunt for it. I walked up and down the supposed street it was on with no luck so I stopped into another locutorio to ask if they knew where it was. Although, why would they tell me how to get to the competition, right? But lucky for me, a guy who was leaving said he'd walk me there. He actually ended up showing me THREE locutorios, one of which is called Locutorio No Problem. It was like I hit the jackpot.  Check it out:
Those, my friends, are REAL platanos. ( I know they look like bananas but trust me) Along with jalapeños!!!!!  Can you tell how excited I am? Then I picked up the salsa verde, adobo seasoning, yuca, and cheese just cause, why not? And corned beef, eh, something different. I have never been so prone to walking all over town looking for random foods as I am here.

So there's a huge supermarket in the basement of Corte Inglés called Hipercor. Hipercor is like the ''expensive'' grocery store and I was looking for real vanilla extract and my tutora said if any place was going to have it, it would be Hipercor. So after my class today I went to Hipercor and bummer, they didn't have vanilla extract. They did have those real vanilla beans though, where you have to scrape the caviar out but they were expensive so I didn't get them. BUT!!! my greatest discovery of the day was finding corn oil. It was like the heavens opened and God smiled down on me and said, ''I know you can't make real latin food without it.'' I love olive oil as much as the next person but you can't fry with it and I am not exaggerating, the ONLY other oil they sell around here is sunflower oil. It is the most wretched smelling stuff, it smells exactly like that 90s era perfume called Sunflowers. Who wants fried chicken that smells like flowers??

I've started cooking again and earlier this week I made ropa vieja that came out pretty great if you ask me. It only took four hours to make. [#Low&Slow] I tried taking a picture and my lens started fogging up.

 Then, I just wanted to show you guys that the peppers here are MASSIVE.
My beloved locutorio. To the right are the phone booths. I sit all the way in the back and I can see everyone in front of me. They are always on youtube, facebook, or tuenti, which is like the Spanish facebook. And when my students say tuenti it sounds exactly like twenty. Well, maybe a British twenty. I guess with my accent it would sound more like twenny.

Camino de Santiago

You see these shells on the ground here in Oviedo. They're like trail blazes for the Camino de Santiago. When i first got here and it was still warm you'd see backpackers that they call peregrinos, or in English-pilgrims, making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Old school

I love writing on the board, =)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Goodness Gracious

I hesitated to post this knowing someone out there is gonna say, "I told you so!" But in the interest of full disclosure I am going to share the latest development with you all. So last I told you, our lawyer had advised us to go ahead and report M's passport lost so he could get a new one and come here to Spain. Basically she doesn't see us getting it back from the embassy anytime soon and they are nearly impossible to communicate with, easiest thing to do was report it lost and get a new one.

So M went to the police station and reported it lost and got a report and took that to the passport office in San Salvador. And it bears repeating, San Salvador is NOT AROUND THE CORNER. So this is now his third or fourth visit to the passport office. He brought all our Spain documents hoping to get his passport expedited as well as the police report and his birth certificate.

Here I am going to divert the story and take you back to 1983. El Salvador is in the middle of a raging civil war. The village M is from was destroyed during the war and many people from the north of El Salvador crossed the border into Honduras as refugees to wait out the violence and destruction. So it goes that M was born in Honduras to Salvadoran parents. Over the summer, we visited Honduras and tried searching out his Honduran birth certificate but didn't have any luck. M is positive one exists, positive that he's seen it. Then before I left El Salvador, we visited with his mother who told us that his birth was registered in Honduras but that we visited the wrong place. Needless to say, we haven't been back to Honduras to look for it yet. So when M was two years old, his family moved back to El Salvador and they began repopulating and rebuilding their town that had been destroyed. M's birth was registered in Chalate at this time, as being born in El Salvador.

Now your guess is as good as mine why they said he was born in El Salvador instead of Honduras. Probably they didn't have the paperwork from Honduras and it was just easier. So M gets to the passport office and the lady there is basically questioning his birth certificate, asking why it wasn't issued until he was two years old. M, beyond frustrated, explains to her that he was born in Honduras during the war and his birth was registered when his family came back to El Salvador. Well I guess this set the lady off cause clearly the birth certificate says he was born in El Salvador. Now they are launching an investigation. Investigation doesn't sound like expedite to me. I can only imagine what an investigation through Salvadoran government channels entails. At this point I can only laugh. I'm telling you, doesn't even phase me anymore. The fact is, even though he was born in Honduras, he was born to two Salvadoran parents and is a natural born Salvadoran citizen and still entitled to a Salvadoran passport. It's just a matter of getting the logistics worked out. Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes. Even though we're separated we're doing ok. No different really than if I was back in the US. And we're leaning towards doing the second year in Spain. I've had some questions about coming to Spain so my next post will probably be about what we had to do to get here. Even though one of us isn't here!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I took a stab at making pupusas here last night and they weren't half bad. The masa is a little different and I don't have a blender so my beans were not as smooth as they should be but I'd make them again. Next on the list, I'm considering trying to make tamales. I've *helped* make them once before so I have an idea of assembly but this could go badly I'm sure. I should've taken a picture of my pupusas but you have to eat them while they're hot and they were kinda ugly anyway.

pertenencia

I am not an outgoing person. I find it very difficult to meet people and make new friends. In fact I can count my close friends on one hand. But what I lack in quantity I make up for in quality. That being said, I haven't met very many people here in Spain but the people I have met have been amazing. For example, my weekly visits with the doctor, I don't think he could possibly realize the impact he's had on my mental well being since I've been here. He is an amazingly upbeat, cheerful person and after our English classes I feel upbeat and cheerful! It's like free therapy without all the trauma. And considering he's paying me to speak English with him, he's always excited to explain the finer nuances of the Spanish language to me or discuss poverty in Spain or any other curiosity I might have about Oviedo.

 

Then there's internet café guy. You know that feeling when you become a regular somewhere, where people recognize you when you walk in? It's a feeling of belonging and that's what internet café guy has given to me. This sort of happened to me in Mexico too, you go to the same internet café enough times, you end up picking your favorite computer. I walked into the internet café here one day and internet café guy grinned at me cause my preferred computer was occupied. That simple nonverbal communication, a smile, made me feel instantly comfortable. Internet café guy even knows my preferred back up computer. I have to imagine this is what it's like when your neighborhood bartender knows exactly what you drink and when you need a single or a double.

 

Last week I met interview guy. Interview guy is kind of shy and nervous but that could just be because he has a major interview for a big job with a multinational corporation this week and the interview is in English. He's a bundle of nerves and he's already had 4 interviews for this job including a technical interview and they're flying him to Switzerland with two other candidates for the final interviews. I told interview guy, listen, at this point they already know you can do the job, it's just a matter of are you the right fit for them. You need to go in there and wow them with your sparkling personality. Make them see how great you are in person so there's no doubt left in their minds. Interview guy is not convinced. They gave him a long list of adjectives where he had to choose some that he thinks people would use to describe him and some that he would choose to describe himself. So we've deduced that they will probably ask him why he chose the words he did and that this is an opportunity for him to shine. Only thing is, some of his word choices were a little bit questionable. Interesting and coherent, really???? Out of all the possible choices. Ok so we went through each word and defined it and wrote out in English examples of why he chose this word and what he's done in his previous jobs that display the character traits. Word after word, interview guy was looking at me like I was a flipping genius!! I was surprised myself; I was pulling the most incredible examples out of thin air. Anyway, interview guy just needed someone to boost his confidence and he was super nice and I hope he gets the job. Also, Interview guy is the first car I've ridden in since being here in Oviedo. He lives in the suburbs and today we drove to a café to work and Interview guy exclaims, "I hate Oviedo! It is impossible to park here!" It's funny the worries you don't have when you're carless. I was sort of lamenting not having a car despite the fact that I haven't needed one once since arriving here but if I had a car I'm sure I could find all kinds of places to drive to. I miss driving.

 

Anyway, lest anyone think I've only met guys, my tutora at my school has been every bit as amazing as the guys. She's the one that found me a great centrally located apartment before I even got here and set me up with private classes so I'd make more money and has just generally been really really nice. Really, all the teachers at my school have been super sweet to me. The French teacher even went out of her way to ask her friend who oversees a group of American students from Iowa if I could go to their Thanksgiving get-together. I can't turn down an invitation like that even though I just went to a Thanksgiving party last weekend and I've been feeling kind of under the weather. And my landlord has been amazing too. She held the apartment for me even though I didn't get here until October, picked me up at the train station and drove me to the apartment my first day here in Oviedo, so I didn't have to stay in a hotel or find it on my own. She didn't know me from Adam. or Eve. And she emails me to check on me and see how I'm doing and if I have any problems with the apartment. Let me tell you, Oviedo's cup runneth over with good karma. There must be something in the water here. Maybe that's why the grass stays green year round here.
 
OMG *epiphany*
 
the grass really is greener on the other side.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Update

Called the embassy again. I got the same jerk I talked to the first time I called. I asked for an update and he said as of Oct 25, the embassy is requesting proof of residence. Now I called a week ago and the girl told me I needed to send proof of my residence in the US. Now this guy is telling me M needs to send proof of his residency in El Salvador. All of this is RIDICULOUS!! My lawyer says for whatever reason, we are getting the run around and there’s nothing we can do but just give them what they ask for and that this nonsense could go on for A YEAR. Meaning a year until we can even turn in our waiver packet and wait another year for them to make a decision. This doesn’t even phase me anymore. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that they won’t be giving M his passport back. He’s going to San Salvador today to report it lost and get a new one. Fingers crossed that there’s no problem with that. Then he has to go back to the Spanish embassy and see if they’ll reissue his visa.

Ideally I had thought our timeline would be something like this:

Sept 2011: Consular interview and submit waiver
Oct 2011-May 2012: Teaching job in Spain
June, July, & August 2012: do something fun
Sept 2012: Waiver approved! Go home.

Of course now there’s really no way to gauge what’s going to happen. I can’t even predict a worst case scenario timeline cause nothing is definite. But maybe it could look like this:

Oct 2011: Consular interview
Spring 2012: possibility of submitting waiver
Spring 2013: waiver decision

In any event, I highly doubt our waiver will be decided by Sept 2012. With that in mind, we’re trying to decide if we should stay in Spain for another year. Funny to think about if we should stay when the other half of we hasn’t even arrived yet. The pros of staying are paid living expenses with a comfortable lifestyle. Con: I hate teaching. I don’t know why I keep torturing myself, oh wait, yes I do. It’s for money. The alternative is to go to another country or go back to El Salvador. I feel like it always comes off like I don’t want to live in El Salvador but it’s not really that simple. The main things I have against El Salvador are finding a job and feeling safe. Maybe I could find a job in San Salvador but it wouldn’t pay me enough to live in a safe area. And then there are the slightly less important creature comforts like hot water, air conditioning, and high speed internet. What I liked about living in El Salvador were the people. There were people to visit with and I was working myself up to go volunteer in the clinic. And I loved getting to know the kids. The third alternative would be to go teach English in Korea so we could save a pile of cash.

The only thing about Spain or Korea is if M’s waiver is approved before the end of the school year, he’d either have to go back without me or I’d have to quit in the middle of the school year or stay and finish. So with all that being said, what do you all think? Even from the lurkers, leave a comment with your opinion.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Random photo dump

Here are some thing I wanted to share about where I live. They are kind of random.
A selection of cheeses! I think this cost between 2 and 3€.



Vending machine haul. A white chocolate covered croissant. Smint gum, and I had no idea what those fruit things were when I bought them. Turns out they're gum. Can you imagine buying something from a vending machine with no label in just a ziplock bag?


 I took this picture of this statue from the side to show you what escanciar  is. Asturias is known for apple cider, or rather the alcoholic version sidra. There are sidra bars everywhere here and it's cutomary to hold the bottle up high and the glass down low while you pour it to aerate it and add fizz. Then you drink it fast.


This is on my walk home from the school. You'll note the grass is still bright green in November although the leaves are starting to fall. In the background there are gently rolling hills with houses. The hills kind of surround the city. Those red buildings, my apartment building is just behind those.
This is the same park as above, just looking to the right. That's a really old church and in the background behind it is the city center of Oviedo. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from my house.

Have you ever in your life, gotten to the end of a roll of toilet paper and thought, gee I really wish I could flush this down the toilet?
This is the front of my apartment building. I am aware that it looks seedy and it appears that I live above a porn shop but that store is out of business I guess, there's nothing inside. And anything could look seedy in the right light. That lovely park above is right around the corner. It wasn't immediately apparent when I first got here, but I'm starting to see the signs that I live in the 'immigrant' area of Oviedo. No wonder I feel so comfortable here! I was talking to the doctor I meet with every week and I was delicately trying to ask him where do the poor people live here. Poverty is just not in your face here. Or maybe it's just doesn't exist here in Oviedo, I don't know. But the doctor kinda laughed and told me that if there was a poor area, it's down near where I live, or just beyond. So yesterday I took a walk in that direction. Once when I was on the bus I saw another internet cafe with a sign that said productos latinos so I wanted to see what they had. This area is not poor by my standards. This is just where they keep the car dealerships, furniture stores, and the hidden strip club.

This place has nothing on Pulaski Hwy in Baltimore.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Half a tour

I always meant to post a tour of the house in El Salvador. It's just that it was pretty much impossible to upload video there. And I spent a lot of time being hot and sweaty and in a general state of not wanting to move. Which doesn't sound that much different from here actually. Anyway, I started a a video but I at the end you hear a noise, that's the water guy at the gate and I got flustered and stopped the video and never went back and finished. You guys will have to wait until next summer for the rest of the tour but I can at least give you the first half now.

Just to explain, normally all that furniture is inside that door to the left which is the living room but they were installing tile floors so everything is outside in the corredor, or kind of like an open-air covered porch area. Also, the water looks cloudy in the video but it's just got a lot of oxygen in it. Or at least that's my un-sciency way of explaining it.


House tour - part 1 from ordinary life on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just a note

I just wanted to bring to your attention that you can now receive blog updates by email! Over here on the right, just enter your email address and confirm and you're good to go.

The Spanish Apartment

Well, here it is. I took this video right when I moved in and then promptly forgot about it. It's also weird to listen to yourself on video. My landlord is so sweet, she saw I had an Italian last name and thought I was from Italy so she put some Italy/Rome magnets on the fridge. Another weird thing about Spanish apartments is every room has a door including the kitchen and the living room.


The Spanish Apartment from ordinary life on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My souvenir from Spain

I tend to vacillate between the two extremes of frugal and extravagant. I try to keep my extravagant purchases to a minimum considering the circumstances, but my frugalness (frugality?) knows no bounds. You’re talking to a person who will walk 3km to get somewhere because I don’t want to spend 1€ on the bus. Someone who uses grocery store plastic bags for trash so as to not spend money on trash bags, exclusively. This is unique to being abroad though. At home I’m not like this. I remember being in Mexico, Traci can back me up on this, and going out of my way to save two pesos or roughly the equivalent of twenty cents at the time. Of course my level of being frugal is directly correlated with the peanuts I’m earning here. Enough peanuts to live and eat but anything extra comes from the private lessons or savings.

I’ve been invited to a Thanksgiving potluck this weekend. I immediately responded that I’d bring mashed potatoes because I know I can make them and find all the ingredients despite the fact that I’ll have to peel 5 lbs of potatoes by myself. Then. Then I started hunting through the drawers of my meagerly equipped kitchen and realized I’d be mashing 5 lbs of potatoes with a fork. Damn it!! This means I’m going to have to spend money on some kind of kitchen tool that I will likely use only once. I am sure that they sell potato mashers in this city but I checked everywhere and couldn’t find one. And by everywhere, I mean the two stores within walking distance of my house. I do not have the transportation to drive all over looking. I checked Ikea, no dice. I checked Carrefour which is like a super Walmart or Target. They didn’t have it either. Like I said, I’m sure there’s a place but the only place left that was on my radar was El Corte Ingles. I have been SERIOUSLY AVOIDING El Corte Ingles since I got here. Corte Ingles is like Macy’s or Bloomingdales or Nordstrom plus super Target with a grocery store plus Best Buy plus Home Depot minus the lumber. It is massive. They’re all over Spain and the one here in Oviedo has like 3 separate buildings with like 6 stories each. Imagine like your favorite department store but the flagship version in NYC. I didn’t want to go in. I have been shopping deprived and everything here is different and not the same stuff you see all the time in the states and I just see and I want I want I want.

So, after my private lesson which is in the city center near the Corte Ingles, I decided I would quickly see if they had a potato masher there. At first I thought I was out of luck. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find the masher I’m used to which looks like a wavy zigzag but I would settle for the flat kind with the holes in the bottom. There were rows and rows of shiny gleaming stainless steel whisks and ladles and strainers and garlic presses, then finally, all the way in the back, I found one lone potato masher, or as the label indicated, prensa patatas. It was heavy and shiny stainless steel. I held my breath and looked for the price.

Now before I tell you how much I overpaid on a potato masher, allow me to explain my rationale. Because yes, I had to rationalize this purchase. I have to make the mashed potatoes on Saturday and I have no time tomorrow to go out and look for another masher. If I leave it til Friday there is a very good chance I’d be cursing myself Saturday as I’m mashing with a crappy fork. I can use this masher again to make mashed potatoes or even to mash beans. This masher will last a lifetime. This masher is cheaper than a plane ticket home for thanksgiving. This masher will be a sentimental reminder of my time here in Oviedo. Or maybe just a reminder of that time I spent $30 on a potato masher. Yes folks, this potato masher cost 22€ which is currently equivalent to about $30. I am aware that there are people who can eat for a month with $30. They probably already own a masher they got at Marshall’s for $7 like I did once. I guarantee you though, I will NOT be leaving this masher behind.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Clases Particulares

Here in Spain, or at least where I am, they call private lessons clases particulares. So most of the people who come here to do the English teaching thing give clases particulares on the side to supplement their income. Back before I got here, I figured I'd probably try and do this too. Then I arrived and was such an emotional mess, all I wanted to do was stay home and watch Parks & Rec on my laptop. It was probably some culture shock mixed in with being wholly frustrated with dealing with my situation. So I had no desire to put myself out there and look for students for clases particulares. Honestly, I had little desire to even go to the school. I had to allow myself extra time to walk there in the morning cause I was walking so slow cause I just didn't want to go. My second day at the school, one of the teachers asked me if I would give English classes to her kid and her kid's classmate. Reluctantly I said yes because really, how could I say no? The same day, the principal asked me if I would be able to give classes to her brother. He just wants conversation, she said.  I said, Sure! No problem! but inside I was grumbling to myself, DON'T YOU KNOW I WANT TO STAY HOME AND WATCH FRINGE?!?!

So the one class with the kids is not bad. I still kinda dread going but in a 'I just don't feel like going to work' way. The kids are 6th graders and awesome, sweet kids. With them it's more like extra tutoring. I just reinforce what they're learning at school and expound on it a bit. And help them with their homework and studying. And make them speak only in English. The only annoying part is all the English textbooks here are in British English. It's funny to look at words and know what they mean but know that you would never say them that way. In the unit on clothing some of the words were trainers (sneakers), waistcoat (vest), jumper (sweater), trousers (pants), cloak (cape), track suit bottoms (sweatpants).

The other class is with the principal's brother. I wasn't really sure how to do a conversation class. All I knew was that he was a doctor which meant that I immediately imagined him as a young George Clooney wearing scrubs. Imagine my surprise when we meet and turns out he's an older (than me) gentleman and most definitely not wearing scrubs, although he is a surgeon. His English is already really good. He spent a year in Boston at Harvard some 20 years ago and travels to medical conferences around Europe where the common language used is English. In my head I'm thinking, are you sure you really want to pay to talk to me? Well, he's super nice. I try to make a note of things I observe during the week and then ask him about them when we meet. I'm not a very natural conversationalist so I have to put a lot of effort into preparing for this class but I think I get just as much out of it as he does. When I left his office this past Friday I felt, dare I say it, happy. And not just happy but cheerful and inspired. Inspired enough to come home and write this post. Almost inspired enough to go to a café/bar but let's not get crazy now. Baby steps.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Update


I called the embassy for an update today. Or rather, I called the immigrant visa call center. Not sure where they're located but it's neither the US nor El Salvador. I know they're just doing their jobs but every single question I asked her she had to put me on hold and go ask someone else. And then come back with some vague response. I asked if there had been any updates. She said in order to begin the waiver process I need to send in PROOF OF RESIDENCY. I asked what I should send in. She put me on hold. You can send in a copy of your passport. Since when does a passport prove any kind of residency? The clincher is I can't mail this stuff myself, it can only be mailed from a specific Cargo Express office in San Salvador. So M will have to hand carry it there which means another trip to San Salvador.

Then I asked her when we were getting his passport back. They said two weeks and it's been four. She said they would send a request for information to the embassy and to call back in 3-4 weeks for an update.  In the meantime, M is checking on getting a second passport and possibly getting his visa for Spain reissued. But really I'm just hoping that this all gets squared away soon.

In other news I've become addicted to tv. Fringe, Parks & Rec, Community, Glee, Modern Family, Mad Men… The slingbox is the greatest invention EVER.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Today was a better day

Monday was awful. I was coming off of a crappy weekend. My gramma passed away. I didn’t feel like preparing for my classes. I left an important paper at the school with an appointment time on it and I showed up 3 hours early and was told to come back. Then I went home and called the US embassy in San Salvador to find out what the deal is. Calling the embassy really means calling a call center where you will talk to someone who doesn’t really know anything more than you do and paying $1.87 per minute for the privilege. I hung up from this asshole feeling beyond frustrated and I just had a little breakdown. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I’m sick of waiting. Why does the waiver even need to be submitted in person?? Why do they still have my husband’s passport?? I have reached the point where I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of money so I can get M here asap. Hopefully we hear something soon but if not, once he gets that passport, I think he will just fly out here and have to fly back again to submit the waiver. I haven’t seen M in a month and I know that’s nothing compared to the separation that some families go through but the only thing separating us is a plane ticket. And that passport, which hopefully he’ll get back soon.

Today however, was not bad. I gave a little presentation about Halloween to my classes and a crossword puzzle and they ate it up. The teachers loved it and now I have a proven formula for Thanksgiving, Christmas, MLK, President’s Day, etc. I’m starting to feel more comfortable here; today I pulled out my ipod for the first time since I got here for my walk to my tutoring session. I don’t know, I just felt good today and I want M here so we can feel good together. You know how they say, god only gives you what you can handle? I think if things here had been even slightly more difficult, I would have already thrown in the towel. Some people might call that “quitting”, I prefer the phrase “cutting my losses”. Fortunately, a lot of things worked out really well for me, like being picked up from the train by my landlord and being driven directly to an apartment I didn’t have to find myself or being walking distance to my school, the grocery store, and the internet café. Shoot, I could even walk to IKEA if I was feeling ambitious. The coordinating teacher I work with has been amazing. It is scary how much she looks like Jennifer Aniston. I wish I could take a picture and show you all. I think I might even be ready to pick up the camera and take a few pictures of Oviedo so stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blood was shed

Meatballs were on sale and for some reason I thought I would like them. I saw them in a grocery store ad so I figured why not? They immediately made me think of dinty moore beefstew which I grew up on so I like it. I got home to discover I had no can opener. Or rather, no familiar can opener. In the drawer was this flat thing that I was pretty sure was a can opener. I started hacking away at the can. I managed to scratch and dent it up pretty good but I couldn’t even puncture it. I was fairly certain this was a can opener though. Damn foreign things! Where was my dad when I really needed him? This is just the kind of thing he would know about. I was ready to chuck the whole thing in the trash when I remembered my best friend, google. “how to open can with foreign can opener” led me to a Wikipedia section on military can openers. The small size and primitiveness of this little sucker convinced me that I had something similar. Back to google, “how to use military can opener” which led me to youtube. I had to watch a video on how to open a can but I got it open. The meatballs sucked and I cut my finger but I now know how to use the can opener.














Monday, October 17, 2011

monday night musings

Here in Oviedo, they have trash pickup daily. The garbage guys come around seven or eight o'clock at night and set out empty trash cans all over the place along with a colored bin for recycles. So on certain days there's a green bin or a yellow or blue depending on if they're collecting paper, glass, or plastic and cans. Then they come back around midnight or one and pick it up. Since it's everyday, a lot of people just use the plastic bags you get from the grocery store for their trash. That's what I've been doing too. I'm only one person, I don't have that much trash. But, I'm on the fourth floor.  I don't want to walk down four flights for this little bag of trash. I have seriously contemplated trying to throw it from my window. Mostly it's the recycles though. I've let them pile up and always say I'll get them on the next day. So tonight I had to take out the trash. I had to throw out the old food in my fridge and tonight is cans and plastic night so I got myself together, grabbed my keys, and headed downstairs. As I'm opening the door, I see a tied up bag land towards the trash. The cans are full and there's a few of those grocery bags, stuffed and knotted, against the bins. But there's no one around. And then it hits me. Not literally, but it could have. Someone dropped that from their window upstairs! I am so going to think about this further. I may need one of you to stand downstairs and see how close I can get to the bin.

Friday, October 14, 2011

tour groups

During the summer, M and I visited Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. It’s about an hour ferry ride and after the ride back to La Ceiba, there were tons of people milling around the ferry terminal. There was a big tour group that all had on the same yellow shirt. I was trying to decide if we should take a cab or be adventurous and try and figure out public transportation when I noticed M lingering over to the side by the ferry sign.

Take my picture over here, he said to me.
You want a picture with the sign? Why don’t you come over on this side, closer to it.

No….over here. Hurry and take it!

But you can’t really see the sign, I said. And those guys are sitting there. Why don’t we go around to the other side?

At this point, one of the guys sitting on the low wall behind him motioned him towards them. M stuck out his hand and the guy on the left shook it and scooted over to make room for him. I quickly snapped the picture, M shook their hand again, and we walked over to the cabs. Turns out, all those yellow shirted guys are members of the Honduran national soccer team.










Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Full Circle

There was a time when all I wanted was adventure and excitement and new experiences. I hated my boring life in Maryland and spent countless nights dreaming of living abroad, working abroad, traveling abroad. So when M and I made the decision to take the immigration leap, I tried to look at it as an opportunity to be abroad and experience all those adventures I had been dreaming of. WELL GUESS WHAT!! All I want is to GO HOME. Have I written this before? I can't remember. I can get all the adventure I need on a couple of annual vacations. Annual trip abroad? No problem. Weekend at a Delaware beach? Sounds good to me. Maybe I'm just in a bad place right now and being separated from everyone you know and love could make anyone feel sad and lonely, right? This whole process is just really hard and I hate being in transition.



Grocery Shopping


I shop like an American. Actually, I'm not sure how other people shop but I try to get most of the things I need in one trip and if I need one ingredient or some fresh produce later in the week I try to go for just that. My friend lives in NY and she only buys as much as she can carry home. My first day here I went to the grocery store and was conscious of the fact that I had to carry everything home by myself and I still bought like six bags of stuff. Some of it staples and supplies, like sugar, salt, and plastic wrap. The food I bought the first day lasted about a week and so back to the store I went, only this time I came prepared with a cart! You know the kind, the ones you see little grannies carting their groceries around in. I was so excited about having the cart and being able to load it up with heavy stuff, I shopped like I would normally shop at home in Maryland. Like someone with a car. And 4 kids. My shopping cart was filled with meat and chicken and vegetables and 2 liter sodas, yogurt, and a 5lb sack of potatoes. I'm not exaggerating when I say people were staring at my shopping cart. The lady behind me in line with only two items was so relieved when I told her to go ahead of me. Food seems pretty cheap here. Not if you convert it to dollars but imagine if the dollar was at par with the euro. I spent €75 and I have enough food for probably 3 weeks for two people even. I even got things that normally I would already have in my pantry like spices.


The cashier asked me something and I had no idea what she was saying. I think she was asking me if I was carrying my food with me, honestly still not sure what she was asking but I was like, yes I'm taking it with me. And then I hauled my cart full of bags over to the little locker section where my brand new granny cart was chained up and waiting to estrenar, or make her big debut. I loaded up my cart with all the heavy stuff and a baguette sticking out of the top, and still had bags left over. I loaded those up on my arm and started the walk home. This is when I start having thoughts like, what the hell is wrong with me? This cart is heavy, these bags are heavy, GRRRRRR. I finally get to my building, have I mentioned I live in a 4th Floor walkup? The lady told me over email the piso was on the third floor. Silly me, in Spain the first floor, or "planta baja" is considered 0. In elevators the ground floor is marked as 0 too. So I had to make two trips, one with the bags, then back down again to get the cart. Imagine me dragging the cart backwards up the stairs with two hands on the handle. There was no way I was taking stuff out and making three trips, by this time I was exhausted and ready to leave the groceries in the stairwell.


What's funny is while in the store I'm thinking of all the things I'm going to cook and when I get home I have no desire. I'm not used to living alone and it really sucks. But I'm determined to live off this monthly stipend and that means cooking and eating what I cook. Not that I'm never going to eat out but I'll be broke if I eat out more than once or twice a week. So I made a list of all the things I'm going to make with what I've bought so that when I look in the fridge and declare there's nothing to eat, I can refer to the list. Tonight I made picadillo with rice and luckily it turned out good because clearly I'm going to be eating it for the next 3 days.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bank Madness

There's been a lot of banking business going on. First, I had to open a bank account here in Spain in order to get paid. I also have to pay my rent at the bank so I went to that bank which is also closest to my house. Stupid bank, they charge a fee, €7.50 every three months. Oh well, guess it's not too bad. Then they give me this passport looking book. The guy tells me my transactions will be recorded in it and I put it in the ATM machine to get money out. Weird but Ok. And then I ask about an atm card. He says I can get one but it will be €16. Come on! Have I wandered into 1982?? Does anyone else remember the green MOST machines? Anyway, I had to get this form filled out and signed by the bank to get paid. So then I get to the meeting with other people in the program and everyone else has this other bank that is from this century with free checking and free atm card. I thought about changing but it's too much effort and I still have to go to this other bank to pay rent and with the account there I can transfer my rent payment online.

 

Let me preface this next part with 'sometimes I get carried away' and 'I'm an over-analyzer.' So yesterday I was reviewing my US bank account online when I noticed a suspicious $5 charge pending. Suspicious cause I didn't know what it was and it listed the city as Baltimore and clearly I am not in Baltimore. And, I RARELY use my checkcard. I have heard about these scammers who can make fake cards and they try small transactions first to test the card before they go for the big one. So I shot off a message to my bank through their website. Then fearing I would be stuck with no way to get money, I ran to the atm and made a withdrawal before they canceled my card. Then I ran back to the internet café and transferred all the money in my account from checking to savings. Teach those scammers to mess with me! I thought about withdrawing it all and buying a nice purse but resisted. Today the transaction posted and my bank hadn't responded to me, so I called them. They had already canceled my card and I went through a verification process and they said they can send me out a new card to here in Spain. Awesome! I'm so glad this fraudulent transaction is only five dollars. I'm patting myself on the back for catching the scammers before they wiped out my entire account. The wonderful customer service guy transferred me to the fraud claim department. Big Stuff McGruff comes on the line and his voice sounds exactly like an ex-cop or ex-marine mp. He tells me how to file the claim on the website and they would research it and get back to me. I was about to say thank you and hang up but then I asked him how do they determine whether it's fraudulent or not. I mean, I know I'm in Spain and didn't—couldn't have swiped my card—how can you all know? So he said let me ask you a few questions.

 

McGruff: Do you remember making any purchases around $5?

Me (indignant): I'm in Spa—

McGruff: I didn't ask you that, do you remember making any purchases around $5?

Me (aggressive): NO.

McGruff: Did you make this purchase for $60 at American Airlines?

Me (affirmative): yes on the 28th , but this charge wasn't made until….wait. WAIT! (this my friends, is the sound a light bulb makes when it suddenly clicks on and it's so bright your eyeballs are glowing.)

Me (excited to have solved the case): OMG it's not a fraudulent charge. I know what it is! I know what it is! (I suggest Julie, in the airport, with the debit card!)

Me (suddenly feeling very stupid): It was the stupid luggage cart!

McGruff: Are you sure?

Me (feeling very sheepish): yes because I remember thinking geesh it's $5 here (at BWI) but only $2 at Dulles.

 

I then went on to defend myself that it didn't post until 8 days later and blah blah blah. He said it was ok, you could never be too careful with your finances. He was able to restore the card we just canceled and cancel the new card before it was sent. I wish I had a better ending to this post. THE END.

 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oh Oviedo...

I really want to like you, I really do. With your meticulously clean streets and daily trash pickup, what's not to like? Well everything closing for siesta and everything closed on Sundays but beyond that. It's unexplainable. You can't help who you love and I have this thing for El Salvador. Oviedo, I think you're just a rebound, I'll be getting back together with El Salvador soon enough.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Backup Plan(s)

I’ve been scheming on ways to work and live abroad since before I ever met my husband so it was no big leap to decide to do this. Admittedly, I never saw myself living in the campo in any of my living abroad adventures. So you may be wondering, if this chick likes living abroad so much, why even bother with the visa? Well, most of my wanting to live/work abroad stems from the travel itch I contracted while studying abroad in Mexico. That was the single-best-most life changing experience in my life, to date. After falling in love with Mexico all I wanted to do was get back out there and explore the world! I was young and idealistic and I wanted to “help people”. But first I had to get through school which was no easy feat. It took me NINE YEARS to get my degree. I changed my major five times because I’m alternately interested in many things and I can very easily change my mind when I think something’s not working. I think I mentioned before that I want to go to grad school but have yet to pin down exactly what I want to dedicate myself to studying. My friend claims to have a list of the many jobs I can see myself doing and I challenge her to post this supposed list in the comments.

So things change. While living abroad may have sounded romantic and exciting in my 20s, the 30s Julie wanted to settle in and have a family and a house and job security and a fat 401k. I could surely satisfy my travel itch with annual international vacations. What I wanted now was stability. But M’s immigration status was threatening my security gland. And his a bit too. How could we settle down and have kids when at any moment he might not come home because he’s been picked up by immigration. It’s not as if we hadn’t thought about this when we got married. All the (free) lawyers we consulted told us to wait for immigration reform. I wish I had done more research. I wish I had found my current lawyer back then. I wish now we had started this process as soon as we got married but, live and learn.


Staying together has always been my number one priority. That doesn’t mean I wanted to be together at the expense of shirking all our responsibilities but we had some time to prepare. We actually made a few bad decisions, one might say I made some bad decisions but let’s stick with we, this is a team effort after all. Basically, I got house fever and we bought a house. We then decided to take on some renovations and went into debt. We now rent the house out but this whole moving abroad thing would be easier without the house headaches and without the debt weighing us down.


So seeing how I was no stranger to the living /working abroad concept, I got right to work thinking up possible places we could live and make a little money during our waiting period. They all involved me teaching English because that is the easiest and most lucrative job you can get abroad for someone with no hard skills like me. I studied linguistics which makes me sound somewhat qualified to teach a language. I also took a TESOL certification class and taught briefly at a community college. That teaching job is when I decided I didn’t want to teach ESL. I love languages. Learning them, talking about them. I regularly think about word etymology and linguistic clues to language for fun! And I like working with students on a one on one basis. But getting up in front of a class is HARD. You have to be ‘on’ all the time and I’m the type of person that likes to do my work and fade into the background. I actually think I’d be good as some kind of counselor. Not an emotional counselor, but maybe school/college counselor. Anyway, I don’t consider myself a great teacher but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to support my family.


I did a lot of research on the possible places to teach abroad. I read a ton of blogs and spent a lot of time on the forum Dave’s ESL Café. Tons of people teach ESL as a way to live abroad or escape the cubicle. In a lot of places the only requirement is a college degree. In some places, even that’s not necessary. I had pretty much decided on Korea as best bang for your buck. All that’s required is a college degree in any discipline and they provide you with a plane ticket, a place to live (sometimes), and about 30k net. This info might be out of date since I haven’t researched teaching in Korea in quite awhile, but this was how it was at the time. Everyone I corresponded with said you could easily save money working in Korea. I never looked into the visa situation for M but most countries allow spouses to tag along on the working spouse’s visa. Then something clicked. I had actually thought about doing this Spain program years ago but didn’t for some reason, who knows. But it was perfect for our current situation. Even though it doesn’t pay NEARLY as much as Korea has the potential to, both of us speaking the language was a major deciding factor. Everything I’d read also led me to believe that if one wants to work, one will find extra work. The Spain gig is only 16 hours a week which leaves plenty of time to give private lessons or look for a second job in a language school. And there was the potential that M could work too. We probably wouldn’t make 30k but with our savings (that was a requirement for M’s spousal tag along visa) we knew we wouldn’t be homeless or hungry.


All of this stuff still is part of the current plan but should the waiver be denied, we will be facing ten years from our departure date before we can reapply. We could possibly make a ten year career out of teaching ESL or maybe go into backup plan numero dos. I also just want to clarify why some other places didn’t make the cut. Many teachers in Latin America work under the table. Or at least start out that way. Anyplace I went as a tourist, we would be limited to a short stay, usually 90-180 days. And places like Mexico would be out because Salvadorans need visas to travel there. In general, I’ve also read that Latin America just doesn’t pay that much to new, inexperienced teachers without teaching credentials like myself. For most people doing the Latin America teaching gigs in that situation, I think it’s more about wanting to immerse themselves in the Spanish language and culture than make a pile of money. So you may be saying to yourself, ok you’ve ruled out Latin America but you and M can get your papers in order and work in El Salvador. Yeeeeahhh. I will admit, I haven’t done much research on teaching in El Salvador but it’s definitely not out of the question. The thing now is that after living in M’s hometown, I don’t really want to live and work in San Salvador. I have no clue what teaching jobs pay there or what kind of credentials most jobs require. I also know there are possible jobs working in a call center and I’ve heard rumors it pays as little as $400 a month on up to $1500 a month. But again, those jobs are in San Salvador, not the campo.


Some of our other not so great backup plans involve me working in the US and sending my husband remesas or building a simple house with our last bit of savings and living a simple life in the campo while M does milpa and I sell banana bread.


Our #1 backup plan if our waiver is denied is to apply to Canada. I was born in Canada and my family on my mom’s side lives there. The biggest hurdle in this plan is establishing ties to Canada since I’ve lived my whole life since six weeks old in the US. We actually started the Canada process before the US because of some thought I had back then that I can’t remember now. But then I went to Canada one weekend to look at apartments and had so much anxiety about it all, it just didn’t feel right.


So there you have it. 1500 words about what we’ll do if this whole waiver thing doesn’t pan out. Keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer for us!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Miami to Madrid


I really hate flying. I'm not scared of flying really I just find it to be unbearably uncomfortable. The flight from Baltimore to Miami actually wasn't bad. The flight wasn't full and I was all the way in the back and the middle seat between me and the guy in the window seat was empty. It was about a 2 hour flight. The guy next to me looked Salvadoran. I can't be certain since I didn't talk to him. You know how sometimes you get chatty people and sometimes you don't. And I mean chatty in the pleasant way. The kids in front kept turning around and talking to him in Spanish though. He laughed and joked with them. He and I were the last ones off the plane and I heard the stewardess say to him, "They're waiting for you," and I glanced back and saw him get handcuffed. It was disturbing. I'm not familiar at all with the deportation process but I would guess that was what was happening. I got really teary and emotional which is stupid since I don't know anything about him. I know some people are relieved to get back to their country, but for many others it can tear families apart.


The flight to Madrid was of course long and uncomfortable. I didn't sleep at all. Arrived in Madrid this morning about 11:00. I had read on the hotel website about a shuttle from the airport that stopped right in front of the hotel. I made my way out to the buses and started asking around and finally found it. Of course I was pushing my two huge duffle bags and carryon bag on a luggage cart. I had to drag them one by one on the bus by myself. 30 minutes later I was at my stop, dragged all my bags off the bus and just sat there and thought about how this is a two person job. I gave myself about two full minutes to feel sorry for myself before trying to figure out where the hotel was. I saw a sign for HOTEL like a block and a half away but I just couldn't manage my bags by myself. I literally got a cab to take me there for €2.70. Still cheaper than a taxi from the airport would've been.


Tomorrow is orientation all day and then Saturday hopefully I'll be settling into an apartment. I can't wait to get rid of all this baggage!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Plan Stan…

I get this a lot from friends & family: So what are you doing again? What’s the plan? What are you going to do if M doesn’t get his visa? I get that one A LOT.


I know people are naturally curious since it’s a definite possibility that his waiver might not be approved. I have a couple of backup plans but I don’t want to focus on them or get too far ahead of myself because that’s not what I want. The current goal is us back in the US as soon as possible.


After M has his appointment in October we will submit a visa waiver packet. This packet basically lays out all the reasons why it would be an EXTREME HARDSHIP for me to not have M with me in the US and/or why it would be an extreme hardship for me to live in El Salvador. Like a lot of people, I don’t feel like we have any hardships much less extreme ones. In fact I think if M had to find the one American girl who was willing to pack it all up and try out someplace new, he couldn’t have picked a better girl. I do have to admit that now that I’m out here in that new place, it’s not easy. Homesickness and culture shock are real things. They can make you hide in your room for a month and cry at the very mention of your dear cats’ names. All that to say, I feel confident that I could live and be happy in a lot of different places. I spent my early years living on various military bases and I’m nothing if not adaptable. More like blendable. I tend to fade into the background. So how can that be a hardship when clearly I’ve already packed up all my junk and planted myself in the campo? I don’t know but I have a lawyer who seems to know what she’s doing.


So the plan….


The current plan is:


· Spend the summer with M’s family while waiting for his consular interview appointment. –CHECK!


I get asked a fair amount why we didn’t wait until we had his appointment date to come to El Salvador when we could’ve kept working and living in the US. The answer is, one, we needed to submit a solvencia/background check from El Salvador and we waited and waited and waited to get it from the Salvadoran consulate in Virginia and it never came. It was the last thing we needed to submit our docs to the NVC and our lawyer said we probably wouldn’t get the date without it. We also weren’t sure exactly how to get it in El Salvador. We NOW know that a designated person could’ve gone to San Salvador and got it but it would’ve been just as much hassle for them as it was for us. Two, we needed to go to the Spanish embassy in San Salvador to apply for M’s visa to Spain. In hindsight, I wish we had at least tried to get it in DC instead of asking so many questions and being such rule followers. It would’ve been a lot easier but in the end we got the visa either way, it was just way more hassle. Three and most importantly, M hadn’t seen his family or hometown in 8 years. We were both burnt out from working and just ready for a change. These last few months that he’s spent with his dad are priceless and were worth way more than any potential income from 3-4 months of work. Three months in the campo will really make you evaluate what’s important to you and strangely will also make you want to shop for nice handbags. Frivolous I know, but I can’t help it.


· Consular interview appointment. Get medical exam done and bring copies of all documents to appointment. –Pending

· Mid-September-head to Spain and get acclimated, find apartment, test dry runs of walk to job, meet up with contact person at the school, find neighborhood grocery store, learn way around. –FAIL.


Once I found out M’s appointment was in October I knew I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible before leaving for Spain. I was pretty bummed. I knew I couldn’t go into the embassy appointment but I wanted to be there to support him. In the end we decided that it was best if I didn’t miss the new job orientation and that I start on time. And I secretly think it’s good he does some of this stuff on his own. I have no idea what the consular interview is like but we have a bona fide marriage so how bad can he really mess this up?


· Sept 28-M picks up passport and visa from Spanish embassy.

· Sept 29-arrive in Madrid. Sept 30-orientation in Madrid. Oct 1-take train from Madrid to Asturias, meet potential landlord at the train station, check out apartment and hopefully settle in that night. Oct 2-find food and internet. Oct 3-start new job.


This is the part that has me all nervous. I was really counting on having M as my support system for this newbie time. Someone to be there to help navigate a new city, find an apartment, cook dinner, and take the edge off. It’s like Peace Corps all over again, except without the pit toilets.


· Mid-October-Video chat with M all about his appointment! –Pending!

· Late October/Early November-M flies from El Salvador to Spain and settles in, looks for temporary work, inevitably finds 3 soccer teams to play on instead. Also spends free time watching GOLtv and Jorge Ramos y su Banda. Slingbox=greatest invention ever and money well spent.

· Christmas break-depending on finances, possibly take a small trip somewhere, either within Spain or maybe Portugal.

· January-possible visit from friends.

· March-hopefully have a good idea of what our immigration timeline is and decide whether to renew for second year in Spain if so far so good.

· Spring Break-another possible visit from friends.

· June-Spain job ends. 8 months after appointment date, waiver hopefully approved!! If not yet approved, haven’t yet decided where we’ll spend the summer. Possibly work summer camps in Spain.


I’ll be back tomorrow with more on our possible backup plans.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The Cheese Mule

I’ve now traveled to El Salvador and back again 3 times. Each trip I have played the role of cheese smuggler. When news spreads that you’re traveling to the US you start to hear things like, “vas muy encargada?” or “do you have a little space in your suitcase that I could send something small to my family?” I literally told ONE person in the US that I MIGHT be coming home for a short visit and people in El Salvador the next day would say, “I’ve heard you’re going to Estados Unidos…” How in the world…I haven’t even DECIDED yet! Anyway, it is hard to say no. These are family members or family members of people who live with your family members. All year long they receive their remesas and they really want to send something in return. It is ALWAYS CHEESE. I get it, there’s nearly nothing they can send from El Salvador that one can’t buy in the US. I would even say that, one can buy Salvadoran cheese in the US. It doesn’t taste EXACTLY the same, but neither does the cheddar I bought from Super Selectos, so we’re even.



So they show up, the day before you’re scheduled to leave with a small package, wrapped in foil and black plastic bags and masking tape all around declaring PARA LUIS or quien sea. It is 5 lbs of cheese. Plus a few marquesotes and quesadillas (another 5 lbs) and after 5 people do this, you have eaten up your entire 50 lb baggage allowance on cheese. You also must thoroughly interrogate them on what’s in the bags because they will not tell you unless you ask and they will slip other things in. This is important because a) if it’s a liquid it can’t go in carry-on luggage, b) you can face penalties and fines for not declaring stuff at customs, and c) some things are not allowed in.



For example, someone wanted to send eye drops to their loved one in the US. Regardless of the fact that we have eye drops in the US, these weren’t some special eye drops, literally just visine, they need to go in checked luggage. Someone else wanted to send some dried fish. You know those small tilapias they farm everywhere in El Salvador…dried was the only way to describe them. Now, I don’t know if this fish is allowed in or not but it’s going to get questioned. Last time I brought a bunch of little bags of pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds). In general seeds are not allowed and specifically pumpkin seeds because of some beetle. Customs has all kinds of reasons why you’re not allowed to bring stuff in. You aren’t allowed to bring ANY citrus in because of possible citrus diseases. You actually are allowed to bring cheese in, the drier the better. If it’s runny though, it’s probably a no go. So I know I’m allowed to bring in the cheese. I’m not exactly smuggling it. The problem is, if you declare it, they WILL search you. If you say you have cheese, well they need to SEE the cheese and make sure it’s not the kind that’s prohibited. That takes TIME that you might not have when you’re running to make a too tight connection and don’t want to get stuck in Miami, Houston, or Dallas. So, I’ve heard, many many people take their chances and don’t declare their food items. Either one, because they know they’re not supposed to bring them in or two, because they don’t want the hassle and are trying to make a connecting flight.



The other thing is the weight. Cheese is heavy. I thought I had found a great deal on a flight from San Salvador to DC on Spirit Airlines, $65 plus taxes, so $165. I was only going for a short trip so I just brought a few t-shirts and one pair of jeans. I could’ve packed it all in a tote bag as a “personal item” which is the only free bag Spirit allows. Instead I ended up paying $38 to check a suitcase that was literally filled with 70lbs of cheese, marquesotes & quesadillas (dense sweet breads), and tamales de elote (again HEAVY). Since it was over 40lbs I also got hit with an overweight charge of $50 which brings my ticket price closer to $250. Which is not really a deal. The only deal part of it is that it’s a one way ticket and I didn’t know exactly when I was going to return so I wanted a one way.



SO knowing all that, my American friends inevitably ask, why don’t I charge them a fee? I knew the Spirit fees upfront and I thought, well I’m bringing some clothes anyway and a carry-on bag costs nearly the same as a much bigger checked bag so it’s no big deal. The big deal is when they bring 20 lbs vs. 5 and move me into the overweight category. At Spirit it may be $50 but American charges $100 for each overweight bag. Also, I did sorta suggest it once and the look I got was incredulous. It said you are a greedy heartless woman to charge someone for such a *small* package.



All this ranting to say, yes I’ll still smuggle your cheese for you. But I’m going to bitch about it on the internets every step of the way.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Things I'll miss when I leave El Salvador

I'm back with a few things I'll miss when I leave...

toasted tortillas with cuajada--I actually eat this at home too but it tastes better in El Salvador!

buying a stack of tortillas for a dollar--We eat tortillas when we're in Maryland too but only when family comes over and makes them. In Maryland, M's family always made tortillas and there were always tortillas at the ready so I thought it was so weird when we got here and I learned that his sisters don't make tortillas. They know how to make them, they just find it easier to buy them. You can get a big stack of freshly made tortillas for a dollar.

joey meowing outside our door to let him in--joey is the kitten that wandered into the house one day and never left when he figured out he had hit the jackpot. I am acat lover. I have three cats at home (monica, chandler, and phoebe) and this little kitten made me feel a little less homesick during that first month here. The only problem with joey is I got him too late. He is evil! He doesn't know not to bite and I've tried everything I've read on the internet. He will grab my hand with his paws and pull it to his mouth and gnaw on it. Not biting through the skin, just chewing and then licking. Everytime you try to pet him, he grabs your hand to chew it. He is the most hyper cat I've ever seen and he follows me to the bathroom and runs ahead and climbs up the tree and then swats my head as I enter the bathroom. Malo!

picking limes off the tree when you need one--I never knew I needed a lime tree until I moved here. They call them limones indios but I'm pretty sure they're key limes. When they're fully ripe they're a really yellowish green color.

sweeping mountain vistas--the scenery here is beautiful. No picture I take can do it justice. It helps that it's the rainy season, everything is so GREEN. Verdant!

little kids showing up to play uno--I taught M to play uno just so he could teach the little kids here. Uno is great cause it transcends language. The only English word on the cards is WILD and that's easy enough to explain. Endless hours of fun.

getting to know all my new little nieces & nephews & cousins--I thought I'd want to live in San Salvador, thought I would HATE living in a small town. It's really not that bad and the little kids make a big difference.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Things I won't miss when I leave El Salvador

I know this sounds negative, BUT, I'll be following it up with a post of things I WILL miss.


frequent brown outs--this is more annoying than anything. The lights will frequently go out, then come back on, or dim and then get bright. If you use the microwave you can literally hear when the voltage drops.

hotdogs in tomato sauce--I eat pretty much anything that my sister in law makes if it means I don't have to cook, but hotdogs in tomato sauce or 'salchichas en salsa' is just wrong.

fridge that was never cold--I put all my drinks in the freezer, 'nough said.

4am trips to the letrina--I cannot make it through the night without having to go to the bathroom. I go right before I go to bed but still, 3-5 hours later I wake up with a need to pee that is like no other. So I have to get up, find my flip flops, grab the flashlight, and make my way there and I slip on the brick path every. single. time. These bricks get covered in moss and are damp from the rain. Even though I step carefully, I always slip. You guys are going to think I'm mean, but because of this, I make M get up too to make sure I don't fall and break my neck. Whatever, he has to pee too.

mosquito larvae in the pila--the pila is supposed to be emptied and cleaned with bleach every two days. We're not always on top of things and sometimes it doesn't get emptied or cleaned. Then these little mosquito larvae show up in the water and, well it's just not good.

dirt in the bed--it's hard to keep dirt out of our room because our bedroom door opens up to an open air area. I'm putting this one squarely on M, he will walk outside barefoot and then come back and hop in bed without cleaning his feet. IT DRIVES ME UP THE WALL. I constantly have to sweep out my bed.

charco (mud)--it obviously rains a lot here during the rainy season. The dirt roads turn to rivers and are so muddy. I have never worn shoes other than flip flops here because I don't want to have to clean my shoes. At least with flip flops I can just pour water over my feet and flip flops and be clean in a minute.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

departure pending

I haven't written in a long time. I've been meaning to, I just haven't had much to say. I took a little break from El Salvador and went home for two weeks, stuffed myself full of American food. Einsteins has a pretzel bagel now. Then I came back to El Salvador for two weeks to wrap up some paperwork stuff, and pack up my stuff. Then I'll be heading to Spain, orientation in Madrid on the 29th, then to Oviedo on the 1st.