Wednesday, November 30, 2011


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.


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


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


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.