Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making the Most of It

I realized that over the course of my blogging time here in Madrid, I have neglected to give you a sufficient description of what this city is actually like and what the heck it is I do here. I offer my sincerest apologies and will immediately attempt to remedy this travesty and in detail describe my first hand account of what it’s like to teach English in the city of Madrid, Spain. Ok. Let’s begin.
The city of Madrid is big…very very big. However, it doesn’t overwhelm you with its size. You almost don’t even notice that you’re surrounded by over 3 million people because the city like feel is masked by an abundance of parks, fountains, and a relatively small number of skyscrapers. The favorite past times of the people of Madrid are walking, eating, making out in public (I’m really not joking) dancing and drinking; all of which are done in abundance. When walking down the streets of Madrid it seems that the people have the general cold indifference that you find within a city, but once approached and addressed I have found most people here very kind and forgiving of ones (uhum) less than perfect Spanish. Mullets, cigarettes, tight jeans, boots, chuck taylors, and scarves are a plenty and are all equally as popular among men and women. Common things to see on the street are the homeless, dog poop (lots and lots and lots of dog poop), and people selling their product, talent or trade. The latter is the one seen most abundantly and is just as diverse as it is abundant. There are singers, shoe shiners, musicians, comedians, people dressed up in various costumes, people selling flowers, hats, wallets, toys and light up necklaces. And these fellars don’t stick strictly to the streets. Oh no. They boldly go to any place in Madrid that seems opportune whether that be a metro station, a metro car, a restaurant, or a bar. And then there’s the prostitutes. How could I forget the prostitutes? To my knowledge they stick mainly to one street which connects the main street of Madrid to the main plaza of Madrid. Unless you’re feeling particularly lonely you’d best be on your toes when walking on this street because they WILL come and get you. Unfortunately I can say this from experience…several accounts actually.
I can’t talk too much about the food as much as I’d like to. You see my funds haven’t been too abundant here in this fine city and as much I love spending money on food (there was no sarcasm in that statement in case you were wondering), I have had to practice self control. However, I have been fortunate enough to spend a little here and there and on occasion been treated to some Spanish cuisine by a friend. Here are a few of the “Spanish” things I’ve tried: Firstly I have to mention the paella. I’ve been ordered by a few Spaniards that I cannot assume that ALL that encompasses Spanish food involves paella. I promise that I do not, but if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be this. Paella is a huge piping hot skillet filled with rice, an assortment of seafood, spices, and a bit of lemon sprinkled on top. There are quite a few different combinations of different seafood but the two kinds that I’ve had were both wonderful (and the ones I haven’t didn’t look like I’d be too disappointed with them either). My second favorite food here would have to be the tapas. By stating tapas itself I’m being a little vague because tapas by definition do not refer to a specific thing but rather to a small appetizer like portion of a dish. Usually you can get a tapa served with your caña (beer) in a bar or you can order a bunch of them to eat for dinner (my preference). They can be things like potatoes with red sauce, fish, Spanish ham, calamari, sausage and my favorite: tortilla. Tortilla is a mix of eggs, potatoes and sometimes a tiny bit of onions. It’s very simple but very delicious.

When I first arrived here in Madrid I attended an academy to receive a certificate I believed that I needed in order to teach English. Turns out a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate isn’t as vital as I was told. For me and my $1800 sake I wish I would’ve been told differently but I’ve lived and I’ve learned. Now, about my job specifically: My job involves traveling by foot or more commonly by metro throughout the city to teach individuals or small groups in their home or at an academy. I have students from age 3 to 56 and all of them have been wonderful. A typical class may involve pronunciation exercises, grammar worksheets, conversations about politics, watching sesame street, reading a novel, or the “Try and figure out what animal Ben’s acting out” game (in English of course). I will spare you the details, but for various reasons I haven’t worked that much during my short Madrid stay. In fact, I’ve averaged a (brace yourself) very strenuous nine hours a week. I know. I know. Financially it’s not as bad as you think. A few of my classes pay decent money and I don’t really spend money on anything except for food, rent, the metro and a toiletry here or there.
So “what does a Geeze do with all of that free time?” you may ask. Good question. Usually he would do as he’s done in the past and spend an unhealthy amount of time playing basketball. But sadly, I’ve had a random and annoying injury in both of my shoulders that won’t go away. I would go to the doctors here if it didn’t scare the heck out of me. My Spanish is good enough to ask Carlos (I really have a student named Carlos) how his English exam went but not quite up to snuff when it comes to asking el doctor if I did in fact tear something in my shoulders and now need cirugía (sheesh…espero que no). Sooo since the b-ball wasn’t happening and I realized I didn’t have enough money to spend on a weight room to at least work out, I dedicated all of my time to: chipping away at a novel I’m never going to finish, reading, watching movies, thinking about what I’m doing with my life (I’ve spent more time on this one than you think), and hangin out (although with my lack of funds and my allergy to going outside when it’s cold and rainy, even hanging out got put on the back burner).

One may look at this trip as me not accomplishing a whole lot of anything. I will be lucky to break even financially when all’s said and done, I didn’t do a crazy amount of traveling, and I’m still a bit lost when thinking about my “career”.
BUT (praise the Lord for the but :) ) in the short time that I have been here I have received and learned much. I have grown as a man and have learned quite a bit about myself by being here: things I like, things I don’t like, things I value, things that aren’t as important or as desired as I may have thought. I have met some beautiful people. I have eaten some good food. I have become more dependant upon the Lord. I have had the chance to hang out and grow closer with my best friend, AND although I may still be a bit lost career wise I have made some progress and am even leaning in a certain direction…
So, I thank Madrid for letting me be a part of it and subsequently allowing itself to through a short amount of time and a few mini trials...become a part of me.