Our first days were spent looking for a place to live. That was easier said than done, being as we arrived (unbeknownst to us) in the middle of a time of local holidays and business closures. When things close down here for a holiday, that means EVERYTHING closes down… banks, grocery stores, restaurants, EVERYTHING! On the day before everything was to close, we tried to meet with people who could show us some places for rent. We called one realtor who gave us directions to her office so we could meet… except that she used only landmarks and not streets for directions. We don’t know the landmarks yet, so in no time we were thoroughly lost. She said something about being by Veronica Park. No signs at any of the parks. She said they were in front of the police station. We found the police station, but didn’t find the office we were looking for. So we went into the police station to ask. They sent us down the hill and around the bend to “the yellow and green building”. So, off we went. Guess what we found — about 10 huge yellow and green office and apartment buildings! We called her back and she gave us more directions. This time we found yet another police station (would have been good to have known that there were two police stations). We finally found the office and walked in, only to find that the realtor was not there and wasn’t working today. She had given us directions, but neglected to tell us that she was on vacation and wouldn’t be back to work for five days!
We met a different realtor who showed us two ‘interesting’ places. We politely declined. Note that we once bought a fixer-upper house that had no plumbing and no back wall. We most currently lived in an adobe mud ’house’ that was literally a donkey barn when we moved in and it had an outhouse and a composting toilet. So for us to “politely decline” two places is saying a lot.
We had a lead for another house and we called. We left a couple of messages during the day. When he called back, Francisco set up an appointment with us to see two places the next day at 5:30. Awesome! In the mean time, some friends had previewed a house for us and had given us a contact for a man named Paco. I left a few messages for Paco and explained that he had shown a house to some friends of ours and we would like to see it. When he called back, he said, “Yes, I will show that house to you tomorrow at 5:30. It is one of the houses I have already set up for you.” I’m sure that I sounded a little confused when I tried to figure out how to reply to what seemed like a supernatural ability to have already set up appointments with a man I had never talked to. Then he let me in on the big clue… Francisco and Paco are the same person. I had been setting up phone calls and appointments with the same person all day. Yes, I felt pretty embarrassed. But Rule #1 in living and working in another culture is “You must be willing to laugh at yourself and at your mistakes.” Billy and I have done a LOT of laughing over the last two week, for sure!!!
To make matters worse, or funnier, we were told that someone from the church would meet us at a certain parking lot and lead us to the church. On the way to the meeting place, our cell phone rings and it is (you guessed it) Francisco / Paco calling to say that he has been sent to meet us and he is waiting at the designated place. He is very jovial on the phone and I laughed and said “Hello again, Francisco / Paco! We look forward to seeing you again.” He laughed and said “Okay!”. The surprise of the day was when we pulled up and Francisco / Paco was NOT the same Francisco / Paco from the other day. He just thought I was a little crazy on the phone! (All is well now - we are going to his house for coffee next week.)
By the way, in the course of two weeks, I think we have met no less than 5 or 6 men named Francisco / Paco / Fran and a couple of other nicknames for Francisco that I haven’t committed to memory yet. Obviously, this is Spain’s version of the name “John”. You can’t shake a stick without finding someone named Francisco / Paco here.
Long story short, we ended up renting the house that our friends had previewed for us. The landlords are very nice and have been very helpful. It is something like what we would call a small townhome in Texas. The bottom floor is a one-car garage, a 9x9ft tile patio, and a front door (no living space on the first floor). The second floor is a living room, kitchen and a half bathroom. The third floor is three bedrooms and a full bath. The entire place is about 1200sq.ft. No grass, no yard, no plants. That part is going to be really hard for us since we are very much outdoor people. A friend is going to show us where to get some plants for some pots later in the week.
We have also had adventures in grocery shopping -trying to figure out how things are organized in the store, new vocabulary for foods, etc. You must bring your own bags or you are charged per sack, so we quickly learned to carry our reusable grocery sacks with us. For more on the adventures of grocery shopping, you can read our blog entry from Day 1.
Getting used to a very different time schedule is another challenge. The day gets started a little later here. Lunch isn’t until 2:30 or 3:00pm. Everything closes at mid-day (1 p.m.) for the lunch break and opens up again at 4 or 5. Dinner is MUCH later… 9:00 pm is an early dinner! The neighborhood starts to buzz at about 10pm in the evening - that is when we start to see people walking as families, kids go out to ride bikes or play outside, people put their chairs outside their gates and sit on the sidewalks and congregate to chat. On Saturday night, we actually saw an entire family (little children included) getting into their car to go out to dinner at midnight! We aren’t acclimated to this new “life clock” and pace quite yet.
Climate has been a little bit of a challenge. Imagine Texas temperatures with little to no air conditioning. Our house has a small unit in the living room and in one bedroom. The air units are like the small versions of the units you see in hotel rooms in The States. They are very costly to run, so we work to manage the sun and the windows and the cross-breezes until late in the day. Then we run the air for as short a period as possible to cool it down a little before we have to get in bed. The good news is that the locals tell us that this is the end of the hot part.
We do not yet have internet and are not sure when that will happen. We were told that we cannot get internet service without a bank account. We were also told that we cannot get a bank account without our official residency visa and number (which is still in process). But our landlord was able to circumvent that rule and help us get a bank account! So internet is coming soon. Right now, we visit a local restaurant/café to use their wifi every couple of days until we can figure out another way.
Getting to understand the population makeup here is a new challenge for us. There is a large gypsy population here - one neighborhood directly next to us and one neighborhood directly above us on the hill, just to name a few. There are people here from North Africa, as well as from Pakistan and other Middle East nations. There is a large group of people from the UK living in the area, but they mainly congregate in a town a few miles away and have their own segregated community.
We are frequently met with surprise when people realize that we speak Spanish. The default is to assume that we are Brits. We have been told on several occasions that our Spanish is really quite good… maybe they are just flattering us or maybe they are making fun of us, but it seems sincere. We always apologize for not speaking “Spain Spanish” and explain that we have been living in Peru. They are very accepting and always say that we are doing great and that the different vocabulary and verb tense will come soon enough, not to worry. Happily, we can be understood when we speak and we are doing well at understanding others, so all is well in the language department for now… Whew!
Blessings to all of you! Thank you for your continued prayers and support.
Day 2 began the house hunting process. We had a couple of leads, but we were having some trouble getting in touch with them. So we headed out to find a couple of realtors and have meetings with them and try to see some properties.
Lesson #1 - Driving in a foreign country is not so easy. The car is smaller. The roads are WAY smaller. The street signs are also foreign and don't make immediate sense to us (what is the difference in a blue circle with a red line and an arrow and the exact same sign in black?). Street directions and addresses are a mystery to us. Lots of one way streets.
Lesson #1.5 - Maybe driving around in a stressful situation is not the best idea when you are also going through the effects of jet lag. You're just not working on full power, you know?
After a few hours of driving around trying to find addresses, going the wrong way on one way streets, parallel parking, etc. we were a little ragged. Time for a snack break so we could regroup. We talked to a realtor on the phone and she gave us verbal directions to her office.
Lesson #2 - Clarify! When the person on the other end says, "we are in front of the police station" you might need to know if there is more than one police station. When they say "we are located at Veronica Park", you might need to know that there are a variety of locations with the name Veronica.
Lesson #3 - this is a re-learn of an old lesson... talking on the phone in your second language is tough! When the phone rings, you have no context. You have no idea who is on the other end, no voice recognition, no facial cues, and no clue what the topic is. Add to that the different vocabulary and different accent and you have a rough conversation punctuated by "Could you repeat that please?" and "I didn't understand. Could you speak more slowly please?" I especially love when they get frustrated with you and they give you the audible sigh of disgust and irritation.
We finally made it to the realtor's office only to find that she was not there. She was just talking to us on the phone and leading us to it, how could she not be there? Her secretary took down our info and promised that they would call. That was two days ago.
Lesson #4 - Spain is akin to Peru in their idea of holidays and festivals and such. Evidently, Wednesday was a big holiday - but no one could tell us what kind of holiday or why. In the afternoon, things began to shut down. The sign at the grocery store announced that they would be closed on Thursday. On Thursday, we asked someone about the holiday and the closures and he said, "It is the holiday of the virgins." On further questioning, he said it was for any and all virgins. He wasn't sure what day it started or when it would end. The woman in the tourist office in town said that it was a holiday, but she didn't know why. She didn't know the days or the times of closures. She said it might also have something to do with the fair, which runs all next week. The lady in the restaurant told us that it was only for today and everything would be open tomorrow, but that proved to be incorrect. So, who knows??? Nevertheless, the realty office said they can't see us until at least Monday.
Lesson #5 - there are lots of people who take their yearly vacation during these couple of weeks. Lots of stores are closed and have a sign that says they won't open again until the 26th. One realtor told us that the person in charge of his internet and postings and appointments is on holiday until the end of the month and we were just lucky that he happened to catch our email.
We did finally get to see five places for rent. Two were definitely out... really tiny and really dark. One had an outhouse, no lie. Billy also had to bend over in half to walk up the stairs in that one. I'm afraid if anyone had the urge to do a jumping jack, the place would have imploded. For us to say no to any house is saying a lot, since we once bought a hundred-year old house that had no plumbing and no back wall, and our latest home was a donkey barn when we decided to move in and 'renovate'. Extreme Home Makeover has NOTHING on The Drum Family! Anyway, back to the story - One house that we saw was GREAT - just so happens that it is the same house that our friends had already viewed for us prior to our coming. Two houses were STUPENDOUS and I wish I hadn't ever seen them. But they were out in the country and would be too difficult to deal with Sarah's school and with ministry. Poo poo! They were awesome! But just not what we need.
Lesson #6 - Who knew that Paco and Francisco were the same person?! I had been calling "two" realtors to see a couple of different things and finally the poor guy clues me in to the fact that I'm talking to the same guy each time! Poor Paco... he had a great sense of humor about it, thank goodness!
So, now we wait on Monday and the other realtor (we hope). They have a few things to show us. Might be that the one that our friends already picked out is the right one. There is a lot to be said for wise counsel and trusting the local folks to steer you right.
I'm assuming that Paco/Francisco doesn't also have the third nickname of Jose! Maybe we have already met this guy and we have already seen the right house! :)
Day One is Spain included a trip to the grocery store for a few quick items.
Lesson #1 - all of the vocabulary that I have for fruits and vegetables is in desperate need of a makeover. How is it that Spanish does NOT equal Spanish? Somehow, it is true. So one of the first things on my list to do today is to get a small spiral notebook and start language learning all over again. Back to kindergarten... At least I'm not starting all over again with everything! Just need to revamp some vocabulary.
Lesson #2 - the grocery shopping experience is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags). If you don't, they charge you.
Lesson #3 - Wow - waaayyy too many choices for olive oil! We will have to make this a learning point for future conversations with others.
Lesson #4 - LOADS of fish and seafood things in the meat dept, all of which have names we are unfamiliar with. Another vocabulary experience. Several things with tentacles and sucker-things. Several things that appeared to be shrimp-like. All the fish have huge teeth (I think I'm staying out of the ocean here). Finally found a familiar sight - trout - and went with the familiar for dinner. Day One is not the day to gamble on dinner... too sleep deprived, too brain dead, too overwhelmed to chance a bad dinner.
Lesson #5 - even cooking dinner is a new experience! Sarah looked at the stovetop and said "What is that!?" Turning it on and figuring out the settings was a whole other story.
We finally ate dinner at 9:30 p.m. Sarah almost fell asleep in her plate. We have groceries to last another couple of days. We are now aware of a few learning points we need to work on. This is going to be a new adventure, for sure!
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!