Friday, December 23, 2011

Quijotes Frisbee Christmas Party

After finals on Saturday, everyone went home to shower (I'm assuming....) and then we regrouped that night for a Christmas party at the apartment of a couple on our team.

The apartment was gorgeous, spacious, and well-decorated for Christmas.  The lights were off, as many candles were lit and the drinks had glowing ice cubes that changed colors!

Festive ice cubes
We each brought some food to share and something to drink.  If you wanted to participate in secret santa you also brought a gift that cost under 4 euro.  I learned that secret santa in Spanish is called "el amigo invisible" (the invisible friend), though I still have no idea why -- invisibility has nothing to do with it!

After munching, drinking, and visiting with each other for an hour or so, we all gathered around for el amigo invisible.  As guests had arrived, if they had brought a secret santa gift it was placed under the Christmas tree.

El amigo invisible gifts under the árbol de navidad
Here are the rules we followed: The last person to arrive started by selecting a gift from under the tree, and didn't open it.  The next person grabbed another gift from under the tree and could either hold on to it, or swap it with the first person, still not opening anything.  As more and more of us had gifts in our hands, we were instructed to hold them up so that people taking their turn could see what their options were as far as trading goes.
Holding those gifts up high
After the last gift was picked from under the tree, we went back to the first person and one by one we each opened whatever present was in our hands.  

In the end, I opened a glow stick and a grow-your-own cowboy (put him in water, three days later he's full-size)

Grow Your Own Cowboy
Some of the other gifts (that I remember) included: a mini first aid kit, a scarf, BINGO, a towel, condoms, a beard, a stapler, silly string & a beer, champagne, "sexy music" CD, a thermostat filled with a warm wine drink, socks, and some chocolate & tea.  There was a nice mix of practical, random, and dirty gifts.

We didn't end up leaving until around 6am, which meant I got home and went to bed at 7am.  A Spanish night out!

Cutting the ham

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Away for the holidays

Tomorrow (Dec. 22) I'm leaving Madrid and will be gone without internet access until January 6.

I'll be taking a bus to Valor, Granada in southern Spain for my first Help Exchange (HelpX) experience. is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.

"HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience.  In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts."

I knew I definitely wanted to do a Help Exchange this summer when I'm done with my program, so I paid to become a member when I discovered the site a month ago (to be able to contact hosts and read all host info and volunteer reviews of hosts).  There are HelpX hosts all over the world.  The site is divided into these categories: Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, USA, and International.

Christmas break kind of snuck up on me and I hadn't made any plans, so Sunday night I sent off a bunch of messages to different HelpX hosts, to see if anyone had space and was taking volunteers over the holidays.  On Monday I got a positive response from a couple in Valor, Granada; so yesterday I bought some bus tickets and tomorrow I'm off!

Here's what their HelpX profile says:
We own 2 properties in La Alpujarra, Andalucia. A village house which we let during the summer months and a small finca where we are growing organic fruit and veg and a few almonds & olives for our own use. We need help mainly with building at the moment so there is quite a lot of heavy work. 
We ask that people work 5 hours, 5 mornings a week but are willing to be flexible with times/days, if, for example, you want to take a long weekend to go off exploring. Granada & the coast are both easily accessible by bus as is the local town of Ugijar. 
The farm is between the pueblos blancos of Valor & Yegen (30 mins walk along a good track to either) both with shops, bars and restaurants. 
When working at the Finca, you will be accommodated in the "dormitory" casita consisting of large room with beds and bathroom. 
We live on the property with our two very friendly dogs and we will be working alongside you. We cook, eat and socialise together and there is always food available if you fancy a snack between times. 
We have solar power in the main house where you can charge phones and laptops but there is no power in the smaller house, we use solar lamps and candles instead and there is ample hot water for showers. What else do you need electric for when most of your life is lived outside? Trust us - you won't miss it!! 
We have solar power in the main house where you can charge phones and laptops but

We do have good internet access for checking emails, making travel arrangements etc and also have lots of books and games available.
We don't require any experience, simply enthusiasm and a smile but do ask that you are over 20! 
Feel free to drop us an email or give us a call if you have any questions.
Hope to welcome you soon!
And here's the website for their properties.

I'm looking forward to the change of scenery, disconnecting, and enjoying the countryside.  I'm excited to be busy working on whatever I end up doing, and hope to learn a thing or two.

I've scheduled a couple posts to publish while I'm away, since I'll be without internet.

Hope everyone has happy holidays and a happy new year.  See you in 2012!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ultimate frisbee fall league finals

This past Saturday my ultimate frisbee fall league had its final games.  My team won our first game all season in the semifinals two weeks earlier, which put us in the running to win finals.  (Brief summaries of all the games from the fall league are up on the team's website, in case anyone's interested in reading.)

We played at the field we use on Saturdays for pick-up (all the rest of the fall league's regular games were played in a different field).  This is the field where we force either "graffiti" or "trees," as you'll see in the pictures.  In fact, there were a bunch of guys spray painting graffiti on the walls while we were playing.  Gotta keep it fresh!
Ignore the frisbee players.  Notice the people spray painting graffiti on the walls
First, the two teams that had lost in the semifinals played each other.

And then my team played the other winning team from semifinals.

A time-out during the game

I won't leave you in suspense; we lost our game, but the whole afternoon was lots of fun.

Frisbee friends
After our game finished, there was an informal awards ceremony for the league.  The first category was perfect attendance, so people who came to all of their team's games during the fall league were recognized (I got this one!).

Team captains handing out prizes
Players gathering around for the awards ceremony
Since stats were recorded every game (assists, points), next came a bunch of stat-based awards (girl with most assists, boy with most assists, girl with most points, boy with most points, etc.).  There was also girl with best lay-out, boy with best lay-out, best girl who had never played ultimate before this league, best boy who had never played ultimate before this league... and others I'm probably forgetting.

After all of the individual awards were done, each of the four teams came up one at a time to receive hand-made bracelets and a bottle of champagne.  Then team pictures were taken, often disrupted by the popping of a cork.

Nice team picture
Pop goes the cork!
My team: Río Aluche
Río Aluche captain kindly pours champagne into everyone's mouths, instead of drenching them
When the awards ceremony ended, most headed to the nearby bar that we usually go to after pick-up on Saturdays.
Los Quijotes post-finals
After socializing, eating, and drinking a beer; most said "see you tonight" to each other when we finally parted ways, as that night was the team's Christmas party. Post to follow!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oliva: Day 1, Segóbriga

[This post is part two in the Oliva series.  Read part one, Uclés, here.]

Gregorio had asked me the week before our trip if I had seen any Roman ruins in Spain before.  I had, on our WIP trip to Extremadura two years earlier with a tour guide, might I add.  I thought this meant that we wouldn't be seeing any Roman ruins on our trip to Oliva.  Once again, I was wrong.

After leaving Uclés, we weren't in the car very long before Gregorio exited the main highway again.  We were headed to Segóbriga, an archeological site located in Cuenca, Spain.

We got there about ten minutes before a free tour started, so we waited and joined the huge group and tour guide.

Roman theater

Roman theater

Our tour guide was quite something.  She could rattle off her facts and memorized script without hardly pausing to breathe.  Want to hear for yourself?

The whole tour and walk through the ancient ruins lasted over an hour.  It was a perfect day to be outside in the ruins; there was lots of sun.  I felt as though my face were getting burnt at some points, and definitely didn't need the coat I was wearing.  It was a lovely reminder to appreciate Spain's winter this year, as it will be much much milder than Wisconsin's.  Hardly comparable.

When the tour was over, we walked back to the principal building where Gregorio bought some type of souvenir before we headed back to the parking lot.

We continued driving towards Oliva, and once again I had no idea when we could stop next.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where's My Money?

Unfortunately, paying the auxiliares de conversación on time seems to be a huge flaw within the administration of this program.  There was actually an article in El País the other week about auxiliares in Cataluña who haven't yet received any payment from the program!  The Consejería de Educación is supposed to transfer each auxiliar's stipend to their school each month, so that the school can then pay the auxiliar.

Last month I received October's stipend at the beginning of November from both of my schools, as I should have, because both of my schools received the money from the Consejería, as they should have.  But according to fellow auxiliares' posts in our facebook group, this wasn't the case for everyone.  Many people weren't paid on time since their schools didn't receive the money from the Consejería.

I am now in that boat for November's pay, as during the last two weeks both of my schools have told me that they haven't received any money yet from the Consejería.

At IES P, Paloma said if the money didn't come by this Monday, they would try to front me the money before they got it from the Consejería.  However, she didn't know if the school would have enough available funds after paying the heating, electricity, and other bills.  I haven't yet been paid by IES P for November, and don't think it will happen until they get the money from the Consejería.

On the plus side, today IES M paid me for November and December -- even though they haven't yet received a cent from the Consejería. Yay!  The secretary was able to give me the money up front, and decided to pay us for December now so that we wouldn't have to deal with it over winter break when the schools are closed.  I'm so happy/relieved that he did that.

So to date, I've been paid by my schools for all of October, half of November, and half of December; but the Consejería has only paid them for my October stipend.

As you'll see in the comments at the bottom of the El País article "Hello, where is my money?", it's a shame that this program can't follow through with its contract.  You are to receive a stipend every month, not simply whenever they have enough money to pay out.  Although I've been able to cover all of my expenses, many people had to borrow money to pay their rent, or had to dip into savings they weren't expecting to use.

So just a warning to future auxiliares: be prepared for some delay when it comes to getting paid.  If the Consejería doesn't transfer your school the money on time -- which it sounds like this has been a problem every year of the program -- your situation is completely dependent on your school and the people working in it.

Some schools have enough in their budget to front you the money (like my IES M), while others might not have enough money so you'll be stuck waiting until the Consejería pays up (like at IES P).  Some schools will be active and contact the Consejería to question why they haven't received the money, others will just wait.  I've read about coworkers of unpaid auxiliares that have offered to lend them money until they get paid.  It all depends on your school, coworkers, and city (It seems like everyone in Madrid more or less has at least been paid for October, while the auxiliares from Cataluña mentioned in the article have been working for over two months without receiving a dime - or rather, a euro).

Don't let this turn you off from participating in the Auxiliares program altogether, just be aware and try to save up as much as you can before you come, in case this happens to you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oliva: Day 1, Uclés

[This post is part one in the Oliva series.]

On Thursday morning Gregorio and I left Madrid around 8:30am, destination: Oliva.  His parents live in Oliva, which is on the east coast, south of Valencia.

Oliva, Spain
It was a bit foggy on the way out of Madrid through the mountains, but then minutes later there would be clear skies.  Then fog, then clear.

It would normally take about four hours to get to Oliva from Madrid, so I thought we would get to Oliva somewhere around lunch time and eat with Gregorio's parents.  I could not have been more wrong.

Little did I know, Gregorio had a whole day of stops planned.  Our first stop was about 40 minutes outside of Madrid, in Uclés.  The air out here was so fresh and quiet; it was a nice change of scenery from the city.

The castle in Uclés
There was a plaque at this look-out point that read: "In this spot on May 29, 1108 Christian and Arab forces met in a bloody battle. Nine hundred years later we commemorate in peace, this day."

After seeing the castle from a distance, we drove up to the top of the hill to explore the area on foot.

Entrance to the castle we did not enter.
We didn't go inside the castle because it cost 4 euro/person.  This is a typical admission price for some cathedrals and other castles, but we had seen plenty outside the castle and didn't feel it was worth the money.  Here's what we saw outside of the castle:

Creepy faces on the molding all along the castle walls

The faces, staring at you
Pretty, rustic windows

Right across from the castle entrance, we saw these doors opening up to some old ruins.

Gregorio had quite a laugh when we walked in and saw that the ruins had been converted into a basketball court.  "Only in Spain," he said between chuckles, "would they have historical ruins, yet instead of preserving them, they turn it into a basketball court!"

On our way out of the town, we were turning around on a road right next to a lovely fountain.  I really wanted to take a drink from the fountain, so I jumped out of the car and headed straight towards the water, eyes on the prize.  BOOM, next thing I know I've face planted onto the ground right in front of the fountain.  I hear Gregorio laughing as I push myself off the cement to see how the heck this happened.

My left foot was in a two-foot deep trench that encircled the fountain.  There was a small bridge to walk across, but since I was staring at the fountain and not the ground, I completely missed it.

Beware of trench
No hard feelings, lovely fountain,  you were worth the tumble
After capturing the photos I wanted of the lovely yet sneaky fountain, we headed back to the highway and continued towards Oliva.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two-Day Week

Yesterday was Constitution Day here in Spain, so there were no classes.  I slept in and went to frisbee pick-up in the afternoon.

Today was a normal day, but tomorrow is another holiday: the Day of the Immaculate Conception; so we don't have school tomorrow either.  And when holidays fall one day away from the weekend, what they often do in Spain is give you the next day off too, making a puente (the word literally means "bridge," but it's also the name for these long weekends).  So this weekend is a puente since there are no classes on Thursday or Friday.

To get out of Madrid and take advantage of the days off, I'm headed to Oliva (near Valencia) tomorrow morning, where Gregorio's parents live.  Gregorio and I are driving there tomorrow morning and I'm taking a bus back to Madrid Sunday night (he's staying longer, using some more vacation days from work).

What are you doing this weekend?

Friday, December 2, 2011


This afternoon, Gregorio and I went to a shopping area in Sebastián de los Reyes, in the north outskirts of the city.  He was looking for a television and a scanner, and I was looking for a voice recorder.  We first went into the Media Markt, which was right next to an Ikea.

Media Markt: The equivalence of our Best Buy, plus books.

Neither of us had any luck, so Gregorio wanted to check at the Worten to compare TV prices.  

We just had to walk past Ikea to get to Worten.  So we're walking past Ikea's revolving doors, and there's a camera man taking pictures of people leaving the store.  I thought they were doing it for an advertisement or something, but it was a little weird that the camera man started running urgently all over for different angles.

I just kept walking, but Gregorio stopped to watch a bit more.  When I realized he was still stopped, I turned around to see what was going on.  Gregorio told me that they were taking pictures of Carlos Baute, a Venezuelan singer and television host.

Carlos Baute
Once I took a closer look, I saw that there were at least five or six different men with cameras, flashing away at Carlos and the woman he was out shopping with.  The two slowly walked through the parking lot, surrounded by the paparazzi.  It was a funny scene to watch, because Carlos wasn't driving away in his car, he wasn't in a hurry, he was just calmly walking around the parking lot looking for his car.  Yet the paparazzi continued snapping away, as if he were some extraterrestrial never before seen on Earth.

Once Carlos finally found his car, he was sure to open the passenger door for the woman - while smiling at the cameras.  

Gregorio talked to one of Ikea's security guards, and he told us that those men had been waiting outside of Ikea for four hours while Carlos and his woman friend were inside shopping.   

People's obsession with celebrities is silly.  We're all just people.

So although I left our shopping trip empty handed, it was neat that we had left Media Markt just seconds before the celebrity left Ikea, and were able to watch the paparazzi show.

I'll leave you with some Carlos Baute (the second one's for you, Vickie!):

Amarte bien

Colgando en tus manos

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Victoria para Río Aluche... por fin!

This fall, my Wednesday nights have been spent at frisbee entrenamiento (practice), and my Thursday nights consist of playing a game with my team Río Aluche against one of the other three teams in the fall league.

As of last night, Río Aluche had yet to win a game in the fall league.  Last night being a Wednesday, I headed to frisbee practice, knowing the fall league's semifinals were this week on Thursday.

I got to the field and quickly learned that the semifinals were actually that night (Wednesday), because we no longer had this field come Thursday.  I had gotten the emails with that week's schedule, but somehow didn't realize the semifinals were on Wednesday.  I quick threw on my cleats, grabbed a pennie, and ran out onto the field. 

The game began and... we scored first!  And then we scored again!  We may have scored a couple more before our opponent started scoring.  So for the first chunk of the game I knew we were ahead, but had no idea what the score was (I never know the score).  But I didn't want to hear it.

At some point during the game when I had subbed out for a point and was on the sidelines, I heard someone who played in the game after us ask what the score was.  When someone else told him that Río Aluche was winning, he could hardly believe it and said, "Río Aluche's winning? Really?"  Hah. You'd best believe it.

Game continues: they scored some.  I thought I heard someone call out "five minutes left" from the sidelines.  And then we scored. And scored again!  Those ended up being the two last points of the game.  WE WON!  Victory for the underdogs!

Later I learned that we had been tied 7-7, but won with those two last points, 9-7.  I also learned that whoever won the two games last night had a spot in the finals; your record during the season didn't matter.  On top of that, turns out they had put the lowest ranked (us) vs. the highest ranked last night, meaning we had beat the team with the best record during the fall season.  

I'm really glad I didn't know all of this coming into the game, or I might have psyched myself out.

So we'll be playing in the finals on Saturday, December 17.  I don't know what I'll do with my free Wednesday and Thursday evenings now.  I sure hope they get a spring league organized come 2012.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Caras de Madrid: Gregorio Luna

[I am introducing a new type of post to the blog, which will be tagged "Caras de Madrid".  These are interviews with people who live in Madrid.  I hope they will expose readers to a new perspective, while allowing you to get to know some of the people I meet and interact with here.]

This week's interview is with Gregorio, one of my roommates when I studied in Madrid during the 2009-10 academic year.  I have translated this interview from Spanish to English.


Name: Gregorio Luna


Work/Study: I work as a night security guard for an official government office building.

From: I was born in Paris with Spanish parents.

How long in Madrid:  17 years.  I lived in Paris for 29 years until 1995, and the last 17 years I've lived in Madrid.

Languages:  I speak Spanish, French, and a dialect from Valencia.


Rebe: What has been the best moment/happiest time in your life thus far?  Gregorio: When I worked driving car prototypes for Citroen in France from 1991-92.  I had great coworkers, a good work environment, and you could drive really fast.  In fact, there were some tests where you had to drive as fast as you could!

What has been the worst moment/most difficult time in your life thus far?  When I met my ex-girlfriend.  Also, when I started working as an auxiliar of security, a job I had from 2005-2007.  I worked 12 hours a day and didn't make very much - 4 euro/hour.  I worked at least 440 hours a month.

What is your favorite book, movie, and music? My favorite book and movie would be anything related to World War II.  As far as music, I like a little of everything, especially rock and roll.

What is your opinion of the United States as a country?  And of Americans? It's a country of contrasts, from the most developed to the most archaic; where you will find quality research about psychology, medicine, and science; yet if you make one wrong move on the street you may find yourself face to face with a gun.  That's the impression that we have here [in Spain].

In general, the people are simple and nice.  Normal.  But too closed in and focused on themselves.  I think following this dynamic, the government makes the people think that the United States is the best, and that they shouldn't get to know other ways of living, other ways to enjoy life.  Watching the movie Sicko by Michael Moore got me scared about traveling to the United States.  If I'm traveling in the USA and get sick or have an accident and need to go to the hospital, I could be in serious trouble since I'm not a medically insured citizen.

What's Spain's biggest problem right now? The unemployment.  Justice is very slow.  The lack of employment is due in part to the globalization, and part to the ability to employ workers in countries where they work in slave-like conditions.  They work for a dollar or two a day, for 14-16 hours at a time without breaks.

What would you like people to know about Spain/Spaniards? That it's a country where the quality of life is very good.  You can live here without too much money, and it's a country that likes to enjoy their free-time and party.  Also it's very unlikely to have problems when you go out at night.  Here the people know how to drink.  It's very rare to have a fight between two drunk people at night.

What is the biggest problem in the world right now? Manipulation.  From this problem arises all of the rest.  And with how things are going in the world these days and in the geopolitical world, the problem is guessing how much time will pass until World War III comes - and that will be the last war.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In a boat in the Mediterranean.

What advice would you like to give to others? Everyone should study in a foreign country for 1-2 years.  I think one should travel to open the spirit of your mind.  You should travel so that you know things not because someone told you about them, but because you have lived it and experienced it.

Also, the United States needs to change.  It can't be the greatest world economic power and still have a health system like the third world.

Finally, consider this: in other developed countries employees have 4-9 paid weeks of vacation per year, and the companies continue to make money.  So how much are the U.S. companies profiting by only giving their workers 2 weeks of vacation per year?

Is there anything else you'd like to ask Gregorio?  Are there other questions you'd like to see included in future interviews with people I meet in Madrid?  Questions you'd prefer were left out next time?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Model Students

Today at IES P my "chatty boys' class" was held in the computer lab instead of our regular classroom so that I could use the projector to give my powerpoint presentation about Thanksgiving.  (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way!)

In all of my classes, I think the students get a lot more out of the visuals, rather than just listening to me speak.  Seeing pictures of gourds, cornucopias, and Indian corn was especially helpful, as most of my students had never seen these before.

In fact, in a class yesterday at IES M, when I got to the symbols slide of Indian corn, some students asked me, "But it's not real, right?  Is it painted?"

They were shocked to learn that it's natural.

But back to this morning: I'm setting up in the lab, and another teacher comes in and talks to the English teacher Paloma.  He mentions that someone will be here to take pictures around the school from 9am-11am today, including pictures in the computer lab.  Our class goes from 8:30 - 10:15.  We didn't know any more details, but Paloma had me start with the powerpoint just in case we had to move from the room later.

The presentation was fine, just like all the other times I had given it in my other classes.  This time I got to say "It's today" when I told them it takes place on the fourth Thursday in November.  Then I taught them how to tell time in English. (No worries, I taught them they can say "twenty AFTER five" instead of only teaching the book's "twenty PAST five"-- which you must read with a British accent in your head).

Then around 9:30, the same teacher that had come in earlier said they wanted to take pictures of the computer lab now.  Paloma and I got rid of our stuff from the front of the room, and the teacher began to instruct the boys on what program to open on the computers in front of them.

Paloma left the room and I followed, then headed to the library where I normally go after class to do two hours of prep work.  There was one other woman also working in the library.

The computer I use in the biblioteca

Then one of the jefes de estudios came in to look at the library, as the photographer was coming in here next.  The man mentioned that it looked a little empty.  I think the other woman was thinking of leaving (or fixing her hair), but the man told her that no faces would appear in the pictures. Bueno, mejor así.

The man left.  I continued to work.  Then five minutes later, the library doors burst open and in walks my English class of chatty boys.  Apparently the library looked too empty with just the woman and I, so after taking pictures in the computer lab, the same boys were asked to come fill up the library.

I got lots of "Hi teacher"s from the boys as they walked past me to fill in the seats.  Some sat at the computers, and the others grabbed books and pretended to read at the table on the right.  

Some of those boys were so good at keeping straight faces when the camera man was up in their grill!  Such serious looks.  I would have laughed for sure.  I just kept working on my stuff while the camera man took pictures, so my computer screen was filled with English -- not tech-school picture worthy!

I think the pictures are going to be used in advertisements for the school, but I'm not sure where or in what format.  It was just funny to see these boys posing in the library as model students.

And when the camera man was all done with the library shots, all of the boys got up and filled out of the room, following the camera man to their next location.  And silence refilled the library.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

N20: Election Day

Spain's General Elections were held today.

Someone here told me candidates can't start campaigning until two weeks before the election.  I've tried to find that in writing somewhere so I can share the fact with confidence.  The closest I've found is this article about the start of campaigning for the elections, which is dated November 4, so I think there's some truth to what I was told.

When I was in Pamplona two weekends ago I remembered seeing lots of advertisements all of a sudden for the PSOE (a political party).  When I got back to Madrid after that tournament, the metros were filled with these ads:

Cada voto vale, tú decides (Every vote counts, you decide)
Unión Progreso y Democracia

Pelea por lo que quieres (Fight for what you want)

If you go to El País's home page right now, this is what you'll see:

The Popular Party (PP) has won a majority of the votes.  Here are a few more graphics from the newspaper's website tonight:

Here's an article from CNN if you'd like to read more about the elections and their results.