Buena Noche, Christmas Day and Boxing Day…

30 12 2009

I spent the Christmas week with the Knowlsons which was really great – relaxing, chillin’ by their fire and drinking cups of tea. The Knowlsons have been here for over 20 years. Peter was here as a young man, then Kate married him and came out here and now they have 4 boys from 19 down to 11. The boys are hysterical with really proper English (which I find highly contagious!) but they’re all incredibly lovely guys and loads of fun. 

The tradition in Spain is to have the family meal on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day – that’s the bigger deal. But first, all the younger people (in Córdoba at least) go out for the day. The bars, pubs and clubs open at 10am as if it were 10pm. So everyone goes out and parties hard during the day then drags themselves home for a slightly sizzled dinner with all the family.  We had a huge ‘Spanish’ Christmas Eve with the family and some friends from the church. But unlike everyone else – we turned around and did Christmas all over again the neck day!

Spending Christmas with 4 teenage boys meant watching them open loads of presents. Christmas day, the younger two boys woke up at 8:30 (after a fair bit of arguing and negotiation the night before with the older boys – they’d wanted 7:30 and the older 2 wanted 9…) and by 8:45 the family were downstairs doing their stockings in their parents’ bedroom. Then we did a huge traditional English Christmas lunch after stacks of presents for the boys. They’d also wrapped a few things up for me so I’d have them. For example, an Aussie visitor had flown over and brought my box of earrings so they wrapped that up as a Christmas pressie. Then I had taken some presents that arrived in the mail before I left so I had quite a motherload!

I managed to catch my family on Skype and a few friends over the phone which was really nice. My brother and his wife got really ill with food poisoning the night before Christmas and they had to call a doctor out to give her and injection to stop her throwing up. So it turns out the family Christmas at home wasn’t quite ideal either 🙂

Since normally for me Boxing Day is usually a day of leftovers and relaxing – when a friend asked if I wanted to go out I was a little thrown! But in the end we just did lunch on the 27th. Then on the 29th we had a huge party for the 30 odd who make up the missionaries and their families, hours of fun and lots of Spanish speaking…

Over the next few days, each night we watched the collection of new DVDs the boys scored over Christmas – Harry Potter, Transformers 2, and the first disc of the Friends full seasons DVD collection… I had a room upstairs which has a double bed and everyday I woke up feeling like a princess. I’m so getting one when I move at the end of the year in Cordoba.

Beléns everywhere you look

26 12 2009

At Christmas there are Bélens (nativity scenes) everywhere. They’re in shop windows, in churches and there’s one in the tiny courtyard at our language school, behind the gate – which is kind of the Jailbreak version… Not only do they have Jesus and his folks and a bunch of animals, the Bélens here are whole cities – you can keep buying a little bit more each year and create an entire city with everything from the veggie patch next to the Inn they’re staying in, a waterwheel for the river that runs by, or even the temple – it’s like seasonal Lego! Lots of houses also have a Baby Jesus flag (or variation of) which you can buy from the Catholic churches and hang like flags from all the balconies. Others have gone for Santas climbing up a rope or the 3 Kings climbing a ladder (I guess they leave their donkey’s downstairs?) Alfonso took this photo – a case of never the twain shall meet!

Day of Health…

22 12 2009

Today is the Day of Health. Not because Spanish are health fanatics (although surprisingly they are surprisingly into fitness and healthy eating). Today is the day of the Lotería de Navidad, or Christmas lottery, and everyone has a ticket.

There’s a 3-hour broadcast of the draw of “El Gordo”, live on national TV. Kids wearing school uniforms almost  chant the winning numbers and their corresponding prizes. These kids have been practising for weeks and put your bingo callers to shame… check them out at http://www.elpais.com/multimedia/player_video.html?xref=nuevo_directo_cnn

I think it’s the world’s biggest lottery in terms of the size of its prizes and number of participants. 80% of the Spanish population takes part in the Christmas lottery and it’s half of what they spend in total on lottery tickets. The name “El Gordo” actually refers to the first lottery prize, literally “the fat one” or “the big one”. And everyone is going to win. I’m not sure if it’s an inbred confidence of a positive attitude or a complete denial of mathematics but their’s this optimism that is unbelievable. There’s this aura of: “Despite the odds, someone has to win – and why shouldn’t it be me?” Mari Cruz reckons it’s because their deeply catholic and so God has got to be on their side… And although the odds are less than getting hit by a falling satellite… when the numbers are called people are genuinely surprised their number wasn’t called 🙂

So why the day of Health? Because even though ‘I/you/we’ didn’t win anything, we’ve got our health – and that’s what counts 🙂


Christmas at the language school

18 12 2009

We finished the year in the language school with breakfast together. Actually it was really well done! They ordered tostadas from the café around the corner, each of us with a different topping. What came was a whole basket of toasted half rolls, the bacon all sliced and in a jar, and the fresh tomatoes crushed up and in a ketchup bottle – for easy application… Then I had ordered a tea – I don’t know why, because I should have learnt the time before… when I said tea with cold milk, I was distinguishing from tea to which hot milk is added. What I got was a tea – made on milk with a splash of hot water added. Then they pulled out the wine – or Raison wine, to be precise. It’s quite sweet – as close as you can get to a breakfast wine I guess 🙂 It was a great way to end the year – here’s hoping I’ll remember something of what I’ve learnt after the holidays!

Conversations in Spanglish

17 12 2009

Each week I meet a few times with Virginia. She’s a Cordobesa who is studying English and teaches Spanish at a local school. We catch up for a cuppa and chat in English and Spanish. The other day we spent an hour in a bar drinking hot chocolate and playing connect 4. As well as being a great education in the best places to eat around town and a lot of fun – she’s really good at explaining things I should be saying better. One of our first conversations, she asked what the difference is between the Catholic Church and the Protestant church. I stumbled through the answer but it was a great taste of conversations I hope to be able to have again and again in the future.

Women’s Meeting

14 12 2009

I went to a women’s meeting for Christmas this Saturday. It was great to meet some women from churches outside of the city, from regional Córdoba and hear a bit about their churches, and also to catch up with a few of the ladies from Peñarroya. And of course – to share food 🙂 The cakes were delicious and there were quite a few women with us in the bar where we met. And when everyone ordered drinks I got a tea. (I’ve finally decided to move past my snobbery and I’ve learnt to order a tea in a coffee shop. In OZ I wouldn’t dream of paying for hot water and barely a scratch of milk with my tea bag – but after a few false starts with hot chocolate here, I’m a tea orderer. Or at least I thought I was until my tea came!) I asked for tea, black, with cold milk. The thought process was, I’m trying to avoid getting red tea (Rooibos) and I don’t want warmed milk. What I got, was a dash of hot water in a cup of cold milk with the bag floating on the top, all the flavour all but sealed in. It was hysterical! But I’m always very well looked after and within seconds someone had gone to get a proper tea.

 – Language Update

I’m still struggling with being on the front foot all the time, being the first to go say hello, but I did. My plan was to walk about and start a conversation with three women, which I managed fine – until I got past hello 🙂 Once you start chatting, they’re so lovely; it’s just starting that’s so hard. And it was great to have Spanish speakers around me I could introduce so they could carry the conversation. While I’m getting to the point where I can follow conversations (about simple things) but I find it hard to carry a conversation so I need someone there to provide that.

 – Thoughts from Kate’s Sharing

One of the things (I think) Kate mentioned was how narrow we think in terms of unfaithful. When a wife speaks poorly of her husband, when she complains about him to colleagues or in front of their children, then she’s being unfaithful. There are so many little ways that I’m unfaithful to my family, to my colleagues and to friendships. Unfaithfulness begins in little ways and becomes a habit forming dismissiveness of the responsibilities of relationship – to be faithful, to be loyal. That’ll be one of my things to mull over this December…

Friendly Directions

11 12 2009

Over the last few days I’ve been struggling a bit with the fact that I spend so little time talking Spanish. I try hard to cut down the amount of time I spend in English each day – writing emails only for a limited amount of time, avoiding English tele etc (mind you the dialogue of English in my head is inescapable :). But while that only cuts down English it doesn’t increase Spanish conversation. There are only so many times a day you can subject those you live with to inane conversation just so you can practice Spanish. I meet with Virginia twice a week, half of which is in Spanish and then there’s dance class – not really conversational.

I met and American who goes every day to a bar to practice Spanish with whoever is there. While I’m not quite up for that – I did get a kick in the pants from that conversation so yesterday I decided to make a friend. I went to a little shop near the language school and rather than having a brief ‘nothing’ conversation with the girl who works there, I started a conversation. Elena hasn’t finished her degree but she’d like to go back to complete it next year. She works a ridiculous amount of hours on her own in the shop, loves photography and ideally wants to be in photojournalism. And she also wants a dreadlock in her hair. And she’s my first Chloé-initiated friend in Spain.

Feeling buoyed by my effort, when someone asked me for directions later to the Town Hall (directions I couldn’t really give in English the streets are so windy and complicated) instead I took them on a walk and chatted (albeit limited conversation) all the way to my bus stop and gave them directions for the last 100 metres.

It’s great to make friends in my city and help people around in my city. And today racing up the stairs I got that sense again that this place is my home – and while other people would never guess it since I sound so lost and confused in Spanish, I’m feeling like I belong to it and it belongs to me.


10 12 2009

Sunday and Tuesday were fiesta days in Spain. Sunday was the Day of the Constitution, while Tuesday celebrated the Immaculate conception of Mary. So this weekend, we had a bridge. There are a number of flexible days floating around the calendar that schools can put where they like, and they all put one on Monday making a long weekend. Nearly everyone takes the holiday, to get stuck into Christmas preparations, head to their farms or get  away for the long weekend.

I’d love to have gone to the snow which opened for the season this weekend but that will have to wait until January when I can convince someone else to come with…

So instead I went to visit David and Christine Dobson in Montorro. David and Christine are originally from England. They’re involved in church planting and have been missionaries in Spain for a lifetime. They’ve been in their current town for nearly 20 years.

They’re soooo lovely and I had a fantastic weekend chatting with them, drinking tea and eating fresh baked cakes and warm veggie soups, raiding their bookshelves and joining Christine in putting up the Christmas tree. I went along to one of Christine’s English speaking classes for two teachers. One is a primary teacher and the other is the head of music, who in her spare time composes music and writes books with her husband (they’ve just published their second novel) and does English classes on the side 🙂 When the tape recorder wouldn’t play I wound up reading the text for them. As if it isn’t hard enough without adding a totally new accent!  Half the time the things Christine was correcting them in – I’d say differently anyway. Exactly how many syllables does ‘library’ have? And if you want to torture someone Spanish – get them to say “Captain James Cook sailed the Pacific Ocean on a voyage to the northwest passage”.

A bit about Montorro and the Work…

The town itself is beautiful – a classic village in southern Spain with narrow winding streets circling up to the Catholic Church with its spire, which you can see for miles. David and Christine live on the hill and looking across at the town. The river winds its way from the new bridge, up the valley to the old bridge which divides the town in half. It’s only recently that the town has seen a thawing between those that live on either side of the bridge – and we’re talking a 20 minute walk from one end of the town to the other! 

David and Christine came to Montorro as English teachers and opened a school called the Bridge as a way to connect with people in the town. They were accepted and welcomed into the town where few manage to crack through into the community. They’ve seen many people come and go, both Spanish and extranjeros who have found it too hard to be accepted and have moved on.

The two Catholic priests are barely on nodding terms with the Dobsons and many times they’ve had children groups running, then one week none will return – because the priest can withhold first communion… While less and less people identify themselves as Catholic or go to mass – evangelicals are still seen as a sect. It’s fine for the Dobsons to be protestant because they’re English – but for a Spaniard to convert is inconceivable. So there are very few Spanish people in the church. Christine and David have a ministry to the Romanians, some of who attend the church and who they help with food and clothing.

Both David and Christine continue to give language classes. Christine was planning to go through Christmas carols with her children’s classes this week. They need prayer as they keep working at how to move people from these classes on to thinking about Jesus.

There’s not a high level of movement in and out of the town – so most people have seen the Christmas outreaches over the years, and they’re aware of the Evangelical church and disinterested. Pray for David and Christine as they work out fresh was to engage people in this really hard mission field. Pray that God would move in the town and bring a hunger for Him, a conviction about the bible, and raise up people for Himself from those in Montorro.

Christmas Lights

10 12 2009

OK, I’m terrible at photography – can I just start with that… but a few people have asked for photos so I’m making a start. Here are some pictures of the Christmas lights and decorations around the city centre. We have Christmas lights here over the streets in Fatima too. In the centre in the evening you see families wandering around with shaped helium balloons and bags just like the Easter show. And it kind of has that feeling. I’m sooo hoping they do fireworks!

Hanging with the Jovenes

3 12 2009

This week I’ve done two birthday parties with two different Young Adults group – ‘Jovenes’. The first was for a young girl from the church I’ve been attending in the mornings, Bethesda. They’re the ones who run the youth Arts centre where I go for Hip Hop classes (alright, stop laughing!) The party was a surprise – as is the party for everyone in the ‘Jovenes’. I guess the surprise is where they surprise you. For this one, the surprise was in the park. Which would have been fun but it was 7 degrees that morning on my way to class at 9 so I have no idea what it was by 10:45pm that night. But I know I couldn’t feel like legs while we were waiting for her to come! While we were waiting, the guys were hysterical – mucking around on the play equipment swinging each other upside down on this huge steering wheel (not at all built for the purpose). The party itself was in the Youth Centre across the road. And it was LOUD. They had new speakers which they were testing out, as well as a drum kit which someone used to play along to the music for the first hour or so. It’s hysterical listening to them all sing along to Black Eyed Peas, and know every word, even if they don’t understand it. It was at least 11 when we started eating. The food was all chips and brownies and tortillas. They played chairs and I was warned before hand that unless I was willing to risk a limb, I might want to sit it out. By 2am I was sooo fading and struggling not to fall asleep in my chair. We managed to scam a lift off some early leavers so I was in bed by 3 – apparently a lot earlier than the rest of them 🙂 

The second was much more sedate. It was for the Jovenes leader at the Baptist church. A lot more of the people are over 25 and with a few couples and their young children. (I love that these guys are young people and come to the meeting with their kids, both of the parents. At least in this church, kids and marriage aren’t the markers of when you move on.) We had toasted sandwiches and with the sound quite low, I was able to have a (somewhat stilted) conversation with a few people. Guys everywhere are the same, I reckon – the flat we were at had a fair bit of gym equipment and it wasn’t long before the guys were all testing it out while the girls chatted. But the great equalizer is the Wii – even Jonaton had a go!

What I loved about both was that we prayed for the birthday girls. Everyone belonged to each other and everyone was having fun. And I could be part of either of these groups and have a home. So now I’m praying – which one?!