Carnaval, T-Oigo, and Getting My Act in Gear

Man, oh man, have I been slacking on the blogging front, or what? First I start posting late, and then I stop posting altogether. Time to get my act together!! Needless to say, prepare thyself for a lengthy post…I have an strong desire to make up for lost time.

In all honesty, this past week or so has been really rough for me. I started coming down with a cold the week before last, and paired with insomnia, school, and tutoring all week, I really needed to have myself a mental health day. Thus, I skipped class on Friday to get some sleep for a change (running on less than four hours of sleep each night without an afternoon siesta is a recipe for disaster). I made sure to spend as much of the weekend as possible recuperating, despite an intense need to go out and be social; let’s be honest, pulling all-nighters aren’t exactly what my body needs when I’m fighting off sickness. Unfortunately, with all of that down-time, I managed to sink deeper into the homesickness (for lack of a better word) that had been beginning to plague me. Luckily, Friday was also the day that the family I would be volunteering with gave me a call and we made plans to meet for the weekend.

[A little background on my volunteer experience: through my study-abroad program, USAC, I have become involved with a program called t-oigo, an organization that enables English-speaking students to tutor children who are deaf or hearing-impaired. Now, when I initially became involved with this program, I knew very little about what I was in for–I just knew that it would be a challenge, as well as good experience for future teaching opportunities…little did I know that I was about to become a huge part of a family’s life. I don’t think I could be happier!!]

My days with the family are scheduled for Sundays, and since the family already had plans to spend the upcoming Sunday with friends for Carnaval, we planned to meet the following Sunday. However, moments after we hung up, Lola (the mother) called back, inviting me to join them. Obviously, I accepted their offer, because what better way to get to know the family and experience Spanish culture than to join a Spanish family in the festivities of Carnaval?

When Sunday finally rolled around, I was still feeling a little under the weather and running on another night of minimal sleep. Despite my initial desire to call and cancel when my alarm went off promptly at 8am, I soldiered up and got ready to be picked up by Ricardo (the father) at 10am. The family lives just south of the city in an area called Leganés (approximately 20 minutes by car), and is much more tranquil and laid-back than the city proper. As soon as I entered the family’s flat, I was so glad that I put on my big girl panties…Ricardo, despite speaking very little English, is such a warm and compassionate person; Lola speaks as much English as I do Spanish (easier to communicate, and we’re learning from each other as well because we alternate speaking in English and in Spanish), and is a complete sweetheart of a woman; Claudia (age 8) is absolutely adorable; and Agata (age 6, and the girl with whom I will be working) is initially shy but a total lovebug and full of laughter once she opens up to you. After our introductions, the girls got dressed in their princess costumes and we left to see the Carnaval parade.

Once we arrived to the main street in Leganés that the parade would be proceeding down, I took in my surroundings: chairs lined either side of the street for spectators to sit and watch the small floats, dancers, and those participating in the procession; nearly everyone was dressed in some sort of costume; vendors walked up and down the sidewalks selling balloons, beverages, and snacks to the spectators. Once we met up with their friends and their friends’ children, we all took our seats on the sunnier side of the street and watched as the parade came by: the “floats” themselves were generally just cars with decorations, and nothing terribly impressive; the costumes ranged from everything from homemade/facepaints to full-on traditional dance costumes from various Spanish locals (both Spain as well as Central/South America); and every once in a while you would see a group that got really creative with their float or their group’s choreography that left you with your mouth hanging open. The entire time we were there, Agata was sitting in my lap, pulling my face forward to see the upcoming floats, and commandeering my camera to take pictures of the procession. ¡Qué preciosa!

My favorite--and perhaps one of the more creative--"floats" in the Carnaval parade!
My favorite–and perhaps one of the more creative–“floats” in the Carnaval parade!

After an hour or so of watching the procession, it was time for us to leave and get some lunch. As we were leaving, one of the floats included a group of people protesting money laundering in the government. I asked Lola if it was typical for there to be protests in Carnaval celebrations, and she said there wasn’t; however, since there has been so many problems with the Spanish government as of late, it is becoming more and more frequent for protests to occur anywhere and everywhere. Definitely gave me some food for thought, especially since it was the most recent of many protests that I have seen in the past month.

When we finally made it to the restaurant, it was “adult time,” and I was given the opportunity to spend time with Ricardo, Lola, and their friends while the kids ate. As much as I enjoy spending time with Agata, I was glad that Ricardo and Lola appreciate that spending a lot of one-on-one time with a small child tends to be exhausting, especially when you aren’t used to it. Over the course of the next few hours, we enjoyed beer, wine, great food, and great conversation (in Spanish and English, of course). Afterwards, we went to one of the friend’s flats for drinks and to watch a political comedy skit that mimicked Grease in costumes/singing style; though the skit was pretty funny, there was a very serious undertone that the family and friends were trying to explain to me but I had a very hard time understanding (methinks I shall revisit this skit once my Spanish comprehension has improved some more).

It was fantastic getting to know everyone, and I was amazed at how easily they welcomed me into their lives. The very first day of meeting this entire group, I was being invited to: see one couple’s baby after she is born; spend Semana Santa (Spring Break) with the family in Galicia; and spend time outside of volunteering, just hanging out with the family and friends. Really?? Is this really my life?? I knew that I would be making an impact on this family’s life, but I didn’t realize how huge of an impact that would be. To see their appreciation for what I am trying to do for their daughter extend so immediately overwhelmed me, and I knew that, without a doubt, I had made the best decision possible in getting involved with t-oigo. I can’t wait to see where it takes me from here!

Though my time with my t-oigo family and their friends helped to lift me out of my homesickness, the residual “meh” stuck around for the better part of this past week. My sleeping patterns sucked, I started slacking on my homework, and the amount of fucks I was giving amounted to a big, fat ZERO. Definitely the kind of week in which you just keep your head down and power through it, because you know that the weekend will mean a chance to take a deep breath and unwind. Sure enough, I was able to have an awesome, low-key evening out with a group of friends at La Palma, a local bar with a chill atmosphere, live music, and hookah! The only downside was that the the drinks were on the expensive side and the bartenders don’t pour as heavily as I’ve grown accustomed to in Spain, so I didn’t really get that pleasant “buzz” after having my drink…but that just means if I want to frequent that establishment in the future, I will need to prepare myself with a little botellón ahead of time (the Spanish version of the pre-game). Instead of heading to the club afterward, I made my way home on the night bus and climbed into bed by 4:30. Funny how that’s considered an early night here…not sure if I will ever fully adjust to that.

After spending all day Saturday catching up on my rest, keeping very low-key, and enjoying a long-awaited Skype date with my family, I rolled into Sunday ready to visit with my t-oigo family once again. This time, Agata and I spent the entire afternoon playing games and becoming more familiar with one another. As lunchtime rolled around, it was once again “adult time,” and Ricardo, Lola and I chatted in the kitchen while enjoying a beer before sitting down to eat. Every conversation I have with them, I enjoy them more and more; they really are becoming more like a second family with each interaction, and that fact blows me away. I am also really glad that they are so open with me about their concerns for Agata learning a new language when she is having so much trouble mastering her own…I can’t imagine how daunting it must seem to have a child who has been born with a disability, but despite their worries they are still immensely supportive of Agata, and I am prepared to do everything I can to help Agata be successful in learning English in these coming months. It’s just going to take step at a time.

Thanks to all of you who made it to the very end of this book of an entry (and I bite my thumb at those who didn’t, buggers)! With everything that has been going on with me emotionally-speaking, it’s been a challenge to focus my energy on damned near anything. Living abroad sure can be an emotional rollercoaster, and often for reasons that are completely unbeknownst to you. However (and thankfully), I’m finally feeling more like myself, and wanted to make sure everyone who is keeping tabs on me via this blog gets the skinny on my life as of late! I’ll do my very best to keep the weekly entries coming.

¡Besitos y abrazos!

PS – Extra lovin’ sent to those of you who helped push me out of this mental funk…this means you: Bobby (for the love and understanding todos los días), Tom (for the love, music suggestions, and happy thoughts), and of course, the special fellas & lady of the USAC crew (for being awesome and giving me that final push with a great evening out). So much lurve!!!

You're pretty much super-cool.
You’re pretty much super-cool. Thanks for being awesome.     -Dex

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