One of the well worn phrases bandied about in education today is ‘ life long learning’. Governments play lip service to it, academics laud it as true education, ordinary teachers have been trying to persuade their students of its value for ever! (just don’t tell the clever people in research who think they have a new and ‘exciting ‘ concept to ‘roll out’ to the humble classroom practitioner). Ok , so a hint of scepticism here, but I do believe that every day is a learning day, and boy has our adventure demonstrated that.
Some of the lessons have been pretty big and necessary for living well in our new country, many have been small and delightful and often surprising. The obvious ones include learning about Spanish bureaucracy and how to gain things like residency, driving licences and ITVs ( MOTs not a TV station). All of these bar the driving licences, done by ourselves and in Spanish.
Probably the biggest learning curve is the language itself and at the moment I feel as if I have hit a wall. I started learning Spanish 10 years a go at night classes in Scotland. I still have good friends, made in those classes and the classes themselves were great fun. I remember gaining confidence and feeling as if my Spanish was beyond beginner, possibly even intermediate. I now read books, watch Spanish TV and films, I can communicate with my dentist, doctor and have two hours to chat when my lovely hairdresser is ‘doing my colour’! Technically it sounds as if I am learning and improving, so why then am like a rabbit in the headlights when a check out assistant asks me a different question from the usual ‘ quieres una bolsa?’ It was an on line raffle ticket the other day and how to enter the draw… I pieced the jist of the conversation together as I walked away with my trolley. Even more frustrating it my inability to converse off the cuff , about topics that crop up but are slightly different from the well worn, ‘ I live in, I come from, I moved here because, I have four grown up kids etc’. Our huerto management has a lovely gardener and his partner, working with us on Saturday mornings. Manuel’s partner is literally about to have a baby – any day. She is large and getting to that ,’ please let this baby out soon ‘ phase. In an effort to make things start, she worked hard, pushing the wheel barrow back and forward the length of the allotments, weeding and picking up after Manuel! All in 24 degrees C. I wanted to comment on this, sharing my own attempts to speed things up by running up and down four flights of stairs in a Glasgow tenement! I wanted to share the common gripes of not being able to sleep, back ache, heartburn etc. Instead I muttered something about it not being long now . ‘ No falta mucho. Ojala.’ When she replied with a great long sentence about this , I just smiled inanely and like the waiter in Fawlty Towers threw in the odd ‘si’ or ‘que?’ I feel like my brain has an information overload that has now robbed me of my confidence to construct simple sentences. I won’t give up however. This learning journey is going to be a long one!
The huerto itself is a learning experience, this time last year I was close to giving up. The different growing seasons, heat when working in it and the death of precious plants all made me wonder if it was worth the effort. A year later and I have learned what and when grows well and well, what not to even try and what we will actually eat! I have learned about controlling plagues, organically, it has increased my vocabulary and I have made friends! My glut of pera tomatoes last year spurred me on to learning about gazpacho and the different approaches to it in different regions. I think I make a pretty decent one myself now! As well as what I grow myself, our area has many ‘ freebies’ on offer as well. I never buy lemons, marmalade oranges, figs, mint, wild fennel , sage or rosemary. All grow in abundance and amazingly, wild and with little water. Our urbanisation, like many in Spain is built on old agricultural land. The intensive farming on the coast began in the 80s and is now the sea of plastic , visible along the coast of Almeria. I find this very sad, despite the fact that we are living on this land and perhaps this seesms a little hypocritical or over romantic? Our walks in what is now a regional park take us past ruined farm houses and abandoned olive, orange, lemon, fig and almond terraces. It is on these terraces that sturdy old fruit trees still give me lovely free fruit. Orange trees need feeding however to nurture table fruit, but the tart wild ones make an amazing marmalade! I imagine what it would have been like in the past and have learned a little more about that different life from our local history group.
The history group was another learning experience. Our local government or Ayuntamiento has a cultural programme all across the region. This is classes in everything from ceramics and pottery, dance, emotional intelligence to the local history of the town or village that you live in . They are held in schools and community centres and are free. My Russian friend Margaryta told me about them and I signed up for the ‘Danzas del Mundo’ , mentioned in a previous blog and the local history class for Sangonera La Verde. What I didn’t realise until the sessions started was that this is not so much a class but a sharing of memories and stories from the people of the pueblo. They are lovely, friendly people and made me very welcome however I had nothing to bring and so after a couple of meetings , some lovely coffee and cake and a link to their web page , I bowed out. I did learn a little about Sangonera however and in particular about the lives of the agricultural workers who lived and worked this land before the 1980s. Some lived in the village but there are caves on the edge of near by hills, painted white inside, with shelves and remnants of household goods because these caves were the homes of some of the workers! One of the group remembers her granny living there. Murcia is a region of fruit and vegetable production, not traditionally one of the wealthiest regions of Spain but this lady remembers there always being good food, music and chat outside the caves and after work . I went back to the group’s christmas concert and was once again welcomed warmly.. lessons learned as well as the obvious , just how friendly the people of our little town are!
A recent road trip to Portugal reminded once again that journeys are a great learning experience. This was a bus , train and plane trip, taking in Granada, Jerez de la Frontera, Alubufeira on the Algarve and Lisbon. Each place had something magical about it and something to learn. The experience of navigating my way across Iberia, learning a few words of Portuguese and finding Walt at each stop was a confidence builder too!
UK readers will have probably all voted in the recent EU elections, we vote on Sunday. As residents we also have a vote in our local government elections. Oh boy, this is a learning curve. I have been using it as a conversation topic with one of my English students in an attempt to learn a little about the politics here and how to physically place my vote! The literature that lands in our letter box is actually called election propaganda ! Very honest. In Scotland this usually all ends up in the recycling box. What is strange here however is that the parties actually put voting papers and envelopes in with the propaganda which you can simply take along on the day and pop in the box!
The reason I started thinking about all these daily learning gems was the most recent and ongoing project that is pushing me in to learning all about web site building, domain names and other techy stuff that I probably swore I had no need of when being asked to introduce them to my classroom in my previous life. I have been teaching English to a few pupils locally but it is very hit or miss. If I want to go to Scotland to see my family, if I am on an adventure or if they have school or family commitments, the classes are postponed. If I prepare a lesson and then it is cancelled, I have worked for nothing. I am very fond of my pupils and unless they want rid of me, I have no intention of stopping working with them! However, I recently came across a tutorial by an English teacher who has built his business on line. ( the British Council Teaching English site is incredible for ideas, tutorials, resources). He lives in the USA and there is not a big demand in his town for one to one, real English teachers! I had already thought of this as a way of finding new learners and his tutorial was excellent. On line, I can teach where ever I am and not have to cancel classes, I can manage the hours and decide when I want to teach. Notes taken… next steps? A few weeks down the line and I have been taught by a former pupil who has his own web design business, the basics of setting up a web site. Jamie and his brother at Jambour Digital Ltd are doing this for me. Exciting! It literally is a work in progress and I am hugely grateful to Jamie for his help and patience.
The learning continues every day … it’s exciting and I can’t wait for the next lesson! Watch this space.