Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas...

Here are some new pictures from around Madrid.

December 17, 2009

Ahh… Spain. Amidst the beauty of the architecture, the delicacy of the food and the intrigue of the people lies an interesting fundamental establishment… socialized medicine. Yes, I said it. This is a phrase that triggers elation, contemplation or anxiety in the hearts of Americans – depending on who you ask. It’s become a polarized subject for debate… to say the least. And as one who has not had health insurance for a few years now, it is an issue my husband and I find intriguing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to become more intimately involved with this system. A hair follicle located in my armpit (yes, rather gross, I admit – but a source of rather real pain) became irritated and infected. I wasn’t exactly sure of the rules governing Spain’s health system, so I turned to my student handbook and made a phone call.

Could I make an appointment? Of course. So. Did I want to come in at 12:30pm or 4:15pm or 6:45pm? Um, Today? I asked. Of course, today. And just two hours after my initial call, I was ushered into a lovely doctor’s office and my armpit was viewed with concern. Antibiotics might be the answer. 12€ later, I had antibiotics and a hopeful attitude.

However, two days later with my armpit inflamed and growing by the hour, (probably an exaggeration, but not much of one) I was encouraged to visit the Emergency Room. Now once again, I wasn’t sure my armpit equated an “emergencia,” but off I went to a nearby hospital.

Upon arriving in an examination room, the doctor took one look at my armpit and made a large slashing gesture with his hand, complete with sound effects. This was a gesture that overcame all language barriers. Yep. My armpit needed to be cut open and drained. (I hope you’re not eating while reading this, by the way.) The doctor opened the door and invited a few other people to look at my freakish arm infection. Apparently, this was something they didn’t see every day. Somehow they patiently communicated that I needed to wait 4 hours after I had last eaten before they’d drain the area. OK. I had a good book with me. No problem. As I sat waiting, a few more people were brought in to catch an eyeful of my armpit. (To this day, I don’t know if this was a teaching hospital, or if they just specialized in the axillary.)

Three and a half hours later, I was wheeled to a different floor and shown to a dressing room where I was given a hot little O.R. outfit. I looked around and realized I was on the operating room floor. OK. I guess it’s a kind of surgery. I changed and put on booties to cover my feet and a hairnet to cover my head.

The nurses escorted me to an operating room, complete with a sterile bed and giant light. As I was lying there, they told me they needed to check with the anesthesiologist to see if I had waited long enough after eating. I nodded. Anesthesiologist? When the doctor returned, he told me they couldn’t put me under general anesthesia as I had eaten such a short time before. I said that was fine – local anesthesia would be just fine. (In my mind, I wondered how I would have gone about finding Peter and telling him they put me under for my armpit. And could you help me get home. How do you put that in a text message?)

The doctor had studied some in the U.S. and his English was fairly good. He joked as he went along. Once the procedure was complete, he patted me on the shoulder, told me to get dressed, and I went along my way.

Just over a week later, my armpit is back to normal and my experience is now just fodder for stories. But when I reflect on this experience, though, I’m left feeling grateful for living in a place where an experience like this only cost me a grand total of 12€. Had this occurred last year when I lived in Indiana, I have no idea what the end cost would have been.

The purpose of this blog is not to make a statement about the health care system in the United States. It is a complicated issue which needs a lot of research and a good deal more wisdom. However, I am concerned that basic health services are not available for those without the ability to pay. And pay a lot. There must be a way to enable everyone to have access to the care they need – even if it’s just for a silly armpit infection.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

So, once upon a time, we were very good about making regular contributions to our blog. We updated it weekly even with unreliable internet. Plenty of stories were written and shared of odd happenings of our life abroad.

In Spain, we have lapsed in our regular contributions. In fact, we haven’t posted anything in almost a month. Many may wonder why we’ve failed to keep up on this project… are we busy? Have we lost internet connections? Are school and work taking all our time?

While some of these things are true, I believe the primary reason for our unreliability is our keen enjoyment of Madrid and Spain and our adventure here. Blog writing had become a therapeutic outlet while living in a developing nation and in the absence of the need to vent, we’ve lagged behind in our updates. Somehow, stories of beautiful walks down Madrid’s corridors with blue skies and sidewalks covered with autumn leaves seem less interesting than stories of Indonesian policemen who wake us at 2am to see our marriage papers. Complaints about housemates who leave their (entire) chicken out for the day or leave rotting fruits and vegetables in the kitchen aren’t nearly as interesting as complaints about fellow teachers who black out over the weekend after drinking too much. And, tales of our students who want to learn and the headmistress who bends over backwards to make sure we have all the teaching supplies we need just don’t seem to hold a candle to the epic tales of ceilings that fell in or generators that failed to work as was a regular occurrence in Indonesia.

Madrid is not a perfect city. Spain is not a perfect country. There are things here that drive us crazy. But, the beauty of our time here is so full of good memories that our need for therapeutic release is minimal.

At a time of year when many in the U.S. are beginning to turn their thoughts toward Thanksgiving, we can only say what we are thankful for this year.

  • We are thankful for the opportunity to explore new places and new adventures.
  • We’re thankful for each other and for the life we are sharing.
  • We’re thankful for bread and cheese and the culinary delicacies of Spain.
  • We’re thankful for closed sewers and clean public transportation.
  • We’re thankful for steady work and a good university.
  • I’m thankful that Peter gets the chance to study and work with language all day, every day.
  • We’re thankful for the chance to travel and experience the amazing world we live in.

And, we’re thankful for our family and our friends. We miss you all very much.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 4, 2009

My nephew Nick had a school project, and he recently asked us for help with it. His second grade class read a book about a guy named Flat Stanley, who had been flattened in a serious, yet hilarious, accident involving a bookcase. In the story, Flat Stanley discovers he can visit anywhere in the world for only the cost of postage. Cool.

Well, Flat Stanley came to Madrid. We three had a great time seeing Madrid and all it has to offer.

His adventures are posted on our Flickr site. If you're interested in seeing all Flat Stanley saw, check out

November 4, 2009

Yeah. I know. I know. It’s been awhile. Too long. But here’s the thing: we’re pretty busy, and when you have some free time in such a great place like Madrid… Well, you know what I’m saying. I don’t feel like hanging in front of the computer screen, is all. Please accept our apologies.

Not that we don’t love you. Quite the contrary. We think of our family and friends often. More than it seems. Really. Sometimes adjusting has its challenges, but overall it’s pretty cool here.

There is, however, one aspect of living in Madrid that has been very difficult for me in particular. Finding that great cup of coffee is still something that eludes me. This upsets me. I live in a city of, what, something like 4 million people – a world-class place that was in the running to host the Olympics – and I’m left with going to Starbucks? That’s the best they can do? The Spanish seem OK with this though.

The perils of a being coffee snob in Spain are many. First, Starbucks is the only place I can get just a regular old cup of joe. Everywhere else only speaks the language of “café con leche” (coffee with hot milk). The other places don’t usually sell beans for brewing at home either. But even going to the ‘Bucks comes along with more than it’s usual baggage. Strangely, many Starbucks in town (and there are many) have drip machines which are supposedly “broken”, and drip coffee is rarely ever brewed. I believe this is because most Spaniards get lattes or café con leches or (of course) Frappaccinos. Most of the time the staff try to give me an Americano instead, but they don’t fool me. I can tell the difference.

But being cheated out of caffeine and regional coffee flavors from all over the world isn’t the only coffee-related danger here. Twice I was given coffee that had gone cold but was warmed up with the steam wand at the espresso machine – the one that’s usually used for steaming milk. And I’m here to tell you, coffee with a frothy head of foam is disgusting… as well as against several health code regulations in the States. And speaking of public health violations, last Saturday, Sarah and I were at a mall and I was putting forth great effort to receive what I had ordered while we were being spit upon by a few cheeky little Spaniards two floors up. I chased them and gave them a look that crossed all language barriers while they hid behind their clueless parents. (yes, lots of parents are inattentive here in Europe too.)

Don’t feel sorry for me. I’d still rather be here with lame coffee than in the States at this stage of my life. Yep, it’s pretty cool here.

Before I go, I want to send a shout out to a dear friend of ours who is ill, and who has seasoned many of life’s greatest storms with so many of us. A friend who has given so much more than he’s received: Morrissey. The troubadour of our most intimate sorrows – the boy with the thorn in his side – collapsed on stage the other week while singing “This Charming Man.” I’ve been wearing black since hearing the news… because black is how I feel on the inside. But maybe I’d be more of an encouragement if I wore gold lamé. Get well soon, Moz.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6, 2009

There are times when I’m reminded that living in a country other than the U.S. carries with it good and bad experiences. Yes, I know this is a rather simple and obvious statement. Sometimes the good and the bad are random experiences spread over a period of time while in other situations, they all happen on the same day. Today was one of those days.

Peter and I began teaching English at a Catholic elementary school last Thursday. The headmistress and teachers are wonderful, but English is still a second language and any new job carries with it a number of unknown and unspoken rules. Today, I began my class with a group of 5-year-olds only to be interrupted at the half-hour mark because they needed to go to recess – they’d be back in a half hour. (My schedule indicated a full hour with this class followed by a second hour with 1st graders.) Ok.

My next big project for the day was to get my hair colored. Many of you know that this is a creative outlet for me and an experience I thoroughly enjoy. I went into a salon armed with my Spanish-English dictionary. I said “tinte” and pointed to my hair. “Sí, sí.” They got me settled into a chair and dressed with all sorts of disposable, protective gear. When they came to talk about what I wanted I told them “rojo” and used charades to further explain. They said “no”. I was confused… No, you don’t think red is good? No, you can’t do it because my hair is bleached? I pointed to the pink in my hair and nodded. It’s all good. No. The answer was no. I still don’t know why the answer was no. I don’t really even know what the question was, but I got up and left. No hair color for me.

As a recent member of the Facebook world, I occasionally post comments about my day, and I shared my salon experience online. One of our housemates is a “friend” and he saw the post. When I arrived home this evening, he said that it appeared I hadn’t found anyone to color my hair. I said, “No, I’ll figure something out.”

After dinner, I washed our dishes as Ulysses (our newest housemate) did yo-yo tricks. Isi (Isiduardo) came into the kitchen and asked me if I really wanted my hair “painted”. I said that I did. He offered his girlfriend as a resource for good places in town to get my hair painted if that was what I really wanted. She’s an esthetician and may even be able to “paint” me herself.

And so, at the end of the day, the good and the bad have settled out, and the good far outweighs the bad.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dear Friends,

So, here we are in Spain. As you can imagine, this is a great and truly rare opportunity that we’re very excited about. Now what if I told you that you could help us on this adventure? It’s true.

I’m working on getting a scholarship lined up through a nice organization called Crosslites. Each year they have an essay contest, with the top prize being a $2,000 scholarship award. But the Crosslites judges are only part of the process. Our friends’ and family’s votes also carry some weight in this process. In fact, they count for a lot. This particular part of the process counts for 90% of each entrant’s piece. Of course, this is where you all come in.

Please go to read my piece. (Don’t worry it’s short – only about 600 words long, is all.) You should see my name listed there. This is your chance to help a couple of students in a real way. Plus, my essay sums up a lot of Sarah’s and my experience in Indonesia and how it affected us. So maybe you can help us as we continue to make sense of that whole experience. You can vote as many times as you like too. And feel free to send us your comments. We’d appreciate them.

Thanks for your support in everything we’ve done. We look forward to hearing from you.

Vote early and vote often, because this time it's legal.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 26, 2009

Learning the language of Spain (that is, “Spanish”) is much easier than learning the language of Indonesia (that would be “Indonesian”). This might seem obvious. But really it’s not as obvious as it may seem, and it’s not obvious for the reasons we all might think.

First of all, picking up Spanish is easier because, if you reach back to what you learned in high school, it’s a Romantic language. Communication is comunicación, etc. So, yes. We English and Spanish speakers have a lot in common. However, Bahasa Indonesian is a new language (first taught in schools around 1945) and hasn’t gone through all the evolution and morphing that Spanish and English has. That should make it much easier to learn, because there’s not all that cryptic crap and slang mixed in yet.

Blah, blah, blah. Boring.

For me, the true reason that Spanish is easier to pick up than Indonesian is because people here are much more willing to teach you their language. If I could have another moment to reflect on Indonesia: It was somewhat frustrating to try and use what little of the language we had learned at the grocery or the café. That is to say, when whitey tries speaking Indonesian it’s almost always a hilarious event… especially to women, for some reason. I could hardly say anything without some giggling that was then followed by, “Apa?” (what?). An unstable and somewhat strange combination were we: funny and incomprehensible. In addition to being ill-at-ease with strange sounding foreigners, most people in a developing nation want to show off how much English they know, to practice. At least that was our experience. And often if we asked, how do you say it’s raining or what’s in that sauce, it was difficult to get a good answer. Often they just weren’t interested in talking about their language for some reason. Not always of course. But getting language questions answered was a privilege one had to earn with much time… even from other white people who knew the language.

Most of our housemates here speak at least some English and put us to shame with their knowledge of French, German, Italian and in one case Chinese. But that helps us goofy Americans out a lot. And we’re learning. But there’s so much farther we have to go. For instance, explaining to our beef-loving Argentinean housemate Guido (pronounced ghee-doh) why we haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years was pretty much a lost cause. Neither one of us had enough common language to discuss the many facets of that subject. So we gave up. He said I was still OK though. It’s also interesting to note that our Spanish residents make fun of Guido’s accent.

Another housemate, Isiduardo (or just Isi), told me I need to learn Spanish, “So you can be relationships,” he said Now, I’m not quite sure what Isi’s definition of relationships entails. So I let that one go. But I am proud to say I’ve acquired enough Spanish to communicate – both less incomprehensibly and less hilariously – about how our laundry would need to be done a different day to our housekeeper, who speaks zero English. (Pablo, another housemate, told me her name about three times and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t get it.) So… I’m improving. I guess.

Yet we do not just take from this culture. Oh no. We have made contributions to our housemate’s English lexicon as well. I’ve been able to settle some confusion over a few hip-hop terms – which I will not repeat here, for many reasons. I also was able help Pablo understand the somewhat subtle difference between snot and booger after he’d watched Revenge of the Nerds. (I thought he was talking about Revenge of the Nurse at first, of which I am unfamiliar.) Interestingly enough, I also taught an entire class the definition of booger in Indonesia. (“Mr. Peter, mucous sticky-sticky. What is like stone?”) It’s a popular English word, apparently. Maybe I don’t use it enough.


As always, we’ll keep you posted as to where we are as we crawl up this learning curve in Spain. I’ll also let you know what our housekeeper’s name is after I learn it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009

So, Sarah’s taking an ethics class. It seems she has us discussing ethical issues (or seemingly ethical issues) wherever we go…pondering questions like “What is cultural relativism? Should we make a comment when someone steals our bath soap? What if their culture doesn’t have the same beliefs about property as we do?” Etc.

People aren’t that much different here in Spain than they are in the States. The unemployment rate is high here too. Almost twice the U.S.’s actually. So when the weight of the world gets too heavy to bear, what’s a brother to do? That’s right. Take it out on the dog.

There aren’t any leash laws in Spain. (Nor do you have to clean up after your dogs, so watch where you’re stepping in Madrid.) The other day Sarah and I were walking back from the grocery, enjoying all Madrid had to offer, when a dog (boxer? lab?… I don’t know – they’re all mutts here) runs past us. Fido was then quickly followed by an older Spaniard, chasing him at a pretty impressive clip across a couple of lanes of traffic. He caught up with his dog about a half a block on in the middle of the parkway.

As we got closer, we realized this stressed out little man was beating the living crap out of his wayward dog. It went on and on – scolding him, backhanding him, slapping him, grabbing his jowls, then more scolding, backhanding, slapping and grabbing again and again… over and over. Finally, when he kicked Fido and the poor dog yipped, well, that was it. We’d both had enough. Even though we hadn’t been in Spain quite two weeks, Sarah and I both felt at home enough to yell at the guy. “Hey, leave him alone!” Sarah shouted. I told him to “Knock it off!” both of which I’m sure were lost somewhere in translation. We’re pretty sure he got the idea though.

And he did knock it off. I think he might’ve even got the hint that he went too far with his corrective canine measures. I’m sure he cared very much for his companion. But why this need to absolutely crush one who’s made a mistake under his righteous indignation? I could theorize, but let’s just leave it as it simply being a human reaction. I find myself kicking the dog sometimes too. But when I do, I hope you’ll be that brash American who will yell at me from across the street. I’ll get the idea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


We´re trying to be technologically savvy. Trying is the key word here.

As such, we´ve created a Flickr account where you can see pictures of our random travels.

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009

Ah… Madrid. It is truly amazing.

I arrived in Madrid and found the guy who was to take Peter and I to our new apartment. He was holding a sign which said “Peter Roth”. He kept saying something about manaña, and I kept telling him I couldn’t find my husband. He eventually found someone on the other end of his cell phone that spoke enough English to tell me Peter wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. Ok, I headed to our new home.

We share a house with people from Venezuela, Peru, Jamaica, Colombia, and Spain. It is a crazy, multicultural home. They are all very nice and somehow we all try to figure out what we’re saying to each other. All of us are students and attend at least 4 different colleges in Madrid.

And, if I thought that was “multicultural,” my experience with varying countries got more diverse as my first week progressed. In orientation, we were assigned to groups by the first letter of our last name. In my group of about 30 students, there were over 10 different countries represented. At lunch, I ate with students from Switzerland, Japan, China and New York. The school itself has students from over 65 different countries.

Multicultural experience was a part of my objective in going to school abroad. My living environment and school setting will offer great chances for me to get to learn about many different places and the people who live there. I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009

There goes the neighborhood.

Well, I made it here. I´m still wrapping my mind around the idea that I will be living and studying in Madrid for the next two or so years. For a while I wasn´t sure I would actually ever make it here.

A few of you might know that I was two days late arriving in Madrid. Yep. Two whole days. Sarah made it right on time though. You see, we came on separate flights. We were going to leave on the same day and arrive with a difference of only a couple of hours. That was the plan. It didn´t happen that way though.

The original plan was that since Sarah´s program started a month before mine (hers on Sept. 3rd and mine on Oct. 5th), I would join her around mid-September. Might as well earn a little extra cash instead of sitting around beautiful Madrid doing nothing but writing blogs and drinking coffee and Rioja. You know, do something productive. However, I couldn´t find any work at all in Fort Wayne, so I decided to come with Sarah. Problem was she´d already gotten her plane reservation, and I had to go on a different airline. I know this sounds weird, but it´s the way of the world in these troubled times.

I got held up by severe weather and missed my connector to Madrid by, literally, minutes. So I stayed the night in a crappy Best Western in Atlanta and ate dinner with a guy named Gabriel, who was in the Air Force and was trying to get back to base in Tampa. Next day, my flight was overbooked. I gave up my seat for 600 Delta-dollars, a free hotel and free food. I missed Sarah, but we were only going to be in orientation most of the time, right? And now, we got a free flight.

So I end up getting her finally. Obviously. I think my first words in the Admissions Office were, ¨Hi, I´m two days late.¨They were all waiting for me and were glad to see I made it. Now I have job prospects for tutoring English and will start working with undergrads in the Writing Center next week. And, by the way, all I missed the first day of orientation was a big talk about alcohol abuse and rape. Sarah filled me in, so now I know what to look out for. (She won´t pull any of that funny stuff on me.) Sarah´s into her fourth full day of classes as I write this and likes her profs so far. She mostly hangs out with the Masters students and sits at our table during lunch. She tells people she´s dating an upperclassman. She´s so cool and over the undergrad thing...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Steppin' Out -- Again

Hello, friends! We’re back and stronger than ever. After a year of being derailed (though recharging) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the saving grace of travel is visiting us yet again. Yes, Sarah and I are packing our bags. This time for Madrid.

Now, having lived in Indiana for a year – living near places like Rome City, Peru, Notre Dame, Angola and Goshen – I feel I must tell you I indeed mean the Madrid that is in Europe. This is pretty cool.

It’s amazing how life changes in one year. Not long ago, our life was sinking and sinking lower into the black depths of no return. As you know, Indonesia presented many challenges to us – all made worse by some white people there. (Really no different than the way it’s been for hundreds of years.) Then our program in Poland was cancelled, leaving us homeless, jobless and having been without income for months… on the other side of the world. Awesome. But these challenges have only made us better people, of course, and a path of has been forged before us. Hooray for direction! It’s kind of nice to have again.

I was invited to take part in a masters program at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus. I’ll be studying English literature, linguistics and about teaching composition there. I’ll also have the opportunity to not just become fully bilingual but also to translate works from Spanish to English. Meanwhile, Sarah will be finishing her prerequisites for medical school there. This opportunity will be especially great for her, because after living in Indonesia she developed an interest in international preventative medicine. Yes, I know. She’s a much better person than I am. After all, I just want to tell stories.

We’ll live in Spain for at least two years. Then we’ll be off to medical school – wherever that may be… And I’ll follow.

Don’t worry. We’ll keep you posted each step of the way and hopefully a wee bit entertained as well. Check back every now and then. We’ll be here.

Peace out, America.