Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas is coming!

Christmas is coming and I can't wait! This time next week I'll be at home with my family and friends with British shops, British food and speaking English without feeling guilty! I've been busy wrapping presents that I bought here as I thought it would be nice for my family to try some Spanish things. I'm also bringing back some alcohol because its ridiculously cheap here, although I'm worried about how heavy my suitcase will be and whether I will be able to bring back the amount of alcohol that I have. I'm trying to pack light because I don't really need to take as much with me to England as I brought here. When I come back I'm hoping to bring some clothes and food that I can't get here.

Taking precautions with the
bubble wrap

This week hasn't been too bad. The pupils in one of my English classes are starting a project which involves making tourist brochures about cities in the UK. London is a popular choice, so instead of allowing everybody to choose their own, the teacher asked me to make a bag of city names so each pupil selects one randomly. I thought it would be nice to put Reading in and the girls who picked it out of the bag seemed happy to be researching my home town. 

Next week I'm hoping to do another lesson about Christingles and I might even attempt to bake some mince pies, although I'm not sure if I can get all the ingredients here, also the utensils we have in the kitchen are pretty limited and I don't see the point in buying loads of new ones when I'm only here for 5 more months. I did bring some mince pies with me but they got squashed and went out of date in October. I ate them anyway but they were quite chewy! I really wish I could take some photos of the Christmas lights here because they are really pretty. My phone camera quality has got so bad that I use my laptop to take photos, but obviously that's only really practical inside the flat.

I've also been busy working on my project about illegal immigration, which I submitted online and posted yesterday. I managed to interview 2 people at the government offices about the issue and it was interesting to hear their point of view. I managed to get the interviews using contacts in my network. Don't be surprised if people don't answer calls or respond to emails. Sometimes its better to be proactive and just turn up at the office in order to talk face to face. Unfortunately my research was a bit limited by the language barrier. Here's the conclusion of my project:

To conclude I think the fence is not effectively controlling illegal immigration between Melilla and Morocco. Dangerous and negative consequences mentioned in my sources and the interview show that the fence is not a secure border between Europe and Africa. Also the two communication consultants from the government that I interviewed think the fence is not sufficient, but did not discuss any current or potential solutions except CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants) . Maybe if I spoke to someone who works in CETI or another non-governmental organisation their response would be very different.

Sadly my flat mate is moving out this month, so I'm trying to find someone interested in moving in after Christmas. I'm a bit worried about it because I don't want to have to pay double rent if I don't find someone, which would be 
almost all of my monthly income. Anyway, if I do find someone I hope that it will be a good opportunity to make a new friend.

On the upside, I received some really nice post earlier in the week including some vegetarian English food and drink from Terry, chocolates from Julia, postcards from Jess and my tax rebate money. I also received a Modern Family DVD and a new hoodie and coat which I bought online, but seemed to take quite a while to arrive. 

All I need to do now is finish my Christmas shopping, send some post, clean the flat and pack everything then I'm ready to go!

P.S. I've started blogging for Student Christian Movement

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Good news!

This week I've had some good news! The school recently had an exam to hire a new English speaking Geography teacher, which, if all goes to plan, means I won't need to struggle with Geography lessons any more after Christmas! I've actually been getting on with the Geography teacher quite well recently and she sometimes gives me lifts home, but I'm really looking forward to just teaching English lessons. At the moment I only have 2 English lessons on Wednesdays, but I feel that I know the pupils in both of those classes better and I usually find myself smiling and happier afterwards. I know it seems a bit too early, but I did a lesson on Christmas in England this week because I only have a few weeks left before I go home for Christmas. My lesson involved a Christmas quiz and I gave the winner a Christmas cracker (they don't have them in Spain) which the class seemed to get excited about. I also taught them about Christingles. Christingles are a Christian tradition for children in churches in  England and Germany during Christmas. The orange represents the world, the red ribbon the blood of Jesus, the 4 cocktail sticks the 4 seasons, the sweets God's gift to the world and the candle Jesus as the light of the world.

One of the better Christingles,
the rest of them had faces drawn
on and the sweets didn't last
very long (My phone camera is
broken so all my photos will
be bad quality until I get
a new one)

During my time here I have to do some work for the Spanish part of my degree. So far I've had to write learning targets and a monthly reflective blog. This month I have to do a project of my choice, which includes reviewing Spanish articles, recording an interview with a Spanish native speaker and writing an essay on the topic. I have chosen to research illegal immigration between Morocco and Melilla, which isn't the easiest topic to talk about. However, I went to La Cruz Roja (the Red Cross) because I completed the online course for volunteers and received my certificate. I asked if they had anyone I could talk to about immigration and they said they would contact CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants) to find someone. I also went to the government offices and they gave me an appointment for Tuesday, but I'm not entirely certain that I will be able to do the interview. I'm feeling slightly worried because the deadline for my project is Thursday 12th December. Tomorrow is a public holiday and I'm at working Monday to Wednesday, which makes it difficult to find a time to do the interview, especially with Spain's early closing times.

La Cruz Roja certificate

It hasn't been the easiest week this week partly because the gas ran out at the weekend, which is the source of heating for the water (unfortunately I don't have any central heating). I could either go to a petrol station to buy a gas can and attempt to carry it home or wait until I had a free day when I could stay in the house in order to call the gas delivery in the morning and wait for it to be delivered later that day. I chose the latter and waited for the new gas can to be delivered. Lo and behold, the gas still didn't work and I was starting to feel pretty desperate and concerned about my body odour after not showering for 5 days! I asked the person who delivered the gas to help me and he said it needed a new battery. I later replaced the battery and to my frustration, still couldn't get the fire to light. I have a really nice neighbour who lives above me and who sometimes brings Laura and I cakes, so I asked for her help and she managed to get someone from a maintenance shop across the road to come and have a look. After all the fuss, it turns out this idiot didn't know how to light the gas. Anyway, more good news is I now have hot water and can enjoy the luxury of a warm shower again!

Friday, 29 November 2013

I might be becoming patriotic

I've never thought of myself as patriotic, in fact I sometimes really dislike being English. I find it hard to understand why so many people are so interested in England. I sometimes think of the English stereotypes as cold and unfriendly consumerists who are intolerant of anything different and don't do much other than shop and party, all qualities which I hope I don't have. I strive to be 'unEnglish' through travelling and taking an interest in other cultures and languages.

However, recently I've been feeling proud about my country. I'm proud that the music we make is played throughout Europe, that London is famous across the world and that I am 
a speaker of the most widely spoken languages that so many people are desperate to learn. Perhaps this is because I'm really missing all the everyday things that I take for granted back in the UK that I can't get here. I miss the short queues, the semi-friendly customer service and all of my favourite foods.

I tried to make potato salad

Part of me thinks that if I could, I would go back to England now. However, I am gradually continuing to discover things that I like here. One thing I like is exploring new shops and finding things that I've never seen or tried before. I also really enjoy the warm weather, but its starting to to get cold now. Its also raining a lot more, mostly at night and in the mornings, which means my washing usually gets absolutely soaked. On average its about 15 degrees which doesn't sound too bad but wind and humidity are prominent here so its easy to become cold and even easier to have a bad hair day. Most people don't have central heating either and I haven't found a duvet for less that 40 euros, so I often get cold at night.

Ice cream disguised as a lemon. Genius!

I still have the same phone which broke shortly after I arrived. The home and lock buttons are now both broken so I need to use the silent button to unlock it. If the silent button breaks I won't be able to unlock it any more, even though it is still in a usable state. I can't take many more photos now either because the back camera in my phone is also broken and really blurry. My Erasmus (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) grant came through this week so both my English and Spanish bank accounts are looking healthy. Therefore, with this and my insurance money I should be able to replace my phone without too many problems. Hopefully I won't have to worry too much at Christmas either and I can be more generous with presents.

As I have a lot of free time and I sometimes feel a bit bored I thought I may as well use it productively, so I'm trying to find a volunteering opportunity. In the past I've volunteered with a few different organisations including Amnesty International, People & Planet and Street Pastors. I'm still looking for an organisation for immigrants so I could have the possibility to do some research. I haven't heard back from CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants) so I went to La Cruz Roja (The Red Cross) who said I need to complete an online course and then go back to talk to them before I can become a volunteer, so hopefully I will get somewhere with that. I don't believe I need any other qualifications.

Sometimes I feel pretty miserable and I'm starting to wonder if I'm bringing it on myself. Its sometimes difficult to find friends with whom I have some things in common: I'm a Christian, I care about world issues and what I'm wearing or how my hair looks are usually the last things on my mind. I'm not saying I don't like being friends with different people, because I do. University has helped me with that. From previous experience I think friends should take an interest in or at least consider each other's viewpoints otherwise you will drive each other mad. Even if I do find a new friend, will they be someone someone who can put up with my limited Spanish speaking capabilities? Have I just got unlucky or am I too quiet, shy or boring for everyone? I definitely know I've become less crazy and fun since university and it makes me sad, but I guess that's just part of getting older.

Surprisingly, some of the most disappointing relationships in my life that have let me down through false promises have been with other Christians. However, I am hopeful about making friends at church as many of my closest friendships have also started at Christian organisations. I've been going to an evangelical church some Sundays and it feels a lot different and more genuine than the churches I've been to before. Everyone seems really friendly, I've met a few nice people who are kind to me and I think I will be happy there.

I've also joined a gym. I haven't been to the gym since secondary school, so I was quite apprehensive about doing so. I decided to go to a gym that a few people recommended to me, which is at the port and has sea views. I have to cycle 15 minutes each way to get there, although apparently its one of the biggest and best in Melilla. I first went when it wasn't very busy and was disappointed to see that there isn't much equipment. There is one cross-trainer, two treadmills, loads of cycles with uncomfortable seats and the rest seems to be muscle building equipment that I don't know how to use and probably couldn't anyway. The first time I stuck to the treadmill and although I was exhausted afterwards I felt really good. 

The second time I went I decided to try a spinning class, which I felt nervous about because I've never done anything like that before. I felt like an idiot because I tested the height of a few cycles until I found the right one and then more people came in and I realised you can alter each one. I was tired after 5 minutes of the class and couldn't keep up with the pace of everybody else. However, people seem quite relaxed and do whatever they feel comfortable with. I feel down a lot of the time and it takes a lot of motivation, but when I force myself to go I always feel good afterwards. I will try to continue to do so and get involved with more things that make me feel better.

My card for Santa's Gym. 
I find the name hilarious

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I'm feeling better

I'm feeling much better about things at the moment. Firstly, I've been teaching myself Geography and History which is very time consuming but has improved my performance in classes and resulted in positive feedback. Secondly, I've finally unlocked my phone and am using a Spanish number, which is making my life much easier. Thirdly, because I'm now using a Spanish number I was able to open my online banking for my BBVA (Spanish) account to see that I have finally been paid! Fourthly, I've booked my flights home for Christmas. Fifthly, I've had a few more people interested in private English classes and next week I will start teaching adult classes in the evenings. Finally, I have now completed my to do list after arrival which took much longer than I expected. 

Adult school poster: I think my
name is a bit difficult for some
people to understand

Therefore, I have few worries at the moment, although as I'm only working Monday-Wednesday I find that I don't have much to do. I'm looking to find a gym which is close to me to use my time productively and get fit, but due to my previous experience of bullying regarding my image I'm a bit self conscious to do so. I'm also hoping to do some research about immigration between Morocco and Melilla for my dissertation and through a friend I have heard of an organisation called CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants) where it is possible to volunteer, so hopefully she will put me in contact with them.

This is the longest time I've been away from England, and as much as I like it here I am looking forward to returning home at Christmas to my family and some home comforts that I take for granted when I'm there. Here its still 20 degrees more or less although its gradually getting colder. Its hard to believe that its only a few weeks until Christmas. Here it still feels like summer, or at least the end of summer. Even if it is freezing cold in England, I'm looking forward to cuddling up with a good brew of tea and a mince pie with my family next month.

I had my first visit from Maria for the last 2 weeks and we had a lot of laughs. We cooked together (or Maria cooked and I messed about), explored the city and went to shops, cafes and restaurants.

This is Donatello aka Bicho. He's 
Laura's friend's pet and we're looking 
after him whilst she's away. 
He's very shy!

Me and Maria

Melilla port

Anthony's pizzeria is a lovely 
place to eat

A Spanish tradition: churros with 
thick hot chocolate

Last weekend we went to Fes because Maria wanted to go to Morocco. I realised that the first time I went to Fes we had probably been a bit ripped off, as many Moroccans don't use price tags which I think is so they can increase their prices if they see you aren't local, especially if you're European and white. Therefore, you need to learn to haggle the price if you think you're being overcharged, which I am useless at but Maria is very good. The first time in Fes I think we paid something like 50 dirhams (5 euros) between us for a short taxi ride, which is normal in Europe but not in Morocco. This time I realised some of the more modern taxis (meaning those didn't look like they were 20 years old or had been in a traffic accident) had meters like the black cabs in the UK and we paid between 5 and 15 dirhams (50 cents and 1.50 euros) for similar journeys. In Fes 'petit taxis' are basically really small red cars and I was told that lots of people in Morocco prefer not to use small red cars otherwise they may be stolen and used as taxis. 

Theft is also a problem in Melilla. I bought a second hand bike for 50 euros which I was hoping to use for conveniently travelling to school and going shopping, as I don't often cycle for leisure. I've had problems walking since I've gained some weight, especially after my summer spent working in a Wetherspoons kitchen to save money for this year, during which I worked ridiculously long shifts to the point where I could barely walk and I think this has had some kind of long term effect on my feet so I thought a bike would help. Shortly after I bought the bike I got a puncture (there's lots of litter and broken glass on the streets). I was worried this would cost a lot to repair but it only cost me 5 euros for a new inner tyre. Most people in Melilla drive a car or moped because the streets are long and there are quite a few hills.  

However, I was warned not to chain the bike up in public (despite buying the biggest chain I could find) because Moroccan people will find a way of cutting the chain to steal from the city centre, outside your own house and even schools and sell it. The case is the same for cars, although they are more difficult to transport across the border, so Moroccans tend to steal them for the valuables inside or damage them out of spite. I'm lucky enough to have never had anything stolen from me directly but I have learnt to be much more cautious here, for example to not use bags that can be opened easily. Yesterday I was struggling to carry heavy shopping home and a Moroccan man forcefully offered to help, which I refused, as I guessed he would probably run off with it. It sounds horrible, but its the reality here. Instead, he decided to take advantage of my no hands free situation by touching my backside and following me home. For these reasons, my poor bike is chained to the railings inside our apartment and rarely sees the light of day. 

Anyway, back to the subject of our weekend away in Morocco. Morocco is really big. It took us 6 hours to get from Melilla to Fes (with a few long stops) and we didn't even get halfway down the country. I want to visit the desert but by train or bus this will probably take around 12 hours, which seems a bit silly for a 4 day trip (my days off are Thursday to Sunday) so maybe I could go when I have more time during Easter. As I'd already been to Fes we stayed in a hotel at the opposite side of the medina (old city) to my previous visit and spent one day in Meknes, which is a 40 minute train ride away costing 20 dirhams (2 euros) for a return. The medina is really big and has over 9,000 streets and its incredibly easy to get lost, so we kept to the main streets. The markets selling fruit, vegetables and meat smell really, really bad and are often covered in flies, so they sometimes make me feel quite ill. 

The breakfast room in our hotel. 
The breakfast was much nicer 
than the previous hotel I stayed in 
and the people were much 
friendlier, although there weren't 
any plugs in our room.

Meknes seemed to be more developed than Fes and there were a lot more tourists, so I felt much more comfortable, although it didn't seem as realistically Moroccan as Fes. One funny memory from Fes was when Maria and I were sitting in a local cafe waiting for our train home. Neither of us can speak French or Arabic, which sometimes made it difficult to buy tickets, take taxis or order at restaurants and we often had to resort to communication similar to that of charades in areas that didn't have many tourists. A man casually walked in to the cafe trying to sell underwear and another came in with a dead chicken and asked us if we wanted to buy it, which I thought was hilarious because it seemed so ridiculous. People are a lot more forward in Morocco and will approach your offering tour guides, trying to sell you something or showing you a menu for their restaurant. Maybe that's just the Moroccan way of getting customers, but sometimes it feels like they are desperate to make money. Its easy to feel pressured so you need to learn when to say no and of course as a tourist you need to make sure you don't get ripped off or go anywhere that seems dodgy and isn't in a public or busy area.

I am ashamed to admit that as there are a 
limited number of fast food restaurants in 
Melilla and I get bored of couscous and tagine
 in Morocco, we went to Pizza Hut. 
Can't really complain about a 2 course meal 
with a drink for 50 dirhams (5 euros).

A reminder that not all of
 Morocco is developed 
and beautiful

The view from the hotel terrace. I'm wearing a 
jumper because it was a bit chilly and windy 
in the mornings!

I feel I haven't painted a very positive picture about Morocco so I want to stress that not all Moroccans are selfish, thieving and horrible people. On the contrary many of them can speak very good English and are very kind, especially the Berber people (the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley). Whether this is part of their culture or they want to obtain as much money from tourists as possible, I don't know. The first time I went to Fes the tour guide told us that he had simply used tapes to learn many languages, which made me feel very humbled and challenged. I think because many Moroccans haven't received an education (when we were in Meknes on Friday we saw a lot of children out of school and playing on the streets) they are unable to comprehend complex cultural and political issues. Every public place is obliged to display a photo of the King and many people actually respect the King because they haven't been educated to challenge the corrupt system they are living in with very limited freedom of speech. 

Due to this and the influence of Islam, their behaviour is obviously much different to us Europeans. To us their behaviour can seem unacceptable but to them our behaviour seems just as unacceptable. One question that studying International Development and visiting Morocco has raised for me is: Are there really unacceptable forms of behaviour and lifestyle or are they all structured by man? Those of us living in developed countries are quick to criticise and sympathise with the lifestyles of those in developing countries, but are they really unhappy? Do they really need developing? Their culture doesn't fit into our way of doing things, but they don't always necessarily want to be westernised and sometimes even sympathise with our busy, consumerist and wasteful lifestyles as much as we sympathise with theirs.

Monday, 4 November 2013

I'm feeling fed up

Yes, you read correctly. I'm feeling fed up. I've guessed that some people may have been browsing through my photos on Facebook or reading my blog and enviously admiring the beautiful views and the heat, thinking I'm having the time of my life. Everybody seems to think I've got my life all sorted out. The truth is that I haven't and neither have most of the rest of us. We can have lots of money, possessions and love around us one day only to lose it the next and this is how I'm feeling right now here in Melilla. I have good days and bad days but at the moment there seem to be a lot of bad days.

I'm sure most of us who use social media have had a time when we've been left feeling fed up as a result of comparing our own day to all the fun everybody else seems to be having. This is unsurprising if your main sources of information are websites such as Facebook. Even news channels and websites are very selective about what they do and don't report. Last week 2 people in Melilla were shot and I've struggled to find news articles about it in the local news, let alone the international news. If 2 people were shot in my home town, Reading, I'm sure the information would be broadcasted nationally if not internationally. So what's my point? My point is most media, especially Facebook, is a highlight reel which isn't reflective of all reality. Not all news channels are unbiased in reporting the events of the day, not everybody uploads photos without make-up to Facebook and not everybody writes a blog post when they're feeling down. So I'm going to go against social norms and write about how fed up I'm feeling.

Facebook in real life

The reality is that I'm lonely. Everyday just going to the shops or trying to have a conversation with one person reminds me how bad my Spanish is and this makes me wonder how productive I've been over the last 2 years at university. Due to my lack of language skills and consequential lack of confidence, I haven't made many friends. I also think its difficult to maintain the friendships I have back in the UK and sadly I'm starting to wonder how many of them will still exist when I return.

One thing I have noticed about Spanish culture is that people say things they don't always mean. "You can meet us later", "Let's go for a meal" or "We're going out tonight" do not necessarily mean any of these things will happen. Its just an idea and not a promise. Of course not everybody is like this, but this is what I've experienced generally. Chances are you'll either plan your day around an 'event' only for it to not happen, or you'll be busy doing something else and have a last minute phone call about something happening over the other side of town. Either way, I usually miss out on something I had planned. Being the incredibly organised person that I am, this feels a bit frustrating and sometimes makes it difficult to make friends. I know that sometimes I plan too much and perhaps I'll learn to relax and be spontaneous.

Secondly, I'm struggling with my work. I'm really enjoying planning and conducting different activities in English lessons and I always look forward to the English lessons that I'm in on Wednesdays. However, I spend the rest of my time in Geography and History lessons which are taught in Spanish and the textbooks are in English because the school is multilingual. I haven't studied Geography for 6 years or History for 2 years, therefore some of the topics which the students are learning I've never studied in my life. This makes some lessons a bit awkward when students ask me to explain vocabulary that I don't know, which usually results in laughter or the undermining of their confidence when they see a native speaker of English unable to explain the words that they're trying to learn. My solution is to read through the books before the lessons and teach myself the vocabulary in order to teach it to the pupils. To me this seems crazy, but I'm sure the school knows what they're doing.

Finally, I'm really missing home. When I moved away from home to university for the first time, I didn't really feel homesick much at all. I thought I would experience the same, liberating feeling when I came to Melilla but this isn't the case. Although Melilla is beautiful, has a lovely climate and enables me use the resident discount for travelling (I get half price ferries and flights within Spain), its often easy to feel isolated here due to its nature as a small city surrounded by Morocco. I like travelling alone but I don't think that's particularly safe in Morocco and in all honesty I don't think I have the confidence to do it. The number of shops, places to go and things to do are also pretty limited in Melilla. If you want to buy something specific, it can be quite difficult or impossible to find. For example, Melilla doesn't have a McDonald's, but if you really want to go you can go to the one 8 miles away across the border in Morocco. Therefore, I'm really missing my everyday things in the UK that I can't get here, such as dry shampoo, cheese ploughman's sandwiches with good old British cheddar and Quorn meat alternatives.

I'm trying to stay positive and productive during my stay here. I want to make friends, improve my Spanish, appreciate the cuisine and meet people. Maybe I've had a bad few days, but I'm going to keep trying and I'm sure I'll come out of this experience stronger and with a clearer view of who my real friends are.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Being an English Language Assistant (ELA)

At the moment I am working in social science classes (Geography and History) and English classes for a variety of ages. The social science classes are taught in Spanish, but the textbooks are in English because the school is multilingual. In these classes I read the textbook aloud for the pupils to hear the correct pronunciation and help them with any words they don't understand. As the lesson is taught Spanish I do struggle to understand sometimes, but the pupils speak English very well as most of them have been learning it since they were three years old. The majority of pupils seem very well behaved, especially compared to the UK, although I was told that I have been put into the higher level classes, which tend to have the best behaviour and that bad behaviour does exist within the school. I am hoping that as the lessons progress perhaps I may be able to organise some activities for these classes, because as a student of International Development Studies I feel that I have a fairly good knowledge of these subjects.

When I tell people what I am studying, most people don't know what it is and for some reason jump to the conclusion that I study Business, which is almost the opposite of what I actually study. International Development is the study of the development of greater quality of life for humans, particularly those in third world countries. This therefore includes foreign aid, governance, health care, education, poverty reduction, gender equality, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human rights, environment and issues associated with these. I believe the majority of businesses are solely profit orientated, whereas International Development is people orientated and critiques businesses for being profit orientated and consequently lacking corporate social responsibility.

I only teach social science classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and I always look forward to Wednesdays, when I also teach English. The teachers in the English classes have allowed me to plan and conduct my own lessons, which felt very daunting. However, through planning thoroughly and trying to organise a variety of activities to keep the pupils focused throughout the lesson, I haven't been too nervous and the lessons seem to go by really quickly. For example, I start with a summary worksheet about the topic, follow up with an individual worksheet such as filling the gaps or crosswords and finish with a group activity such as giving each pupil a piece of paper with a question or answer and they have to find their matching pair. One of my colleagues said she has been teacher training for 6 years and has never seen someone make their own worksheets! However, organising this for each class is very time consuming and I can understand why teachers wouldn't do this very often.

I am learning how incredibly frustrating it is when you've spent a long time trying to prepare a lesson that is both fun and effective for their learning and the pupils in the class can't be bothered to do the activity or start doing homework for another class in your lesson, both of which have happened to me. I must say that generally most pupils engage and seem to enjoy my lessons. However, Jack, the other English Language Assistant (ELA) at my school seems to have gotten himself a fan club of teenage pupils who demand for him in every class and ask me for his personal contact details!

The sizes of the classes in which I teach vary, the smallest being around 20 pupils and the biggest 36 pupils. I couldn't believe it when I walked into the classroom and saw 36 pairs of eyes looking back at me. The room was so full of desks that its almost impossible to get to the blackboard and even more impossible to try and keep an orderly classroom! Today some of the teachers have gone on strike and when I asked why, I was told the Spanish government are planning cuts in education due to its budget deficit and with Melilla only having 127 teachers and classes as big as 36, I can understand why people would want to strike.

There is a British centre and an adult learning centre in Melilla and English is probably one of the most popular languages to learn, therefore there are many English teachers. Whilst socialising with some of the other ELAs I have met some other teachers who are native speakers of English and after hearing how well they have picked up Spanish here, I am hopeful that I will be able to do the same. One of the teachers at the school has asked if I want to do adult English classes outside of school, which would give me the opportunity to obtain another perspective of teaching and earn myself some extra money. I am already doing private classes for 2 adults and two 7 year old twins and its interesting to see the different ways in which people want to be taught. Someone people just like to sit and have a conversation and others like to use books and study grammar (although I can't really say that I know much about the complexities of the grammar of my native language!)

I definitely know that I want my future career to contribute to society, improve the world's quality of life and challenge people's thoughts, but at the moment I don't feel that I can be more specific than that. I've really enjoyed my teaching experience so far, so maybe that could be the answer.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Exploring Melilla and Morocco

On the Sunday before last I went to church feeling nervous about my ability to understand and communicate. I arrived early, leaving myself plenty of time in case I got lost. This time I didn't get lost though and I arrived at church a few minutes before 11am just in time for the service. I was actually the first to arrive except the pastor and his wife, who reminded me that the Spanish idea of punctuality is very different to that of the English (the Spanish are always late). People gradually arrived and I probably kissed half of the congregation (a kiss on each cheek is the normal Spanish greeting for women) and everyone was friendly and patient with my Spanish. I managed to understand a little bit, but listening to most people speak here is usually too fast to comprehend. I hope by the end of these 8 months I will be able to understand and speak a lot better.

The church has a meal on the first Sunday of every month, which I wasn't expecting and hadn't brought anything. I investigated the food and realised that as a vegetarian, there wasn't really anything I could eat. I felt bad didn't want to seem rude or make a fuss, but someone kindly took me to a nearby shop and help me find a vegetarian option. I don't think people here really understand vegetarianism and people seemed to think I was a vegan, which would be even more of a nightmare. The Spanish certainly like their meat, especially in this part of the world, and even at restaurants when I order food which I expect to be vegetarian, it usually includes some kind of meat of fish. Its very frustrating and I'm learning to live on eggs, cheese (which, after eating British cheddar, isn't the best in the world) and salad. Hopefully this will help me to lose some weight!

After church I decided I wanted to explore the area, as the church was located uphill on the other side of town, quite close to Melilla la Vieja (Old Melilla, the fortress north of the port). I got a bit lost and had to climb up and down the hill to get there, but it was definitely worth it. I couldn't find the entrance to get into the fortress, so I'm hoping to visit again on another day and look inside.

Church of the sacred heart 
(this isn't the one I went to)

A view across Melilla with Moroccan 
mountains in the distance

Melilla la Vieja

On Monday I went into school to attend the English department meeting and received my timetable. I'm only working 12 hours a week and the school kindly scheduled my hours for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Jack's for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so we could both have 4 day weekends, which I hope to spend travelling, exercising and improving my Spanish.

What I do each class really depends on the teacher. On Monday I was reading aloud to the class so they could hear native English pronunciation. On Wednesday I was asking the class questions about the book they were reading and helping them to prepare their group speaking activities. One of my Wednesday classes has asked me to prepare the whole class for next week, which I'm excited and nervous about! I think Spanish schools are quite laid back and don't always use thorough lesson plans, so I should be fine. I've been put into some History and Geography classes which are taught in Spanish but have English textbooks (the school is multilingual), which should be interesting as I am a student of International Development. At the moment I haven't been working my full hours because I think the school are still trying to schedule my classes and my timetable has been changed, but hopefully soon I'll get into the routine of things and start knowing where classes are and start learning students' names.

4 day weekends!

Many people have approached me asking for private English lessons, mostly conversational, which I am doing to earn some extra money, as for some reason or other I won't get paid until December, which might cause some difficulties. I currently have 3 hours of private lessons per week, two with the head of the English department's 7 year old twins (who are very sweet) and one with an English teacher. I think I will be starting an extra hour next week with another teacher and I'm trying to charge around 10 euros for me to meet people somewhere that is easily accessible to me and 15 euros for places that aren't so accessible, such as people's houses. With so many people approaching me about private classes, not having a Spanish number that works is making them difficult to organise. My provider in the UK is Vodafone and I assumed that my phone would be compatible with the Spanish Vodafone. After buying a Spanish SIM card, I found out that it isn't. I've also damaged my phone, so it is no longer fully functional (but usable) and for this reason I'm thinking twice about paying £20 to unlock it so I can use my Spanish SIM. Whilst organising insurance I thought I would need to obtain the proof of purchase for my phone from the store I bought it from, which was in Chester. As you can imagine, I'm probably not going to get the proof of purchase any time soon. However, the insurance company has accepted my claim and I think its best to wait until I return to the UK to buy a new one.

My flatmate Laura came back on Friday and it's nice not to be living alone any more. We seem to be getting on really well. I didn't get to spend much time with her because at the weekend I went to a city called Fes Morocco with 2 other English Language Assistants and a girl who works in the British centre here. We met at 7am on Saturday and walked to the border, which is only about 10 minutes from my flat. I haven't been outside Europe since I went to America when I was 11 and I certainly haven't walked across a border (except the border between England and Wales) and so walking through the border and having my passport stamped was quite an exciting experience for me.

My first stamp in my passport

It felt a bit strange walking across a border to another country with different languages, culture and food. We got a taxi to Nador station and had a Moroccan breakfast, which consisted of bread, jam and cream cheese which was simple but nice. A return from Nador to Fes only cost 200 dirhams (20 euros!) per person. I have never been on a train like the Moroccan ones before because it doesn't have rows of seats, but compartments with seats inside. This is bad because there isn't much space to sit, but good if you want some privacy. However, we were sharing with some Moroccan women and their small children, who were sweet at first but incredibly irritating later when I kept being woken up by screaming. Some of the windows were also broken and the toilet was incredibly close to overflowing, so it wasn't the best journey but I'm sure there's worse in the world. Although the train journey was 5 hours, it was amazing to look out the window at the dry landscape and Moroccan architecture. Once we arrived we took a taxi to Bab Bou Jeloud. There weren't many traffic lights, the driver went quite fast and there weren't any seat belts in the car so it didn't feel particularly safe! We found 2 rooms for the 4 of us in a hotel for 125 dirhams (12.50 euros!) each. Things are incredibly cheap in Morocco and although the standard of living isn't particularly high, most people seem to manage to get by without many difficulties. After leaving our stuff at the hotel, we had Moroccan couscous at a cafe for dinner and went to explore the ruins of the Merenid tomb. I didn't sleep particularly well that night because there are approximately 360 mosques in Fes and they all have loudspeakers outside them for some kind of Muslim prayer announcement, one of which was in the early hours of the morning!

Moroccan dirhams (only a third are mine!)

Bab Bou Jeloud (The Blue Gate) of Fes

Moroccan vegetable couscous

Ruins of the Merenid tombs

Ruins of the Merenid tombs

Goats and sheep suddenly emerged

The next day we had another Moroccan breakfast of bread, honey and jam on the hotel terrace where we could see amazing views of the whole city. We checked out of the hotel and found a tour guide in the city who was of Berber origin: the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. He had moved to Fes and taught himself many languages and spoke very good English. We went into the medina (old city) and saw all the markets selling many different things, especially shoes and scarves. There seemed to be more scarves than Moroccans! Cars can't go in the medina so people were using donkeys, horses, carts and sometimes mopeds or motorbikes. The guide seemed to know lots of the locals, so we were able to go inside some houses, hotels and restaurants with really beautiful Moroccan architecture, many of which were much prettier on the inside than the outside. We were also able to see some of the local businesses, including some leather tanneries, a bakery, carpentry, art and wedding decorations workshops and dressmaking. The guide then took us to a restaurant afterwards where I had my second (and best) Moroccan couscous. Finally we saw a Berber rug making shop where rugs were woven by hand. The tour only cost 200 dirhams (20 euros) between the 4 of us for 4 hours!

The view from the hotel terrace

A mosque

Inside the mosque

A really beautiful house

Intricate Moroccan artwork in the making

The best couscous!

Moroccan green tea with mint

Wedding decorations

More mosques

Rug weaving

We continued to explore the medina until dinner time and we had something to eat. I had a 3 course meal, which included a Moroccan salad, fried aubergines and courgettes and for dessert kaab el ghzal (gazelle's horns), a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar and halwa shebakia, which is pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried, dipped into a hot pot of honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. For the whole meal it cost me just 50 dirhams (5 euros)! We then took a taxi to the station and at 12am we had our 5 train hour journey back to Beni Ensar, the closest city to the border with Melilla. The journey was relatively quiet and I managed to get some sleep on the floor! I got back to the flat at about 8am (Northern Morocco is 1 hour behind Melilla and so is in the same time zone as the UK) and slept for 1 hour before getting up and going to work!

My second stamp!

Before I went to Morocco, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was expecting poverty to be more prominent than it was. Of course there seemed to be poor areas and beggars but I guess you can find those most places in the world. I don't think my photos accurately reflect the standard of living in Morocco, because we mostly only saw the tourist areas. As with many places, there are developed areas within underdeveloped areas. I'm sure if I travelled to other cities it would be different, but for the most part, it wasn't that bad.

Yesterday was a public holiday in Melilla because it is Eid al-Adha, an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims to honour the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail (Ishmael) during which they sacrifice a sheep. Sadly, due to this festival I saw many sheep in Morocco being carted to their deaths. I seem to have a lot of holidays because Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are all prominent in Melilla, which makes it very interesting culturally. As I couldn't go to work, I went to the beach with Laura and her friends, swam in the sea and got thoroughly burnt.

Today I did my first lesson alone (with supervision from the teacher) and I felt like it went better than expected. I used the newspapers and magazines that I had brought with me and taught the children about English culture. I've been asked to prepare a lesson about English literature for next week and I'm hoping that will go well. Today is the end of my working week and I now have my 4 day weekend!