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.