Sept. 21, 2013
We have been very busy since our last blog post from Spain. Since Barcelona we have spent the last two weeks settling into our new host families and school routines in Granada. Before lunch every weekday we spend 4 hours in intensive Spanish language classes and 1 hour in a Spanish Civilation and Culture class. Hungry and mentally fried we head home around 2:30 for lunch. After a rejuvenating “siesta” we spend our evenings doing homework in one of the many parks or plazas, taking advantage of the shopping, or getting together for an excursion to one of the many culturally significant sites in Granada. Weekends are filled with more sight-seeing throughout Andalucia (a province in southern Spain) and experiencing some of Granada’s vibrant night life. So far excursions have included the historic Albaicin district of Granada, the Alhambra, the Alpujarras region, and La Mezquita in Cordoba.
Here are some reflections on the difficult but rewarding task of getting to know our new Spanish families and the coinciding experiences of culture shock. Bruselas 38 is a humble apartment complex not found on Google Maps and not directly accessible by car. On the sixth floor lives a classy yet fiery elderly woman named Purificacion or “Puri for short. Amanda Vega and I have been blessed to call her “host mom” during our stay in Granada. Our first night in Granada she made certain to introduce us to the entire immediate family, including three adult daughters, their husbands, and three grandsons. She showed us her favorite Tapas restaurant and the best cafes and produce shops. She even had key chains made with our initials on them! She wasted no time in being completely accommodating and welcoming to us.
Every morning Puri makes my coffee and watches us safely walk to the elevator as we leave for school. Lunch always awaits our return and she makes sure our bellies are full to the brim until she sits and eats her own lunch. She never fusses at our pickiness or complete unawareness of social norms, such as wearing shoes 24/7 in the house. With level 1 and 2 Spanish speakers to socialize with, she has the most patience I could have ever hoped for as a beginner. We bond over the most unexpected things, such as American television with Spanish voice-overs, and our social lives between friends and family. Puri is a very hospitable and spunky woman. I know I’m going to love it here in Granada thanks to her!
Melinda’s and my host mom is a social butterfly and night owl. She is probably my grandmother’s age but moves around like a college student. When we get home after an afternoon of shopping or homework, she is either entertaining someone or on the phone. When she is off the phone she is talking to us. She tells us all of her stories and we try to keep up with her. She doesn’t go to bed until after us most nights which could be 1 a.m. some nights. She is very fun and easy to be with! I love my host mom.
The way I learn the rules is by breaking them, unintentionally of course. I have now learned to eat facing the table, to not eat French fries with my hands, and to not enter a part of the house if the door is closed. I would never have considered myself to be someone without manners, as I always say please and thank you and try to be as polite as possible. But I think my host mom would describe me differently.
Within the first week my mom had corrected how I sit at the table. Our mom sits at the head of the table and I am on the right side so I turn in my seat so that I can face her and show that I am interested (I mostly do this because it is more comfortable). I guess by the third night she had had it and so she gave me a long explanation as to why I need to sit facing the table and I should never turn in a restaurant. That was the first lesson I learned and I haven’t done it since.
The next night I helped myself to some French fries. I used my hands to get them and my host mom immediately jumped on correcting me and showed me how to properly take French fries with a fork. When that happened I just had to laugh because in America French fries are eaten with our hands, now I know to always use a fork for even the simplest foods. Over the weekend, Annika and I came home and no one else was home. I wanted to do my homework out on the porch because I like natural light. To get out to the porch you have to walk through the family room. This particular day the door to the family room was closed. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal so I let myself in and went to the balcony while Annika stayed in the room to study. When our mom came home she went off on Annika saying that this was her apartment, and if the door is closed we don’t go there. Our mom never came to me to tell me, so I found out through Annika that I had upset her. I felt awful about it and was a little angry as well, because I don’t like being restricted to just one room. But during dinner I decided to just break the awkwardness and apologize for the mistake (in very bad Spanish). She immediately said it was okay because she hadn’t told us that before and recognized that we didn’t know. We agreed that we just needed to communicate on what is allowed. We are supposed to tell her when we don’t like the food or something. After that I felt much better and I think she did too.
It’s kind of funny for me now. Every day I wonder what new lesson I will learn. I am thankful for the little things she is teaching me and am glad that she cares enough that she wants me to act properly. She has been very generous with her home and all my needs have been met. It looks like I will be coming home with more polite mannerisms.
From the moment my host mother Mari (short for Maribel) gave me a love tap on the rump I knew we had a special connection beyond hand to cheek. Off of Camino de Ronda, the main road that winds through the buildings of Granada, Spain; Alex and I share an apartment with our host mother and her two children Paco and María. It has only been one week since our arrival and the apartment already feels like home. It did not take us long to break in the apartment, quite literally. The other day Alex ripped out a window handle from the interior of the house leaving a very large hole in the wall. Unfortunately, the damage was fatal and the only remedy was a new window handle. Alex and I were terrified to deliver the news to our host family. Once we mustered up the courage to unveil our new addition to the home’s décor we guided Mari to the room. Through both fragmented clay and Spanish our host mom calmly interrupted our confession and said “No pasa nada hijos, está bien. Los cosas están hechas para ser rotas. Como es mi trabajo cuidar de vosotros, es el trabajo de otro arreglar este problema. Si las cosas están hechas para ser rotas esa persona no tendría un trabajo.”
It is nothing sons, everything is okay. Things are meant to be broken. As it is my job to take care of you, it is the job of someone else to fix this. If things were not meant to be broken that person would be without a job.
We were surprised and incredibly relieved by her forgiveness. I think this short story perfectly portrays the relationship we share with our host family. Alex and I have felt nothing but patience and acceptance in our new home. We are foreigners acclimating to an exotic culture and despite the fact that we often show our cultural ignorance our family always responds with compassion. Mari frequently tells us that we are “parte de la familia” and even though that typically leads to two hour dinner conversations we feel blessed to be with such an inviting family.
On Friday (Sept. 20) we had the unique experience of visiting a farm located about a thirty minute drive outside of downtown Nanchong. After our morning language classes, we piled into four vans and drove to the outside of the city. Before long the paved road ended and we turned abruptly onto a dirt road that appeared to be heading straight for the forest. The trees, banana plants, vines and grasses that we saw through our open windows provided a remarkable contrast to the tall apartment buildings, concrete, and seemingly endless construction of the city.
The home we visited belonged to the extended family of our “Nanchong mother,” Wang Ying. We learned that the farm has been in the family’s possession for about five generations beginning well before the official founding of the People’s Republic (1949) and is currently taken care of by Wang Ying’s father-in-law, Duan. Shortly after we arrived and had a tour of the house, we were shown to some tables for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious meal featuring rice and vegetables raised on the farm.
Following lunch, we went with Duan on a hike around the premises to see the farming operation. We walked past some rice paddies, recently drained of water, that provide the family and other locals with food for the year. Large patches of sweet potatoes, beans, chili peppers, and greens also supplement the family’s diet and their income. The farm is located in the midst of hilly, green terrain, recently replanted with trees. Duan said that trees have been planted in an effort of environmental restoration following the events of the Great Leap Forward several decades ago. As we continued, ducks and chickens wandered around; several dogs barked, disturbed by our presence. When we made it back to the house we had the opportunity to talk more in depth with Duan, asking questions as they came up. He provided the group with a greater understanding of agriculture and what it entails in Sichuan Province.
Sunday (Sept. 22) provided us with another opportunity to journey outside of Nanchong. Part of the group met for an 8:30 a.m. worship service at Nanchong Christian Church before joining others on the bus bound for Guangan. After about an hour and a half on the road, we arrived at the city known as the hometown of Deng Xiaoping, a leader and reformist in the Communist Party of China, following the death of Mao Zedong, from 1978-1992.
We ate our packed PB&J lunches made by Myrrl and Ruthie in the shade of some trees before we went into the museum. As we ate, we became aware of the stares of some locals sitting nearby. Whenever we are together in a large group we attract a lot of attention; it has taken some getting used to. After lunch we went into the museum (there was air conditioning!) and spent the better part of an hour learning about the life and impact of Deng. Because of the reforms Deng pushed for toward a market economy, he can be credited with helping to pull hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. It was a neat opportunity to learn about recent Chinese history that will allow us as students to better understand what we’re experiencing in China today.
Following our time in the museum, we walked through the park area surrounding the building to see Deng’s childhood home. The building was made up of about ten rooms constructed in a horseshoe around a courtyard, and had served as his family’s home for generations. We toured the house and then met in front of the lake just outside before loading up on the bus and heading back to our host families in Nanchong.
-Painstakingly written by Malinda Bender
Last Sunday (Sept. 8) we visited a region between the Sierra Nevadas and the Mediterranean called Las Alpujarras. Although quite small, these villages are famous for the terraced farmlands that surround them, a unique mini-ecology due to melting snow from higher up the mountains, great for producing bottled water that is sold throughout the rest of Spain.
Specifically we visited a famous trio of villages in the Poqueria Valley, which retain traditional Berber architecture from the time the Muslims ruled Spain. The villages are clustered quite close together and were easy to visit during a single trip.
The mountain roads were narrow and if one happened to be sitting by the window nearest the cliff, it was quite easy to look out the window and straight down into the steep drop to the valley below. I couldn’t help but think how unlikely it was that the guard rails (which came up to maybe wheel height on the bus) would stop us from tumbling over the side of the cliff if we were to get in an accident.
We only stopped briefly at Pampaniera, but it is an interesting place because the iron content in the water is so high that a “hotel hospital” has sprung up. The hotel hospital advertises itself as a place of natural healing for women who are anemic–all they have to do is come for a few days and drink the water. Of course massages and other spa treatments are available should the women get bored drinking water.
Both Bubion and Capileira are well known for their Berber-style architecture and good quality hiking and biking trails. For a while the villages were struggling because young people were leaving to go to the cities or other countries for better work and travel opportunities, but now foreigners have discovered the beauty of Las Alpujarras and as more expats settle in the villages and bring money and business, tourism has boomed.
In Capileira we sat down all together in a little restaurant for a wonderful meal of bread, homemade gazpacho, eggs, potatoes in lots (lots) of olive oil and some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. The meat eaters also had ham, which I heard was very tasty as well. It’s probably fortunate that we went on a short hike afterwards because I think everyone over ate and needed to either move or take a nap in order to recover.
In the middle of the week, we spent a day at Alhambra, a World UNESCO Heritage site. It started as a fortress in the 1st Century, but it grew into a massive palace complex used first by Spain’s Muslim rulers and then by its Christian ones. It’s a must-visit for anyone in this part of Spain.
This Sunday afternoon (Sept. 15) nine of us went to a soccer game–Granada vs. Espanyol, which was really fun, but very, very hot. In the evening, we all gathered at the Snell-Feikema’s for worship.
Dájiā hăo (Hello, everyone!)
The sky is bright and I may even see a spec of blue shinning through. Here in Nanchong, when asked what color the sky is, the answer is white. When asked what color the sun is, the answer is red. The cause of both of these is pollution. Thus seeing a tiny spec of blue in the sky is a great surprise.
We started school this week at China West Normal University and this is how a normal School day goes:
-wake up at 8:00 to shower and eat breakfast (which my host mom leaves out for me because everyone else is already gone for the day)
-catch bus 35 to the university (its about a 15 minute bus ride)
-2 hours of Chinese language class from 9-11 with a 15 minute break in between
-2 1/2 hour lunch break
-Chinese history and religion class for 1 1/2 hours
-Tai Chi for 1 hour (I love it! So relaxing)
-calligraphy class for 1 hour
-get home around 6:30
-dinner with my host family every night at exactly 7:00… it’s so funny!
-shower, homework, and bed (It is a pretty long day of nonstop stuff, so by the time I get home I’m exhausted and ready for bed.)
For lunch we have been enjoying street food from this really popular street called yi xué jíe. The food is AMAZING. At first I was kind of sketched out eating food made on the street, but man it’s good and cheap! You can get this huge bowl of noodles made for 5 kuài (yuan), which is not even $1. And when I say a huge bowl, I mean huge. I never can finish. We also found this awesome bakery on the same street. It’s not like our bakeries at home; it honestly might be better. Oh, and let me add in that it’s so cheap! I got this egg and cheese bread thing (you never know what you’re ordering; normally you can’t even take a guess so you just kind of pick something and hope for the best) that was the size of my face for 2.50 kuài. I seriously could go on for days about how cheap stuff is here.
This past Wednesday, I went to a high school in town and taught 4 different classes English for 1 hour each. I walked away really considering a change in my major at EMU. I fell in love. The kids were wonderful, and so eager and excited to learn. I didn’t want to leave. I was in tears. You could just see on those kids’ beautiful faces how much it meant to them to have me there, and the same for me. I would be so content to stay there and teach those kids for the rest of this trip. I could go on forever. I really loved it. Even though I didn’t totally love the part where they made me sing Taylor Swift BY MYSELF and dance around the classroom. But I got some smiles and some laughs, so that’s what matters! Luckily, I go back every Wednesday for the next 3 weeks!!! YAY! Also, today I went to my host sister’s middle school and taught English to her class. And I signed up to volunteer with this children’s English program they have here in Nanchong as a teacher. So, once a week, I will go there and teach younger children English. I am trying to take every opportunity I can while I have the chance.
So I have been with my host family one week, and man do they catch on fast. Their English has improved so much in one week, it is crazy and kind of sad considering I am taking a Chinese class right now and haven’t gotten any better. Chinese is hard! Like, no joke! You have to learn tones, words, characters, and pīnyìn. It’s insane. I think I will come home with no Chinese learned and my English worse than when I left. I am getting a lot more comfortable with my host family but not so comfortable with the bathroom. When I was teaching in the high school the other day I walked in the bathroom to find myself facing probably 6 or so girls just squatting and peeing. No doors or stalls, just holes in a big open room. They probably thought I was insane because I screamed and ran out so fast I almost tripped on the disgusting pee floor. It’s so—ah I don’t even know what word to use. It’s just different. The showers are too. They are literally just a shower head on the wall with the squat pot underneath you. So while trying to shower you have to try not to fall into the squat hole. Its pretty difficult, I might add. Malika and I have our own room, although we do have to share a bed, but we don’t mind. We live in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. It overlooks the beautiful park but not so beautiful singing (wait, that was mean. It’s not bad, its just not really what you would consider singing. More like screeching into the microphone but with a pretty band playing behind it). Every day, and I mean every day, from 3-6;00, this lady comes all dressed up and sings and dances out in the park. A ton of older people come out and it’s totally fun, but extremely loud. We’re on the 7th floor right beside the park, and from 3-6:00 we have to scream to one another just to hear. It’s pretty hilarious.
I help my host sister with her English homework every night, and she helps me with my Chinese. It’s pretty great. She is 13 and will be 14 on October 9th. She is in the 9th grade, but in China that is still middle school. She speaks English very well, although she says she is no good. She has grown up learning English because they start them at a very young age. My host mom is the sweetest but speaks no English. Well she didn’t, but she has learned some this week. She is a kindergarten teacher. And my host dad, well, I don’t really know… he isn’t around a lot. He randomly brings kids by that I don’t know. So, I kind of think he has a second wife, but that’s probably just my too much TV brain playing with me. Our apartment is nice. Nothing fancy. But getting to the apartment and the building is kind of sketchy. I saw a rat in the stairway and about died. And like I said, we’re on the 7th floor, so that’s a workout. Especially when trying to carry my suitcase up 7 flights. I have to wear slippers all the time. Walking around barefoot inside someone’s home or anywhere is considered rude. China is very different than home, but I am really loving this experience. But maybe a tiny bit missing America, American food, and of course all of you.
My chopstick skills are improving so that’s an extra bonus. And if I wanted to, I could learn how to cough loogies like a man. Because everyone and their brother does it here, and I mean everyone. I saw a man spit one right onto the floor in the middle of a nice restaurant. Let’s just say my appetite was gone fast. And for any of you who know my love of clothes, you need to feel my pain right now as I say I am so sick of my 5 outfits and it’s only been 2 weeks. Ah! Especially when everyone here is dressed super nice and wears heels and I’m over here chilling in my Chacos, sport shorts, and a wrinkled t-shirt. They probably think I’m a bum. Well I am sure you’re probably tired of reading this ridiculously long post. There is just so much to learn and share about my experiences.
Zài jiàn (goodbye)
Guó fú (My Chinese name. It means beautiful Lily)
China has been wonderful so far! We’ve seen and experienced so many things already that it feels like we’ve been here much longer than we have. We visited an art district in Beijing. This is basically a small town inhabited only by artists and their studios. There is something to be said about an intentional community dedicated to artists. I, and several other people, said we would love to live in place like that. The language barrier between us and the artists made it a bit more difficult to understand what they were trying to say though their art. I know that art is supposed to speak to everyone and you shouldn’t need words to understand it, but it is hard to take meaning from something created by someone who lives such a different life than mine. I wish I knew more about the artists, and I had a chance to learn more about them, but was too scared to ask questions.
We climbed the Great Wall! I’m still a little amazed that we climbed such a feat of mankind. It was odd, though, because we had some local farmers with us (they followed us, we didn’t invite them) and they were very nice and helpful until we said we wanted to buy t-shirts. Once the words left our lips, the farmers descended on us like vultures and we were the road kill. They wanted 120 Yuan ($20) for the t-shirts, which was a huge rip off. Myrrl talked them down to 40 Yuan and we all bought shirts that said “I Climbed The Great Wall.” I said the farmers’ following us was odd because one minute they were our friends (pengyou) and the next minute they were ripping us off. I wanted to buy something from them because that’s how they make their living, but they used such false pretenses, and were so rude about it that I didn’t want to anymore. That is actually how I feel about most vendors I’ve come across in China (unless their goods have fixed prices). They’re so aggressive that I don’t want to buy from them. The vendors that let me be are the ones that I want to buy from.
Back to the Great Wall: It was kind of surreal climbing something that I’ve seen so many pictures of and heard so many stories about. It was beautiful and huge and amazing! It was sobering to think of all the people that died making the Great Wall, though. How many other “feats of mankind” have required such sacrifices to be made? The question that I found myself asking was “Is it worth it?”
My legs are insanely sore from climbing the Wall. Most of the steps were as high as my knees. Did I mention that I wasn’t expecting the Wall to be so up and down? Pictures always make it look like a smooth, rolling walk. Reality, how you have fooled me! The rest of that day was filled with small comforts: pizza, cats, and good conversation.
So ends our first week in China. I haven’t really felt culture shock yet, although that’s not to say that I haven’t been shocked by some of the cultural norms. Some of the habits in China really surprised me at first; for example, people spit everywhere! They even spit inside, where they work. Many children walking around the streets can be seen wearing pants missing the crotch and butt area. This was a bit shocking, but I suppose it makes sense: the children can easily relieve themselves anywhere, but it still freaks me out when I see a little boy peeing onto a tree on the side of the street.
Traffic is another thing that is very different from America. It’s actually a little terrifying. Unlike in America, vehicles have the right-of-way in China. This does not make sense to me because it causes so many more pedestrian casualties and is just so dangerous. Myrrl says not to run across the street because it confuses the drivers, but I don’t know what else to do if you need to get out of the street.
Our travels could not have gone more smoothly. Although we were exhausted when we arrived to Barcelona, we had all of our luggage, had made our connecting flight, and were greeted by our guide–Jim of the tour company “Good Barcelona”–who happens to be Australian, not Spanish. Jim was easy to find due to his bright yellow “Good Barcelona” guide shirt, and a mustache that probably rivals Salvador Dali.
The bus dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel in downtown Barcelona, which meant that we had to pull all of our luggage behind us as we clattered noisily down the street. People stare at us everywhere we go because we are such a big group, but we felt especially conspicuous in the caravan to the hostel.
Our arrival at the hostel itself was disconcerting in its lack of structure but was improved somewhat by the exciting swirl of Spanish and Catalan (the language specific to Barcelona) that was peppering us from the walls, signs, and people. Inside we struggled with a snafu in the reservations for our rooms, which didn’t take away from the anxiety of the environment. After just an hour to get settled, we met Ben, who took us on our walking tour of Barcelona.
Ben is a tall, sarcastic San Franciscan with an extremely dry sense of humor. He was a very interesting and fun tour guide, but by the time we got around to leaving most of us hadn’t eaten anything significant in a solid eight hours. I think we were all pretty overwhelmed by the foreign sights and sounds of the city, and we felt very foreign and unwanted in our 24 person tourist group. Invasive vendors buzzed at us with kazoo-like mouth instruments, and the multiple warnings about pickpockets hovered in the back of our minds as the tide of the city swept past.
The tour went by in a haze of historical facts and beautiful, sun-drenched alleyways. Afterwards we finally got to eat in a Spanish cooking class, where we crammed into a tiny room and learned how to make one of Spain’s national foods, called “tapas”. The lady in the class showed us how to make Barcelona’s spin on this food, as well as paella, a fried rice dish. Spirits picked up noticeably as we got food in our systems. Once we got back to the hostel though, most people went to bed by 9:00 or 9:30, and proceeded to sleep for a good 12 hours.
The hostel provided the typical small Spanish breakfast of toast, coffee, cereal and a muffin, which although good, was not particularly filling, and certainly did not last until our 3:00 lunch. The space, timing and quantity of meals have definitely been something we are all struggling with, although I think we will adjust in a week or two.
After breakfast, our tour guide, Ben, met us in the hostel lobby to take us on a biking tour of Barcelona. The highlight of the day was probably a tour of the Sagrada Familia, a huge beautiful basilica that has been under construction since the turn of the century.
We spent the afternoon at one the beaches on the Mediterranean, and then made our way to a dinner of tapas. After dinner we went to a Flamenco show–a kind of dancing that is typical for southern Spain. There were two dancers, one male and one female. Both exhibited grace, speed and sensuality as they turned and stomped their feet to the music of two voices and an extremely talented guitar player. After dinner we split off into smaller groups and explored the city’s nightlife–although most Barcelonans don’t really go out until 1:00 or 2:00, by which time we were in bed.
On Saturday we loaded into a bus and drove out of the city center to Montserrat, a mountain that has been holy to the Catalane people for almost 1,000 years. Montserrat is an incredibly beautiful place that is home to a monastery that was shut down during the reign of the dictator Franco. The monastery is now preserved as a museum, and serves as a hub for those who come to Montserrat to pray, see the awe-inspiring views of the valley, bike, hike and rock climb. There are many hiking paths leading from the museum farther up the mountain, and Ben led us up one to better see the views. Although the temperature at Montserrat was much cooler than in the city, by the time we climbed up (mostly by stairs), we were all sweating profusely and were ready for lunch. We ate sandwiches overlooking the valley and then hiked back down to our bus waiting below.
Carol arranged for us to meet for an hour or so Saturday evening with one of the only Mennonite churches in Spain. Despite a congregation of just 43, the members who came to meet us were very welcoming and provided snacks and drinks for us after we toured their church. A quintet of us sang a couple hymns for everyone present, and then we all sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” in English, Spanish and finally Catalan before saying our goodbyes and taking the metro back to our hostel.
Now we are on the way to Granada. Our host families will meet us at the airport and take us to our homes for the next six weeks. Tomorrow morning we will go to the University of Granada and take a Spanish placement test before beginning our studies.
Until next time,
-Kara Lofton and Lucas Driediger
Quote of the week: “Is everyone alive? …because I almost got hit by a bus three times yesterday. -Philip Yoder
Lights, sirens, and city sounds,
Black, yellow, and brown all around.
Everyone rushing with no attention paid
The many heads that have no place to be laid.
What is justice without oppression?
Sadness and pain with hungry aggression.
Lives destroyed all for a dollar sign.
Build it all new, an expensive design.
Mike it pretty so everything’s alright.
Don’t discriminate, but that house is white.
Built on colored backs by their hand.
Without reward only more demand.
The city created beggars and riches.
Starvin’ people in line for soup kitchens.
Sleeping in doorways and eyes without hope
Doing what they can to survive and cope.
Like ants in a line, every day is the same
A wonderful city making its people lame.
One nation under God is what we say
But how is that when we see the devil’s work every day?
-Sarah Baker, 5-19-2013