Monday, 10 August 2015
Two year milestone
As I look at this photo (look how young Manu looks) it feels like the past two years have just flown by. So much has happened but where did the time go? And at the same time, I wish I felt further along in this process of making Spain home.
I arrived with so many good intentions and as much energy as I could muster to make them into our new reality. Most especially, I was determined that I did not want to live in an English-speaking bubble ... or a missionary bubble, come to that. I enrolled in a month of intensive language-learning, followed that up with weekly lessons and tried my best not to get immediately sucked into the vortex of doing, to the point that I would have no time left for simply building relationships.
Yet here I am, two years later, and 95% of my time is spent among English speakers, many of whom are directly or tangentially involved in similar work to me. So what went wrong?
Generous helpings of gumption and energy are helpful in breaking up new ground and preparing it for sustaining a new way of living. A natural initiator, I am not averse to making the first move in building relationships with new people. But somewhere along the line, this energy does wear thin. And as doubts creep in about how things really work here, I find myself slower to initiate. "Is this how things are done?" I wonder, as I pop in on a new friend and find them just waking from their siesta. Sometimes I fear I am too enthusiastic and at other times not enthusiastic enough. No culture comes with a manual and the more aware I become of how I am not supposed to do things, the more I flounder in the sense that I am likely to be causing unwitting offence (or bemusement) and that perhaps I should hold back.
Hold back I do. I wait for others to initiate with me ... one or two do (thank goodness for those moments that rescue my fragile sense of belonging) but most don't. Taking the initiative is perhaps the most under-rated skill. I develop the habit of fake-texting in the school playground so that I don't have to look so stupidly alone. It's not that people aren't nice but there seems to be no obvious reason to engage me in conversation, and all my usual social skills are lying flattened beneath the weight of my over-sized dictionary.
This is not what I am used to. I say used to, but you know what I mean. This is the third time that a move to a new country has meant learning a new language. The first time was on my Gap Year in Switzerland and, as I moved in with a family, I had no alternative but to speak French (and they had no alternative but to speak to me, as broken as my language was at first). The second time was when Tim and I moved to Mozambique and learned Portuguese. Now one step removed from the language because we had each other, we were nevertheless surrounded by the language when we stayed with local people. They all seemed to take on the linguistic challenge of communicating with us as a necessary part of building relationships. Why else would we be there, after all?
This is a different season of life, of course. Now we have kids and our own home to live in, a home where we speak English. Should I leave home for a while? Get a Spanish-speaking lodger? Walk around with a T-shirt that says, Quiero aprender español - ser mi amigo (actually, that one might be worth a try)?
Slowly we are developing a circle of friends. Nearly all of them speak English. It's not what I wanted but maybe it's early days. I wonder if I will have to get fluent in Spanish so that I can initiate friendships with Spaniards, but there's something that seems backwards about that. Will I 'find myself' again within the Spanish language and culture, or will I always be on the outside?
In spite of all this, there are things to celebrate at this 2 year milestone. Manu is navigating her way within her circle of friends, both Spanish and English. Keziah is excited about starting a new school and has good friends; she understands most of the Spanish she hears spoken around her. I am forever grateful for my Spanish teacher and friend, Luisa, with whom I wish I could spend more time. We are getting to know the area close to where we live and have found a few 'life-giving' sweet spots.
And for the rest, time will tell. Meanwhile, next time you think I am on social media far too much (after all, all this started with a Facebook photo), make it a prayer that a real life person will stop and speak to me ... in Spanish!