Estar de limbo: Getting Sick in Spain

No, I’m not bending over backwards, but I’m pretty sure that would be more pleasant than the tos seco, dry cough, I’ve caught. Just like my computer crashing before finals week, my health is deteriorating just before my parents come and the marathon that will be the next month begins. I’ve got lots of things to blame – my hectic schedule, my lack of exercise, my poor health habits, all the germy kids I teach, a house with no insulation and no central heating. But the fact of the matter is, I’m sick as a dog, up all night coughing and miserable, with no end in sight. I’ve had a cold for about two weeks now, and the horrible coughing started last Thursday. My body tricked me into thinking I was all better, but I realized I was mistaken on Monday morning when I could barely speak.

My Tuesday lessons were a little shaky since I was feeling dizzy and hacking up a lung, but I struggled through work at school, then work at We Love Spain. I arrived home and said goodbye to Eva. Senna, the adorable British girl who now lives with us, installed herself (damn you, Spanish!) just an hour later, not giving me much time to think about Eva leaving. I waited and waited for Franco, my intercambio, to call so we could meet up, but he instead went to the gym. Kike came over to plan our trip, but we opted for pizza and Shrek 2. I then realized just how shitty I felt. I spent the whole night keeping my roommates up with my cough, which I’d assume is like smoker’s cough, and the next day looked absolutely dead at my lessons. My poor 3esoG…Anytime I opened my mouth, it was to cough. My wonderful director, Nieves, insisted I went to the health clinic, and she drove me there during my last class period. As it turns out, I have an inflamed throat and a bad cold, so she prescribed me some drugs. I have this weird liquid stuff that smells better than it tastes called jarabe. I have a little shot glass, and I need to put back 10mL every six hours. I also have this soluble powder stuff that tastes AWFUL, too. I can only take this when I eat. I haven’t got much of an appetite, though. I usually line up the shot glass, the soluble stuff in a little glass with as little water as possible and a bottle of water. I shoot the jarabe, gulp down the Algidol and chug my water. Then, I generally take an excedrin to help with the body ache. It’s awful.

I hardly ever get sick in the US, and when I do, I’m not going at 100 miles a minute, so I can recover. I’m not at school right now so I can get better before my parents come this weekend. On Sunday, they’ll arrive about 21:30 into Granada, then we’re traveling around Andalusia and Morocco. They day they leave, Kike and I are flying to Scotland (pretty awesome Christmas present, I’d say). We get back the 8th, then Nance comes on the 10th and Brian and Matt will be here sometime then, too. I’ve got to gather up all the strength I’ve got to make it through the next four weeks and be a good host and traveling companion. Now back to bed all bundled up!


What’s inevitable about my time here is that the time will come where I have to leave. I staunchly refused to come home for Christmas this year for un montón of reasons – Chicago is cold. Christmas drives me crazy. I didn’t want to experience reverse culture shock. It’s a good excuse for my dad to finally leave the north American continent. And even though I’m full of anticipation for my family to come see what I’ve been up to the last three months, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve gained about 4 kilos (7-8 pounds), and it’s obvious. I struggle sometimes with my Spanish, especially in this area with their accent. I know they won’t like the food, and I’m afraid they won’t be open-minded. I would have NEVER ordered coagulated sheep’s blood, but it’s really not that bad. Seriously. So I am staying here with a few others to spend the holidays. But many of my friends are returning home, and some of them permanently. My darling roommate Eva decided to go back to Germany for good, and she leaves in two days. Although sometimes I feel like her mother, she’s become a dear friend and I will miss her. She always has chocolate. But Helen makes a great point – you may not have Eva in your piso, but you’ve got a friend in Germany forever. Well put, abuela.

So, my family will be here from 23 Dec to 3 Jan. We’re staying a few days on the coast in Benalmádena and taking day trips to Málaga, Ronda, Marbella and Gib, then we’ll head to Sevilla for the new year before I take them back to the Alhambra. After that, The Novio and I may go to Scotland for a few days, then Nancy and Matt and Brian are coming to Sevilla. Busssssssy. I’ve added a lot more to my schedule the last few weeks, too. I was able to score a no-work friday, so I’m now working at Heliche M-Th in the morning, then I go right to WLS. On Monday and Wednesday, I give private lessons to an adult who speaks English really well and asks too many questions about theory that I can’t answer, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays I meet Franco for an intercambio, which is a conversation hour essentially – one day Spanish for me, one day English for him. Then I’ve got the gym and lesson planning and me time etc. etc. Two months ago, I was begging for something to do, and now I’m begging for some time off!

Speaking of Spanish, mine has improved a lot lately. I was with Kike the other night and had to go to an ATM, so he walked me there and two Americans were taking out money. I was speaking to Kike in Spanish, but sometime can just express myself better with a word in English. That word happened to be DUH!!, and one of the Americans turned around and was like, “You speak English?” and I said, “Yes, pero prefiero hablar en español porque vivo aqui.” And while I was getting out money, the guy asked Kike if I always spoke to him in Spanish, and he said yes, she does. And then he said I’d improved in the month that we’ve known each other. I’m really, really trying to make an attempt to speak Spanish so that my parents won’t come and be like, “You’re fat, you don’t speak Spanish that much and you’ve got no friends.” I don’t want to go back to the US in June without being able to speak the language of the country I’ve lived in for several months. How lame. It helps having a little Spanish teacher and going out with his friends and being forced to speak it. If I only knew how to distinguish between “Hecho polvo” and “Hacer EL polvo.” A prize to whoever can guess either of the meanings correctly.

Brussels, beer and a boy

I think I start every post exctly the same: by expressing how happy I am here. I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else in the world but where I am right now: in a country where beer is cheaper than water (score), where daily naps are cultural (double score) and a cold winter is considered 60 degrees. And, yes, my Chicago-bred body has adjusted to this by finding said weather cold and donning a winter jacket, scarf and mittens. No joke.

A month back, I took advantage of a Ryan Air sale (even though the airline is scary as all hell to fly…which is probably why everyone claps as soon as the plane lands, post-turbulence, on a clear day). I asked the Huelva girls to come with me to Brussels for the Puente de la Constitucion because I found round trip fare for 32E each – less than it would cost to pay for gas between Wheaton and Iowa City. They showed up Wednesday night about 9pm and we had a beer, turned in, then got up early to take a bus from Sevilla to Malaga. From there, we flew Ryan Air into rainy Brussels, land of waffles, beers and chocolate. I tried my best to starve all week in preparation, but that didn’t work out so well. We got into Brussels Charleroi South airport or something like that, about a 45-60 minute trip from Brussels. Stupid Ryan Air. Despite being cheap, it also flies out of very inconvenient places. Trying to navigate in a country where I don’t know the language makes me feel like a jackass, especially because Americans have a stigma for their reluctance to learn foreign languages. We somehow had good timing to get the bus to the Charleroi train station and a train right away to Brussels’ Gare Midi – central station.

Brussels is a beautiful European city – grandiose, friendly and cold. Cold meaning 55 degrees, but the wind and light drizzle made us all freeeeeeze. I was the trip organizer and tour guide (thank you, Don Gaa!), and I was the only one who could say more than bonjour or merci in French. Really, I was mildly impressed with my French skills and how much I was able to recall. Somehow, we got onto the metro, which was dirty yet fast, and got off at the stop suggested on the website. I approached about the only person I could find and asked him “Ou’est la Rue Royale?” and followed his finger down the street, running into dead end after dead end. We finally had to ask at a hotel with an English speaker how to get to our hostel after battling drizzle and nighttime temps.

When we walked into Hostal Van Gogh, a hostel reccommended by our guide book and one of the only budget accommodations in the city, we were very impressed. The swanky reception area had a bar, a lounge and a pool table. We were told our room was just across the stark courtyard with the bathrooms adjacent. The bathrooms were adjacent, but we had to go outside and share one stall with about 40 other people. When we walked into our practically barren room, we were shocked to find that the bunks had no ladders (I used the radiator to climb), no linens and STUNK. Like, really stunk. My first thought was that it hadn’t been cleaned all week, but it turns out that our bunkmates Lachy and Shawn from Australia didn’t shower. And the smell lingered. We hightailed it out of the room as fast as we could.

The boys did us some advice – to see the center of the city while it was lit up at night for Christmas. I normally don’t like Christmas, but I’ve been resisting it a lot in Spain. In fact, people don’t give presents until Reyes Magos day on January 6. Anyway, we grabbed a quick bite at a doner kebab stand and took the metro into town. The cold wind seemed to be blocked by the Christmas spirit. Bars welcomed patrons with a warm fire and cold pints of delicious Belgian beer, the streets were lined with cholocate shops and french fry stands still open after 10 pm, and the plazas were full of lights and music. It sadly made me get into the Christmas spirit.

The four of us have become accustomed to walking about 10m in any direction to find a bar or a coffee shop, but we had to trudge through the drizzle for several blocks to find a bar in which to try some of the country’s world-famous beer. We figured we needed to put back a few pints to put us to sleep with the smelly Aussies, at least. What we found was Drug Opera, one of the oldest and most famous bars in the city. Lynn and Jessi ordered Kreik, a wonderful cherry beer that had a little fizz, while Kait got a light beer with the fitting words “Hoegaarden” written on them, and I ordered a darker beer that kind of tasted like candle wax. They were ENORMOUS because when the waiter asked “chopin?” we said yes. He then told us that meant big. Oops. After two of these size, we got on the topics of very inappropriate things, and had to remind ourselves that there are MANY people in Brussels who speak English. Needless to say, we were those Americans and got many, many disgusted looks. But man do I love those girls and the trouble we cause.

The next morning, we were up early to a REALLY awful breakfast at the hostel and showers that were in the other building and down the stairs. This was also where the only outlet in the whole damn place seemed to be. I wasn’t concerned about my hair, just my bangs (Yes, I now have fliquillos, the result of a lack of understanding between the woman who cut my hair last week and I. Shitttt. I’m getting used to it, though). We decided that our first stop should then be a waffle stand. Yes, we were being trite and eating Belgian waffles in Brussels. But they were delicious. So sugary, in fact, that we had to split a sandwich so we wouldn’t be on sugar overload. We took a trip to the Christmas market and tried vin chaud, hot wine with spices, that was marvelous. Delicious. Warms you right up. The streets were so full of people ducking in and out of cholocate shops at 1030 am, and we were drinking wine. Did I mention I think Europe is the best place ever? We got to Grote Market, decorated in Christmas paraphenalia, and just marveled at how intricate the detail on the buildings is, how grandiose and regal everything looks. I love Spain and the architecture here, but northern European cities just enraptures me. From here, we stopped at Brussels most famous statue – Mannekin Pis, a foot-tall boy perpetually peeing into a pool. The townspeople have hundreds of costumes for him – we saw him both naked and dressed in a track jacket with a strategically placed hole so he could continue to relieve himself. It was quite funny.

The wind continued to blow and the rain drizzled on, so we stopped into a bar across from the peeing boy, said to have difussed a bomb by peeing on it, to get more beers. We sat next to a fire and replicas of the statue, and invited two other Americans to sit with us. As it turns out, Sam and Chase are studying in Sevilla and live in my neighborhood. They were kind of strange but super nice. The beer in Belgium really is good, and they take it seriously. There’s like a secret fraternity for it, which we learned at the Beer museum, a spectacular waste of 5 euro. But we got some beer out of it, I suppose. We stopped again on the street for street food – a gigantic sausage with sourkraut and mustard and french fries. It’s so easy to eat on a budget here, and the food is spectacular. We took a bus out to see the EU parliament building, which is in Brussels along with NATO, but apparently they only give tours during the morning. They probably wouldn’t let us in because we’re Americans, but whatever. We decided it was time to walk back into town and get more beer. Along the way we hit some chocolate places for free samples and got to try all kinds of truffles, pistachio flavored chocolate and practically anything you could think of. I had a hard time picking things out for my roommates and Martin.

The first bar we came to we decided to stop in. Who was there but the smelly kids, spreading their stench allll over the city. To be polite, we invited them to have a drink with us, but they sat at the end of the table and told us how much they dislike Americans. Um, ok, you can leave anytime you want? When our broke asses realized we weren’t getting any free drinks, we peaced out and promised to come back after eating. Instead, we drank some more beers at the pita place we went to for dinner, sufficiently buzzed. We next went to the Mannekin Pis bar to find more people to hang out with. Deciding it was too much of a hassle to go back to the hostel to chane and look pretty, we figured we could have an easy night and not go to a disco. We found two random dudes whose names I can’t even remember who are in the Royal Air Force in Britain. When we were running out of things to say, we decided to leave for another bar, stopping to get more vin chaud on the way. We soon after got ditched. It was really weird – I went to the bathroom and came out and they were like, “Yeah, we gotta go meet our girlfriends now. Bye.” Uh, what? One of you looks like a neandethal and the other is crossed eyed. And you’re both boring. Anyway, we got over the fact that we’d been burned and made our way back to the hostel at about 10 pm. For whatever reason, we were WIPED OUT. We took a tylenol pm, hoping it would help us sleep, but the stench and Lachy’s Ipod kept us all awake. I would reach across the beds and shake his foot and ask him to turn it off and he would just swear at me. I really don’t like most Aussies who I’ve shared hostels with. With the exception of a 31-year-old we met up north and the girls I met in Ireland, they’re loud and rude and just want to party in Europe. Must be nice to get paid by the government to travel and leave your own country.

I got back to Spain in one piece, so happy to be back where I spoke the language and could make excuses for poor service and unreliable time tables. I was feeling sick and just wanted to sleep or shower or something, but Saturday night in Sevilla. I got a phone call from my pal Kate, who told me she was meeting a mutual friend for dinner and then going out somewhere around Triana (Kate lives two blocks from me). The only thing is, this guy is a bit more than a friend to me. I haven’t had a crush on anyone for a long, long time – I mean one that last more than 48 hours – so this is big, I suppose. Kate introduced us a few weeks ago, and I didn’t think it would amount to anything more than me being a bit borracha and kissing him, but we’ve been spending a fair amount of time together. He’s older, 28, and has a big kid job, but despite some miscommunications and my inability to understand the slang he uses, I like him. Even when he disses Brett Favre. I’m not expecting anything to come out of it, as high expectations rarely pan out. For the moment, I’m happy with how things are. With the chaval, with work, with everything.

My parents are coming in two weeks and I am getting really excited to see them and Margaret. I can’t believe I’ve been in Spain for three months already!!

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