Thursday, April 25, 2013

A New Record

Since we prepared to move to Spain we heard things about the unemployment rate in Spain.  However, today the top news story has caught our eyes and our ears and our hearts.  When you meet someone new, no longer do you ask where they work, because it is highly likely they don't have a job.

Today the statistics say that 27.2% of Spaniards are unemployed.  In the first quarter, more than 237,400 new people are unemployed.  That brings the total to a little more than 6.2 million people.  Let me put that in perspective for you.

The entire population of Tennessee would almost make up the number of unemployed in Spain.

The entire population of the Madrid province does not quite cover this number.

The entire population of Hong Kong is right at 6 million.
If you are in a group of four people, at least one is unemployed.

But the story gets worse - 3.5 million of those people have been unemployed for more than a year.

Almost 2 million families have no one employed in the household.

And for those who are under 25, the unemployment rate is 55.7%.  That is almost 3 million.

And don't forget - this does not take into account the underemployed.

Keep praying for Spain!  The days ahead for many Spaniards are not filled with hope.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cultural Confusion

I am constantly encountering moments when the culture around me and the culture in my head do not match, but normally that occurs between a Spaniard and me.  But occasionally, I hit a situation where I realize that the more time we spend in a new land that we create a third culture - some mix of our old and our new culture.  And interestingly, this third culture looks different for everyone.

The other night I had this concept hit me smack in the face, in a crazy kind of way.  I am looking for a tortilla keeper and have not found one yet, so I emailed two friends (who are both from the US but live near me) and asked if they had ever seen one.  One immediately wrote back that she had not seen them and her solution. The second conversation, however, had me rolling in the floor with laughter.

Here is the email I sent...

Ok Spanish Shopping Experts - I am looking for a tortilla keeper - you know the terra cotta color dish, usually plastic now a days, that is meant for putting steamed tortillas in for serving.  Have either of you seen one?

What immediately came to your mind?  

Here is what I wanted...

However, in Spain we also have another product that is referred to as "tortilla."  

This product is fried and is made of eggs and potatoes.

This was the tortilla that popped into my friend's head until I sent her the picture.  She wrote out for me what was happening in her head as she pondered my question...

HA!!!   Yes.  I DO know what THAT is….it's just not what I was imagining.  In MY head, I was wondering how you'd put a TORTILLA (DE PATATAS) in a sealed container without it getting soggy!!!  And since you said STEAMED tortillas…I was really not understanding where on earth you'd eaten yours.  Perhaps in Illescas they like STEAMED Tortillas de patata.   But yuck!


A funny, yet simple reminder, that "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas (or North Carolina) anymore."  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Little Things

Once again yesterday, I was "soaring" through life I got a quick slap in the face that said "you are not in America any longer."  It was a good weekend, albeit exhausting.  I taught for four hours in Spanish and think they understood what I said.  I had a relaxing lunch with a wonderful Spanish couple and even laughed at the appropriate times (if you have ever learned a foreign language you understand that humor is one of the very last things that develops).  We entertained a Spanish friend for pizza and numerous rounds of UNO and laughed and exchanged stories for hours.  We went to church and I got the sermon - toes stepped on and all - in Spanish.  And then, all I wanted to do was mail a box to Hannah.  Compared to the rest I felt like was walking towards easy street.

Uh no.  The first problem, my box weighed more than 2 kg.  This means that it is now treated as a package and not a letter.  (A letter is anything, regardless of whether it is in an envelope or a box, that is less than 2 kg - new fact I learned yesterday)  I had the wrong paperwork filled out.  No problem, except for the fact that with packages you must list everything included in the box, including the package of Spanish candy I was sending her.  Uh oh - if you list it on your paperwork you cannot send food.  So now I have a 2+kg package, not letter, with a package of candy in it that cannot be mailed and a long form in Spanish to complete regarding the package that I do not understand, and a great gentleman at the post office who is trying to be helpful but has such a strong accent I have no idea what he is saying.  Solution - take everything and go home.

So now I have two packages, both weighing less than 2 kg with the paperwork I understand completed and will make attempt number two to mail them.

You know, it isn't the big things in life that trip me up - it is always the little things that come along just about the time I think I am making progress.  Today I am also off to two different banks - one to pay our car taxes and the other to complete the process for opening a bank account for our non-profit agency.  Wonder how many surprises are ahead of me today?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Off the Shelf

Wow!  Two blog posts in a row.  After a month of not finding the time to write I am trying to get a little back in the groove.  I have definitely missed my time of writing.  I wonder if anyone missed reading.

Tomorrow I am teaching a workshop on Christian Education at our base church.  And bigger than the fact that I am teaching tomorrow, is the fact that I am teaching it in Spanish!  Oh my!  It is going to take a miracle to survive the day.  I alternate between being excited to finally be doing something with my language and scared to death.  At one moment I am scared to death no one will show up and the next minute I am afraid someone will show up.

This week I was in a three day training conference on how to be a Life Coach and how to incorporate that skill in my ministry.  It was a great week and I can't wait to apply what I learned.  Anyone wanna volunteer to be my first "coachee?"  But as I was leaving today the instructor was telling me he would be praying for me tomorrow and we were talking about the emotions I was experiencing.

It has been difficult to describe the emotions of being reduced to toddler stage language in a place where there is so much that needs to be done.  But he summed up.  It was the feel of "being put on the shelf."  That was it!  So much of this past 18 months I have felt like I have been sitting on the shelf.  My language skills were so low (and continue to need lots of work) that there was nothing "productive" that I was being used for.  All around me were co-workers overwhelmed with all that needed to be done and I was sitting on the shelf.  At times I felt like dust was gathering and maybe had been forgotten.  At other times I felt like maybe the shelf was getting so full something (meaning someone) might need to be packed away. Its been a hard season of "sitting on the shelf" and as I move closer to my Spanish proficiency exam I am beginning to have that feeling of "being picked up and examined" and it brings both excitement and fears.  What will life look like off the shelf?

Tomorrow is a chance to temporarily come off the shelf and is a gift.  I think it will also be the motivation to put out the last push for preparing for my exam.  Check back in a day or two and I'll tell you about the view from off the shelf.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


If you asked me what was the hardest part of life in a foreign culture I would say it is the lack of relationships.  Oh, I have friends and I have co-workers, but sometimes they are work.  There is the language issue with my native friends and there is the distance issue with most of my co-workers.  I think this is a hard adjustment for anyone who moves to a new culture, but I think I felt it particularly strong because I left a position on a church staff that allowed me to walk the halls of the church on almost any given day and be greeted by many, be stopped for conversation by many, and to always have a phone message or email from someone.  My life was people and relationships at every level.

And then boom - that was gone.  In one fail swoop.  But after 18 months (can you believe we have been here for 18 months already) God has begun to gift those relationships back.  Oh, the language is still an issue, but God has placed 3 very special women in my life that have turned Illescas (where we life) from just our ministry site to home. 

I am not a spontaneous person.  I love to plan my life out to the finest detail.  Spain is a spontaneous culture.  So trust me, I am learning.  I have also learned that I love the spontaneous part of Spanish relationships.

Let me introduce you to my "gifts."

Martha (pronounced Marta) is my neighbor.  She and her family are from Columbia (the country, not SC) and have two children - Laura who is 8 and Daniella who is 5 months.  She has incredible patience with my language and is always full of encouragement.  She is a fellow evangelical believer and we so often are sharing scriptures that have touched our hearts or prayer requests or stories of our faith.  Monday night around 8:00 our phone rang and it was her husband.  A couple days earlier I had mentioned I wanted to learn how to cook platanos.  They were at the the store and saw platanos that were ripe and were calling to see if we could come to dinner on Tuesday night and have platanos.  We had a prior commitment and had to say no.  Immediately they changed the question.  Could we come to dinner tonight (meaning Monday) at 9:00?  Yep - I threw some cookies in the oven and grabbed a soda and she fixed chorizo and platanos and an hour later we were sitting around their table sharing dinner.  It's those phone calls that tug at your heart and remind you that you have roots growing.

Lisa is a Spanish woman who lives one street over.  Her husband works for the Bible Society of Spain in Madrid.  They have 3 children (from 16 to 20).  I haven't been able to spend much time with her, but when language finishes there will be more opportunities. Tonight, as I was sitting at the table recovering from an all day workshop, the button at our gate rang.  I looked out the window and there was Lisa.  She was going for her evening "paseo" (a stroll) and wanted to know if I wanted to join her.  As in right that moment.  Grabbed my sweater and for the next 30 minutes we walked and talked. She speaks English and I have given her permission to correct my Spanish.  She was so full of encouragement.  She asked me if I was ready for our proficiency exam in May.  I asked her what did she think.  She responds "I haven't seen you in a while, but you are so much better!"  Oh what a fabulous gift.  We chatted about our kids.  We chatted about what God is doing in our lives.  We chatted about some struggles.  We walked off a few calories (I wonder if it was enough to eat the last Reese's Easter Egg and come out even?).  It's those door bell sounds that remind you that your house is no longer just a house, but a home and a safe haven.

Maria is a Spanish woman we met through English class (I used to go to English class with my tutor to hear different Spanish accents and to let her students hear a native English speaker).  We became instant friends.  She is pregnant with her first child.  She went to English camp last October with us and since then has been over to our house for dinner and games several times or we have gone out with her for tapas or her birthday celebration.  Scott ran into her the other day and she "suggested" we get together again soon but do it on a weekend because then she could stay later (she leaves for work around 6:30 AM so when we get together on the weeknights she leaves early).  Tonight as I was driving home from Madrid I looked out the window and she was passing me.  She waved and smiled and made me laugh.  I followed her to our exit and as we approached where I would turn off I waved goodbye, but she pulled over and expected that I would do the same.  She got out of her car and opened my door to give me a hug and the Spanish double kiss.  We inquired about how each was doing and then she wanted to know if Scott had told me he saw her and about getting together on a weekend.  I said yes, and in my American mindset was trying to think when do I have a weekend free. She says "so Friday?"  As in two days away.  I explained I am in Madrid every day this week until the same time each day.  So she looks at her watch, says "so, until 6:40.  How about 7:30?"  When Maria is around you laugh and smile and she teaches me crazy Spanish sayings.  Maria and I are friends just because.  No hidden agendas.  She knows that we are evangelical believers and she has clearly expressed that she is not.  She trusts our friendship regardless.  But today, as I was processing the fact that if the world were to end tonight, I would miss her for eternity I was saddened.  There were tears over that realization.  And it is those tears that remind you that we are home. 

Slowly, but surely, God is gifting with new relationships.  Relationships that are unlike any of the relationships I had in NC.  Not better or worse, just different.  And I am extremely greatful.  And it's those realizations that you have friends right around the conrer that remind you that it will all be ok, that you can do it.  Oh how blessed I am!