Going Home

So, long story short, I had my follow-up for my sleep study, and the sleep clinic isn’t going to give me any medicine, for reasons that are dubious at best. So I’m a little out of options now.

I haven’t left my apartment in about a month except to go to school, the grocery store, and my private classes. Even when I’m at school, I feel like a zombie, or like a shell of a human being. I don’t think I have a personality anymore, all my energy goes into not falling asleep. I can’t string sentences together, not in English or Spanish. My room is a wreck because I can’t keep up with all the things required to make my space neat. All I eat is bread and frozen pizzas because trying to figure out meals and groceries and everything related with food planning is overwhelming and I just can’t rely on food that can’t be eaten immediately. I’m too tired to prepare even simple things.

I don’t want to be like this, but I can’t change my situation through sheer willpower — even though I’ve been trying. So I’m going home.

I had planned to go back to the United States at the end of the semester, but this week I realized that it really can’t wait. So I’m going home next Friday, I’ve got a week to pack up and say goodbye to people.

The good news is that I’ll be able to get Xyrem in the US — probably — and that could turn everything around. If my insurance approves Xyrem, I could even get a supply to take to Spain in the fall so that I can come back and teach another year. So I will hopefully be able to come back.

But I really don’t want to leave. I love Spain, and I keep hoping that things will get better, that I’ll have a day where I feel okay and I’ll be able to go to Madrid or travel a little or something. But I never have days like that, so I need to go home and get my health sorted.聽It really, really sucks.

Excursi贸n to Madrid

Yesterday, I went with one of my classes to the National Museum of Archeology in Madrid.

On the bus ride there, I tried my best to stay awake and look at the ugly, flat scenery as we approached the city. As the roads narrowed and the traffic increased, Juanra, my best teacher friend, leaned over and told me we had about 15 minutes before arriving if I wanted to take a nap. He sees me every day and can tell, more than anyone, when I’m tired. I’m never sure what gives it away, because I always think that I’m being normal. My mom says you can see it in my eyes.

So I slept for a few minutes before we arrived at the museum. Juanra’s voice woke me up, and he apologized for waking me, but it didn’t matter because I felt slightly better.

At the museum, I was in charge of keeping the 12-year-olds from

1) touching the priceless artifacts

2) taking pictures of the genitals on the statues, and

3) running away.

I was only marginally successful at all of this.

I tried to pay attention as the teacher I was helping talked about the different exhibits, but even though the words entered my brain, they wouldn’t stay there. I listened to everything as best I could, but it was like I breathed the words in and out, like oxygen, and I couldn’t tell you a single thing he said.

We saw a cast of Lucy’s skeleton and statues from the ancient Greeks, and Egyptian sarcophaguses. In the Egypt exhibit, I turned around and suddenly all the wooden floors and all the hallways were slanting towards me, like I was at the bottom of a pit. A group of teenagers were coming聽towards me, walking down the steeply slanted hallway like it was a ramp, but they were huge, way bigger than any humans should be, and I stared at them because they were a strangely scary.

This isn’t real, I told myself. This is a dream. Museum hallways don’t have slanted floors.聽But I could still see the floors and they were very slanted. Think of all the museums you’ve been to. Weren’t they all completely flat? Museums don’t make uneven floors. This isn’t real.

My class was leaving the exhibit, walking up the floors, and I as I caught up with them I could feel under my shoes that the floor was flat, and in the next room things looked more normal.

museo_9143_622x.jpg

After the tour, I had a coffee in the museum cafeteria with Juanra and Esperanza, the young, beautiful, and extremely kind philosophy teacher, while the students ate outside in the rain. It’s the first year for all three of us at our school, so聽Juanra and Esperanza chatted about their classes and their impressions of the institute, while I listened. It’s very hard to talk these days, in both English and Spanish, so usually I prefer not to try.

Juanra said he was a disaster in the classroom, which isn’t true, and I know because I have class every day with him, and I wanted to say something but the thought of opening my mouth was overwhelming, so I kept quiet. I felt guilty, listening to Juanra speak freely to Esperanza in Spanish — we generally speak only in English, which is his second language, and it’s not as easy for him to express himself with precision.

I’d like to speak in Spanish, but my brain works so slowly. It’s hard to string together a sentence in English, let alone Spanish, and I’m sick of feeling humiliated when people hear my pauses and stuttering and assume that my level of Spanish is quite low. In reality, podr铆a hablar f谩cilmente el espa帽ol, si tan solo pudiese pensar con claridad y tener el cerebro que ten铆a antes.

So for the sake of my pride, I stick to English with Juanra, and miss out on hearing his unfettered thoughts.

At one point, Esperanza became very worried that my level of Spanish comprehension was quite聽low, since I wasn’t talking, and she had been speaking Spanish to me all day. I had to assure her that I understood everything — which is true — and that I prefer to just listen — which is not true, it’s not a preference, it’s a necessity.聽

On the bus ride back to Alcorc贸n, I fell asleep, but this time I felt worse off when I woke up. When we arrived at school, I stumbled to the bathroom to take more medication, but it didn’t help, and when it was time for me to go home I found myself suddenly in the staff room, trying to leave, but I would blink and find that I had stopped moving after only a few steps, over and over, and I was very confused.

Aside

I’m Back!

I’m sorry for not posting anything recently! I’ve been so tired, I’ve had to focus on just surviving day-to-day. But I’m back now!

I’m still trying to qualify for sodium oxybate here. I want to teach at my school for another year, but the meds I take now just aren’t good enough to justify staying in Spain for another whole year, it’s too difficult, I think. But sodium oxybate would be a game-changer — I truly think it would allow me to stay here longer, and to participate more in the Spanish life. I really love Spain, and there’s so much I haven’t seen or done yet, so I’m really hoping that I can get sodium oxybate. Otherwise, I think I’ll have to go back to the States, which would break my heart.

Aside

Conversations with my Students

Some conversations I had today with my little Spanish angel students:

  • “Teacher!! I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!!! I saw you going into your apartment AND YOU HAD PIZZA!”
  • “Teacher, if you want to say ‘I farted’ in English, can you say ‘I made a mess?’ You can, right? I know you can. No, you can. I know it.”
  • “Teacher, Borja from Cuarto has a crush on you!! Do you like him? Can I tell him you like him?!” (NB: Borja is 15 years old.)
  • “Teacher, how much money do you make?”
  • “Are you dating Other Teacher? Are you IN LOVE with Other Teacher?!”
  • “Teacher, what color hair does your mom have? And what’s her name?”
  • “Teacher, did you know that in English if you want to say ‘I’m gonna puke’, you say ‘Chewbacca is coming’? No, this is true! I KNOW it’s true!”

Dear Spain, You Learned Wrong

Learning a foreign language is聽fascinating to me, and I am constantly surprised by聽the nuances that get lost in translation. I’ve been laughing a bit at the things Spaniards are being taught during their English classes — which are taught by other Spaniards, not by native English speakers — that are just flat-out wrong.

Most commonly, Spaniards learn to say聽things that are grammatically correct, but that no native English speaker would ever say. When Americans learn Spanish in school, we encounter a few of these types of things, too — for example, we’re taught to say “Encantado” when meeting someone. PSA, this word literally means “Enchanted”, and it sounds just as stupid in Spanish as it does in English.

The most common “technically correct but sounds weird” error that I’ve heard here is that, when you ask a Spaniard, “How are you?”, they respond with “Fine.” This happens 100% of the time, regardless of the English fluency of the person I’m talking to. “Fine” is a literal translation of “Bien,” which is the appropriate response in Spanish, but in English, if someone just says “Fine,” it comes off as a bit guarded, or even defensive, to a native English speaker, as if you’re dismissing their casual question.

Because I am a crusader for English fluency here in Spain, I’ve taken it upon myself to gently correct people聽about this, when appropriate, to varying degrees of success. One of my waiter friends has gone from saying “I am fine” to “I am very very fine”, and another has stubbornly insisted that there is no point in saying he feels “good” if he is only “fine”. I have had a few receptive students, though, who now say “I’m good!” while giving me a huge thumbs-up. This seems more sarcastic than anything, but I’ll take what I can get.

State vs State

One of my history classes ran into a little English phoneme difficulty today.

Mid-lecture, a student raised her hand and said, “Yes, what is the difference between estate and estate? They are different words? You pronounce them differently?”

Juanra, the teacher I was helping — he’s young, fashionable, and constantly on the brink of despair about his badly-behaved students — replied, “Well, yes, you have estates like the land聽the nobles聽owned, and then you have estates like the United Estates.”

“And you say them聽the same way?”聽

“Well…”

“No,” I said quickly, hoping Juanra would forgive me for cutting him off. “No, they’re different words, they’re pronounced and spelled differently.”

Juanra helpfully wrote the two words on the board for me: ‘State vs. State.’

“One of them has an ‘e’,” I whispered.

“Oh,” he said, looking at the blackboard. “Joder.”聽

“So you say them differently,” I told the class as Juanra added聽an 聽‘e’ on the blackboard. “The first word, the land the nobles owned, that’s an estate. And the second word is just聽state.”

The entire class, in unison, made a confused noise.

“Can you hear the difference?” I asked.

“No,” they said.

Estate,” I said, as clearly as I could. “State.

“Ehm, that is the same word,” one of the students offered helpfully. “You are not saying a different word.”

“Yes, she is,” said Juanra. “She is saying first聽estate and second聽estate.”

“Uh,” I said. “Here, let’s all listen again. In Spanish, y’all don’t have this ‘s’ and ‘t’ sound together in your words, so it can be very hard to hear and make that sound in English. The first word is聽estate. The second word is聽ssstate.”

Essstate?” Juanra asked.

Sssstate.”

“Sssstate,” said one of the students, and then the whole classroom was filled with hissing as they tried, some more successfully than others, to make the ‘s’ sound without adding an ‘e’ to the front of it.

I felt like an English-language superhero.

Like Espiderman.聽

Teacher, I Don’t Understand

So far, I am loving teaching at my school — a bilingual colegio (public middle/high school) in Alcorc贸n, Madrid.

Here’s how the bilingual education program works:

All students at the school receive at least some of their education in English, with the more proficient students spending more time in classes taught in English — each grade level is divided into 5 different classes, depending on English proficiency.

Teaching core subjects in a second language creates an interesting classroom dynamic, which I will write about at length later, because it’s fascinating. Basically, though, class time is divided between teaching actual content and making sure the students are able to understand and process the English being used in the lesson, giving them plenty of opportunities to ask clarifying questions and practice new vocabulary.

I had expected to be teaching English language classes, but I am actually working in the Geography and History department, which I think I prefer. None of the teachers that I work with are native speakers of English — that’s my job, to be a native speaker — but they have a pretty good grasp of the language.聽Often, though, a聽teacher will misunderstand what a student is saying, and will then give an answer that the student was not looking for, which further confuses the matter.聽

I’m not allowed to speak to the students in Spanish, or even to tell them that I understand Spanish, so that they have no choice but to communicate with me in English.聽For the most part, I’ve been successful at playing dumb about Spanish, but I slipped up a bit today — I was trying to explain what a mace is (the medieval ball and chain weapon, right?), and as I was drawing a picture of a mace on the blackboard, one of the students said to another,聽in Spanish, “Is that a fishing pole catching the sun?”

Without thinking, I turned around and replied, “No, it’s a mace, I’m not done yet!”聽

So that was my bad.聽

The students have a decent grasp of English,聽kind of聽— their level of fluency varies from “age-appropriate” to “clearly just making random noises and hoping that it sounds like English”. I聽wouldn’t say that any of them are聽bilingual, exactly, 聽but most of the students can understand me when I talk and can form simple responses.

One of the funniest things about the students, though, is that they all mispronounce the word “yes”,聽regardless of聽their English level. It usually comes out somewhere between “yisss” and “djesss” — they always drag out the “s”, which I find hilarious, because I think they’re imitating the way native English speakers make the “s” sound — it’s a much stronger sound in English than in Spanish.

So we have conversations that go like this:

Me: Does that make sense?聽

Students (in unison): Yissssss.

The fact that they mispronounce “yes”聽doesn’t exactly make me confident that I’m being understood, but it sure is charming.