Monday, 18 March 2013


It´s been more than 30 years since eighth grade algebra class, but this morning the horror came right back and hit me in the face.
It was a worksheet, homework. Preterite and Indefinite verbs, the same stuff we´ve been over and over for months now. I filled it in Saturday afternoon, without putting in much effort. And this morning, at Forum Idiomas in Carrión de los Condes, me and Lucía and Aisha got out or pens and papers and down the sheet we went, and when we came to a verb, out came the red ink.
My answers were wrong, wrong, wrong.
The other two were patient and kind. I was neither. I was angry, disgusted, and very very sad. It was a great effort of will to not stand up and walk out.
I was back in eighth grade algebra class, where Miss Stoker seemed to delight in marking my homework with red X´s. She switched to a wide-tip red marker to put the grade on top the paper: FAIL. And that term she wielded the same fat marker to mark the 0 on my report card.
It broke my heart. I had never failed anything before, and forever after failed to grasp abstract mathematics. To me,  x - y = 3(r/11) =  defeat + humiliation. No one at Forum Idiomas is shaming me or treating me badly, but that page full of red marks, and this ongoing struggle, feels identical to that awful algebra class.
I admit it. I shed some tears on the drive back home.

Later on, in my kitchen, I opened today´s edition of Carrión, the weekly free newspaper. (It still makes me smile, knowing that in English, "carrion" means "animal carcass." Here, it´s just the name of a river.) This is a thoroughly awful newspaper, but the ads are fun to read. Full-page ads for beauty treatments feature almost life-size before-and-after snaps of saggy bums, balding pates and baggy chins. Best of all are the classified ads in the back. There you can shop for "economical canaries," "a useable female donkey," "ferrets good for hunting rabbits and frightening mice," and wedding gowns "almost never used." One store brags "We buy junk and sell antiques." 
But today another listing caught my eye: Ofertas de Empleo. Job Offers.
There were three: Someone to hand out sales flyers on the street. A mechanic with experience repairing farm machinery. Someone to clean up a disco bar after closing time, "very part-time." 
Just below were Demandas de Empleo. Situations Wanted.
"I can cook, clean, care for elderly people and small children. I can drive, attend a shop counter, wait tables, help in the kitchen," one woman wrote. Dozens more women offered similiar services.
"Widow. Spanish, not foreign. Available morning, noon, and night to care for your elderly family member. I am serious. I have a car. I iron and do windows. Also children."
"I have a university accounting degree. Will do any kind of work."
"I am a licensed driver of trucks, tractors, bulldozers, chain-driven equipment. I will not disappoint you."
"Looking for work as a construction peon. Please call."
"Shepherd seeks work. Tractors, help in kitchen, butchering, shearing, meat and cheese. Call day or night with total confidence."
"Young men offering garden work: trimming vines, pruning fruit trees, clearing brush, insecticides and fertilizers. High-altitude work without scaffolds. Economical prices."
"Young man will work in barns, fields, construction sites. Urgent."   
"Young man. Experience with disassembling motorcycles."
"Middle-aged woman familiar with dental hygiene. Afternoons." 
"Dynamic young man, pastry and bread baker, available for all types of work. Urgent."

Seventy-five people are listed there, with their varying levels of experience, skill, and desperation, part of Spain´s massive population of unemployed adults. They´re the ones lucky enough to afford an ad.  
They are urgently want to iron clothes or herd sheep or baby-sit. They are willing to hose down a disco at 5 a.m., just to get a few euros to keep living on.  
It occurs to me that all these people probably use indefinido and imperfecto with perfect ease, but that hasn´t change their luck.

Meantime, I can communicate well enough to read the newspaper without any trouble. I can buy exactly the bread and apples I want by asking for them. And in my pocket I always have enough money to pay for them.  

So dry your tears, Rebekah. Shut up your whining.
Life can get a whole lot worse than preterite verbs. 


ksam said...

Sigh. Gratitude. This was almost the same as a conversation with a dear friend last night. He has serious issues with panic attacks and a few other problems in his life. But, a day spent helping out at the Jersey Shore, with people whose houses were washed away completely and he said he came home very quietly. Looked around grateful has heck for his four walls. Even gratitude for the bills that arrived with ease (no question where they should be sent to!) and that he could easily afford to pay. So many of us may not have a lot, but what we have is most certainly enough!

EileenHamer said...

What none of them seems to do is know how to make their own jobs. As a life-long free lancer, my response is to look around and start something.Maybe Spain needs a few of the entrepreneur studies programs popular here now. Wherever you live,the internet offers access tomarkets . . .

ayshwariya said...

Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!

Dust Cleaning said...

Starting a small business in Spain is a nightmare. I have some friends who are self-employed, and they are inspected, taxed, regulated, and nickel-and-dimed to within an inch of their lives. The "autonomo" bureaucracy is an ongoing national joke... if you don´t laugh, you cry.

45N93W said...

Lovely post. Good luck with those mean conjugations. At least is not ancient Greek - god! what a mean language. Things are bleak in Spain, but there are some good news: tourism is doing fine (although foreign tourism is only 5% of GDP). Exports are doing fine too, having increased 15% in 2011). The bad news is that the horrible credit crunch continues and nobody really knows when it's going to end.

Abrazos desde MN.