When do you feel that, as a foreigner living abroad, you become part of the community in which you live? Our intention, when we arrived here, was to do our best to become part of the Spanish way of life, and feel that this is our home.
It’s interesting that all the time we lived in Bermondsey, South-East London, we found it almost impossible to penetrate the thick wall of reserve erected by our immediate community. Much of that was down to the fact that many properties in the area were occupied by tenants, so the population tended to be transient. However, we lived in a small house that was part of a collection of private apartments and did all we could to engage, including an attempt to have informal neighbourly drinks one Christmas - nothing. We did manage to make friends, primarily through the choir to which I belonged and then through the local pub, but it was hard work. I can quite understand the sentiment, and have experienced it myself, that London can be a cruelly lonely place to live.
Here in Spain, it appears that the first reaction from people you meet is one of welcome. In Andalucia, the Granadinos (natives of Granada) have a reputation for being unfriendly and the poor people have to carry around the nickname of Malafollas, as they are generally considered to be a whiny lot (the term Malafollas can also infer that the sex they have is not hugely satisfactory and this is the reason for their moans and groans…!). We have always found the Granadinos to be extremely warm and welcoming, but then we have but scratched the surface.
We hoped that, when we moved to our village of Moclín, we would be able to find our own little niche here and establish ourselves as parts of the community. Generally, when people express an interest in a property here, the locals are very keen to establish whether or not the buyers are going to live here permanently or whether they are just going to be temporary residents. There is no doubt that Moclín welcomes incumbents who can bring permanent new life to the village, and ensure it’s future for the next generations.
So, we ticked the first box in that we bought our house to live here permanently.
The second box was ticked when we lived in the little casita in Plaza de España, and we set up our little gallery for the Fiestas en honor del Santísimo Cristo del Paño as this gave us the perfect excuse to stand around outside our hobbit house and accost any villagers who came too close. Bear in mind that this is actually how the villagers tend to live during the warmer months - they place their chairs outside their houses, on the street, and just chat to all and sundry. No sitting in their enclosed patios or gardens here, wallowing in seclusion. Through our artistic pop-up, we exchanged cakes for fruit and vegetables, chatted to our neighbours, bought copious quantities of wine and beer from the village shop and spent time in the local bar - such a hard life!
Our delightful new neighbour, Mari Petra, who lives opposite our under-construction house has appointed herself our honorary young Grandmother, given that she is actually only 3 years older than me! Mari Petra has played a central role in getting us embedded into the village network, alongside our hugely helpful village friend Alessandra. My proposal to teach English to the villagers was accepted by the Asociación de Mujeres and these classes started last week. What a hoot! We both, Andrew and I, remember the very first Spanish lessons we had at City Lit in London 3 years ago. Starting with the basics, we have very fond memories of our teacher, Maria Monge, bashing her chest emphatically pronouncing “Me Llamo” and all of us being totally clueless as to what she was banging on about. Some of my students here have never spoken a word of English before, and I admire them completely for having the bravery to start, regardless of their age. The fascinating aspect for me has been to see how non-English speakers struggle with the pronunciation, and as we have been going through simple phrases such as “I live in Moclín” we all laugh uncontrollably at some of the mangled vowel and consonant sounds that emerge. I am loving these lessons, and the students are, without exception, lovely.
Through these connections, Andrew and I were invited to join a group to do a charity walk last Sunday. La Ruta Solidaria Ningun niño sin Juguete attracts many walkers to follow the Ruta del Gollizno to deliver presents to the Red Cross for distribution to under-privileged children who would otherwise not receive any gifts at Christmas. La Ruta del Gollizno is our local walk that follows the path through the gorge and descends and ascends the mountainside. Bear in mind that, on the two previous occasions that Andrew and I have done this walk together, I have been on the point of extinction, as I gasped and cursed my way up the homeward ascent. Andrew has run this route before, but let’s brush over that…
We met the women’s group just above our new house and, although we were all fairly well equipped for a hike, these doughty ladies also had bulky presents attached to their rucksacks. Andrew and I had small gifts tucked inside our rucksack, well hidden, but these hardy hikers had Monopoly and tea-sets, and other gaudy boxes dangling from rucksack straps, all ready to be marched through Jurassic landscapes - it was a truly incongruous sight.
The other observation from this walk was that, whereas I have done the route gasping for breath, these ladies managed the walk while chatting almost non-stop the entire way round. Being part of this group gave us such an insight into the way that all the participants enjoy their outdoor pursuits. Having walked down the side of the mountain, it appeared to be obligatory for everyone to stop for a breather at the Cueva de Corcuela to unpack their rucksacks and momentarily stuff their faces with biscuits, cake, Pringles or anything else they had to hand before proceeding and picking up where the conversation had left off. There were a number of such stops along the route, but all such fun as friends met other friends coming the other way, or relatives bumped into relatives. We were shown berries that we could eat off the trees, spotted mountain goats, paused for lots of selfies in multitudinous beautiful locations. One of our number, Mayte, was accompanied by her two daughters, and Mari Petra’s youngest grandson was also with us, so we had covered most generations. Mayte’s youngest daughter reminded me so much of how I imagine my sister-in-law, Lynn (also known as Biff), had been when she was a similar age. She charged to the front of the group, wielded large sticks and generally had a pugilistic air about her. We had seen her in action before, at a local bar where she reduced a smaller boy to tears by removing his crisps, so we knew that she was a force to be reckoned with. Andrew clearly knew the way to the children’s hearts as we neared the end of the walk, as he thought it might be amusing to chase the three children up the last hill.
I suppose the reason that I didn’t keel over on this walk was that we had a lunch break half way. In Los Olivares, where we deposited the presents and had the most delicious Torta de Aceite (a sugar-coated soft bun that was not unlike a scrumptious doughnut), there was a Paella stop. For the princely sum of 3€ we got paella and a soft drink, sat in the sun by the fountain and had a rest. Prior to this, the ladies had suggested we visited two bars for a beer and some tapas, both of which were more than welcome. We chatted, shared stories, told our new friends about the work we do, and progress on the house build. We exchanged gossip about the best cooks in the village, and we were asked for recipes of the cakes we had baked. It was lovely, relaxed and entertaining.
Despite desperately wanting a siesta after lunch and a drink or two, we set off back up hill for Andrew to chase children. We ended up in our own local bar for a coffee at the end of the walk, still chatting to our group and surrounded by other fellow walkers. We had been out for the best part of 6 hours so were exhausted, but as an investment in our lives here, it was worth every ounce of effort and did wonders for our Spanish. I think we’re also more than happy to be considered honorary Grandchildren.