Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 1

This year my roommates and I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner because we have one of the bigger apartments that can hold a lot of people. We initially invited twenty people, however over the last week the list has grown to almost forty people! Most of the people who have been added are people in the Fulbright group that we know but now we definitely do not have space for everyone. The problem is that we are all friends and we don’t know how to say no to someone. Currently the plan is to have a buffet and when someone comes they put their dish out and they can start eating whenever they want. There is no way everyone will be able to sit down at the same time so we will probably end up eating in shifts. One of our friends is bringing an extra folding table she has and we have asked those with folding chairs to bring them as well, however very few people have any.

Everyone is expected to bring at least one dish. We are cooking a turkey on Thursday which we had to preorder because the supermarkets do not normally carry them. When we went to order the turkey, the butcher told us they would kill the turkey on Wednesday and we could pick it up on Thursday. I don’t think I have ever had a turkey that is this fresh. However, we are all quite nervous about cooking it. Our oven only has numbers 1-10 with no temperatures listed. I have looked at other ovens in Spain and they have actual temperatures listed. Our oven is about thirty years old so there is no hope of finding a manual online to explain the numbers. Because we have no idea how hot anything is, I will try to find a meat thermometer in order to ensure we cook the bird enough, however because most apartments do not have ovens they can be hard to find.

In order to prepare our Thanksgiving feast, multiple trips to Taste of America (an American grocery store) have been necessary. They are the only place that sells cranberries, pumpkin pie filling, stove top stuffing, and brown sugar.
Tomorrow, (ie Thanksgiving Day), I will get off of work around 1 and go straight home. We will cook for the next six or seven hours and people will start arriving at our apartment around 8 pm and we will start eating around 8:30 pm. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veterans Day and Volunteering

This past week I had a discussion with my students about Veterans Day in the United States. In Spain, they do not have an equivocal holiday. After talking with some of the other teachers and thinking more about Spanish history, I realized this makes sense. The only recent war in Spanish history is their civil war (1936-1939); however, considering that this is still a contentious issue of debate, Spaniards do not often bring this topic up in conversation. As a result, Spaniards do not have a holiday that celebrates those who have fought in war to defend their country.

My discussion on Veterans Day also included topics related to national pride and service. When I asked my students if they are proud to be Spaniards, they sorted shrugged the question off and yes but who cares. My students did not take that much pride in being a Spaniard nor did they have much regional pride (in areas such as Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalonia people have a lot more regional pride than Spanish pride). My students’ response surprised me at first because in America children are taught to be proud of their country even if they don’t quite understand what it means.

When discussing the military with my students, I asked if they thought every young person should perform some sort of national service or volunteering. I explained that most people would not fight or be in the military but that the majority would help in the social sector. Their jobs could include tutoring younger children, helping the elderly, feeding the homeless, taking care of national parks, or providing disaster relief. Some of my students thought this was a good idea, but in general they didn’t think national service should be mandatory. Only two of my 28 students had participated in a volunteer activity in the last year. In Spain, volunteerism is not very prevalent. There are fewer organizations and one has to be proactive and seek them out. At the school, there is no key club or volunteering group. Therefore if students decide to volunteer, they have to contact the organization on their own and figure out what help they can provide and when. As a result, only a small percentage of students are engaged in volunteer work. Part of the reason for the low rate of volunteering is that the Spanish government does provide a lot more services to needy than the US government. However, I think it is important for everyone to learn about helping others so I have decided to organize a canned food drive at my school and have the different grades complete to see who can bring in the most food. I have yet to work out the logistics of this plan but I will keep you updated as it moves forward.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night Parties

While in college, I never pulled an all nighter. On election night, I did. I spent the night watching the election results come in at two different parties. The first party that I went to was hosted by the American embassy. Everyone in attendance had to have an invitation. All of the fulbrighters were included on the guest list. When we went to sign in, the lady working asked immediately if we were with Fulbright. She was able to tell because we were the only attendees under the age of forty. Everyone else working for the embassy or had close ties to someone at the embassy. Below is a photo taken at the American Embassy party. I made sure to find the California state flag.

The party was pretty low key, so we decided to go to the Democrats abroad party. The majority of people in my program are democrats and we wanted to be able to cheer and express ourselves as the results came in.

Even though I had bought my ticket to the democrats abroad party, I still had to wait in a big line. The problem was that there was not separate lines for those who had already purchased tickets and those who had not. As a result everyone was trying to push their way in at the front door. I was stuck in a massive group of people and for about twenty minutes they stopped letting people in which angered everyone. The group was so tightly packed and everyone was trying to push their way in even though they weren’t letting anyone in. At one point, it felt like it was two or three pushes away from being a stampede. Luckily, I got in soon enough without any injuries.

Once inside, the party was amazing. It was held at the Circulo de las Bellas Artes which is normally used for an exhibition hall but can be rented for private parties. I would estimate that there were close to 1,000 people at the party which took place over four floors with each floor having a bar set up, a large projection screen and one or two plasma flat screen tvs.

Below is a picture of the crowd on the fourth floor. Clearly the building was quite crowded.

The whole night they showed the CNN broadcast which I thought was pretty good but I got sick of watching the commercials. I got to the party around 1 am (7pm eastern) when the first polls were closing. We would all get really excited when any news came in but then there would often be a lag for about thirty minutes before next polls closed.

At the party, I hung out with about 12 other Fulbrighters in a jammed packed room. The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was really excited, energetic, and optimistic. As the results started coming in, we started sharing bottles of champagne. In our group of twelve, we probably went through about 8 bottles of champagne which started to make me feel sick because there was no food at the party and I had not eaten anything since 9 pm. As things started to go Obama’s way, I considered going home but decided this was a once and lifetime opportunity and that I wanted to stay up all night.. Shortly after 4 am, after the mountain states results had come in, it was clear Obama was going to win but I wanted to see them call California and see how they would announce Obama as president. At 5 am, when the west coast polls closed, CNN did not call the individual states, but rather flashed on the tv that they were calling the election for Obama.
Everyone was so excited and happy. People started jumping up and down and cheering. Some started crying and at one point, the room started chanting “si se puede” (yes, we can) which is an Obama slogan but also the Spanish version was also used by Cesear Chavez when campaigning for farmers rights in California.

Below is a picture of us celebrating Obama's victory

After watching McCain’s concession speech and Obama’s acceptance speech, I took the metro home around 6:15 am, slept for one hour, and then went to work. However, I am fine with sacrificing one night of sleep for all the change that is supposed to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

This post was written the day of the election before I knew any of the results. The other post regarding the election describes going to hear election results live at 6 AM Spanish time and the reaction of the outcome.

Being away for the election has been an interesting experience with some positives and some negatives. While I am sad that I have missed some of the Saturday Night Live Tina Fey skits, I do not miss being bombarded with negative political advertising. However, as a result of not watching American television, I am not very in touch with California politics. I would have liked to have read and heard more about the propositions related to the ban on gay marriage, the humane treatment of farm animals, the renovation of children’s hospitals, renewable energy, and high speed commuter railway.

Since my first day of work back in September all of my students have been interested in my political views. During the first week of school, after giving a presentation about myself, my students asked me who I was voting for. I felt comfortable telling them that I was an Obama supporter but their teachers tried to step in and explain that people are not as open in the United States as in Spain. In Spain, it is normal to know everyone’s political views, how much money they make, and the grades they get in school and it is not considered rude to ask about these topics with strangers.

Almost everyone here is an Obama fan, based on my informal conversations I would guess close 90% of people support him or rather oppose Bush, McCain, and Republicans in general. I am sure how much they know about Obama; however they are clear in their hatred for Bush and about one month ago McCain made a comment that he would not sit down with the President of Spain (lumping Zapatero in with leaders of terrorists and non-democratic countries) which clearly annoyed many Spaniards. Perhaps Spain's obsession with Obama is best represented by this 2.5 acre depiction of Obama on the beach front of Barcelona. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, a Cuban American, created this portrait over the weekend with the land donated by the city of Barcelona. The portrait is 445 feet by 264 feet and is made up of gravel, stone, sand and soil.

At the school, Jim and I have been discussing the election with our fourth year students. We have tried to present some of the key issues and discuss how Obama and McCain have varying viewpoints in order to provide some substance to the conversation. This week I will end the discussion on the election by discussing the outcome and explaining how Americans vote.

One thing that many people have commented to me about is that despite being a very advanced country our system of voting is very ineffective. In Spain, elections are held during the weekend which means everyone has the chance to vote regardless of whether they have time to take off work. (The teachers at my school were shocked that election day is not considered a national holiday). When I studied abroad in Costa Rica, I learned elections are held on a Sunday and starting on the Friday before election Sunday no grocery stores, bars, or restaurants can sell alcohol in order to increase voter turnout and prevent people from being too drunk or hung over to vote.

Not only have people commented to me about the specific day in which we vote, but many are surprised to find out that there is no national identification card for the United States and that the elections laws are governed by each individual state which results in people using different mechanisms to vote. Most importantly, Spaniards cannot believe that there is no paper trail for many of the voting machines and that you do not receive a receipt or copy of your ballot. After talking with the teachers at my school, I began to wonder why our voting system was so complicated and why we do not mandate a paper trail of some sort.