The collection of individuals you find on the metro at 1am are if anything more noisy than the ones you find at 1pm. As my carriage rattled homewards, I was surrounded by a blanket of noise and yet felt miserable. We filed through metro station after metro station and I felt utterly isolated from everything unfolding around me. The woman on the phone to her husband, the couple stealing kisses opposite me, a group of teenagers on the way to a house party. So disjointed and out of touch with Madrid and Spain yet glued to my seat, unable to move. I didn’t want the train to arrive at my stop. I wanted to keep shuffling through the stations one by one, long enough to be civil but nothing more. I didn’t belong to this country, I was merely passing through and smiling until it got to Christmas when I could go back to England, stop trying to like coffee, and to laugh at jokes I hadn’t fully understood.
It’s natural to feel out of place when in a new country surrounded by new food, people, language, work, culture, life style. But apart from a few low moments, I am in fact having a marvellous time. It feels like time skipped forward whilst my back was turned and suddenly it’s Friday and I’ve just finished my 6th week of working in an office in Spain. The German intern has gone and I miss her but I now have a new intern to shred paper with and teach the ropes to. The women in the office are becoming gradually more friendly, although attempting conversations still lead to confusion, and a near order of 150 cream envelopes that we didn’t need instead of multicoloured post-stick notes. The telephone bites me less and less, and I can chat with or pass clients to the correct colleague with a flourish, only occasionally accidentally pressing the wrong button and hanging up instead. It feels a bit like waking up from a dream, everything around me is becoming less hazy as I understand more and more, meanings of new words sharpening into focus in my head as I hear them again and again.
I am sitting in the Retiro again as I write this. More leaves crackle under the feet of passers by along with freshly fallen conkers. The sun shines a little more weakly as the first whispers of autumn chill the breeze. The Ebola crisis does not appear to have affected the everyday Madrileño at all, for the atmosphere is as cheerful and lively as ever, and everything is business as usual. As a foreigner in Madrid, at one point seriously concerned that I might end up in quarantine in a British airport at Christmas, I’ve been flabbergasted at the relaxed (and very Spanish) way, that the government and health service have dealt with the potential spread. There have been no government warnings telling people to stay at home, wash their hands 16 times a day and sleep with a bag over their heads. No, they simply created a crisis committee, made a list of all the people that the infected nurse, Teresa, had been in contact with before she contracted the disease, visited them all in person and warned them they could have Ebola. They then incubated some and put down the family’s dog for good measure.
It may be that I completely missed the panicked reaction to the news of Ebola in Spain, for I don’t understand 100% of everything I hear on the radio, but the biggest issue in the media seems to have been the sacrifice of the dog, not the potential world wide spread of the disease. The Spanish reaction to Ebola makes the British Swine Flu panic of 2009 look hysterical. The demonstrations I watched outside the Juan Carlos hospital were in fact crowds of well wishers and friends celebrating Teresa’s recovery, and not cries of anger at how this could have been allowed to happen. No one shut themselves indoors and refused to go to work, not in my office anyway. There was one person who took three days off work due to a throat infection but they appeared again on Monday morning. That person was me, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that my GCSE doctors vocab for ‘my tonsils hurt’ finally proved useful. Eddie Izzard was wrong, some things you learn in school languages classes do come in handy.
Life has just rolled by as normal, although I’m still finding new things to do. I’ve learnt to cook a Spanish rice and prepared the family an English breakfast. I’ve been to some wonderful places to eat and art galleries including the Prado, Thyssen-Borneszmia, and the Abelló collection which I finally find interesting now I’m learning more about art. Sorolla is my new fave painter – about as close as the Spanish ever got to Impressionism:
Homesickness has been a bit tough, but I’m surrounded by new friends and a friendly family which makes it a lot easier.
As my brother kindly reminded me: “Everything will be all right in the end…and if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”