Bog Myrtle

So, we bought a bookshop on Skye. It is in Struan, which is on the west side of the island. When I last lived on Skye nobody came to Struan. I used to drive over this way (even though it added an hour or so to my trip) because of the startling view of the Cuillins it afforded as you turned south from Dunvegan and wound your way down from Struan to Slig.

Before we left Spain I enquired about a bookbinding workshop at the Skye and Lochalsh Archives Centre in Portree. I didn’t realise I’d booked a place until they sent me a reminder a few days before. At that point, after 2 months on Skye and after numerous knock backs on the job front and the agony of the residency process I was feeling less than excited about it, but dragged myself along.

I’m so glad I did. The course tutor (Laura West) was brilliant, the workshop was gruelling but a great outcome (I made a book!), and I met a couple from Roag who took me to lunch and listened to my tale of woe about residency and not being able to work and told me “they might know someone”.

A couple of weeks later I was phoned by the owner of a bookstore cafe in Struan, telling me they had heard I would be interested in buying it.

The rest is a whole other blog post, but you can check out the bookstore here

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Checking in

We’ve been back on Skye for just over 2 months, which was always meant to herald the end of An Turas (it is the final destination in The Journey, after all), but Life is not the movies and this ain’t no fairytale, so things continue to roll on in mystery and confusion. I’ve certainly not ridden over the Skye bridge into the sunset … things are the same, and not the same.

Due to the whole immigration process and the awful anti-migrant climate right now in the UK (rumours of HO bounty hunters!) I’ve decided to keep quiet on the blog front.

Flashback to the Autumn of 2002, when I’d just arrived on Skye for the first time and was so green the only jacket I owned was this thin duffle. I had to wear almost every other item of clothing I owned underneath and I still was not warm, but we were young and had our whole lives ahead of us, and the sea was navy blue.

Kylerhea

On the roadschooling road again…

Previously…

The original plan for our time in Europe was to homeschool/roadschool M, giving us flexibility to travel and because we couldn’t afford international school fees. However the first month in Spain convinced us that enrolling her in a local school would provide more opportunities to meet other kids, as well as being a much cheaper option for learning Spanish (private tutors wanted €30+ per hour!). We also discovered enrolling her in school would help me obtain my non-EEA family member residency card.

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The walk to school

So we found ourselves seeking a school…

First of all, let me explain Nerja is small, mostly populated by elderly expats (friends of ours in their 50s tell me they feel like ‘yoofs’ here), and east of Malaga. This means there is very little info online for parents. Additionally, searching in English produces limited results – we struggled to even locate some schools on Google maps. Posting to the local expat Facebook group received a handful of vague replies as expat/migrant families who are here are either old, or long-term Spanish residents, i.e. they moved to Nerja after living elsewhere in Spain.*

So we had to search for a school ‘on foot’. We started at the school where a work colleague’s child attended, but they had no vacancy. Across the road at Nueva Nerja it was the same story. Here, fate intervened in a bad way, as they kept telling us to try a school with a name we could not understand (it sounded like Whack Him Her Error), but as we already had 2 other schools on our list, we thought we’d try them first before searching for a school we couldn’t even say the name of. We’ve since discovered this (Joaquin Herrera) is the best of an or’nery bunch, and the only school in Nerja offering any form of Spanish language support.**

M ended up at the next school we came across, the local Catholic school. They were initially very receptive, seemed cleaner and friendlier than the state schools (although for an Aussie parent the sporting and playground facilities are abysmal compared to home. But that’s for another post), and most importantly had space for her. The Director spoke no English, so the 3rd grade teacher left her class (unsupervised!) to talk to us. We came back the next day to complete the paperwork. It took over an hour, and again she was asked to leave her class (2 storeys above the admin office) to translate the forms for us. I cannot imagine this occurring anywhere I’ve worked – including China.

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Uniform

The school is the only one in Nerja with a uniform, and the frustrating process of trying to obtain the uniform should have been an omen. M missed half an hour of her first class while we waited for the parent who coordinated it to finish chatting, only to be told she had only 1 pair of shorts & a shirt available, and we’d have to order the rest in, and it would probably take a few months to arrive (from Malaga?? It’s an hour’s drive!). We did manage to find some 2nd-hand uniforms, and met a lovely family in the process, so things were looking up.***

I spent the first day in agony, waiting for the 2 o’clock finish, because we simply had no idea what to expect. Fortunately M came home over the moon, having made a lovely friend who spoke English/Spanish on the first day. This little girl pretty much carried M through her 3 months at the school. On days when her friend was away, M pretty much just sat there, wondering what was going on and was ignored by the teacher.

 

Right, time to shift my little homeschooler off her laptop. More about the joys of the Spanish (actually, I should say “Andalucian”) education system to come…


*I would not recommend Nerja for first-time expats unless you or your children are already fluent in Spanish.

**Nb: we didn’t move to Spain expecting the government to bend over backwards for us. Also, we did not plan to move to Spain – we are supposed to be in Germany. So we did not have as much time as other expats to research and prepare. Saying that (and I will rant at length in another post), as an education professional who knows firsthand the expectations placed on classroom teachers and schools to provide language support for migrant children in English speaking countries, I am fairly disgusted with Andalucia.

***This family had recently moved their daughter to Joaquin Herrera after some serious bullying incidents at our school. We panicked a bit, but at this point figured we had already organised everything so we would wait and see. Again, fate! We may have been able to switch schools at this early stage 😦

 

Our shipping is here, or “winging it”

Getting our stuff from China to Spain has been an ongoing headache.

April

Discovered we were moving to Spain, not Germany. Interesting discussion with other staff about whether it’s “movers”, “removers” or “removalists”. Located a Chinese shipping company relatively easily via colleagues at school.

June (few weeks before move)

Researching “life in Spain” and stumbled across dire warnings about bringing goods from overseas, including not being able to ship personal belongings without proof of residency (e.g. student visa, work permit, residence card). Won’t have any of this until 3 – 6 months after arrival. Looked into shipping to family in the UK, but again, not enough “proof of relationship” to get through customs. Considered shipping to Australia and then sending it onward once I had residency – round and round in circles, dark days. A few times I almost passed out from the anxiety of it all.

Didn’t contact Chinese shipping guy immediately, as sneaking suspicion he was “winging it” and quite possibly had never sent anything outside China before despite “international movers” claim. My suspicions were confirmed as he refused my offer of additional paperwork only weeks from the move. I contacted numerous other shipping companies, but at the end of the day their costs were at least double his quote, if not more.

Decided to sell the superfluous stuff (the cool things I’d accumulated after 2 years in Asia *sob*), and send 1 or 2 bags of things we really couldn’t part with via DHL or similar (for about the same price as the entire shipment *double sob*)

June – a week before we depart China

Lo and behold, Johnson (the shipping agent) replied! “Don’t worry, I know about this (residency requirement) and I have a plan”. His plan involves stashing my things in with another family also going to Spain (but with citizenship or residency already in the bag). Dubious, I was forced to trust him as we had run out of time for any other scenario.

June 25th

Johnson came, and despite his assistant being a tad rough and careless with the packing, seemed to know what he was doing. Paid the 7000RMB and crossed my fingers.

Mid-September

For the past 4 months I have wondered silently if we will ever see our things again. We’ve been in Spain about 3 weeks with no sign of shipping. Contacted Johnson. He said “Don’t worry, it is on it’s way”, but a couple weeks later, still nothing. I emailed again, and this time received the curious reply “I sent by air express as I think this will be quicker for you. It should arrive soon”

Now, one of the reasons Johnson was able to provide me with the best quote was because he intended to send slowly, by sea. Air express sounds very curious and hopefully I won’t be getting a new bill.

Late October

WEEKS of confusion later, the shipping has arrived. During this time, Johnson vanished off the radar and I started getting calls and emails in Spanish relating to my “import” and mentioning “storage fees”. I dutifully completed the forms they sent, hoping I was writing in the right places. Discovered by accident on the phone to company that they thought I was importing goods from China to sell, and I was about to be charged an exorbitant amount of tax for old shoes and teddies. A few confusing conversations later and I was asked for “proof” our things were used, and why they needed to be moved from China to Spain.

GAH. 4 days later, still no replies to my emails sending them everything I had and asking for clarification.

YESTERDAY

Suddenly a truck pulls up outside our window and someone starts shouting my name (surname/first name haha). A burly guy gets out and starts passing boxes over the back fence for me to lift inside (!). Waives away my attempts to provide ID, takes €24.20 in tax, and drives off.

Of course, the moral of the story is: everything will be okay. It got here despite all my worrying.img_6551

 

 

¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

Roadschooling

We’ve come back to Bundaberg for a week with Nanna, and this is a chance to get stuck into our roadschooling adventure. The enormous challenge at the moment is the absence of wifi. Mum doesn’t have it, and Telstra being the monopolied rip-off merchants they are don’t offer a prepaid service that meets our needs. They also have very interesting methods of calculating data use. How the heck they think I used up 6GB in 1 week checking email, social media and using Google Maps, The End, is beyond me?

Anyway, we’ve made use of the Bundaberg Library, which is a lovely space (today they randomly had a highschool brass band playing) and I’ve finally been able to subscribe to Mathletics. On the road I have also purchased a bunch of workbooks which, given the state of flux we are in puts my mind at rest for the time being. My biggest challenge at the moment is finding a free online curriculum organiser that will help me keep track of things.

Our rough curriculum at the moment is focussed on getting into a routine.

Maths

I’m being very boring with an hour of Maths each day, starting with revision: New Wave Mental Maths (who have helped us uncover some main problem issues), followed by a unit in Nelson Maths. Now we have Mathletics we might focus on that as I think she’ll be more motivated there. I’m still stuck in teacher-mode, worrying about which grade she should be doing, but trying all the time to shift my thinking to the level where she is being challenged, but not being completely overwhelmed.

Language

An hour if we can, letting Matilda choose the language: English, Spanish, Chinese. I added about half an hour of grammar to this today with a Grammar Rules workbook I picked up in the local newsagents (much to her disgust). Once we get to Spain she will focus on Spanish and I will need to keep an eye on English. Chinese is a little more problematic. I think we are going to have to rely on a serendipitous encounter for this.

Units of Inquiry

We’re not doing so well on this as we haven’t had time. We’re focussing on Australia, makes sense as we are here, but although she is discovering a lot of new things (museums, art galleries, rainforest walks), we have not had time to follow it up. She has collected about 3000 brochures and the plan is to put them together into a sort of journal/record of the trip, but this is a bit low on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Science, Society & Environment, Geography etc

This is a bit annoying as I have to do more work before she can. I’ve decided to check out the ACARA (Australian Curriculum) and Scottish curriculum topics and see what she should cover as these are the most likely curriculums she will end up in for Secondary. I want to try to incorporate these into the UOI as much as possible.

Music

Gah, don’t even speak to me. Only plus is that she is missing it and keen to start learning again when we get to Spain.

All in all, it feels like it’s more work for 1 student than for a class HAHAHA

Seventeen seventy 

Overnight in Town of 1770. First time in about 30 years. It’s the sort of seaside village I love, and I have spent many hours and days in villages all over the world that are just like this one, Dreaming. Dreaming I lived there, dreaming of the businesses I could start so I could live there. All of the business ideas centred on cooking or coffee or caravans, which are unappealing.  

Kyleakin, Portree, Strahan, Kingscliff, Yamba, Akaroa, Lyttleton, Castlebay, Tarbert, Dunvegan…

There is a photo of Mum breastfeeding me on the beach here. As the story goes, Dad had some kind of episode at work/home, threw everything in the Chesney and took off. This is where he came. 
I wonder what my Dad found in his place. It interests me that the place he came to for refuge is almost identical to all the villages I have tried to escape to.

Moving on #blogjune 21

I’ve been dreaming of leaving this job since about 3 days after I started. I try not to think of anything as a “mistake” (because everything’s a learning experience, right?) but that’s certainly what it felt like here for about…oh, the first 12 months.

Preschool storytime 2016
Action Shot

Yet now, as I sift through work files and school event photos on my laptop and start to Trash and Burn, I have a sudden rush of … feelings.

This is the second-longest job I’ve held. Not necessarily because I have a short attention span – sometimes I’ve moved on in a hurry, but general Life events have also played their part (study, travel, child rearing). My last job before this I stayed 3 years, and it was the first time I left a position because it was the right thing to do, rather than to escape a tyrannical boss or poor working conditions. I was wholly unprepared for how leaving would feel. In the past I had left under cover of darkness, or in such rage against the machine that there was no room for feelings of sadness.

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Listening intently, which students always do, whenever I speak lolololololololol

Here is a little of the latter, but it has been a long period of my life. And there have been some great moments, and some fantastic people – coworkers, students, random old ayis in the street. It’s also my last school-based teaching job (although, never say never as my teaching college buddy always said). At least by choice. And possibly my last librarian job for a little while. In a few days I will officially be unemployed.

So it’s all a bit emotional. And it will be a bittersweet farewell to China and all who sail in her.

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Not the most inspirational 21st century library environment, but I’ve stared at it every day since August 2014. Incidentally, what is it with me and getting jobs in ugly libraries? (Ayi joining the shot…)

“Staff quarter handbook” and other mysteries of Life #blogjune 19

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How I feel about packing…

There is a funny set up here where the school is divided down the middle, with “academic” staff on one side, and “everyone else” on the other. While the Principals have authority over the ‘academic’ side of things, there is Someone Else who is in charge of the rest. This department is ironically known as: “Support Division”.

The first thing teachers learn is that staff in this division are never, ever, ever at fault. If the shifu (handyman) sets up the entire Assembly hall for an activity that occurs a month from now instead of your major event that takes place in an hour, this is your fault. If the purchasing person orders a CD version of a book (in a school without CD players), this is also your fault. And if you ever want anything to get done, you must play along with this farce, because when I said they are in charge of everything not academic – I meant everything: broken door handles, blocked toilets, drinking water, air filters, purchasing, security, visas, lifting heavy things, your salary…

They also manage foreign teacher apartments, so you may see where I am going with this? Fall out with them over the CD incident mentioned above, and you may find that when your fuse box blows up and you’re sitting in darkness they suddenly can’t hear their phones.

Saying that, there are staff in this department who have gone above and beyond to help us out, (dropped my bankcard down a toilet, dropped my electricity card in the middle of a busy road) and for that we are very grateful. I still think the school should consider making everybody happy by employing a staff member to act as “foreign staff liaison”.

Anyway, I’ve been searching for the staff apartment “exit procedure” for a while, and have finally received a reply that refers me to a handbook that – as far as I can make out – doesn’t exist. I hope this reflects the amount of effort they put into inventory of the apartment when we leave!

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I’m hoping if the inspection person notices the change in toaster they will consider it an upgrade…

Exit strategy #blogjune 16

Only 6 1/2 days of school to go. I’m tidying my desk, my Inbox, my Documents folder…and I’m sifting through the “Things I Started But Quickly Discovered Nobody Cared About So I Stopped” pile. It’s an unfortunate side effect of this role that I have developed a Very Bad Habit that goes completely against my character: I have stopped completing some tasks I know to be important when I’ve learned nobody cares about them, or worse, if I learn that other staff, or managers, mock me for doing them. It’s last minute, but I am so disappointed to make this realisation that I am going to try to rectify it to some extent by setting myself the challenge of creating an annual report for the Library using infographics.

I’m testing these sites:

Canva (can’t get the templates to load without VPN *cry cry cry*)

Piktochart (like a lot. Easy to use, pretty templates, loads without VPN)

Infogram (could be great, but templates won’t load without VPN)

Easelly (already annoying because weird layout and templates won’t load without VPN)

So I reckon I’m pretty much stuck with Piktochart, but that’s cool because it is cool! There’s some excellent advice about creating interesting annual reports here and here.

While I was playing about with them, it suddenly occurred to me that an infographic would make an awesome CV. It seems I am not the only person to have this thought! There are even companies who you can pay to create amazing graphic CVs for you, like Story Resumes, the people who created my favourite below:

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