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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Tales from Spain

A Weekend in Bilbao

Thinking of spending a few nights in Bilbao? Here’s a quick run down of some essentials for your trip.

Practical Stuff

>Bilbao is very green, which means it rains a lot. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat. The city is very informal, and you can wear hiking boots, trainers, or sneakers on a night out without anyone batting an eyelid.

>If you like to walk, you will adore Bilbao. Things are reasonably close together, and there are lots of nice buildings, bridges and bars/coffee shops. If you’re too tired (or it’s started to drizzle) the metro is cheap and well designed.

>The airport is just 20 mins from the city centre. (There is nothing I hate more than a long arduous journey to catch a plane)

>People here are the friendliest in the world and will always try to help you, whether they speak English or not.

Guggenheim Museum

If you don’t fancy paying 13e to see the exhibition, the building itself is well worth a look. Designed by Frank Gehry, and inspired by the sea, the building is controversial due to the way it contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Personally, I 100% love it, although I never experienced the city without it.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Casco Viejo

The old part of the city is nicknamed “The Seven Streets”, but don’t be fooled. It’s basically a labyrinth, but there are so many excellent bars, you desire to leave won’t be a problem.

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Pintxos

Have you ever eaten tapas, and thought, I wish this food was on a small piece of bread, with a stick in it, and with a complete rainbow variety of tastes and textures? Then you are going to have some sort of food orgasm over “pintxos”, which is Basque for “cocktail sticks”.

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San Mamés Stadium

If you’re a football fan, you might like to take a look at Athletic’s stadium.

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Walk along the River

Prosperity, and the subsequent rejuvenation of Bilbao (from an industrial port town) since the 90s has been nicknamed “the Gugghenheim Effect” by the press. If (and that’s a big “if”) it’s not raining, you can take a wonderful stroll by the river.

paseoMaritimoRVictoria

Not Climbing Artxanda

Basques know how to organise stuff well, and as you walk around the Bilbao, you will see that although there are a some steep hills, there are also easy ways to get around climbing them.

A “funicular” is a small train that goes up a hill. A great thing to do (on a clear day) is catch this tiny train from the centre, up Artxanda, which offers a great view for the whole city. They you can walk back down, or take the train back.

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Day out to San Sebastián

San Sebastián is just an hour by bus from Bilbao, and although it is said to be a bit more expensive, it is also famous for it’s culinary offerings. If you like to pack in as much as possible on your weekends away, this nearby city on the coast might be a nice change from the big smoke.

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Women: Contraception in Spain

Here’s a compendium of info about birth control in Spain, from my own personal experience, top what my friends/coworkers/doctors have told me.

Contraceptive Pill

Cost=between 4 and 15 euros a month

Brits: Stock up on 12 months of the pill before you leave the UK. You will save between 36e and 180 euros over 12 months

You can easily find the brand name for your pill in Spain. I’ve also been told that you can take your empty pill box to the pharmacy (if you live in Madrid) and they can/will search for the equivalent for you and sell it to you without a prescription. When I lived in Madrid I was told (by a pharmacist) that whether it was sold to you or not without prescription (this goes for the morning after pill as well) depended on how conservative the person was serving you. In the three years I lived in Madrid, I never had any problem whatsoever.

My experience in Bilbao has been that pharmacies that will let you buy the pill without a prescription are few and far between. Not sure if this is due to the Basque Country being more Catholic or just general regulations.

In general, there are two types of pill that are covered on social security, meaning that they are cheap (4e for a months supply). These are Diane ( ) and . All the rest are around 15e a month.

Nuva/Merina Ring

Rough cost per month: 20e

This is a ring you insert into your vagina that releases hormones to stop you ovulating.

IUD

Rough cost for  years:

US citizens living in Spain: Might be covered on your insurance (Mapfre, Sanitas)

Many women are now opting for an IUD (a copper device that is fitted into your uterus that lasts for several years). It’s important to get one fitted a while before you go abroad for your follow up appountment.

Implant

Rough cost for  years:

 

 

Disclaimer: This article is includes my research, opinion and opinions from other women I’ve spoken to. Please consult your doctor.

 

Abusive relationships: the best friend

I’m not sure if abusive relationships are common or if there’s something about me that attracts people in them.

My first contact watching my friend be abused was when I was around 17 or 18. My best friend was cool as shit, and I stuck to her like glue because I thought her coolness might rub off on me. I can see now that I had been jealous of her, that I had followed her. I didn’t see that at the time. I think my pattern is to follow. I tend to form friendships with gorgeous, intelligent women, and be her less attractive slightly geeky weird friend. I don’t know if that has to do with growing up the youngest of three sisters. I don’t know.

Anywho, her boyfriend and her were locked in a soap opera style off and on relationship. Things would be off, she would tell me (us) about what he had done this time, then things would be back on again. I suppose neither of them liked the chaos, but maybe it felt normal, maybe it gave them a rush. I don’t know.

The most recent time they had broken up, I had shared with my friend that I was glad because more than once I had felt uncomfortable around her boyfriend, like he was trying it on with me. A few weeks later, they were back on again, but the latest outrage was that he had text a message to her mum, that he had meant to send to her friend, about how hot he thought her mum was. Then she said “What’s next? He’s going to try it on with my best friend?”. I must have said something at this point, mentioning about the time when he had tried it on with me. And she said: “No, I meant Caz”.

That was it. After that conversation we never really spoke again. That was the first friend I lost due to an abusive relationship. My sponsor now says that, in her experience, friendships break down in these sorts of situations when the friend is judging, when the person in the relationship feels judged. I get that. I’m trying not to do that anymore.

I thought if I just said something (as was my duty as a friend) that my friend would stop getting hurt. I hated hearing about all the bad stuff that was going on.

I suppose that this friendship was due to end, as I had moved away and had started a life somewhere else. I still blamed the abusive relationship though.

My next experience with abusive relationships would come 4 years later. It was actually because of the abusive relationship that I met my friend. She is awesome and we still talk. There was a time when I needed to step away from the friendship for a while, as I couldn’t bear to witness her pain, to hear about the latest. She was able to leave him when she was ready and now she is living happily every after and loving life.

I suppose that the only relationship where I’ve come close to allowing myself to be abused was when I became addicted to a guy, between the age of 19-22. I depended on him emotionally. Days when I didn’t see him were days wasted. He was witty, intelligent, the life and soul of the party. People always said I was the male version of him. We were amazing together, ying and yang, soul mates… Things ended with him moving away and never answering my calls or contacting me, and then I found out through the grapevine that he was with someone else. I pined for him, for years. No one made me laugh like he did, no one…

I could tell more details of the sordid affair, but that’s beside the point. I lay down on the floor, and he wiped his feet on me. He was one of those amazing guys, you know? He had it all. Narcissistic, a liar, cheated on his girlfriends, and an alcoholic, and I lapped it up. Lap lap lap. Like a little cat. There’s a lot of alcoholics in my family and seemingly every guy I fall in love with I realise (after we’ve broken up) that he’s an alcoholic/problem drinker. While we’re together I’m like “I don’t count other people’s drinks” and then a year later I’m like “woah. That’s a lot of glass in the recycling”. The point is, he wasn’t an abusive guy. But if he had been, I would have been totally “love” trapped in that.

The most recent contact I’ve had with an abusive relationship has been my friend from high school. It was completely, spectacularly horrific. Bruises. Police. Suicide threats.  Him claiming to be the victim. After it had ended, she told me all the signs were there, she told me that she felt like a twat for being “one of those people” who does all “those classic things wrong” like ignoring when someone’s secretly installed an app on your phone to know where you are…I tried my best to be supportive but in the end it was just too painful to hear about his next escalation after the big explosion. It went on for months and months after the relationship itself had ended, her trying her best but feeling completely awful, him threatening to commit suicide, and every time she told me about it (she was going there as he was a suicide risk and his parents weren’t coming to take care of him, completely palming his care off on her) I felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach. And it wasn’t even me it was happening to.

In the end I had to let her know that I couldn’t hear about what was happening anymore. That it was too painful. My first instinct is to try to rescue, to try to fix, but that does not help anyone. People want you to listen not to offer “solutions”. Ex boyfriend with a history of mental illness off his meds and threatening to jump out the window? Have you tried yoga?

And then, there’s the other side. My friend told me recently that she had smacked her boyfriend. I was shocked. I had often asked her if she ever wanted to smack her partner as it was something that happened to me when I lived with my ex. I remember once, I was reading on the sofa. He came in and started watching something on TV, with his giant headphones, and I could literally hear everything. Every single word. And he’s there pissing himself with laughter, really enjoying this show, and I just had such an urge to belt him across the face. Of course I didn’t act on it, and I was shocked at my own dark desires, and I asked my friends who live with their boyfriends if that was normal. They told me it wasn’t.

But she told me she had smacked him across the face. That he had fallen asleep and that she couldn’t get in the house and…There’s a part of me that wants to talk to my friend about it. “I don’t think he remembers” she said. “Don’t do that again” I might say. Is it my place to do that? My sponsor says: “Be open. Ask open questions”.

I just don’t know what to do about life anymore. The older I get, the less the world is making sense, the more I want to go and live on an island. I’m starting to become convinced that men and women shouldn’t live together, that the whole idea of the nuclear family is a product of the industrial revolution and capitalism, meaning we share less and buy more, and I just want to take a bunch of good people and go live somewhere in peace and harmony, no more pain and suffering, no more violence. Hopefully the feminist old women’s home will work out, where we can all knit sanitary towels for girls in developing countries and compare tips on vibrators.

I love my friends. They are all beautiful, incredible, vivacious women, so amazing each of them that I can’t get laid when we go out as I look less attractive standing next to them (remind me to get friends that no one fancies so I have a chance in this cruel, superficial world!). I hope when my time comes to be in a relationship that is abusive, they will… well, there’s nothing they will be able to do. You can’t save anyone except yourself. Adults make choices based on the options that they have, or those they believe they have. I’m glad I have a sponsor to point out options I never would have thought of by myself. Let’s see if I have the courage to try them.

 

 

“Expat” or “Immigrant”? Race and Realisations on Privilege

I recently read an article that referred to the word “expat” as something:

In the Western lexicon of human migration there are still lot of remnants of a white supremacist ideology, with hierarchical classes of words created to differentiate White people from the rest of humanity, with the purpose of putting White people above everyone else.

I’d never thought about it before. What is the difference between an “immigrant” and an “expat”?

There were various answers in the comments below the above quoted article. One difference tends to be duration. An expat is planning on returning within a short time, an immigrant is planning on staying longer term. Another might be integration. An expat is more likely to be working in a language they speak very well (like English) and not have much opportunity/motivation to learn the local language, whereas an immigrant would most likely be working in the local language and have more chance of becoming proficient.

As someone who has been living abroad for several years, I came to understand the negative side of “expat”. As an “anglo”, people automatically assumed you know nothing about local customs, often resent your presence as you have “stolen” a local person’s job, expect you to speak their language perfectly immediately, constantly expect you to “integrate” (meaning laughing at their jokes about you). I took a million language classes, I changed my clothes (to blend in), and I breathed a sigh of relief, and something very simple finally clicked.

People of colour cannot change their clothes as I can. They cannot camouflage themselves. It might seem obvious to someone from a multicultural society, but for me, it took the experience of moving out of my “home” country to teach me about privilege.

I thought about all the times my non-white British friends had mentioned racism to me, or I had witnessed the aftermath of a racist incident. I had sometimes said (in my head) at the time: “It’s not that big a deal. Why are they so upset? People say shit to me all the time”.

Then I got it. I can lose weight. I can cut my hair. I can work at conforming. They can’t ever conform physically. And why should they? (Oh crumb nuggets. This was my privilege to only just realise this now. Wha?????!!!!)

I think the tone of the above quoted article is a good example of how a person writes when they are angry after years upon years of unpleasant personal experiences (see “Favourite quotes, below), let alone generation upon generation of colonialism. It’s a rare gift to be able to be keyed up about a subject, like race/colonialism/sexism, without attacking the readers who you may be trying to educate in to reconsidering their positions. It’s a skill I must confess that I have not yet acquired. I know this because many of the blog posts I write I am unable to publish as they too are full of ire. It can take many drafts before I convert my spleen into something that might be considered balanced, bordering on informative.

Favourite quotes from the original article:

Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period.

If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there!

http://www.siliconafrica.com/dont-call-them-expats-they-are-immigrants-like-everyone-else/

Favourite quotes from NYT article cited in: “Don’t Call Them Expats”

A more current interpretation of the term “expat” has more to do with privilege. Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.

But Hong Kong will extend all of its rights and protections to me once I’ve lived here for seven years–though I often get the feeling there isn’t much expectation of reciprocity, the way immigrants to the United States are expected to learn English and adopt a certain set of values.

http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2014/12/29/in-hong-kong-just-who-is-an-expat-anyway/

 

UPDATE: A “cleaner” (less angry, attacking) version of the Silicon Africa article was featured in this Guardian article

Speaking Up, Educating, or Cowardly Silence?

My friend had a friend come to stay, so I went to meet them for an afternoon of fun.

This friend seemed nice enough, but a bit sort of frenetic energy, a bit gossipy, but basically alright.

In telling me the story of their adventures the previous night, this girl started to talk about realising that they were dancing next to a trans woman. She referred to the person as “transvestite”, “man”, and “he”. I asked some questions about her appearance as I thought I had seen a trans-woman but the person I saw had light brown hair and the trans-woman they saw last night was young, with very dark hair.

I didn’t correct the person speaking but I didn’t sneer with her, and she started to back pedal a little bit. “Transvestite and transexual. I never know the difference”. I explained, neutrally, using my limited knowledge.

The conversation flowed on. I wondered if I did the right thing (by not reacting and explaining what I knew) or if I was cowardly. My anger wasn’t triggered because I’m not part of the group being attacked, so I was able to calmly respond with factual explanations, not shaming the other person in order to “win”.
I wonder if the conversation served to help this woman change her point of view. I suppose it’s our life experiences that cause us to rethink our positions and resulting behaviour.

Library fines

I love books, but one of the sacrifices a nomad must make is not to buy these sweet smelling travel weights, or if you buy them, be prepared to pass them on to others (parting is sweet sorrow, indeed).

My library card is my most cherished possession. In the UK, in the US, in Spain, wherever I’m living, I’m a library geek, and I am not ashamed to say it.

I love the libraries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. You can take out 99 books, you can renew online, and you can drop any book at any library within the system, and it is *returned*. You can even put it through a handy wee letter box doodad if the library is closed. How neat is that?

Spain on the other hand is a different story. I remember the first day I returned my library books a late to the library in Madrid. I tried to take out more books, and the (very impatient) woman explained to me that I couldn’t take out books for a month. It was my first month in Madrid, and I was living in a not-knowing-Spanish-nightmare, so I just couldn’t really get what she was saying, so she wrote down the date when I could next take out books, and shoved it in my face, before turning abruptly to serve another customer.

I was like “WhAt ThE fAk?” when I realised. “Que barbaridad!!!!! In Britain or the US, you just pay a little bit. But here they STOP you from taking out BOOKS? WHAAAAAAAT? Franco is actually DEAD, isn’t he? Christ on a fucking bike!”.

Maybe that was a slight overreaction on my part. Maybe it makes sense. If you want people to give back books on time, surely banning them from taking out more books for a specific amount of time makes more sense than fining them a small amount of money per item. But personally, I would much rather pay the fine (or “donation”, as I like to call it).

The Case of the Pillow Cases

There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than Spanish pillows. What can I say? It’s the little things in life.

Don’t know what I mean? Close your eyes, and picture a bed.

Does it look like this?

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Or maybe this?

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Well, if you move abroad, be very careful that you buy pillowcases that fit your pillows, because guess what: some countries have ANOTHER SIZE OF PILLOW. Observe:

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Longer and slimmer, it is no better or worse than the “standard” pillow that one can purchase in the dreaded Ikea. It’s just a very slightly different shape, enough to need a different sized pillow case.

Then, there’s the one pillow for two people idea.

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Staying in my friend’s mum’s house, I actually slept on a bed a bit like that (minus the chap with the beret). My partner and I were reticent about sharing a pillow, but to our surprise there was no tug of war in the night. Maybe this whole long pillow business is so crazy, it just might work!

When I first moved to Spain, I had no idea about the different pillow system. I bought one pillow case that was long enough for a 2 meter long pillow (sigh) and one that was for a single Spanish bed, but my ONE PILLOW I bought from  Ikea didn’t fit either of them (see fig. 1).

Pillow case

Then the supermarket told me there was no refund on pillow cases that had been opened, which I thought made sense, but I still pulled this face.

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4 years later, I was buying pillow cases for my pillows from a shop I’d stumbled upon in the neighbourhood. The other shop I had found was wickedly expensive, but this one was reasonably priced and the lady was nice. Finally, my three pillows, kindly donated by my landlord/friend, would be sheathed in pillow cases that ACTUALLY FITTED them. All three pillows were completely different sizes to each other, as well as the random selection of pillow cases my boyfriend had amassed in my several months of absence (one of which was SQUARE. A square pillow case. SQUARE. Don’t even get me started).

Pillow case 2

I had done it. Finally we had pillows with their very own pillow cases. I basked in my own glory in the Basque Country. In your face, annoying things that you never get used to when you live abroad!

Weeks later, my landlord/housemate/friend told me (via email) that he wouldn’t be reimbursing me for the pillow cases as he does for other things I buy for the flat, as they were “just” for our use, “not for the house”, and that we would “take them with us” when we left. I sighed.

In the last 5 years, I’ve moved house 23 times. I’ve lived in 5 different countries, on 3 continents. I have chronic back pain from carrying my minimalist possessions, leaving behind me a trail of clothes horses and home made spice racks (see fig. 2) in my previous apartments.

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(Fig. 2. “The Homemade Eco Spice Rack”)

Today, my most prized possession is my library card, as it saves me from buying books and so the inevitable wrench of saying goodbye to them. Packing, unpacking, repacking, tedious chores of the nomadic.

I know that there is absolutely no way in hell that I am bringing with me three random sized pillow cases with me to the next country I live in. I’ll have enough to transport; electronic cables for laptops, kindles, phones, and other “essential” electronicy doodads take up a surprising amount of space, and are actually quite expensive to replace.

I looked at my pillows, snug in their red and purple cases.

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They cost me around 18 euros. So if I use them for 12 months, they will have cost me about 1.50 euros a month. I’ll take that rental price.

Dear Pillow Cases,

When I leave Spain, I’m not taking you babies with me, but you were definitely worth spending 20 euros on.

Never change, my sweet cotton friends.

Never change.

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Unintentional Jokes

I was sat in French class, where I am the only foreigner, amidst 20 Basque people, and we were chatting about a recent piece of news, involving a woman being asked to cover her baby while breast feeding in a high end London restaurant. We then started to talk about places in Bilbao where you can breast feed, and places where you can’t.

One chap was explaining how women don’t tend to breast feed on the metro, and I asked him “Is that because you can’t eat on the metro?”.

Everyone laughed, as if I had made a joke, but it really, really wasn’t intentional. Many foreigners (in Madrid) remarked on the strict eating habits in Spain. People have at least sixty minutes for lunch, they always eat sitting down, and if you eat in public, walking along and thinking you are minding your own business, you might as well have turned on a neon sign that says “FOREIGNER!”. It’s one aspect that the anglo world has almost completely lost that really affects health of the population.

It’s experiences like that that, no matter how long you live in one country, state, or region, pull you up short, slap you in the face, and remind you that your point of view, your “normality”, is not that of those that surround you.

Why recycle and upcycle instead of buying on the highstreet?

In the past 5 years, I’ve lived in 23 houses, in 5 countries, and 4 continents, and if I have learned one thing, it is this: EVERYTHING IS RENTED.

If you buy something for 6 euros/dollars/pounds, and you are able to use that thing for 6 months before it breaks or you are leaving and it doesn’t fit in your back pack, then you have rented that thing for 1 euro/dollar/pound a month.

Technology is both a blessing and a curse. It allows mass production in a way never before possible, yet on an individual level it deskills. Why learn how to make pastry if you can easily buy it from the supermarket? Why learn how to make anything at all then.

Society is built upon exchange; we give our hard earned cash for goods and services. I can’t make cloth, so I pay for it. But what are the conditions of the workers? Does the company pay the workers a living wage? Does the factory employ women and give them economic independence? Does the item require a raw material that people are murdered for? (Iraq and the war for oil, minerals sold by militants in the Congo for Iphones). Can I live without this thing? Can I make it myself? Can I buy locally?

Money is power, and our choices as consumers affect the actions of big business. Guilt and “oh dearism” can make us think “there’s nothing I can do. Both options are bad. Christmas is so stressful. I’ll just buy all the presents from Amazon”.

I believe we can make a difference by becoming aware of global problems, and not accepting how consumerism/capitalism teaches us that buying things is so important. We can make them too, and we can use recycled materials. Every time I make something, it makes me feel happy, satisfied in my own handiwork. The only limit is your imagination.

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