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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

The second mother

“She’s like my second mom” Jenny said (not her real name). We were talking about me doing a substitution for her, a private class teaching English at the family’s home.

My number was given to the mother of the family. Suddenly, twelve messages arrive on my phone. “Can you come on Mondays? We live really near you. We’re so excited to meet you. Is 30 ok for the two hours?”.

“Wow, that’s low” I thought. Maybe Jenny had a special agreement with the family for some reason? Who knows. I decided not to make waves. It was her class. “Stop judging”, I told myself.

I went to their house. Everything went smoothly. The next week, I received several messages from a family member of the family. Could I come on Tuesdays? Please please please. They needed someone. Could I recommend someone?

I didn’t reply.

I’ve taught English for 6 years. I. am. tired. I’m tired of people from the country where I live expecting me to solve their problems, expecting me to speak English with them, expecting me to make an effort to understand that they mean this Thursday, not next Thursday. I’m tired of the backhanded comments about how I “speak my language too much”, “don’t make enough effort to integrate”, but could I please please get them another English teacher thanks?

I am not the solution to your problem. Even though I speak Spanish with a very strong accent, I’ve worked really hard to get to it where I am today, so fuck you and your judgements of my life. Fuck you in the fucking face.

Eventually I did reply. “No”.

The mother of the family didn’t ask permission to give my phone number to someone else. They never do. They never think “maybe lots of people message this person asking for help, so I won’t give out their number without their permission”. No, it’s all “Ah, you’re a güiri. You must want a babysitting job”. I do not want a baby sitting job. I want to get a dog and a car and a mortgage like everyone else because I’m almost 30. I want to pay my state pension, not receive cash for going an hour to your house and be told I should be “grateful” when you don’t pay me the same every month (like Christmas etc), like you would any other service.

The mother of the family asks me to bring a list of irregular verbs the day I’m supposed to go to their house. “I have all that stuff in work” I say. She pays me 15e an hour and she wants me to prepare as well. Jesus. Poor Jenny, I thought.

Every day I go, the mother tries to squeeze as many minutes of free English practice out of me for her as she can at the end. We talk about Jenny on trip, how sad it is that she’s leaving (maybe because people only pay her 15e an hour? I think). But I keep that thought to myself as it’s “not my place to say”.

The last day, the mother offers my Jenny’s job. “You know, Jenny, won’t be here the whole school year, if you wanted…” I’m too busy with uni, I say. Stab my good friend in the back for 15 euros an hour? Lord.

I tell this to my friend over a drink a few weeks later. “Oh.” she says. “They were paying me 20”.

The next day I knew I had to say something for my self-respect. This is what went down:

-Hi. I was speaking to Jenny last night. I assumed you were paying me the same as her. I thought it was very low but as a favour to her I accepted. Apparently you pay her 40 for two hours?
-Yes, but i told you 30 because i didn’t know you well at the beginnig
-So you continued to underpay me?
-Aprovechaste de la buena fe de las 2.
-Si quieres ser honesta y pagar a la gente que empleas un salario digno, aquí tienes mis detalles para hacer cuentas
[detalles bancarias]
-Para que sepas, tengo un grado de filología inglesa. Tengo 20.000 libras de deuda estudiantil x ello xk soy de una familia humilde. Tengo 6 años de experiencia. Y normalmente cobro 25 la hora.
-Esa es la última vez que hago un favor para una amiga. Lauren te estima tanto entonces no pensaba en eso.
-Sarah, t he llamado para hablar contigo, si es posible
-En ningun momento, nuestra intencion ha sido aprovecharnos d ti y no me conoces para poner en duda mi honestidad, yo hable un precio contigo al principio… Lo dicho, el wasp no m parece la via para comunicar y tratar de solucionar un enfado como este
-We can talk about it whenenever you want
-Si tu intención no era así haz cuentas ahora.
-Me deberías haber pagado lo mismo que Lauren. Por eso no me dijo ella xk confiaba en ti.
-i me pagas lo que falta hablamos de cuando Lauren se va en la primavera.
-Please, calculate how many weeks have you been at home and i will make a trasference
– Sept
12
19
26
October
3
10
24
(31 puente)
Nov
7
14

8. 80e
-Done, please let me know you have already get the money in your account

I did not feel good about this conversation. I felt drained and dead tired. I promised myself that I would be straight about money from the start of any future deal, knowing that I probably wouldn’t because:

a) I’m British and we find it culturally difficult to talk about money

b) It’s frowned upon for women to ask for money

c) jobs in caring professions often try to manipulate you emotionally (they need you etc)

A day or two later, I receive a message from my friend. She called Jenny crying. The mother of the family called Jenny crying.

I’m now going to write something that only my really close friends know about me. I cry every. single. dayMy mother, someone I had a very complicated relationship with, died of cancer two years ago. I went home (not having been home for more than a weekend for the past 10 years) to “take care of her”, which mainly involved cooking eggs (that was the only thing her stomach could tolerate due to the cancer treatment) and watching her try to hide how much pain she was in from the cancer, from the digestive problems, and from the osteoporosis due to how the chemo had destroyed her body. I was completely and utterly devastated.  Even now, I can’t look at white flowers without thinking about the lillies at her funeral, I think about her every time I drink freshly squeezed orange juice as it’s the last thing she drank. I couldn’t bear to speak to anyone for a year. I couldn’t work (my job is basically speaking to people). I was completely destroyed. Despite crying at least once a day for the past two and a half years, I’ve never called someone up crying. I do not use my tears to make others feel bad to manipulate them into doing what I want.

Calling up someone crying is a distinct tactic in my book. The mother of the family thought “Oh shit. I’m going to loose the native teacher for my kids. Shit shit shit shit shit”, so she called my friend, had a cry at her to make sure she wouldn’t stop working with her family, and then my friend was annoyed with me.

So, from this situation I’ve learned that I need to be up front about money, because if I’m not, then I seem like even more of a bitch.

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Santutxu: Not a Matriarchy

“Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood in Bilbao”, he told me, after we were hotly discussing how population density makes poverty in the UK completely different from here.

I looked in to it. This is an urban legend, a little saying people repeat over and over again, Trump style, until it becomes true.

Are you sitting down? Because I have something to tell you.

Santutxu is 100% not the most densely populated city in Bilbao. No way… Unai?

I wrote a blog post about it here, and my friend changed the Wikipedia entry, and I thought the battle was won. But the war waged on.

Another (güiri) friend quoted the old most populated thing to me again, and I explained to him the (I thought) amusing little anecdote. “Be careful of fake news!”, I patronised him.

Then, what should I find on Wikipedia today, almost a year later?

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-00-13-58

Yes, that’s right. Some bright spark had yet again changed the Wikipedia entry for Santutxu to read that it’s the most densely populated you-know-what in the you-know-who.

I breathed deeply. I try to keep an open mind, I really, really, do. I checked the sources, yet again, and yet again they show that San Francisco is more densely populated than Santutxu.

So, I finally made a Wikipedia account to set right this unspeakable wrong.

It was much easier than I thought (name and password. That was literally it), but then I was a bit fazed by the html code, but I managed to bodge it.

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-00-29-56

The reason it irks me so much, as I’ve already said, is it’s something people repeat over and over again until “everyone knows” it. It reminds me too much of the matriarchy myth, a myth Basque men would often casually educate me on, expecting me to side with them about Basque women being too “mean” or “bossy”, because their definition of a “matriarchy” is a Catholic patriarchy where women control men’s money, and also refuse to have sex, because they are such nasty meanies…

For the last time, women can have multiple orgasms, and therefore can potentially enjoy sex more than men, and if they ain’t enjoying their super powers… there’s a densely populated problem going on, in Santutxu and beyond.

Long live fact checking, statistics, and Wikipedia’s super easy to use interface. I salute you all!

How I ended up in Madrid

I arrived in Madrid in 2010, bright eyed and bushy tailed, all ready to learn Spanish. What I had really wanted to do was what my course mates were doing, aka live off mummy and daddy’s respective purse and wallet and do a masters, or just potter about and live with my parents. They spoke of the homecoming with dread. “It’s going to be hard going back to their house after living independently”, they said. I envied them.

Not having taken up the challenge of studying any language properly before (“This isn’t going to help me make money in order to have financial security”, that holy grail of holy grails I had been brought up to seek), I applied to China and was accepted. I was to fly on August 13th, 2010.

I was crashing with my sister in London, a few days before my departure, when someone from British council called me.

“I suppose by now you’ve realised that there’s a problem with your visa”, she said kindly, in the clipped tones of an admirably middle class English accent.

Erm. Come again?

It turned out that some random Chinese citizens had been going in to schools and getting knife happy, attacking teachers and students. I had been (too) honest about my mental health history, getting the required documents that said I was “mostly harmless” etc, so under the disability discrimination act, British Council had hired me. Long live equality! However, the Chinese government had just banned giving teaching visas to loony foreigners, so I was in job limbo.

They said they would sort it.

A few days later they called me to say I could work in central Madrid, even though I didn’t speak Spanish. I was relieved. I had already handed in my notice for my bar job in London and I was tired of living in a capital and having no money.

So, off I trotted.

Harassment in the Basque Country

We were at the fiestas of a nearby pueblo. My “friend”, someone I’d known for a few months as a cousin of my friend’s boyfriend, started making sexual advances just before lunch, about  1 o’clock.

“You left the other night as you fancy me or John. Come on, admit it. You fancy me, that’s why you left early the other night, because you didn’t want to cheat on your boyfriend.”

I let him down gently. “No” I said. “Look, you’re a really nice guy, but I really don’t feel that way about you.”

Fast forward a few hours. We had been drinking all day. We were sat outside a bar, about 20 of us. I went inside to the bathroom, drunk as hell.

I came out of the bathroom. The bar person wasn’t there. There was no one actually inside the bar, except my “friend”.

He wouldn’t let me past. “I know you fancy me, and I don’t care that your boyfriend is a boxer, I’m going to take you like this and I’m going to fuck you”. He kept repeating it over and over.

I was scared. He wouldn’t let me past. I didn’t want to touch him, I didn’t want to get within arms reach of him. I should have belted him one then.

I got back to the group, and I started shouting, thinking it will alert the others to how he is sexually harassing me. I thought they would protect me.

No one made eye contact. His friends, my friend’s boyfriend and on of their friends, then spent what seemed like hours talking and talking and talking at me.

“You’re too feminist. Nothing happened” they kept saying, over and over. I would later come to learn that two men against one woman is typical in this culture, that this is a pattern.

My heart is hammering as I write this, and this was almost 2 years ago.

None of the women made eye contact with me. Most were foreign. They sat and pretended like it wasn’t happening. I get it. I get that no one wants to be with the unpopular girl, saying unpopular things like I was.

My chest hurt. It was like a nightmare. They spent the whole night “talking” to me about it. Finally I just gave up. I couldn’t remember where the train station was. I asked directions. I went home.

The next day I was supposed to go to a bbq with some other friends. I felt too horrible to go.

Months later, my friend told me she was sorry that she didn’t help me, that she didn’t say anything. I had already forgiven her, but it took guts to say sorry and I was proud of her. She described that something similar had happened to her recently, and that her boyfriend had gotten angry with her for “provoking” one of his friends in to coming on to her.

I love my friend but I can’t be around her boyfriend and his friends. They are her life. We don’t see each other much now. I don’t resent her. We are all walking a hard road.

I see my “friend” at random times. Sometimes I see him when he’s drunk, and he shouts “Hello” to me, highlighting the fact that I completely ignore him, trying to provoke me. I saw him at a feminist rapper concert. I saw him at a festival, when I was with some female friends. They all went over to talk to him. I went home without saying goodbye.

I saw him a few months ago. He tried to make conversation with me, but not in a horrible way. I gave one word responses and moved away. Sometimes when you face something head on, you attract more wasted, ruined time.

My friend, the one who is with the guy who says she is asking for it when his druggie friends sexually harass her, says “I know you hate him, but I’m gonna be with him forever”. I don’t hate him, I don’t think he’s a bad person, but I just don’t want him in my life. Not even for a second. I have a family history of people dying young. I don’t want to waste another instant of my life on this guy, and his rich, spoilt, bratty friends who think they can do whatever they want because the pact between men is so strong that no man will call them out for harassing his girlfriend.

There’s a part of me that has compassion for the boyfriend. This is a society where it is hard to make friends, where people make friends in primary school and then… if you get pushed out, you’re out in the cold. My compassion withers away every time he interrupts his girlfriend, especially when she’s sharing her experiences about race.

I suppose there comes  a time in every persons life when they realise that they would rather be alone than be around people that don’t make their day better.

I tell my sponsor: “I feel like I’m standing up in a strong flowing river, and it keeps knocking me down, but I keep getting up. And I don’t want to stop. I want to keep fighting because it’s the right thing to do”.

She tells me: “There is another way. You could get out of the river and come with us on the shore.”

 

 

 

 

“A Frank Admission of Privilege”

Here are some snippets from a beautifully written article in the Guardian by Michaela Cole. I’ll have to check out her series Chewing Gum!
All women are disadvantaged to varying degrees in our patriarchal society; and class, race, sexuality, disability and the number of those boxes you tick can make a staggering difference to your status in the creative industry. Having a disability, being trans or brown or female can often give you a distinct, culturally intriguing perspective on life – but it can also, ultimately, be a disadvantage (albeit a beautiful one). .
 
A report by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that “more than 95% of characters with disabilities are played by able-bodied actors on television”. The academics Irena Grugulis and Dimitrinka Stoyanova found that women and people from ethnic minorities were underrepresented in UK film and TV. So if we can conclude that not being a white male might make things a little harder, being at a “disadvantage” in multiple ways (a gay, trans, Asian woman from a working-class background with a disability, for instance) will make things harder than having the singular setback of being able-bodied but from a working-class background.
 
[…]
 
I wondered whether it wasn’t race but class that made me feel like a complete outsider, even though I was the first black female the school had had in five years. I’d been the “only black girl” so many times, but it had never felt quite like this: I’d never been the only working-class one.
 
The differences between myself and my year, many of whom were friends, intrigued me, so I wrote and spoke about it. An emergency meeting was suddenly called. One day before lunch, I was given a tipoff by my gay, working-class mate that this covert operation had been in the making for a few days: “Beware, Michaela, this is an ambush: the sole subject of this meeting is you.”
 
My entire year gathered in a big circle – I sat in silence as they awkwardly revealed the intention behind it. It was explained to me that I’d caused offence by saying that I felt different because I was a working-class Londoner with immigrant parents. My female classmates bounced frantically between grief, panic and irritation: they didn’t see class, so why should I?
 
[…]
 
Of course there are exceptions. I have wonderful, empathetic white girlfriends from wealthy backgrounds who are no longer comfortable defending solely their own causes. One of the girls who secretly orchestrated that “emergency meeting” at drama school privately apologised two years later. But to bring about real change a private apology is never enough – in fact, it’s lame. The first expectation for a person of privilege should be that they speak especially to your equally privileged but ignorant friends.
 
Do you have an Amy Schumer in your life? Weed her out. Highlight your sensitivity and disappointment in her for partaking in the micro-aggressions and subtle forms of prejudice that are quietly poisoning the era of progress and equality in which we live. And those of us who are content creators have a duty to make room for those we know are less privileged than we are.
 

Lol

Just read this:

Students at the prestigious IIT-Roorkee have made a new video for Sheeran’s song that truly captures the desperate struggles of all the tens of millions of students who pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering to find a girlfriend.

As far as I can see, that long haired student has no trouble finding romantic liaisons. Look at all those short haired students who want to get with her! Good for her.

 

 

Games for girls

I was chatting to someone from the cuadrilla who was a geek. I remember actually not hating the conversation, which was nice. I said “Ah, you lent us that car game. Could you tell me what are the tricks to do better at it?”

“Ah” he said. “Well, the thing is, it’s not meant for girls. You should play one of the gardening ones instead.”

I started laughing hysterically, thinking about what a great joke it was. He continued.

“No, when I’m tired, I play this great gardening game. You should play that one instead.”

His traditional sexism gave me a firm pat on the cheek. I, between laughing, explained to him how the division of labour in our society leads to massive inequalities in men and women and how I didn’t believe there were toys for boys or for girls.

Eventually, in a small voice, he mentioned that the main important strategies of winning the game were memorising the maps and memorising where the speed boosts were.

That wasn’t so hard now was it?

Saint Tomas’ Day, 2014

It was two weeks after my mother’s funeral, and the first time I had gone out. Saint Tomas’ day is a day on the Basque Catholic calendar in which people go out for all day drinking with their friends. The bars are packed, the people are happy. Everyone’s out with their cuadrilla, their tight knit group of friends that they’ve known each other for so long, their other family. Basque’s seem to love deep, long term friendships, and not meeting new people, and never mixing their groups of friends together.

I was so mentally broken at this point I struggled to put a sentence together in Spanish. I felt like someone had hit me in the head with an axe and it was still there.

My boyfriend went inside, leaving me to chat to two of his friends. One of them started to interrogate me about why I wasn’t learning Basque. I was shocked. I could barely form a response. How could I think about learning Basque when my short term memory was fucked, I didn’t have a job, I was in debt because I hadn’t been working while I’d been caring for my mum?

Later, much later, I realised that this guy is so petrified of being called Spanish, so sad that he can’t speak Basque properly, that he likes to verbally attack immigrants whose mother’s have just died to make himself look good in front of his Euskaldun friends. Machismo en el matriarcado.

I didn’t know this group of people well. Some knew my mother had died, like the guy who interrogated me as to why I don’t spend thousand of euros trying to learn a very difficult language at the worst point in my life when I was in complete agony, others didn’t.

“How are you?” said one girl. For a Basque person, this was massively friendly. They don’t usually talk to new people, that’s a bit like being someone slightly unhinged who tries to start a conversation with you on the tube in London.

“Not very good. My mum just died.”

She let out a nervous snort. I knew she didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to lie but I also didn’t like to make people feel uncomfortable with the smouldering ruins of my life. I hadn’t just lost my mother, I had lost other family members too (we were not on speaking terms), as well as the place where I grew up. I had lost my country. I had lost the force that I had rebelled against for the past 26 years of my life. I had also lost that safety net that is one’s parents house. That place you dread moving back to, but if it’s that or the street, you would take it and be grateful.

The Cuadrilla

My ex-boyfriend and I met in Madrid. We both had big trips planned, him to Thailand, me to Honduras. We didn’t know if we would stay together, or if we would end up in the same city.

We discussed options of where to live in the future. My mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (a very aggressive form of cancer) 6 months before. I knew I had to stick around Europe for the next few years. I knew that her cancer could come back at any time, that statistically this would probably happen sooner rather than later, and so going to Asia was out of the question for me.

“What do you think about moving to the UK for a year?” I said.

“How about Australia?” my boyfriend replied.

My boyfriend hated the UK, even though he had barely even been there. He was full of notions and beliefs, and quite closed minded in many ways. He had presented himself to me as someone who loved travel, hiking, good food, but in reality, what he loved was sleeping all day at weekends, drinking all night, and drowning all food in cream and cheese.

I suggested Bilbao as an intermediary point. The more we talked it over, the more it made sense. We had both visited there many times, we both had friends there, we both liked the city.

He moved there first. His best friend, someone he had lived with in Barcelona, was from there, and gave him an “in” into his tight group of friends. “Don’t worry about making friends here” he told me. “We have it made. Everyone said it’s really hard to make friends here but I’ve found us a great group of people.”

I was curious and excited to meet these people. For some reason, I believe that as someone’s partner, it’s important to make an effort to be friends with their friends. I don’t know why I believe this, but I do.

The first time we bumped into them, we were walking up a busy street. I expected them to talk to me or make eye contact, but I was soon to learn that in that Basque Country, men aren’t allowed to talk to women who are the property of other men, and it’s quite normal to be completely ignored by a group of men. In fact, if there is a group of men, you should leave them to their “manly conversations”, because, as a woman, you shouldn’t intrude, seeing as you have too much power anyway. Oh yeah, and no one fucks because women are mean.

This is the twisted Basque patriarchal logic that men used against women, both with other men and to divide and conquer women. Read more here.

I was nervous to meet these people. I wanted to make a good impression. I literally needn’t have bothered.

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