Breaking Rules and Breaking Down

I was six the first time I got sent to the principal’s office.

Still had the little boy haircut, still loved school and my teachers, still had no idea why boys and girls ever ended up getting married. Then, Josh Rollins and David Damby lifted up my dress to reveal my underwear on the playground one afternoon at King Elementary School.

I was horrified. The sixth grade safety guard told me to run and hide, but I knew the consequences would be far greater if I did. So I hung my head and marched into Mr. Damby´s (yes, the boy who lifted up my skirt was the principal´s son) office, willing to miss after-recess story time if it meant my mom would never know. If it were anyone else´s kid, I would have been thought to provoke the curiosity of a bunch of little boys, but Mr. Damby knew his kid, and I got off without even so much as a slap on the wrist. For at least five more years, I wore bike shorts under skirts and dresses.

Senior year of high school, I got my first and only detention. Perkins, my gymnastics coach and dear friend, gave it to me for not remembering to bring my freshly-laundered District 200-issued gym clothes to school. I met her promptly at 2:20 and asked for my task. Rubbing skid marks off the gym floor? Recording grades? She waved me away, knowing I was a good kid.

Moral of the story? I´m not so into breaking rules. I´m as straight as Spain´s steady descent into non-Euroland.

That is, until recently. In February, I started getting together documents together to study at one of Seville´s two public universities. This involved countless trips and countless aggravations with María Gracia, the woman in charge of the Masters Oficial. I finally had to pay 110€ to get my transcript translated, and am still waiting for the sign-up to open. This was my back-up plan, to get a student visa to at least allow me to get a cheap masters and stay in Spain.

As of June 15th, it´s still not open. So I needed a new plan.

I found out in May that I couldn´t renew my grant to be a language assistant another year, so I started preparing early by making lists of possible places to work, spending free time writing cover letters and addressing envelopes. Just after Feria, I sent out 43 CVs to colegios concertados, which are private schools paid for in ‘art by the government. I´ve gotten a lot of support from other teachers, friends who pass along job contacts, and my own willingness to put everything Í´ve got into the job search.

To date, I’ve had seven contacts. One no for working at the school (but an offer for the afterschool program), two interviews done, two more this week, and a “we’ll contact you.” although I´ve had good response, it´s hard not to be disheartened when you see yourself as a good candidate and willing to do what it takes. I’ve been more anxious than the day before moving away to school, ready to cry at any moment. The only thing certain is that I want to stay in Spain, not how I’ll do it or where I´ll work.

Everyone had the same response: Can you at least get student papers? Find some way to be legal?

All of research and calls to lawyers were kind of coming up empty. So I had to think of something else. I am not a criminal, and I don´t have so much as a parking ticket to my name. I pay taxes even though I don´t live in America, never run red lights and donate money to charity. So what´s to say a law-abiding citizen can´t bend the rules a bit every now and then?

Kike and I decided to do what’s known as a pareja de hecho. While, during the first year, the benefits to me are slim, if we can prove that we´ve lived together for 12 months without me being away for more than three months, I´ll get a residence permit. Not job permission, but at least I can´t be kicked out of the country for the next 12 months. It took several trips to the social security office, an all-day excursions to Fuengirola (Málaga) to the American Consulate to get what´s known as a Fé de Soltería, or a 23€ document stating I´m not already married. For once, all of this paperwork, the dreaded papeleo, was done within a week and it became official on June 7th.

But, as I mentioned, this was no way to get work permission. I have tried everything, spending my entire three weeks of summer vacation standing in lines trying to get some answers. I even tried getting unemployment, thinking my pareja de hecho could get me in the Spanish Social Security system. Hours at the Oficina de Extranjeros were good for asking questions, but it wasn´t until I visited the American Consulate here that I had the solution.

Mary Theresa said: Stop being so Anglo-Saxon about things, Cat. Go and use what you´ve got.

So I gathered everything I needed to reply my student visa, bought an overnight ticket to Madrid and left Wednesday night after my classes. I arrived to the capital a few minutes after six to cold, rainy weather and immense ganas to sleep. My plan was to have a coffee and churros and sit outside in the cold at the Foreigner´s Office. But the 15º weather deterred me, so I was shocked to see that In was the first in line at 8am. In Sevilla, the office is swamped by people waiting for their numbers early, eager to get one before they run out by 10am.

Just before 9am, a security guard opened the door and asked me if I had an appointment. I learned before leaving Sevilla that the office only takes appointment, but having a document that expired in one week was like walking around with a bomb in my wallet, and I had good faith someone would help me for having come on a dreaded overnight bus from Sevilla. The guard, instead, gave me the shortcut for calling and speaking to a human (in my defense, I did try for the appointment). The woman on the other end informed me that someone had JUST called and cancelled for Monday, so she could get me in at 4pm. I snatched a bank form out of the guards hand, walked down the street to the Caja Madrid, and paid my 16,32€ for the new card before boarding the Metro back towards the bus station to close my ticket. It was cold, ym news shoes pinched my feet, and I was being tortured by coming back again.

Sunday night, I left again, feeling a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. After all, I was kinda stretching the truth for this NIE, but letting it expire was like opening Pandorás box: a whole new level of despair. I was, of course, seated behind the woman who fully reclined her chair and a dude who had no idea what personal space was, so I got scattered sleep in, finally succumbing in my weird gymnast positions with limbs draped wherever I could get them to fit.

I arrive at 7am, took the Cercanías to Atocha and resolved to just walk around until my friend called for breakfast. Nine hours to kill is a lot in an expensive city where you´ve been countless times before (no, I really can´t remember how many times I´ve been to Madrid – I think I went five last year alone!). Jeremy called at about 9am, so I scooted over to Palos de la Frontera, where we have a long chat over coffee (mine a manchaito with less coffee, since I was already trembling) and porros, the thick, Sevillian-style churros. He then suggested I take a nap, so I followed him to his house and konked out on the couch.

We later went to our date place for lunch, an unassuming Chinese restaurant in the parking garage of Plaza de España. By the time I got off the Metro in Puerta de Toledo an hour later, 40 minutes before my appointment, the sky had opened up and I was soaked after the 50 meter walk down the hill. I told the guard that I was early, and he insisted I not stand outside and just get in line straightaway. This cita system is genius, and I waited a mere 15 minutes for my number to be called (compared to four hours in Sevilla the week before). I had to practically Jedi Mind trick my feet still so as not to appear nervous, but all of that washed away when I walked in.

The blonde woman who helped me looked like Charo at first glance, minus all the plastic surgery. I quickly explained my situation with her, even leaving out that I had already been here, and she put her hand over mine and said, “Your current NIE is from Sevilla. Have you lived there a long time? I love Andalucía.” I swear she never even looked down at my paperwork, chattering away about how funny my accent is (she likened me to the Korean woman raised in Utrera who now appears on a late-night talk show), how funny Andalusians are, and how much success she wishes me in the future.

Phew. I was about to pee my pants!

I walked out of the office and called Kike and my mom, the stamp freshly planted on my documentation. Sign, sealed and LEGAL!

Fin del Curso


All of the sudden, I’m tearing another page off the calendar in my room (and, yes, it’s a really Spanish one with the Virgin de la Esperanza that I got at Las Golondrinas and includes the names of the saint days. TOMA. I am practically half Spanish).

I can’t believe it’s May already. Last year I was doing a lot more traveling, going out till all hours of the morning, and the time passed quickly. Clearly. But this year, I don’t know how the time has flown by . I consider myself fortunate enough to be here in Spain for three more months, but the uncertainty of next year is giving me that hurried feeling I get when things wind down.

There’s a saying in Spain: “Las cosas del palacio van despacio” which pretty much means that beauracracy really slows things down here. I know this all too well, as do Spaniards, and the province of Sevilla has a bad reputation for tardaring even más. I’m still waiting to hear whether or not I get a grant to teach again, then apparently I have to wait for a school assignment. Fine, but my documents expire in mid-June, and they need to be renewed before I leave the country or else I need to get a new visa in Chicago this summer, which pretty much guarantees I can’t start the school year on time in October. Vaya tela.

Today I got that feeling that things are quickly coming to an end. I stayed late at school this afternoon to go to Convivencia, which is pretty much like team-building and learning how to be a good citizen. We started with a two-hour lunch of tortilla, chachinas, fresones, queso fresco, ensaladillas and other goodies. I realized how much I would miss not working at Heliche next year – surely no one would welcome me to school every morning by calling me a bug like Emilio does (or a variation of “Hola, mediobicho/gato/saborilla!”).

It’s funny – I’m not a real teacher, but I have my own mailbox and pin to the copy machine. I’ve been at the school now two school years, which is more than a significant number of my compis. I know high schools change drastically every year, but I feel much more a part of that school than ever. I write the consejeria funny notes when I send kids down for chalk, Felisabel tailored my flamenco dress, and I eat lunch at Nieves’s house every so often. Sure, I’d miss my students, but I would really extrañar my coworkers and their dirty jokes.

One of my bilingual students, Irene, asked me today in art class if I would be sticking around next year. I said most likely, and that I wanted to. She said, “I hope so. We’d probably get someone who isn’t as funny and nice as you.”


Applying for a Número de Identificación de Extranjeros (NIE)

So, I’ve been in Seville for a week now; Spain nearly a month/four weeks. It’s kind of just been one thing after another just being a pain in the ass, starting with the whole application process to be an auxiliar. From the visa requirements changing with no warning to receiving the wrong documents at orientation a week ago to apply for a DNI, I’ve run into problem after problem. So, on my shit list for now is: The Chicago Consulate of Spain, The Junta de Andalucía, and the Oficina de Extranjeros, as well as anyone who gives me bad directions and wastes an hour and a half of my time.

This morning, I got up at 6 am and was on a bus into town at 6:50. When I got to the Oficina de Extranjeros by 7:30, there was already a line forty people deep from around the world. Some people were from Romania, some from the Caribbean, some from the US like me. All over, really. It was still dark and I could barely keep my eyes open. The doors open at 8:45 so that you can get a number. Green is for renewal, Pink is for applying for a resident or student card, A’s are for requesting a resident or student card, B’s are for information, all other numbers are for all other inquiries. Or at least that’s what I think. Since I had gotten there early enough, I had a number in my hand by 9:15. I was A06. It was then I realized I was missing one of the photocopies, so I RAN into town (maybe five minutes) and found a copy shop where I could do this. Then I ran back. The number just called was A02. So I waited for about another 30 minutes. Inside the office, there’s a waiting room where people are just screaming about how slow the lines are and how inconvenient the Spanish democracy is. I have to say I agree. My brain wasn’t working, so I felt like I wasn’t even asking for the right things and was dreading being asked for the apostille the Chicago Consulate never told me to get.

After I got into the office where the delegates are, I had to wait for someone to get back to the station for five minutes. I asked a man and he said, Yes, student cards here. Wait for my colleague.” So I did, and she turned out to be very nice. Like the visa application process, I had forgotten the sheet from the Junta with my school’s name on it, but she looked it up online. After you’re given a temporary NIE card with your foreigner’s number on it, you have to ask for an appointment to turn in your pictures (the ones we get in the US are too big) and you have to pay like 6 euros, then you get fingerprinted and you sign some stuff and then you have to come back AGAIN to pick up the card.

The lady said, “I’ll have you come back today. So you need to go pay this, but not in any bank. You have to go to BBVA.” I figured this wouldn’t be a problem because BBVA is a very popular bank. And if Citibank has three locations, BBVA must have like 30. She told me the place wasn’t very far away and gave me directions. She told me the nearest hotel, but not the street. I ended up walking into every government building I could find to try and find this GD bank, and finally someone could give me a street. She was right – it was close – but I ended up walking FOREVER before finally finding it.

I also needed smaller photos taken. Because it was hot today and I didn’t bother to make myself look decent this morning, I knew they would look horrible. They weren’t bad, but no one seemed to know where a copistería was to have the pictures taken. I walked even further away from the office to this really seedy area, but the people were so nice and did it right away.

When I returned to the office about 40 minutes later, dripping in sweat and frustrated (also full from buying an enormous bag of chips to eat to make myself feel better), I saw this nice French boy who is working as an auxiliar. He is an EU citizen, so he didn’t have to wait in line like us Americans, but he was waiting to make sure a friend got his papers all in order. He stood in line to get a pink ticket for me while I used the bathroom, but once I got a pink ticket I was whisked right into the office with the delegates, gave the lady my documents, got my fingers all printed on the correct sheet and was on my way. This was about 1 p.m. I spent the better part of the day in some stupid office trying to understand what these people were telling me. It was hot and I was exhausted, so I skipped out on the beautiful sunshine to go home and sleep. I am so freaking lame.

Now, we just have to worry about how I get a package that my parents sent me FedEx without checking to see where there was, if any, a Fed Ex office. Anddddd I don’t think there is, so my stuff is floating around somewhere. Awesome.

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