19 September 2010

Spoons and Soundwaves

Most days, I'm so at home in this apartment that it's hard to believe I've only been here for a few weeks. Outside the house has its ups and downs, but those are stories for next time.

The family I'm living with is helpful and great at cooking. Their house is like one of those tiny "this is our home" apartments that IKEA has set up in their stores, but the 5 of us never seem to be stepping on each other's toes. While other students in my program are trying to figure out how to stay out of the way when their host mom and dad fight or how to deal with families who roll their eyes at their attempts at Spanish, I somehow ended up in a house where the only thing I hear more than "No pasa nada" are the church bells next door that ring every 15 minutes.

You know how you can learn more about a person by exploring their home than by spending that time talking with them in another setting? Language barrier firmly intact (although I'm working on it), I'm relying on their house to tell me about my host family. The little bit of clutter is cozy and makes think that Malene, my host mom, means it when she laughs at the stories I tell her about mistakes I made speaking to a sales clerk or accidentally closing the door on a neighbor. Every room in the house is filled with snapshots, professional portraits, and polaroids of the family tucked into mirrors and light switches. One wall has been taken over by a growth chart for Noa. The marks lower on the wall are carefully written in pencil, but the more recent ones were written in blue or purple marker in Noa's own nascent handwriting. And why should everything be perfect?

Homes here seem to be a place for living, not entertaining or improving or investing in. We're all so on top of each other that it would be insane to imagine anyone trying to make their house an entirely private space. Our windows are always open and drying laundry hangs off our balconies letting our neighbor's lives drift in and out during the day. Someone near us is always watching Bollywood movies, the dad across the hall sings to his baby in the morning when he starts crying, and someone cooks dinners that smell good enough to make me want to knock on their door and ask for a bite.

In the morning, I eat breakfast in the corner and make notes to myself to get an electric kettle for my apartment, stop eating so much nutella, and remember my dictionary for class. Our kitchen is smaller than a closet, but is packed to the top with everything we need. The differences aren't that big, but the parts that are strange mean more about culture than cabinets which, by the way, we don't have. There are 4 bins that are color-coded for the Spanish recycling system: blue for paper, green for glass, yellow for plastic, and grey for trash. The washing machine and oven under the counter are both missing their mates; dryers don't seem to exist anywhere in Spain and the stove has been replaced with a hot plate. My favorite part of the kitchen is the radio with a spoon for an antenna, a trick Malene learned from her Dutch grandmother. She has it on all the time and I've kept it on this weekend to take up space in the empty house while she, Jorge, and Noa are gone visiting her family up the coast.

A playlist of familiar and new songs from the kitchen radio, tuned to station 93.9:

+The Kooks: "Naive"
+A country song in Spanish
+Ziggy Marley: "Falling in Love"
+Shakira: "Waka Waka"
+Chubby Checker: "Limbo Rock"
+Counting Crows: "Accidentally in Love"
+Coldplay: "Life in Technicolor II"
+Death Cab for Cutie: "What Sarah Said"
+Steel Pulse: "Roller Skates"
+Spoon: "Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"
+Duffy: "Mercy"
+Something by Beirut
+The Zombies: "Time of the Season"