Relaxing cup of café con leche in the Plaza Mayor, anyone? (if you don´t get the joke, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SluVUMq0Q4g … everyone in Spain is DYING over this video of Ana Botella, the mayor of Madrid, speaking English)
When you return to a place after a few months or years, you are bound to encounter changes. Upon returning to Madrid after over a year and a half, I really did not notice many. The landscape looked the same; Barajas Airport (more specifically Terminal 2) was still a maze; and while driving into the city with my supervisor who was kind enough to pick me up, I began to feel as if I had never left. It seemed like Spain was welcoming me back with open arms.
We buzzed by the “Cuatro Torres,” Madrid’s only skyscrapers, sailed down Paseo de la Castellana, and cruised through Barrio Salamanca, one of Madrid´s trendiest neighborhoods. Everything was starting to look familiar again.
Eventually, we ended up at the beautiful Atocha Renfe train station and I got out of the car and started to get settled into the one-bedroom apartment that an old professor was nice enough to rent to me while I looked for my own.
My first few days honestly felt a lot like a vacation. I visited places I loved in the city, ate at restaurants I missed and met up with a few friends for dinner. It wasn´t until orientation week that I realized that I was really going to live in Madrid. No, not study or vacation, but live. This could mean the nine months that my contract requires me to be here or it could mean nine years. This was the first important cambio, or change.
Unlike the time when I studied in Madrid in college, this time I would have to cook and clean for myself, open up a Spanish bank account, find an apartment (I will talk about this later), pay bills, travel minimally and… work! Although I am fairly used to living on my own, doing this in a foreign country-even one that I know quite well-is definitely going to be a challenge.
As the days I’ve been here have turned into weeks, I have slowly begun to notice other little cambios around the city. Some of these may present more roadblocks for me in the future while others are just little things.
For example, the name of the metro station Sol, one of the busiest metro interchanges, has changed once again. When I was in Madrid in 2012, Sol received its first sponsor, the Samsung Galaxy Note, and it was appropriately renamed, Sol Galaxy Note. Now, it has a new sponsor and is called, Vodafone Sol. This is a very subtle change, along with the map of the metro system. The new one actually looks a lot nicer and makes more sense:
A few more things have changed regarding the transportation system here. One thing that will definitely cause some issues is the delay in services. Back in 2012, it seemed as if the metro came every 2-3 minutes and you rarely had to wait. Now, it usually comes every 5-7 minutes. This may not seem like a huge difference, but when you have to change metro lines, it makes things a bit more complicated. It is still more efficient than D.C.´s metro, but due to the size of Madrid, you sometimes have to transfer several times to get from point A to point B.
Another thing that has changed is the abono transporte. It is an unlimited transportation pass that costs between 39,00 € -70,00 € depending on your age. It used to be a silly orange card that had your picture and passport number or DNI if you were a Spanish citizen. You had to buy a paper ticket, called the abono mensual, or monthly abono, and put it inside a little plastic slit that was on the orange card. It seemed very foolish because someone could easily steal it. Also, they rarely asked to see your orange abono pass, so you could theoretically buy the abono tickets without having the abono card.
When I went to the estanco, or tobacco shop, to buy my abono for September, I was informed that the system had changed. They now had red plastic cards, similar to the Smartrip cards in D.C. which you could recharge whenever you needed to. I was thrilled!
However, my excitement was very brief because I was informed that the new abono was only available for zona A, or zone A, and my school is located in zona B1, so I needed the “abono zona B1,” which still follows the old system. Since it is still not October, I do not have my abono yet and am paying a small fortune to take Metro Madrid, Cercanías commuter trains, and Metro Sur. Each system requires a different ticket. You can buy 10-ride Metro Madrid and Metro Sur passes for around 12,00 € and roundtrip tickets for Cercanías from where I live to my school are 3,50 . To give you an idea of just how expensive this is, in order to get to school I have to take the Cercanías trainroundtrip and two rides on Metro Sur-each day! When I visit apartments or meet up with people in other parts of the city, I have to take Metro Madrid. I would estimate that in this month alone I have spent close to 60,00 € on transportation-almost twice the price of the abono! Luckily, October is coming soon!
Despite the fact that some of these changes have really annoyed me, they are not a huge deal when I think about one of the biggest changes that occurred here. Due to the economic crisis which has been going on for years in Spain, the unemployment rate for people under 25 is around 50%. This means that almost half of Spanish people around my age are jobless. It does not mean that they are lazy or under qualified. I know a girl, for example, who has a Master´s in Engineering and studied for a year in Munich and speaks perfect German, English and Spanish. She is extremely hard-working, intelligent and kind. However, she has been unemployed for months now and has been applying to at least five jobs every day. She still has not received any offers. I know that she is considering applying to jobs in other countries, but this would mean she would have to leave her family, friends and boyfriend behind. Although this may seem like the obvious solution, how fair is it that she should have to leave behind her life and everything she knows and loves to find a job?
Often, it is hard to tell that Spain is going through a huge economic crisis. There are always people out at night and most of the restaurants and their outdoor terraces are filled. People are lively, positive and encouraging. However, in the past three weeks, I have noticed a lot of people begging in the streets. I saw it before when I was here in 2012, but now it seems to be worse. You cannot walk three blocks downtown without running into someone who has a jar out for money. At night, most of the public benches in parks and on sidewalks are full because people have to sleep there. Young people are forced to live with their families and I know some who are over thirty-years-old and have not been able to leave because of these economic difficulties. One person told me that, if it weren´t for the strong family unit in Spain, there would have been some kind of revolution.
I walk these streets and feel as if I belong but at the same time, as if I am a complete stranger. I am not Spanish. I do not have biological family here. But, I do have a job and have been offered more opportunities merely because of my native language. Is this really fair?