Minuscule Victories

When you move to a foreign country it can be so hard. Harder than you would ever imagine. Especially if there is a language barrier. I have said it before, I stopped trying to ask for specific things because nothing here is called what it is in the US. Even via direct translation. Don’t ask for a water testing kit. No one will know what you are talking about and send you packing. However, if you tell the farmacia that you need to analyze your well water they will go to the back and return with a giant jug encased in plastic. Then give you a thousand and one verbal instructions for collection times and the very narrow window for the hours and days you can drop it off so they can send it out. Note: Entiendo mas pero hablar es mas difícil para me. It only took me three months and 47 farmacias to figure this out. Now I’m a total pro on the water analysis asking front😉.

The water example is just one of five thousand in the past five years. Jeff and I laugh about some of our bigger, very early, mistakes. How we made things so difficult for ourselves by failing to tell the story of what we were trying to do, rather than using the American name for something. And some of the looks we’ve gotten over the years are almost comical. Eye rolls and head scratching by countless clerks, medical professionals, gas station attendants. Sometimes they call a relative who knows ingles to speak to us on the phone. Jeff is better at it than me.

‘Tell them what you are trying to do.’ He reminds me often. And surprisingly, this is easier. Especially when I don’t know the right word. Often, I have many words in español to tell them the how. Then, they can tell me the what. But, there are still times when things are overwhelming. And frustrating. Not so much with other people. More with myself. And sometimes you just need to know you aren’t alone.

The Gift of Understanding

Last night I had an hours long conversation on the phone until nearly midnight with an American friend in Santiago. Boy, did I need that. It was like all the things I say with my inside voice, but out loud. Afterwards I slept like a baby. The first time in awhile. What a gift. And, today, more good news quite literally knocked on our door.

Jeff opened it to a small Galician woman who unleashed a stream of gallego on him. Assuming a cow was out, or we had done yet another thing wrong, Jeff shouted for me.

‘Kelli! There is someone at the door for you!’

Of course. I am the official American Ambassador of the village of A Campanilla. Since there are perhaps 15 residents in total – swelling to 30 in August holidays and fiestas – there isn’t much competition for the title. Unless you include Jeff, who has eschewed the American foreign service with extreme prejudice.

I have been searching for a housekeeper for, well, forever. To no avail. I have called every service in the Yellow Pages Melide (yes, they have that here), asked friends, asked strangers. Nada. Most services are commercial cleaning services. In our area women clean their own houses. It seems no one wants to clean the Americans house. And it is ‘The Americans house’ because you can ask anyone within twenty kilometers of here and they will give you directions on how to get here. I know this because I have ordered things in every burg, village, roadside fruit stand, and when I try to give the person I have never met in my life the address of where to deliver my purchases they always stop me.

‘I know where you live.’

It used to creep me out. Now I accept it as part of the benefit of living in rural Galicia.

This little woman on my porch was here to clean my house. What?!? After all this time, and likely A LOT of town gossip, the dam broke. And out popped this lady, ready for work. Hallelujah! My gallego is pretty much nonexistent. I do know the word for milk – leite. And a couple of others that are valuable in the food truck. Gallego is a lot like Portuguese – I think. Anyway, she will come at 9am every Thursday to clean the entire house. All this for €9 per hour. We will see how the first cleaning goes, then promptly give her a healthy raise. I will not be disappointed – I am pretty sure – and I won’t want to lose her.


I think living here can be difficult, but good for us. It’s the same for most Americans I meet. In the US, we are used to everything being new and shiny. And quick and easy. But you can expect none of those things when you move to Spain. Yet there is power in having none of that. Because you learn to appreciate the smallest things. Minuscule victories your friends in the US would mock you for. ‘What do you mean your plumber took 9 months to show up?!?’ Finding a food you haven’t seen in years in your local grocery store and celebrating by holding it up and dancing in the aisle. Learning how to accomplish some small administrative task that has taken you a year. How to ask for what you need and actually being understood. And this small woman standing on our porch, who is our new housekeeper, represents all that. Yet another reason in a long list of things to be grateful for. In this life in Spain, its a list never to be taken for granted.

12 thoughts on “Minuscule Victories

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s