Home Alone Sara's Spanish skills fail her as the problems mount. BY SARA WILSON
Without a phone, internet or electricity, Sara finds herself stuck in the dark.
I had my first big real-life test in Spanish and I failed it… miserably. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was a test nor did I know what would happen if I didn’t pass. If I had known, I surely would have concentrated harder. I would have asked her to repeat the question again and again until I understood. I would have even swallowed my pride and asked her to speak in English. Most likely, though, I just never would have answered the phone. But I didn’t realize the consequences so, when the phone rang, I bravely and boldly answered, foolishly thinking that I was ready for such a big feat.
Ever since my arrival in Spain, the phone has scared me. I try to avoid answering it at all costs, leaving David to answer the "Spanish phone." It scares me to the point that, for the first several months, if David was in the bathroom when the phone rang, I would let the answering machine pick up—up until the time when David, unable to understand what the big deal was over answering the phone, scolded me after missing an important phone call. After that, I started answering, but would then immediately run the handset to the bathroom, but usually to little avail. Time after time, it ended up being a wrong number.
So normally I wouldn’t have answered the phone except that I was home alone and we were expecting a call from the phone and internet company. We were waiting for them to come install DSL (in the meantime, we’ve been using a 3G card provided by the company), so even though I didn’t understand the lady as she rattled away in Spanish, I heard the word "internet" and assumed that she was calling about the DSL. I further assumed that she wanted to see when I would be home so that a technician could come and started to supply her with the information that I thought she wanted to know. In reality, she and I were having two separate conversations because what proceeded was a whole lot of confusion and then she put me on hold. Surely she was going to find someone who could speak English. But when she returned, it was still her—and only her. Now she was trying to say goodbye, but nothing had been arranged, no appointment had been scheduled. So I frantically asked if someone was going to come and, now that my brain had had a bit more time to switch to Spanish mode, I was able to make out more of what she was saying. She was asking when my husband would return to which I responded, "Not until next week, but I’m here." And then she thanked me and hung up.
I was still confused about what actually had been communicated during that incomprehensible phone call and remained that way for about 10 seconds until I suddenly heard a beep and noticed a new SMS message on the phone (apparently, they can send text messages through your landline). What I read filled me with dread.
"Vodafone informa: A partir de este momento tienes desactivado el servicio." What?! I had done no such thing. I had barely said a word to her! How could I have disconnected our service?! Was it true? I urgently looked at the 3G card, but when I noticed, with horror, that the small blue light was blinking (David had told me that when it blinks, it means it’s disconnected), I knew that, at last—and unfortunately—I had understood correctly. I quickly tried to make sense of the situation. The phone was still working and I desperately scrambled for the number to call back, but, before I could find it, the phone, too, went dead and, in big black letters, informed me that only emergency calls could be made. Well, this was an emergency for me, but most likely would not be considered one by the police department. I refrained from making a call.
The whole experience wouldn’t have been so traumatizing—after all, we had already survived a moment of internet outage in Torrevieja—except for the fact that, just two days before, my parents had returned to California and David had gone with them. (He has to return once a year in order to keep his green card valid. I, meanwhile, had to stay put because at the moment, I am still trying to get my residency card and, technically, have overstayed my 3-month tourist visa. I would have no problem re-entering the U.S., but could potentially have problems returning to Spain.) I was already reeling with sadness after having to say goodbye to all of them at once and, now, no longer even had a phone or internet to connect with them.
Furthermore, I had consoled myself that I would spend the time alone to work on my freelance writing and study Spanish, but without internet at home, it suddenly made my freelance work ten times more difficult. Fortunately, the library has free WiFi, but is barely open on the weekends and closes for siesta during the week—leaving me three hours in the afternoon to wait for it to reopen. Plus, the signal isn’t strong enough to make calls with my handy MagicJack in case I need to do interviews. As for my Spanish, the traumatizing phone call certainly motivated me to study, and I have increased my vocabulary to include the words for "stroller," "mop," and "mirror."
I have since learned—after going to a Vodafone shop and getting the employee to call Vodafone for me—that the service has been disconnected permanently. Apparently, they were calling to confirm the change of address and when I couldn’t confirm because I didn’t understand, they went ahead and disconnected it; and now only David can set up a new account. Since I haven’t yet been able to get my residency card, I haven’t yet been able to put my name on our bank account and therefore am powerless to open an account of my own. Meanwhile, David has tried calling from the U.S., racking up more than $20 in charges, only to continuously get disconnected before being able to accomplish anything.
To make matters worse, our phone and internet are not the only things that stopped working when David left. The washing machine all of a sudden decided to stop draining, and the day after David and my parents left, the electricity went out—it turned out to be a building-wide problem and fortunately came on again not too long after, but not before I experienced a moment of pure panic as I realized that my whole existence, practically, was contingent on electricity. I couldn’t make coffee, I couldn’t take a warm shower, I would be in darkness after 6:00 p.m. Of course, the sun—which has been shining brightly since we moved to Altea—went away and the winds picked up and a storm moved in, making a trip to the library an outright physically impossible task. (I tried twice and couldn’t even make it up the street before getting drenched from head to toe and abandoning the mission!) Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I discovered that we have a leak in our apartment. With no phone, of course, there’s no way to report it to anyone. But even if I had a phone, there’s no way to talk to anyone because as I was sadly reminded just a few days ago, I don’t speak Spanish.
I bravely thought that I would be okay on my own in Spain, but I’m very clearly realizing that I’m not. What an ironic twist of fate for David to be in California meeting our new niece and seeing my grandmother and for me to be trapped in Spain.
Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.