My fifth Christmas in Spain. I thought that must be wrong, but it’s not. Four and a half years since I bought my house, three and a half years since I retired and moved here full-time. Such a short time, yet it feels like forever.
It’s the little things that tug me back to the “old” life. December comes round, and the shops fill with Christmassy food. Common sense and rational thought disappear, and my hand instinctively reaches out for a bar of Pan de Higos, fig cake. Mum’s favourite. I never visited Spain without bringing her back a bar. Sometimes I remember before picking it up, sometimes it gets as far as the basket before reality hits home and I put it back. Four and a half years since she died. My head and my heart know it, but there’s something in the body’s memory that programmes the muscles to reach for fig cake.
I unpack the box of Christmas decorations. Each piece has a memory – a little glass tree that reminds me of Winchester Christmas market with my friend Jo, who I have known her whole life, 56 years of my life; a little nativity scene from my German grandmother; some elves and choristers which my mother put out every year; the “Scrabble” letters lit up in my study window, spelling out “Navidad” outside and “Christmas” inside, a gift from Margaret; and finally the Spanish addition, a Papá Noel climbing a rope outside the house to an upstairs balcony. An eclectic mix of traditions, coming out of their box each December, reviving memories, good memories.
A year ago, a woman I had never met, living 20 kilometres away towards Torre del Mar, messaged me via a Facebook group to say she’d had an idea after reading my blog post about Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche. She wanted to help homeless people by “selling” socks on her market stall, which the buyer then donated back with a sticker to say it was a gift. It worked brilliantly well, and over 600 pairs of socks were “sold” over Janet’s stall and donated to Los Ángeles. Since then, her brilliant idea grew, and this Christmas we were able to deliver over 100 filled sponge bags, lots of cash donations, multiple car-loads of clothing and bedding, and a huge stock of new toys to be given to the children on Kings’ Day on January 5th. We now have a wide network of collection points and half a dozen drivers. And whenever a “foreigner” turns up to deliver at Los Ángeles, the volunteers there ask “¿Amigo de Tamara?” and the answer is usually “¡Sí!”. The founder of the charity included us in his radio interview this Christmas, mentioning a large network of extranjeros who collect for Málaga’s homeless people.
I also clocked up almost a year volunteering at the charity-run day centre next to Málaga town hall’s homeless hostel, but as this year turns to the next, we closed the doors of our portakabin for the last time. A lack of funding meant the charity could no longer subsidise the Málaga service to the detriment of the other centres where the local town hall does make a contribution to costs. Mostly I was sad for the service-users. Without our day centre their world may shrink into just the hostel. And now there is nothing for the rough sleepers who aren’t in the hostel. Sad too for the four workers there, who had welcomed me so warmly into their team and from whom I had learned so much. Sad for me – I had enjoyed my Tuesdays there and had felt useful. Though the social worker at the hostel has asked if she can still count on me when a British person in the hostel needs a passport sorted. Of course she can – it would be a waste to ignore the useful contacts I’ve made at the British Consulate, now I’ve found my way round the system!
So, at the turn of another year, there is space for a new project. I shan’t rush into anything, but have a few possibilities to consider! Watch this space …
Christmas this year seemed a million miles and a million years away from those of my far distant past and even from my first Christmas here. This year I led a guided tour of Málaga’s belenes (Nativity scenes) in Spanish for a multi-national Meetup group, and had two Spanish families behind us in the town hall queue to see the municipal belén thank me for a lot of information they hadn’t known! Then a short weekend away in Granada with Emma, and finally La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) with my neighbours, my Spanish “family”, before returning to British traditions and spending Christmas Day with good friends in the next village.
Five years ago I had no idea I would live here, nor that I would ever be comfortable chatting away in Spanish or spending an entire week without speaking a word of English aloud! Five years ago I was working for charities and helping them manage their volunteers, I never thought I’d be volunteering for two Spanish charities! Five years ago I had no idea I was spending my last Christmas with my mum. Five years ago I had no idea that I’d still be reaching out to buy her fig cake, pressing it tight against my chest for a moment before slowly putting it back, unneeded, on its shelf. Many, many changes. Almost all of them very good.
© Tamara Essex 2016 http://www.twocampos.com