El huerto, Collado Mediano
We were supposed to meet in central Madrid, but lunch run long and we ran out of time. A storm rained on our tentative outdoor plans. I took a lightening trip down south and cut short any weekend possibilities. Finally, after tossing around ideas for a month, my friend and intercambio partner invited me to work the soil and partake in a communal dinner in her pueblo. Thus, my Sunday was spent on this plot of land in Collado Mediano, a small town an hour northwest of Madrid.
Product of a small vineyard
More than twenty-five locals from the area got together to harvest the remaining tomatoes and squash, till the ground, distribute manure, uproot weeds, and myriad other tasks. The email I received about the event had asked volunteers to bring their own gardening instruments, and I didn’t even have a pair of gloves. Luckily, someone loaned me a pair of gloves and I set to work on the one task I knew I could do–pulling weeds away from the tomato stalks.
A little after two p.m., we brushed off our dirty knees, rinsed our hands, and set the table for a community meal. I contributed hummus and carrot sticks, and there were plenty of tortilla, embutidos, and garden goods to go around. There was even a plate of tomatoes which had been been plucked from the vine that very morning.
One of the four or five bartering blankets
Besides joining in the effort to garden, there also a trueque, or trade. We each brought items such as clothes and household appliances to barter. I had very little to bring, but I did trade one book for another. Later, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw one of my old scarves snatched up by a girl who would undoubtedly add it to her dress-up collection.
While the day was energizing in a we-have-something-to-show-for-it! way, it was not as idyllic as it may sound. While the smaller children played with toy watering cans and plastic shovels, adult conversation centered around the recent cuts in the Spanish school system. With both concerned parents and rankled teachers in attendance, they had a lot to discuss.
There are roughly 3,000 fewer teachers and staff in the region of Madrid this school year, and my friend is one of them. Budget cuts and increased hours have been fueling unhappiness felt in the May protests. School started today, and a strike is already slated for this Wednesday. I didn’t feel that I could really comment on the situation; how much sense does it make for me, a foreigner, to have a job in Spain when the unemployment in this country is over twenty percent? In the face of all of the recortes, there are sixty-six new bilingual schools in Madrid. I know that more than one teacher from my high school went to a public demonstration last week, and I can’t help but wonder how this year will be different–for myself, for the students, for the teachers–when I do start school again in October.