Monday, January 8, 2007


As I begin the year 2007 I have been thinking about the past year. In many ways it is unbelievable to me that another entire year has gone by. So much happened in 2006, and at the same time it went by amazingly fast. In celebration of the new year, I want to highlight some of the best moments of my year 2006! I've tried to make it so that these are in chronological order, so number one is not meant to be the "best" moment of 2006.

10. Morocco, Spain and Portugal with Mira and Maria

I remember when Mira and I were standing together in the University Bookstore in Library Mall in July of 2005 perusing the travel book section. As usual, we were contemplating the many wonderful places that we hoped to someday visit. I picked up a book on Morocco and had the sudden brainstorm of her coming and meeting me in Spain or Portugal over winter break and us traveling through those two countries in addition to Morocco. We quickly looked up how feasible it was to get from Spain to Morocco (very feasible) and then we had the second great idea of inviting Maria. Things fell into place from that point on: Maria immediately and excitedly agreed, the girls found very reasonably priced tickets into Madrid and soon after my arrival in Portugal in October I began planning our trip in earnest. December 26, 2005 I boarded a train from Lisbon to Madrid and met the girls there the next day. A travelogue of our fantastic adventures can be read in my blog of my year abroad: (check the january and on archives). But some highlights include our many travels aboard buses, trains and ferryboats, fascinating "Under the Sea"-style nativity scenes in Madrid, rambles down La Rambla in Barcelona, kilometers of walking to find slightly shady hostels next to hamburger and sex shops, midnight falafel pita sandwiches, picnics of cheese, baguettes and clementines on the streets of Spain, rockin it at a gay club in Marrakesh, meeting delightful Moroccan medicine men, getting naked in the Hammam (traditional Arabic bathhouse), listening to Maria and Mira trying to speak Portuguese, enjoying many many churches and incredible architecture, playing ring around the rosey with adorable Moroccan children, searching out the few vegetarian restaurants of Iberia, and so much more. What a great way to start out 2006!

9. Moving into the apartment at 5, Rua dos Oleiros

Ok, this one actually happened at the end of 2005, but I'm including it in 2006 because that was when this apartment actually became "home" for me. January was when everyone returned from winter break, when my American study abroad friend Erin moved in, when we all "clicked". I had lived in a all girls dorm previously, on the Rua dos Combatentes. Anyone who followed my study abroad journals knows that wasn't the greatest of experiences. Moving into my own version of "L'Auberge Espagnol" (A French film, "The Spanish Apartment", which is about ERASMUS -- European exchange -- students) was one of the best things of 2006. There were seven of us living in the apartment. The original seven were me, Monica (Portuguese), Erin (American), Daniela (Luso-American), Emilie (Portuguese), Christin (German), and Michelle (Macanese -- from the Chinese territory of Macau). After Monica finished her residency in Coimbra and returned to her hometown, we had Anne (French) move in. Apartment highlights? Umm... living down the street from little Portuguese markets where I could buy a kilo (2.2 lbs) of oranges for 60 euro cents, having my clothes dry in a couple of hours hanging out on the veranda, my big bright sunny room, the view of the Rio Mondego and of the University tower, and even spending an evening watching hookers getting picked up from our veranda. Love my apartment in Madison, but I do miss 5 Rua dos Oleiros!

8. My mom's visit to Portugal

My mom came and visited me for about a week in April of 2006. It was her first time out of the U.S., and I think we had an awesome time together. I've also chronicled pretty much this entire trip in my abroad blog. Some of the high points of her visit were visiting Porto, me getting into an argument with the Portuguese man working at the bus depot (anyone who knows me will understand why me getting into an argument with a stranger -- especially in a foreign language -- is a significant event), cooking for my mom in my apartment kitchen after going to the little market around the corner, trekking through the picturesque city of Sintra, the very bumpy bus ride to Cabo da Roca -- the westernmost point of Continental Europe, getting asked if I was Brazilian by a Brazilian guy (followed up by him asking if I was Spanish, French, British, Italian... finally I told him I was American. Boy was he surprised!), spending time with my mom in Portugal! Of course!

7. My feminist studies class ... in Portugal!!!

Well, unfortunately Portugal
is a little behind in the whole "feminist" movement. It wasn't just the virtual lack of women's studies oriented courses ... maybe it was the extremely high amount of machismo, getting hit on, stared at or spoken dirty to by at least fifty percent of the men I passed on the streets, the seemingly high levels of competition among women, the still high gender gap in the workforce (much higher than in the U.S.)... and the list goes on. I'm not saying it isn't like this in other countries, too. Hell, the feminist movement might possibly be most alive in the U.S. and look at how far we still have to go! But I have to say that it was such a breath of fresh air when Erin and I signed up for our "regular" university class with other Portuguese students and it was titled "Mulheres, Paz e Conflitos Armados." This translates to "Women, Peace and Armed Conflict." Our Professor, Tatiana, was a self-proclaimed feminist and our assigned readings were all on the gendered aspects of militarism, etc. At times it was frustrating to have to sit through the lectures on what "feminism" is and what "gendered" means -- I got all this stuff years ago. But at the same time it was incredibly eye-opening. There isn't even a translated word for "gendered" because the concept doesn't really exist yet in Portugal. Tatiana told Erin and me that this is the feminist studies course in the entire University and there is only one women's studies oriented type program in all of Portugal. For Erin (an International Studies and Critical Gender Studies major) and me (a Social Work and Women's Studies major), it was incredible to sit in a class with students who didn't even fully understand what feminism meant. I will never stop critiquing my own country from a feminist standpoint, but at the same time I now feel incredibly lucky that we have come this far.

6. Queima das Fitas (and everything in between)

I don't know if this annual University weeklong drunken festival actually makes my list of top ten moments of 2006. However, I think it is a good cover moment for all the fabulous moments I had with my friends and roommates while in Coimbra. There are so many and I don't know if I could have chosen one that really rose above the rest. There was Carnaval and our last minute costumes, thank you to Christin's closet (I was a sexy businesswoman). There was Monica's birthday, there was the night that we went to Procura-me discoteca and ended up dancing to classic American dance tunes until the very wee small hours of the morning, there were the countless dinners and late nights sitting up drinking glasses of red wine and laughing, there were the many trips to the cinema for 4 euro movies, there were nights of watching "The L Word" on Christin's bed, and of course there was the Queima das Fitas and the Cortejo -- the massive parade with bottles upon bottles of free beer handed out by rowdy graduates from their elaborate floats. Finally there was that final night out with our dinner at that wonderful Italian place on the river, dancing at Vinyl and lots of tears later on (mostly from me ... oops). All those memories could fill up at least one entire top ten list, but alas they will be shoved into this lone number.

5. Return to the United States!

After a long year living in Europe, filled with some incredible ups and some very lonely downs, I returned to the U.S. on the 8th of June, greeted by my family and all my beautiful friends. While I loved my year abroad, I was also extremely happy to return to the comforts of home. The adjustment was extremely strange ... especially the language change. I remember standing in line at Chipotle soon after I returned and listening to one of the workers talking in Spanish. Suddenly someone said something to me in English and I got extremely confused, first of all unsure of what they were saying to me, secondly unsure of what language to answer in. Luckily I recovered from that episode, but there are still moments when my thoughts wander into Portuguese and I wish that I could use the language. That was one really nice thing about my roommates in Coimbra ... we could speckle our conversations with Portuguese words when we thought they were more appropriate or descriptive than any possible English word. I wish I could do that now. Anyway, my return also equaled moving back to Madison, which was exciting. I love Madison in the summertime, and I loved the apartment that I shared with my longtime roommie, Mira. Another highlight that fits into this category was the purchase of our second cat very shortly after my return. Our first cat, Lexie, who is now almost two, seemed to be extremely lonely having to be by herself all day. So we acquired Shanti in June, a little black fluffball. She can be really freaking annoying sometimes because she is so cuddly and follows us around all the time, but the addition of our little "baby" was a definite high point of the year!

4. My preschool class at Leopold Elementary

Almost immediately after I returned to the U.S. I started working again. I had applied for a summer Americorps VISTA position while in Portugal, and did all the interviews and everything over the phone. I got the job and started on June 12th. The job was a Summer VISTA Associate for the Madison Preschools of Hope Literacy Project, and I got to be an assistant teacher for the K-Ready summer program through the Madison Metropolitan School District. The K-Ready program identifies incoming kindergarteners that might be at risk of falling behind their classmates, based on their kindergarten screenings. Many of these kids are from low-income families, and a good deal are English language learners (ELLs). The K-ready program is 8 weeks long and is sort of like Kindergarten. We worked on basic literacy and math skills and did all the normal kindergarten stuff like free time and recess and story time, etc. My class was at Leopold Elementary School on Madison's southwest side. There were ten students in my class with one teacher and then two VISTAs (including me). My class was predominantly Hmong, many with pretty low levels of English. It was challenging sometimes, but I so quickly fell in love with those kids! It was the best summer job I could have had. I couldn't have imagined spending my summer doing something other than playing "Monster" on the playground with the kids, reading stories, helping with art projects, and observing each child's English skills improve tremendously over only 8 weeks. Unfortunately, one of my low points of 2006 was having to say goodbye to those kids at the beginning of August

3. Our apartment on Paunack Place

Despite the approximately 72 extremely taxing and strenuous hours of work that went into moving from our apartment on Gilman St. to our new apartment on Paunack Pl, it was absolutely worth it. This is the first apartment that I will be living in for an entire year, and it's the best. Mira picked it out and signed the lease and everything while I was in Portugal, so I had to take her word for it that it was a good place to live. Luckily, Mira and I have pretty much the exact same taste, so when I finally got to see it (about a month before we were going to move in!), I fell in love. Hardwood floors throughout, tons of windows and lots of natural light, lots and lots of space... the only drawbacks would include the extremely old-fashioned sink (with lack of dishwasher or garbage disposal), electric stove instead of gas and the constant chill throughout the place even when the heat is turned up high. One of my major disappointments of 2007 will definitely be moving out of this place :(

2. Back to University and to Bayview!

After a year in the Portuguese university system, I was absolutely ready to return to my good old American university where the professors and students both cared where actual work was assigned and where I felt like I was really learning something. (Not to be too harsh to Coimbra or anything...) So it was exciting for me to begin classes again, surprisingly. While some of my classes were not exactly rip-roaring good times, I still managed to learn something and, hey, I now have only one semester left til I graduate! But one of the best things to come out of the new academic year was the beginning of my field work for my social work major. I got put into my first choice for a field unit -- Advocacy in a Multicultural Setting -- and also got my first choice for field placement, at the Bayview Community Center. Bayview is a housing project right near downtown Madison. Over 95% of the residents are people of color, and a large majority are also immigrants. My work is at the Community Center where we have lots of afterschool programs for the resident children. Working at Bayview was definitely the highlight of my semester, as I made some great relationships with some of the kids. They always were able to brighten my day, although sometimes also driving me to exhaustion. I'm definitely glad that I will be continuing there for another semester, although it's going to be even harder then to leave at the end of the year.

1. My new car

Well it seems somewhat anti-climatic to be having this as number one, but it's the only other big thing I can think of that happened to me this year. It's definitely part of the top 10, although my feelings are still somewhat ambivalent. I was always one of those crazy environmentalist types, vowing that I would never own a car. Unfortunately, real life caught up with me and I realized that owning a car might just be somewhat practical. I still feel somewhat guilty about it, but at the same time it sure is making my life easier. Thanks to Craig's List, I found a '97 VW Jetta for sale. It's black and in amazingly good condition for its age, with only 75,000 miles on it at purchase. Although I had to have the exhaust system replaced just recently (which was rather costly), I was told that was to be expected due to the age of the car. So now I have the luxury of driving to work instead of having to leave half an hour early and take the bus halfway then walk the rest of the way, and wait for twenty minutes or longer at the bus stop after work. I can also say adios to the Badger Bus, as I now can drive from Madison to Milwaukee whenever I want. And if I move to Minnesota it will be even more handy. My next car's gonna be a hybrid though. I'm not getting a new one until I can afford a hybrid -- that's a promise I'm making to myself! (Wish me luck)

So there's my top 10 for the year 2006. Here's hoping that 2007 leaves me with just as exciting a list!

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