Saturday, March 8, 2014
Living in the Canary Islands
Occasionally we will get an email from one of our supporting churches, particularly a mission group, asking about our field so they can prepare for a mission's conference highlighting our ministry. Sometimes they want to know, "what is it like?" on your field. I started to ponder some tidbits about the Canary Islands, and what it is like to live here. These are totally random and are generalizations--I have learned to be careful as there are always exceptions to the rule.
1. The Canary Islands are sometimes known as the Fortunate Islands, because they are blessed with fantastic weather. Nothing to complain about here--although the locals do! We enjoy mild, spring like temperatures nearly year round. Our island, Tenerife, has several "micro" climates, with the north side of the island being more lush and green due to more abundant rainfall, and the south being more arid and desert like. We don't really have hurricanes, but occasionally strong winds, flash floods, or a meteorological phenomena known as calima, which is basically fine particles of sand from the Sahara desert carried over in a cloud that gets trapped in the atmosphere, causing high temperatures and sand clouds that look like haze--and everything gets covered in dust.
The dry conditions have been great for my allergies, as we live in an area with less rainfall and not much pollen. You can be on one side of the island and have rain, but drive just 20 minutes down the highway and it is bright and sunny. During the winter, you can even see snow on the highest elevations. We have a range of desert, sub tropical, and pine forests within minutes of each other. You can usually see the ocean no matter where you live due to the fact that the houses are built on the mountain slopes, terracing each other much like a movie theater or auditorium--giving all a view. On a clear day you can see some of the other neighboring islands.
2. You won't need a lawnmower in Tenerife. If you are lucky, or blessed--you may have a small, postage stamp size (in comparison to the size yards we are accustomed to in the United States) garden or patio off the back of your apartment or townhouse. If you do have a garden, it will be covered in volcanic pebbles or tiled like a patio. The Canary Islands are famous for their wooden balconies which are found on many older structures.
3. Real estate is high and land is expensive. Expect to pay at least $800 a month for a two or three bedroom apartment and over $1,000 for a townhouse--which are not detached but more like a duplex, and by American standards they are small--less than 1500 square feet. You will have a difficult time trying to make American furniture fit--whether it be a couch, sofa, dining room set, or queen size bed. I had to get rid more than half of our furniture that we had in the United States before coming here, and we still didn't have room for all that we brought on our shipping container.
4. The people don't seem as quite as friendly, at first, as Americans. It took us quite a while to get used to the reserved nature of the islanders, perhaps because they are leery of foreigners, and it takes them a while to get to know you. Americans will talk to perfect strangers at the checkout line in a grocery store, for example, but here it is rare. I was a little discouraged about this when we first came to the islands, but now I see where it just takes time (a lot of time) to build relationships. I also had to get used to people staring at us. It used to offend me, but now I am used to it and just smile back.
5. Nothing gets done before 9 am. If you are an early bird and like to beat the crowds, forget early morning shopping. Major grocery chains open around 9, and malls and shops don't open til 10 am. Even McDonald's in most areas don't open til 11 am. Forget 24 hour shopping--major grocery chains and shopping centers close at 9 pm and are closed on Sunday as well. On the same note, get used to the afternoon siesta--mom and pop stores in town all close from 1-4, or 2-5 pm and reopen for a few hours in the evening. This can be very inconvenient and you have to anticipate your needs in advance.
6. Most everything is imported, so buy it when/or if you find it! If you find something you particularly like, you might want to buy a quantity because it will be sold out next time you come back and will take months to restock, if they ever do. I get frustrated when I want to buy a particular electronic or household item, such as a simple vacuum cleaner bag, only to have them tell me they are sold out. Occasionally they will import an American food or item that we like, so I have been known to buy all that is on the shelf! We take so much for granted in the US. You will not easily find all the goods and varieties you are used to at home. I have to shop one store to find fresh milk, another for peanut butter, and another for Cheerios. Forget specialty items like your child's favorite breakfast cereal or candy bar--but really, you can live without most of that stuff. There is a lack of specialty foods for diabetics, such as sugar free pudding, desserts, but they are starting to develop more of it, especially gluten free items but it is very expensive.
7. Society is very orderly here. We used to be missionaries in Mexico so we were used to corruption, bribes, and disorder in the government. The Canary Islands are clean. If you go to the store, people respect the person standing in line--they will not cut in front of you like they did in Mexico where it was a free for all. When you go to the deli counter or meat market, you will take a number and wait your turn.
8. Even though things are orderly, it will still take longer to get things done--after all, it is an island. Although better than Mexico, no one seems to be in as big as a rush to get things done. Money doesn't seem to be as big of a motivator as their leisure time. People don't mind closing shop Sat. afternoons and Sundays, and for what seems an endless amount of religious holidays. Repairmen might take longer, and if you need a special part it probably has to be ordered from Madrid, which means waiting. Get used to it..... Even store lines move slower. People just seem more patient.
9. The United States is not the center of their world. Try to quit comparing how things are done back home as if the way we do everything in the US is the best. Over and over again we find ourselves commenting to one another how we think it is odd that they do something the way they do it and how we could improve their "system" or way of doing things to make it more efficient. More than likely, there is a reason for why they do it the way they do it, and it works for them. Government offices seem to send you on an endless trail of hopping from one department to another--and often they themselves don't know how to answer your question and will send you to the wrong place looking for answers. I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when something goes smoothly and the business matter gets resolved quickly. Very rarely will you have all the needed documents they ask for, especially the immigration department! I will have to say though, our experience in Spain has been much better than it was in Mexico and the people for the most part are helpful.
10. People don't get dressed up as much. I have a closet full of nice skirts, jackets, and blouses that I seldom get an occasion that calls for it. I like to dress up for church, for example, but dressing up here is putting on their best jeans or khakis, and shirt. Men seldom wear ties. They sell nice clothes in the mall, so people must wear them somewhere (probably the discotheques and special events like baptisms, confirmations, and weddings). I once mistook my doctor for the janitor because even professionals don't dress up for work. Jeans, sandals, tank tops are the "uniform" for most and anything goes.
11. On that line, modesty has been thrown out (maybe that is why so many people stare at us--because we are modest) and my husband has learned to put his eyes down to the sidewalk when walking down the street, seriously. One time we were walking down the boardwalk near the ocean and a woman was topless, wearing only her bikini bottom, talking to another man in front of her husband (or partner as is common here) as if it was perfectly normal. Tops are optional at the pool/beach for women and they don't wear too much on the bottom either! It is rather shocking for our more modest American visitors to say the least.