Originally published Saturday, November 15, 2014
Living in a tourist destination takes some getting used to. Even more so when you’re living at the poverty level, as an illegal immigrant, in the center of activity where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a restaurant, bar, or someone trying to sell you tickets to an expensive dinner-and-flamenco combo or offering you a discount coupon for the nearby restaurant’s daily lunch special—only 19 Euros (about $24 as I write this – an amazing exchange rate compared with the last few years). Each night the bars and restaurants are full of smiling and laughing people imbibing and living the life of Ryan, as I walk back to my tiny apartment from my volunteer teaching position at a small private school here in Granada. (I teach English in exchange for Spanish classes.) My normal diet is rice or pasta and whatever vegetables I buy at the local market as I pass by. Meat is way too expensive here, except for chorizo, a type of sausage, which I add to my meal once in a while. Oh, and of course wine, my one luxury. But it’s cheap here so I don’t feel too guilty. (A drinkable wine is 2.50 Euros. Even I can afford that.)
I’m not complaining—no, really, seriously. I moved here of my own free will and knew I’d have to live for some time on savings as I look for and eventually, hopefully, find enough editing and English tutoring work to pay my expenses. But it takes some mental and psychological effort every day as I walk through hordes of smiling, laughing, happy people to remind myself that I’m living in a Disneyland. (Here they call it Disneylandia.) Outside of the people I see who work in the restaurants and bars, 99% of all the people I see in this part of Granada, the historic district, are on vacation, spending money they have either saved or borrowed on credit cards and having, for many of them, a rare vacation in a foreign country.
As if I weren’t jealous enough of all the vacationers here, having fun and spending money as if they had it, there are the other English teachers I meet here, most of them from the Great Britain, a member country of the European Union and thus able to live here legally and easily find work in one or more of the numerous language schools that go begging for native English speakers for teachers. But because of the high unemployment, no school is going to jump through hoops to hire an American when the Brits are in good supply.
All I have to do is live under the radar for three years, working off the internet or being paid under the table for tutoring, any way I can find to pay the rent and food. Then I can apply for legal residency. Yeah, it seems pretty strange: go to an immigration office, show them my passport with a three-year-old tourist visa stamp and tell them now I’d like to apply for legal residency. But that’s the way it is here. Does it make sense? Not to me, but I’m just a guiri. What do I know?