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When I finally decided that one day I would retire to live in Frigiliana, I plunged into seriously learning how to speak Spanish. By the time we arrived here coming up to five years ago, I was broadly competent just so long as I did some preparatory research into specific chunks of vocabulary before going to deal with a new, real world situation (language classes in the UK are geared more towards operating as a tourist, or as an academic.) Thus, since my builder spoke no English, it was up to me to establish that beams are vigas, de hormigón if made from concrete, de acero if steel.
Interaction in Spanish over the succeeding years has led to me making great strides in my fluency to the point where I can now confidently go into most situations without worrying or or swotting up ahead of time. All, obviously, of great use to me. Now, however, the effort I made is paying off for other people.
A Spanish friend asked me this week if I would translate her latest Facebook status update into English so that it would reach a wider audience. She is part of a group which is appealing for donations of basic and festive foodstuffs, clothes, shoes and children’s toys which they can then assemble into hampers to be given out to families in the village who are in dire need this Christmas. On BBC national and local news I have seen a number of reports of the work of food banks around the UK, and the high level of real need that they are battling. In the UK, the unemployment rate is high, and distribution of free food is reminding people of the soup kitchens of the 1930s. In Spain, the unemployment rate is more than double that in Britain - 26% on average, but far higher in some regions and among younger people. Add to that a high rate of repossession of homes, and for large numbers of people this will be a time of struggle to survive, not a time of celebration. I may be living my dream in the southern sun, but for too many people theirs is a nightmare, so I am pleased that I can make some contribution to help those helping them.