With Christmas just around the corner, we weren’t surprised when Ángel, our Spanish teacher, explained there wouldn’t be another class until after the New Year, but he insisted we still come to the school on the next lesson day. After a few misunderstandings we realised he was inviting us to an end of year party.
Laden with plates of eats and bottles of wine, most of the class made it the following week, but there was a surprise waiting. It wasn’t a party for the ex-pats only, but incorporated his other students as well.
These were Spanish ladies of mature years, none of whom had been able read or write their native language before starting lessons with Ángel.
Under Franco’s rule Almeria was a province very much out of favour. Girls during this period didn’t attend school. The only teachers they had were their parents, many of whom were barely literate themselves. As a result a generation of ladies had reached their retirement age without ever having read so much as a newspaper article. Fortunately the Turre council had decided to put matters right and the ladies were getting lessons in basic literacy.
The party started in the way that mixed language events always do, Spanish on one side of the room and English speakers on the other. There was no shortage of goodwill, but a distinct absence of conversation. Nothing daunted, the Spanish ladies decided a few Christmas carols would help to bridge the language divide and launched into song. It was a lively and catchy tune. We couldn’t understand the verses, but the chorus was easy to pick up.
Then it was our turn. Nods of encouragement made us bold, but it was at that point we realised none of the carols we knew was blessed with an easy to sing chorus. Our Spanish friends did their best, but couldn’t really join in. When we’d finished they started another one in Spanish and again we were able to sing along. Someone came up with the bright idea of writing the words to the Twelve Days of Christmas on the board, but not only could we not remember how many maids were a-milking, we couldn’t translate it either. The result would have had Santa’s elves running for cover. Off-key, out of tune and everyone singing a different part of the song, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
After yet another superb Spanish carol, we felt that British pride was at stake. Then someone suggested the Hokey Cokey. Oh well, what did we have to lose? We put our left arms in and our left arms out, in out, in out, we shook them all about. So did the Spanish ladies who’d leapt to their feet. Smiling and singing along, they enjoyed every second of it.
Jingle Bells followed, but they knew more verses in Spanish than we did in English, so we simply repeated the first verse several times. It didn’t matter; the ice was well and truly broken. We ate, drank and made merry with hardly a word exchanged.
When it was time to leave, our new amigas sang a beautiful song of farewell and then the lights went out. We stood in the dark, not sure whether to grope our way out or wait for the electricity to return. The strains of the Hokey Cokey started up again. No one could see, but I’m certain everyone’s arms went in and out.
So, if you should find yourself in this part of Spain over Christmas, do make sure you know that traditional carol the Hokey Cokey. The locals do.
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