Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Touch of Spain in Kochi

Spanish couple, José Pérez Datas and Carmen Ospino, have been teaching their native language, as well as French to local adults, and spoken English and yoga to children for the past three years

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

Roy Mathew got friendly with Adriana Miranda on Facebook. Very soon, he fell in love. But there was a problem. Roy lived in the Vypeen islands, near Kochi, while Adriana was in El Salvador. But an infatuated Roy decided that if he wanted to impress Adriana he needed to learn Spanish. 

A quick Google search and that was how Roy landed up at a large bungalow nearby called 'La Arcadia' in Ayyampilly. The Spanish couple, José Pérez Datas and Carmen Ospino have been teaching Spanish and French to professionals, apart from spoken English and yoga to children, for the past three years.

It was the most unusual reason we received for learning Spanish,” says José, with a smile. “Roy told us he is going to bring his friends along so that they can also get friendly with girls in El Salvador.”

Others who come to learn include nurses, many of whom are migrating to Canada. Some are planning to go to French-speaking countries like Gabon and the Ivory Coast in Africa. “Sometimes, women have to learn Spanish to join their husbands who are already working abroad,” says Carmen.

Since trade links between India and Latin America is increasing, there are lots of exporters who want to learn Spanish to do business. Then there are professionals from the IT industry and university professors, too. Recently, one teacher won a scholarship to France and was keen to learn French.

José and Carmen offer basic and advanced courses. “To learn basic French or Spanish, it takes two to three months,” says José. “It all depends on the students and how keenly they do their homework.” An advanced course can last up to a year. And the rates are simple: Rs 100 per hour.

The couple also conducts classes for children in spoken English and yoga twice a week. “We do this for free, because this is our contribution to the local society,” says Carmen. Both husband and wife are amazed at the pressure that children are under these days. They know of children who get up at 6 a.m. to go for tuition.

Now, during the summer holidays, there are 30 children who come to us for classes,” says Carmen. “But when the school opens in June, the numbers will go down drastically. The children tell me they would like to continue but their parents will not allow them. They want their children to go for tuitions. It is study, study, study all the time.”

When they are not teaching, the couple are busy tending to their large garden, which has mango and guava trees, as well as ducks, hens, and a couple of cats. At one side, there is a large man-made pond. They use it for water harvesting. “We don't get much hired help,” says José. “So, we have to do all the repair works in the house by ourselves. We also bake our own bread.”

In between they have unusual experiences. The other day, José was sitting on the verandah and reading the newspaper. Suddenly he heard a whining sound from the backyard. When he went to investigate, he saw that a rat snake, about ten feet in length, had a big frog in its mouth. Quickly, José picked up a bamboo stick and beat the snake. At once, the snake released the frog. Within moments, the snake went one way and the frog the other. “I felt happy that I could save the frog's life,” he says.

José and Carmen were teachers in the fishing village of Estepona in southern Spain. They came to India in 2003 when they got a job teaching Spanish at the Kodaikanal International School. They worked there for two years but found the cold weather unsuitable, especially for José, who fell sick often. So they moved to Pune where they worked at the Mahindra United World College for six years.

But in December 2004, during the Christmas vacation they went on a south India tour and came to Vypeen and fell in love with the place. And so, it was that in June, 2009, they settled down in La Arcadia. Asked to explain the meaning of the name, Carmen says, “Arcadia was a mythological valley in Greece. The inhabitants were shepherds who lived happily with nature.”
They also feel very happy at Ayampilly. “We have been welcomed with warmth and joy,” says José. “The people are very friendly and energetic too.”
This is in sharp contrast to the scene in Europe. When José returns to Spain once a year, he is amazed at how depressed the economy and the people are. “Too many years of wealthy living has made everybody lazy,” he says. “In Kerala, people are rushing about and doing so many things with passion and energy. It makes us feel young.” 
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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