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Living in a cave on the edge of Spanish society

Spain's exit from the EU's bank aid program is good news. Yet many young Spaniards are unemployed and struggling. One trained teacher finally said "enough" and made for a cave on the outskirts of Granada.

The tomatoes glow a magnificent red in the sunshine as they lie amidst dazzling green asparagus and shiny black eggplants - they look delicious and ready to eat, against the background of the snow-capped panorama of the Sierra Nevada mountains. That's life in the Andalusia region in southern Spain!

But these freshly-grown delicacies lie in a trash container. And as Bea, a 30-year-old Spaniard, bends over its edge to reach inside, she almost topples over.

Bea has to hurry if she's to avoid the security guards at Granada's large outdoor market. This early in the morning, the food is fresh. Vendors throw out anything that falls from their crates and which can't be sold. For people like Bea, it's a chance to a do a week's worth of grocery shopping - for free.

Once a week or so, she rides the bus to the market and takes from the containers whatever she can carry. Mostly she opts for vegetables. They don't spoil as quickly. If she wants meat or fish, she asks at the stalls. If she's lucky, they have something left over.

Sitting in a cafe, a young woman with brown hair stares off while drinking a cup of coffee from a white mug. Photo: Thomas Wagner

Young and unemployed, Bea has lost faith in Spain's ability to manage the economy

Madrid, five hours north by bus, is where Bea calls home. She wanted to be a teacher. She studied art history in Italy, finishing her undergraduate thesis in Rome. She moved on to Berlin for a few years, working there in an organic kebab shop. She's always been open to unusual life-styles.

At some point she decided to go back to Spain. In Granada she took postgraduate courses in teaching, ultimately passing the state test. Then came the economic crisis, and with it, the knowledge that Bea wouldn't be finding a job.

Amongst beggars and refugees

She seems tired as she tells her story with an empty stare, clasping her coffee cup. In autumn, and in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it can get cold. Bea doesn't have any proper heating, living as she does in a cave.

Granada's surrounding foothills are pockmarked with caves. Amongst their inhabitants are drop-outs searching for fulfillment, refugees from Africa, or homeless people who've nowhere else to go. That Bea, a graduate, would live here rather than in a cozy, two-bedroom apartment in Madrid's inner city is something for which she blames the government. To be fair, though, she wasn't initially driven to the cave by poverty, but by a sense of adventure.

During a theater course in college, she fell in love. That was three years ago now. She grins mischievously when she thinks of the young daredevil who studied in Granada by day and lived in a cave by night. That was interesting. She moved in with him. The love story fell apart, and he left the cave. Now she lives there alone, in the middle of the forest. Fear isn't a factor at night, in the dark. "So far, nothing's happened," she says.

She cooks while she talks. On an open fire near the cave's entrance, she prepares leafy green chard along with other vegetables collected from the dumpster. When the financial crisis struck Spain, the country cut heavily into education budgets. "There just aren't any positions for teachers in public schools," Bea says. Teachers were let go in droves, the entire fields of education and public medicine were shrunk down. "There was no more space for me in the profession I studied for," she said.

Washing by the church

Bea has odd jobs here and there. They've kept her afloat. In summer she worked for a few weeks harvesting in France. She can afford the bare necessities: a few books, a green solar radio which she can charge by cranking a handle and which stops her from feeling so alone. As for whether she misses city life with regular work hours or a safe income? "Sometimes a warm shower," she says. In summer, just as in winter, she washes herself at a church fountain just a few hundred meters away in the city.

A brown stone fountain on a gray stone wall is reached into by a man while a woman stands nearby, waiting. Photo: Thomas Wagner

Bea's best bathing option is the tiny fountain attached to a nearby church

Does she have goals and dreams? Not many. "I do have a lot of doubts about it, but I can imagine providing for myself later - repairing my home and growing my own food." And also having a family, she adds. When will that "later" be? "Definitely not now," she says. "Right now I'm in a figuring-out phase."

When she visits her former shared apartment in Madrid, she doesn't feel at home. Life there is so fast paced, the people so dead set on buying themselves a house. "'Castillos en el aire,' we call them in Spanish," she says, "castles in the air."

That's why the housing bubble burst - and also why the crisis began. And that's why she's not too quick to change her life as it is right now. If the crisis taught Bea anything, it's this: She doesn't trust the government anymore.

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