Archive for November, 2010

Erin’s Visit

I arose out of my funk just in time as the following weekend Erin visited. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and a half, so it was great to be able to catch up with her as well as introduce her into the life I have settled into in Madrid. I tried to show her both the tourist experience (as we travelled to Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Retiro) and the daily life of people in a bustling European city (tapas, nights out, and partying with your co-workers). I hope she got a thorough and entertaining look at my current life and knows that she’s welcomed back anytime! I can’t wait for my next visitor…

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 It finally happened. It finally got to me. Being here. Being away. The new and foreign surrounding, if not engulfing, me. I was in a funk. After two months, the new, exciting adventure had metamorphosed into a consistent flashy reminder that this was not home, that I was not home. More than anything, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was walking around in a haze that blurred my understanding of the body I was occupying and the person that existed within it. I felt like my surroundings were changing me. I was unsure of myself, in what had seemed a confident resolve to be radical and bold enough to be my true self. My environment felt like the firm push of pressure on my spirit. It’s easy to be who you want to become when your environment is a constant uplifting reminder of your hoped for destination. But when no such reminder exists, in an environment that’s not really antagonistic but still contrasts, how do you remain consistent on your journey? How do you remain your constant self in a new environment, in a new context? But I think that’s where I found the problem: trying to remain static.

Life brings change. Hell, life is change in all aspects, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I couldn’t have gotten here being the person I was five years ago, nor can I get to where I want to be in five years completely being the person I am now. It’s not that I have to change the core of me, but I think I need to be refined in some ways to handle the obstacles I’m sure to encounter further down the road. I think I forgot that although my role has shifted in the classroom, I am still a student, that I can still learn and still need to learn, and that this experience should to be one of learning and growth. So I’ve taken some honest looks at myself. I’ve gauged the person I am after my college years, acknowledged that growth and wisdom I’ve attain through those years, and have become aware that it should be built upon.

Growth is a frustrating process by itself. Coupled with the frustration of being in another country, being away from loved ones, people who know you from the inside out, being away from unspoken cultural understanding, to be in an uncomfortable and at times alienating terrain, it gets to you some days. Or at least it did to me. Although I’ve travelled and I understand the up-down joys, bumps, and bruises that accompany travelling, the feelings that come with exposure to a new environment and culture flush in as if new. While it could be that I’ve never been away for this long, I’ve come to learn that some lessons, you have to learn more than once.

During this funk, it was hard to express exactly the what and the why to the feelings that I was experiencing. But as I met with and talked to my friends here, the explanation began to unravel and show its center. Most of the people I spoke with had the same knots in their spirits. Most of it stemmed from cultural differences and cultural insensitivity and the task of having to explain, defend, and make understanding out of the cultural roots of themselves while facing those barriers. And sometimes, personally speaking, I wish I could just fly home where I could have someone see it, know it, and feel it. It takes a lot of effort to try to dissemble these stubborn barriers, and it’s draining most of the time. But it’s part of the job description and part of the reason that we were chosen. To have these difficult conversations with the greater communities in which we live and with ourselves, not necessarily to change minds, but to give it all a human face and dynamic perspective. I’m a cultural ambassador, inside the classroom from Monday to Thursday and, as I have learned, outside of it, when I’d rather relax and rather not.

I got back to clarity by meditating and fasting for a day. While before the end of 10 months seemed to exist on the other side of possibility, I’ve found that it will really fly by. It will December next week for crying out loud! And then 2011! And although I’m getting back the anxious feeling of needing to get things done yesterday and get more involved, I’m being patient in knowing that everything has its season, in todo se va y todo se pasa, and in the great advice a friend’s mom gave her: maybe this year is just about knowing yourself and knowing how to take care of yourself. As much as I would like to have all the seeds I’ve planted come to fruition, I’ll take time to learn in the quiet moments of in the meantime and confidently keep moving forward.

Getting Lost

I normally hate getting lost. It usually always happens as I am trying to make an appointment or already running late somewhere. It’s always frustrating and annoying. I remember driving around Atlanta (a city I know better as a pedestrian) leaning and squinting over the steering wheel of my burgandy 90s-something Honda Accord with the feeling of anxiety pumping into my chest.

And I have felt that way here, too. Getting to know the city, you misjudge just how much time it really takes to get from point A to point D. But I don’t feel that way all the time. Yeah, I’ve had places to be. And yeah, I’ve gotten a little disoriented and turned around, even with my map. And yes, I’ve most definitely arrived late a bunch of times. While a few of these moments did arouse the familiar frustrations of not being able to find my place on a highlighted path, I always ended up finding my destination, my companions, and my cool. Maybe it’s because in Spain, it’s normal to arrive a little late in lots of (but not all) circumstances.  But more likely it’s because I have a lot more free time here. On my time off, I purposely derail from “what I know” to “what’s down here.” My three fondest tales of these adventures happened with companions.

A few weekends ago, Leah and I headed to one of our favorite spots, Llao Llao. For those in Decatur, it’s like Yogurt Tap. For those in the West, I’ve been told it’s comparable to Pink Berry. It’s basically a frozen yogurt joint where you can add different toppings, from nuts and fruit to syrup and coconut shavings. From there, we made a brief tour of the Sol/Callao area, hitting up H&M and browsing through the crowds. We took the metro to La Latina and stepped away from what we knew. We discovered beautiful art work on the side of a building, a plaza centered around a tall fountain, vegetarian and mexican restuarants, and some of Spain’s most personal and vibrant streets. By simply allowing ourselves to be drawn into the scenes that most captured us, we made our way back to familiar stomping grounds, particularly Palacio Real. It’s crazy how you can be “lost” and then end up right where you need to be. We could’ve ended up there the old familiar way, but the sights, sounds, and rhythms we experienced on our journey would’ve been lost to our senses and memories. Ignorance may be bliss, but the knowledge and experience that can replace that ignorance is irreplaceable…Anyways, we headed to Plaza de Espana from there, checked out the outdoor market, and enjoyed some Chinese dumplings on the bench against the humming of people enjoying a warm Saturday afternoon-evening.

I got lost (this time not on purpose at all) with Jaselyn in La Latina again. I thought I knew my way after that one visit with Leah to lead us to a yummy Mexican restaurant. We managed to find one that was way too expensive and another that was closed. So we just tried to find a decent eatery. We decided on a place with typical Spanish cuisine (the gazpacho, patatas bravas, tortilla espanola, etc). My food wasn’t anything spectacular, but the place had an original vibe which we digged which is why we selected the place.

The next time I was got with Janel. We went to Puente de Vallecas. After I wasn’t able to get my ripe plantains the first time I went there, I wanted to head back, and I invited Janel along as she is a foodie. After hitting up the market, we wandered around the area: the best decision we could have ever made. We found Dominican colmados that mimicked the feel of the Dominican Republic so well that it fooled my senses out of their Spanish reality and mocked my rationale for trying to convince them differently. Once we left there and continued throughout the area, we found a Spain dressed in the demeanor specific to the southern region of the Americas. Janel and I most readily identified the familiar warmth of the community to Mexico, where we had both been and had both fell in love with the distinct intoxicating and inviting world that sits below the home country. But the community through which we walked was a mosaic of South America. We didn’t visit many of the other small grocery stores, but one we did go into was run by a Bolivian. He offered us a sweet, glazed coconut treat and devulged recipes to us as he showed us items around the store. It’s always great meeting friendly people in small, intimate settings like that. Walking through the colorful moods across the faces of the buildings and cannibus scented parks where groups of old mature gentlemen gathered in the cardigans to play chess, complimenting the innocence running, skipping, and gliding through the adjacent playground, we watched the sun set down for the night sky, and found our way back to our new definitions of home.

I suppose it’s more exploration than getting lost. I’m never really looking for anything in particular, just really opened to letting the world roll under my feet, just really opened to enjoying the journey without a destination.