Tag Archive: Janel


Lifted

Sooooo…I’ve had a very long hiatus, but I’m gonna give this blog thing another shot. Here goes:

It’s been two months since my return to Spain for my second year here as an English Teaching Assistant or, as we’re known here, auxiliar de conversación. I didn’t plan on being back here this time last year. I was certain I would return to the States, be applying to medical school, and participating in an Americorps program. But around late January, something stirred in me. I was passing by Palacio Real late one night, walking home, when I deeply breathed in my surroundings. “Can I take all of this in with the next few months to come?” a voice asked. This voice answered its own question immediately and told me “No.”

From there unraveled some of the most precious and memorable moments with strangers who have become so dear to me that the “No” that was a pebble grew into a boulder. And I began the process of my renewal, which Spanish bureaucracy makes painlessly easy! (note: please read sarcasm). I intend to make a quick summary of my last year with mainly the highlights from the months I failed to include in the blog. I struggled with trying to capture every detail and relaying it in my writing on this medium because for me, every detail was important and vital to constructing these experiences of my life as they were unfolding. However, after talking with Janel, she wisely informed me that I cannot bring you here with me to these sights and smells completely. As much as I strain, these are still just snippets of my currently reality and inherently not whole. Regardless, I still would like to include you on this journey if you would like the seat.

December-January: We had a break, a Puente, in early December. I got to go to my roomie’s hometown in Extremadura. I spent the time with her family and friends and getting to know the history of the city, Merida, which is pretty much built over Roman remains. I went home for the holidays…my first home, my birth home: London. I spent about 2 weeks there laughing in joy with my family. I bought Christmas presents on Oxford Street and in Wood Green. It was amazing to be back in London period. It carries parts of who I am. It was a little weird to be there during the holidays since I usually visit during the summer, when the English weather is tolerable for a distant grown Southerner, when I am out of school, and when the cost of the fare can be equally measured with the time spent. It was my first time there outside of this time from since 1993! Plus, I was without my brother and my mother. I’m used to one of them accompanying. But I had a blast!

February: Did a crazy thing and went to Barcelona for less than 24 hours to see Janelle Monae perform in the middle of the week. Two friends, Linnette and Aaron, and I took three separate flights to make it Barcelona on the day of the concert since we work at three different schools and thus have three different schedules. I felt bad about missing a day (even though I got the appropriate permission), so I wanted to make sure that I went to as many classes as possible even though I had a full day. I left my last class about 10-15 minutes before the bell and went straight to the airport. I basically left my school and walked straight onto the plane. By the time I boarded, everyone was seated; no one was even adjusting luggage. I was just happy to make my flight. An hour later, I was in Barcelona with about two and half hours before show time. Met up with my partners in crime, dropped bags and winter coat in the hostal, grabbed a bite, and went to the concert. It was an incredible show with confetti and balloons! It was definitely Wondaland! After a few strategic power moves, we got to meet some of the band members and a director after the show who knew Atlanta pretty well and relived memories of Buford Highway and Decatur. We also got into a deep conversation about I have come to dub as “the track,” the unspoken pressure we yungin’s sometimes feel from society in the States to already have a career, marriage partner (or close to), and children on the way. Then after feeling elated from our evening, we walked around Barcelona until we went back to the hostal to sleep in our bunk beds. Next morning, we explored a little bit more of Barcelona, turned our backs on a statue of Columbus, and reflected on the previous night on a pier, overlooking water.

I also joined an Afro-Contemporary dance class which my co-worker Irene would sometime attend.

March: I started off this month with the Global Classrooms conference. This is Model UN. I helped prepare 22 of my 3rd year students to speak, negotiate, and write about Animal Trafficking and Children in Armed Conflict as representatives of different countries. They all dressed up very “smart,” and I was proud to see them do so well. My little diplomats!!! 🙂

I also had the Fulbright mid-term Meeting in Pamplona. This is where they celebrate San Fermin with the Running of the Bulls. San Fermin is in July, so I was not involved in any of that. But I got to meet up with the Fulbrighters from around Spain and Andorra as well as Pamplona governmental officials and be spoiled by the Fulbright Commission on food, vino, and tours of governmental buildings.

I visited Erin and her hubby Luke in Bristol. We visited Bath and explored Bristol which was beautiful! My first real time outside of London (which may be just a little sad…).

I took up a piano class. Jazz and blues, baby! I love my piano teacher. I couldn’t ask for a better one. It’s just her, me, and the piano. No books. Just listening and playing and feeling.

April: Mommy! She came visit me for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is essentially Spain’s Spring Break. We stayed in Madrid and took day trips to Segovia and Cuenca. I really did miss her a lot, and I look forward to her coming to visit next year! My cousin also visited me this month from London. We did not watch the Royal Wedding and had a great time throughout the city. She supported me, along with friends Sam and Leah and co-worker/friends Kelly, and Irene, as I performed with my class at a metro stop for an event that celebrated dance! It was a lot of fun, and I did well enough that someone even thought that I was the teacher lol! Honestly, they were being too kind, but I did have a lot of fun. Afterwards, we went to a torta (Mexican sandwich) place and then a bar where we met up with my other co-worker, Cathy, and two more friends, Kevin and Renee. It was such a great night! Oh, and I got to see Adele perform.

May: My renewal was accepted. I am really loving my life in Madrid. I went to Granada with Leah which is one of the prettiest cities I have ever been to. I loved its ancient Arabic influence. The white buildings, the cheap tapas, and the Alhambra completed a series of breathtaking moments in springtime world I was lost in. If you ever get the opportunity to see the Alhambra firsthand, do not miss out. Its history is written on its walls. It’s amazing to think that humankind created such a gift, so perfectly blended with nature. It could’ve grown from the ground. I can’t even describe its depth without writing for the rest of the night. One of the best memories was a little kid in line named Yusef who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, plump cheeks showing a slight blush from the heat, a baseball hat, and big brown eyes. Every time his parents left him down, he would run into every direction. He locked eyes with me and complained if I tried to look away. He gave Leah and I kisses on each of our cheeks in appropriate Spanish custom. He added more joy to our blissful Granada.

Also, protests! Sol, a central plaza in the city, was overtaken by people protesting against the situation here. Unemployment is a little more than 20%. The plaza was jam packed on the first night. And continued to be full and people camped out and created their own little pueblo equipped with information tents to inform passers by as well as its own library, medical center, and farm (they took up the flowers that were around the statue and planted veggies).

June: Where had time gone? I was confused. My last month was jam-packed. I went to Andorra—got in and out without a passport. It’s a long story. Ask me when you see me. Andorra is a small country between Spain and France. I believe it’s the only country in the world that has Catalan as its official language. The Andorran Fulbrighters 2011 were an amazing group of individuals and were incredible hosts! I had another dance performance. I had a piano performance. I played “Birks Works” with a bassist and a drummer! I even had to improvise, but nerves overcame, it all worked out lovely. I had lunch with some professors on invitations to their homes. I felt such love and so grateful to all the wonderful people I got to meet and work with. I went to England for a week at the end of June until the beginning of July to attend my cousin’s birthday party. And some of my students found out that I speak Spanish…because obviously I don’t have a life outside of the school and since being outside of school doesn’t happen for me, having any knowledge of Spanish also isn’t necessary. I took a wonderful weekend road trip down South to Cabo de Gata in Almeria with my co-workers, Kelly and Irene, and Irene’s boyfriend Kevin. Spain is a beautiful country, and the landscapes change wonderfully. We hit the beach and relaxed and snorkeled! I meet up with one of my Spanish professors and the group of students his brought from Agnes Scott for the ASC Summer in Spain program as they passed through Madrid to Oveido. Oh and I saw Janelle Monae again, but this time in Madrid with the same partners in crime and some new ones who could make the trip this time.

July: I packed up, moved out, and went home to Atlanta.

September: Back in Madrid. I stayed with a professor I work with because I wanted to find a new place to live from my old apartment last year. She is one of the sweetest and most generous people I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths with. Her and her husband showed me such kindness for the week I stayed with them. I ended up moving back into my old spot due to some challenges with the new places and the love I have for the three women that I spent my last year with, although one has moved out.

Lots going on in Spain. There have been lots of protests against the cuts made to education. There have been quite a few strikes so far. The elections are coming up on November 20th. There was an Occupy Wall Street solidarity march on the 15th of October.

October: I’ve settled back in and begun work. I missed my kids. Everything seems a little easier this year because I know my role and I know most of my students. However, I have a lot of new students this year. How am I going to learn all these names?!

November: Present-day! I’ve gotten back into my routine and am officially a busy bee. I have continued my piano lessons and am looking to take up another dance class. I miss some of my friends from last year, but I’m looking to create new adventures.

When I was on the plane coming back, I thought, “What am I doing?” I felt a little afraid. I wondered if I was making the right choice. Everything that I have done and that has occurred since I’ve been back has told me “Yes.” I’ll be sure to tell you why.

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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.