I went on a walk with two girls from my program.
One of the girls is a yearlong student meaning she has been in Spain since August and will be here through May. She takes us through the many plazas and points out all of the best restaurants most of which are closed or are closing due to siesta hour. Yes, siestas actually exist in Spain and during them there is nothing to do but wonder around aimlessly.
I am still not used to the time differences for eating so I am hungry when I shouldn’t be. We stop for some food and I get churros y chocolate and the other girls get paella (a famous seafood and rice dish in Spain). I dip a churro into my little mug of liquidy chocolate and the corners of my lips curve up into a smile. The churro itself tastes different from the ones in Mexican restaurants in the U.S. The difference comes from the fact that they aren’t served with sugar on them so they have more of a salty flavor. Thankfully, this can be solved by pouring packets (plural) of sugar on the churros and resuming the dipping process. I also learned that if you sit inside of a restaurant instead of outside you are charged more, and tipping is not necessary. The tipping situation is hard for me, because in America it is custom to always tip even if you didn’t really like your meal and/or your waiter. When we leave the restaurant I find myself sneaking coins on to the table. It just feels wrong to leave nothing. The girls and I make our way over to the La Caleta, which is a beach in the old town area of Cadiz.
It is my first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean. Soft waves sweep over the beach and I stare at the endless at the swells dancing before me. I have never seen such a wide stretch of water with no end to it before. No buildings, land, or trees off in the distance. Just bright blue shining with sun as far as the eye can see.
I crave just throwing off my shoes and running into the water. Jumping in the waves and saying, “I am actually here! I am living in Spain!” Expecting a splash of the sea to hit me in the face and wake me up. I keep reminding myself that this is actually real. When I open my eyes in the morning I will still be in Spain trying to master a language that is not my own, living with people I barely know, and navigating a city that is comically maze-like to me right now.
But everything is an adventure. Everything is new. My Spanish words stumble over each other like they are learning how to walk. I am saying a sentence in English in my head at the same time I am speaking it aloud in Spanish. My host mother sighs heavily before slowlyyyyyy repeating herself for the fourth time. The streets blend together in a mess of cobblestones, boutiques, and plazas. My friends and I speak one language to each other even though we came half way across the world to be surrounded by another. The sun smiles down on my paled, Seattle skin. It is all opposing, yet it makes sense.
I get lost constantly. I find myself daily. And estoy contenta con eso (I am happy with this).
Mom: Do you have a lock on your bedroom door?
Mom: How do you know they don’t come in your room at night and watch you sleep?
My host mom takes me on a walk around the city. Everything is old in the historic sense and gleams with beauty to the modern, American eye. The city is connected by small alleyways that lead to plazas where people hang out with their families and friends. The plazas house everything from cathedrals, museums, and government buildings to older women selling bunches of colorful flowers and vendors rolling handmade churros that pop in bubbling oil.
The city is quiet and loud. Cars squeeze through tiny streets forcing people against the sides of buildings to make room. Everyone seems to be going somewhere; to drink café con leche with friends, walking their kids with SpongeBob backpacks to school, to get fresh bread from the panaderia, to shop in the many tempting boutiques that line the streets. I ache to talk to the locals and get to know their lives. In my head, I feel different standing in a city of Spanish people, but they don’t notice me at all. They simply pass by me as another person on the street. With my dark hair and eyes, I might not even be recognized as American…that is until I talk or whip out my pink I-phone for pictures. Now that’s when I get the looks.
The house is silent. It is 9am and I am craving a shower and some breakfast. My natural thought is to get up and make everyone pancakes. But I don’t want to be rude. I don’t know the customs. So I get out of bed and start unloading my life from Seattle into my closet in Spain. A las 10:30 my family slowly starts making their way to the kitchen and my host mom peeks her head into my room. Her eyes widen as she looks down at my clothes, shoes, and gadgets spread over every possible surface. “Only a little more to do!” I squeak and she nods her head with a weary smile.
My family shows me where the food is and tells me I will be making my own breakfast every day. I savor the warm toast and the sweet juice from fresh fruit after surviving on airplane food for the past two days. I slurp up some pineapple juice and try to fit in with my new family.
My host mom takes me to la plaza de San Antonio where pre-Carnival festivities are taking place. There is a huge line of people rounding the plaza waiting for free plates of oysters. Families stand in circles passing around plastic cups to be filled with wine or beer. Little kids throw confetti into the air and watch with eager eyes as the wind blows the colored pieces into the distance. Bags of chips are handed off between friends and everyone is taking fast, fast, fast, and I can only pick up a few words from their conversations. My host mom introduces me to her family and they offer me drinks. I am starving, but they don’t eat lunch until the afternoon and I feel too awkward to say anything to my host mom.
The Spanish people in the plaza are beautiful like models from a catalogue. Their hair, makeup, and clothes are immaculately styled. The young girls around age three wear small pea coats, tights, and leather boots. The little boys have loafers and buttoned cardigans. It is unlike anything I have ever seen in America. I feel overwhelmed and undressed.
On January 11th, I left Seattle for España! I woke up in wee hours of the morning (4:45 am), after getting a solid hour of sleep, for my 24 hours of traveling to come. I wheeled my two overly stuffed bags up to the counter at the airport and was proud that neither were over fifty pounds…although one was very close at forty nine but whose counting, right? Since my mom insisted I be at the airport at 5am even though my flight didn’t leave until 8:35am I sat in the empty terminal for a while before going to get my bagel fix. I ran into two of the girls from my program and we giggled to each other about how “oh my god we couldn’t believe we were actually going to Spain!” Overall there was about eight of us in my program all on the same flights (Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to Madrid, Madrid to Jerez). I spent most of the flights in and out of a groggy sleep, although on the Chicago to Madrid flight I made friends with a German girl sitting next to me.
She is sixteen and was flying back from the U.S. where she was helping out her relatives with their new, twin babies. I could not believe she made the trip all the way from Germany to the U.S. to help her family over her Christmas break. She told me how she envied my ability to buy peanut butter and chocolate chips both of which are not sold in Germany. My immediate reply was, “how do you make chocolate chip cookies?” and her answer was, “We don’t!” WHAT. She explained it was because they also do not have brown sugar, which is a necessity in the delicious cooking making process. Major bummer for Germans. She pointed to her carry-on bag above us and said she had packed many, many jars of peanut butter and bags of chocolate chips to take home with her. Smart thinking. I immediately regretted the decision not to make room for peanut butter in my suitcase. I smiled as I told her I was in fact also German and my last name is even a German word. It was insightful to compare our lifestyles growing up in different countries. She said she was thinking about going to a university in the U.S. and asked if they were free. I replied with a confused “Um no??” and she said ALL public universities in Germany are free! This amazed me. The U.S. and European systems seem more and more different to me every day.
Our flight landed late in Madrid and we missed our last flight to Jerez. Thankfully a woman working in the airport gave us tickets to another flight and some free lunch vouchers. We were all beyond tired, bored, and dirty after endless hours of flying and layovers. The last thing we wanted was to sit in another airport for hours. We played name games and said fun facts about ourselves- some interesting ones from my group “I cannot smell and I have never been able to. The doctors don’t know why” and “I have been a youngest, middle, and oldest child in my family.” Muy interesante. We also guessed the definitions to random words in one of the boy’s Spanish-English dictionaries. Leave a group of UW students stuck in a Spanish airport without wifi to resort to studying. Once we landed in Jerez we took a bus ride organized by our school to Cadiz (finalmente right). After about forty minutes we arrived in Cadiz! We got off of the bus and hugged/ double cheek kissed our new Spanish host moms. My host mom silently judged me as we dragged my two GIANT suitcases over the cobblestone streets and up eight flights of stairs to my new house. Oh so shameful in my American over packing ways. She showed me around their flat style apartment and I went straight into my bed at 7:30 pm and woke up at 9am the next day.
A wall in my host family’s home
The dining room
The living room