In Two Week's Time
The days after a sick day always feel like a miracle because when you're sick, being healthy seems impossible (and you say things to your parents like, "I don't want to die here."). You're grateful in these healing days to be walking and to feel just the slightest bit weak (rather than to be confined to your bed drooling over the diner food in Sleepless in Seattle--the actors aren't even enjoying it, you realize. You know you would). You're grateful to be hungry and to be able to eat. Sick days themselves bring the quiet time needed to reflect on two too-busy weeks (as well as the not-so-quiet time to wale to your parents on the phone over your fears about ebola).
My práctica began this past week! "Práctica" vaguely translates to internship but really just means that I get to go and help teach students English twice a week at a private Catholic school called Maristas. I had two distinct beginnings to my first two days volunteering. On Wednesday, I walked into a classroom of seven year-olds who all cried out at the sight of me (and in Spanish): "Another one!?" (I should probably mention that the teachers of the school have fed them the false fact that I do not understand Spanish. An interesting and sometimes frustrating illusion to uphold). However, I seemed to have won them over because ten minutes into the class, we were all happily bobbing and jiving to what I will refer to as "The School Bag Song" (the kids learn British English here), and one girl even delighted us with the ever-essential "Sprinkler." At seven these Spaniards can shake it better than I have ever been able to do in my (almost) 21 years. The start of my Friday at Maristas was a little more interesting. The kids were friendly (immediate questions: Where are you from? and Do you have a boyfriend?), and the teacher asked if I would lead them in the "Our Father" prayer. This terrified me slightly as whenever I have to do it aloud in church in the US, I always find myself stumbling through "as it is in Heaven," and often I end up saying something like "at ease in Heaven" or "Aziz (Ansari) in Heaven." Also, as I'm not Catholic, I'm always uncertain whether or not I'm supposed to add that last bit that some churches always add (even now as I write this, I can't remember what it is). So, there was a bit of anxiety with regards to this whole leading-the-children-in-the-Light thing; however, wanting to leave the children and teacher with a good impression, I spoke slowly and purposefully, and everyone repeated quite naturally after me (we only had to repeat the last verse--success!). Other notable things happened throughout the day, too. I learned that Spanish children learn to pronounce how the English say the letter "i" by mimicking the way they would normally cry out in pain (the teacher: "What happens when you hurt your finger? Ay!!"). Federico, the Arts and Crafts teacher (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, my career plans have changed), allowed me to draw Spongebob Squarepants on the board and then was so pleased with my drawing that he asked everyone to try and copy it. For some reason, the whole episode harked back to a third grade moment in which I had drawn Captain Underpants on the board in Mr. Oxley's class and Sam G. erased it (Maybe this was God's way of making up for it? A positive karma of sorts?). Anyway, I think I'm in the right place because I left the school lobby on Friday to the tune of Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight. I've also started tutoring a family friend's group of four children; it's a little more difficult than the structured classroom setting because it's really just me and alternating pairs of ruffians locked in a room for two hours. I tried the Spongebob trick on them and while they were pleased, they were less impressed than their school aged counterparts. One of them wore a pink matador uniform to class one day and then proceeded to draw a green marker mustache on himself--a true emblem of Spanish masculinity (swathed in pink with frills? Sounds about right). We'll see how this experience goes, but I'm already thinking about how it can fit into my future. The Peace Corps has always appealed to me, but now (as I've started to realize just how important my family is to my mental health and overall happiness), I'm considering applying to Teach for America and City Year as well.
I had the pleasure to visit three very distinct, very interesting places these past two weekends. One was Córdoba which houses not only a 2000 year old bridge but also a Catholic Cathedral that was once a Mosque. This "Mezquita" is one of the most exquisite places I have ever been to. The mosque half is simple, geometric, repetitive; that of the cathedral: gaudy, marvellous, overwhelming. It made me wonder if in the future, when some outside force comes to examine the remains of this planet (I do believe in aliens), they'll admire the human race for their incredible ability to cohabit in spite of religious differences. And we, from that very far off, very high up place, will sadly shake our heads and wonder what the world could have been like if that were true. In addition to Córdoba, I went with a small group to the National Park (Parque de Doñana) about 30 minutes outside Sevilla. The park is a mixture of dry fields, cool forests and swampy marshes and home to giant cattle as well as delicate flamencoes. I'm hoping to visit again and do a more involved hike (perhaps toward el oceano). Lastly, I just came back today from Tarifa (the southern most city in Spain and Continental Europe). Tarifa, Tarifa, new delight of my heart, how I walked your streets and thought of what joy my family would have in being there (basically everywhere I go/everything I do is framed by this). How cool to stand on a strip of land between Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, to be on Europe staring at Africa and peering across the water toward America, to feel how small and intimate the world really is at the same time as I felt limitless and large, the breezes gusting, the sunshiny day glazed infinity in the crystalline water. The next morning, waiting for the sunrise, cold and pink--a smothered watercolor over the African mountains. I fell in love there (and the pastries that we had in the three times we went to a singular bakery weren't half bad either).
I've also had several interesting interactions with my host family, lately, not the least of which was the time Andres asked me if I knew the Arctic Monkeys (quick reminder: he's 78) and then proceeded to use his hands to mimic what he thought they looked like on stage (a clumsy, jumpy animal). I had the duty to explain to Carmen and Andres "FOMO" when they asked how it was possible for someone to do so much in one day and also found out that Sacha is adopted from Russia (which explains why he takes Russian lessons). Rafa (Maria Carmen's husband, my host son-in-law and Sacha's dad) and I have engaged in several great conversations about competition versus creativity and gender, living and work in Seville. He also showed me a card trick he used to do frequently at family parties (he's somewhat of an amateur magician).
Spain is as good as ever. I wander a lot, and on my wanderings, I run into different people or pass by different things that make me contemplate life. Passing by a famous churro stand by the Isabel bridge, I had to stop and pester the man who was hand-making them because it reminded me so much of my dad making pizza in our kitchen (Me, intelligently: "You're making churros?" Him, in Spanish: "Duh" Me: "Que guay"). Or while stopping to buy a chocolate chip cookie (because they too reminded me of my mother), I told the woman behind the counter that I was homesick, and she smiled at me with gentle half-understanding. Or while walking out of the triana market on a pleasant Tuesday morning, I had a moment of connection when a woman sang "Contento el Corazon," and I gave a smile and she had a laugh (it's lovely to rest and be contented, no?). Or hearing children running around in a playground behind a city wall and having it be so real that I felt as if, when I closed my eyes, they should have been playing around my feet, balls rolling over my toes, having to dodge lines of hopscotch and strands of jump rope. Or passing an amiable workers' strike where everyone is chatting and holding banners but it's all very casual--very Spanish. Or just as I fall asleep one night, outside my window, the not-so-soft rendition of "cumpleanos feliz" floats up to me reminding me that I am alive and well in a city that really never sleeps.
I've had wonderful times spent with friends--flamenco on the street, a big round moon lighting our way, a feeling of ease, walking slowly, letting the world unfold before us with no rhyme or reason, everything natural and unfurling, comfortable like spreading a picnic blanket across grass. I've had good conversations with my new Spanish friend Juan and interrogated him about Christopher Columbus (a hot button topic here) to which he cleverly responded that he thought CC had the Pope sanctioned "copyright" but hadn't really discovered anything at all (Juan also warned me about which bathrooms to use at the University which endeared him to me even more).
I also think I've found a place in which I'd like to spend my time, with open windows and the kind smiles of the older gentleman who owns the store and helps me open the door because it's push not pull, the patience of the waiter at the bar as he takes my order and cuts his full leg of ham, fresh squeezed orange juice and toasted circles of bread covered in jam and butter. It's not the kind of place you show others (no, not at all de moda like the barrio I've fallen in love with near las Setas). No, it's an ordinary place but just so ordinary and comfortable as to make it a little bit magical. It feels local. And while I don't necessarily, that's just what I'm looking for. CJB