Alone at the seaside

In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.

I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.

One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.

At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.

The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.

The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.

Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.

Tonight, I flew

The week began with the bus radio blaring, “I want to get away; I want to fly away.”

That day, I got away over café coffee and the chilly breeze sailing through the hollow bus station. But tonight, I flew. 

After two months in lockdown, was I ready to function in normal life? In another language? Another culture? I had my doubts. 

Ready or not, an Eid invitation came late last night. Even though I hadn’t fasted for the month of Ramadan, I was still invited to celebrate the end of it.

I had already eaten lunch when I arrived at five. That didn’t stop friends from heaving a giant platter of couscous onto the table. “Eat!”

I had missed their sense of humor and practicality–pieces of shared life that feels second-hand over whatsapp. There was too much to catch up on to waste time fussing about cultural propriety; I ended up just being me, fumbling language and all. 

We changed houses partway through the evening and ate again, a snack consisting mostly of sugar, white flour, caffeine, and grease. I did little piggies up and down little girl toes and taught the nose-rubbing “Eskimo kiss.” We dressed up, took pictures, laughed, talked, spilled juice, and cleaned up. The conversation that teased the deep part of our hearts was worth this sugar mania that is lasting past midnight. 

Snack was finished by 10, just in time for a phone call from North Africa that caught me broom in hand. Friends just checking in. 

I walked 45 minutes home with a burr in my sock, sticky but happy. So happy, in fact, that after waving good night to the neighbor watching TV in his garage, I bounded up the two flights of stairs to our apartment. 

Why is it that some days take the breath out of you and leave you with a stunning piece of life instead? It’s not the moments themselves that are stunning, but the steady tick-tock of a day held in God’s hand. 

And, yes, I brushed my teeth and took a melatonin. Good night!

A cathedral, cave houses, and amateur flamenco

The end of June, just before I left for the States, my roommate and I took a short trip to the nearby city, Guadix. In all of the July activities, I neglected to put up pictures… until now.

Overall, it was a good trip, although it did have its downsides… like being in town on a holiday weekend when businesses were closed, realizing that our trusty map was on my broken-down phone, getting hot and tired from wandering through the old city streets in search of our elusive airbnb. But those were the not-so-fun things that I didn’t bother to capture on my camera. So enjoy the happier things that I did…

Guadix is known for its splendid Baroque cathedral which was built from the 15th to mid-18th century.

Guadix is also known for its cave houses. Before you start picturing primitive etchings in rock walls and cavemen wielding stout clubs, take a look at these pictures.

Rather from being formed from natural caves, these cave houses or “troglodyte houses” are carved into the rocky landscape. The cave houses maintain a temperature of 18º C (64ºF.).We toured a church in the cave community. The church had marvelous nooks and crannies and tottering staircases to explore.

I noticed the window shoppers after I took the picture. And I definitely don’t have anything against window shopping. Especially since that’s how my roommate and I found a flyer for a charitable event hosted by a flamenco school of dance. We went.

group of female flamenco dancers in black

Tips for surviving Spain- Part 1

Thinking of moving to southern Spain? Or even just visiting? Here are some helpful tips that my roommate helped me compile:

  1. Learn Spanish (I might as well start with the obvious).
  2. Carry your own shopping bags with you, recycle, conserve water, etc. Europe tends to be greener than America.
  3. Weigh your produce when you go shopping… or you’ll get to the counter without prices and the cashier might roll her eyes.
  4. Bring cash. Not every store accepts credit and/or debit cards. And many stores want small change, not large bills.
  5. Don’t read dates backwards. Dates are written by day/month/year rather than month/day/year. Don’t show up for an appointment on January 2 that was set for February 1.
  6. Read schedules by the 24-hour clock. Otherwise, you might expect a train at 6 p.m. that actually went at 6 a.m.
  7. Allow more time to complete tasks. The Spanish are fairly efficient… most of the time. But don’t treat the shopping world like a Wal-Mart. Shops tend to be more specialized and it takes longer to get everything you need (but it’s more fun!). And don’t expect buses to arrive on time… or arrive at all if it’s a holiday.
  8. Relax a bit. The average schedule runs about two hours later than the American schedule: shops open at 9 or 10. Lunch is at 2 or 3 p.m.
  9. Don’t try to shop between 2 and 5 p.m. In fact, don’t even bother going outside unless you’re looking for some quality solitude. And in the summer, you might burn to a crisp if you’re out in the hot sun between 1-6 p.m.
  10. Watch your step. At least in southern Spain, many people have little yippy dogs that leave behind deposits on the sidewalk.
  11. Realize that when it’s dark outside, it is NOT time to go to bed; the party is just beginning.
  12. Eat meat. Most Spaniards are unapologetically carnivorous. They especially love pork. (Be prepared to see the jamón serrano everywhere.) Some restaurant billboards would send animal rights activists into a tizzy.
  13. Don’t expect to find chicken in restaurants unless the restaurant name specifies chicken. Most menus are laden with pork and seafood options.
  14. Get used to eating bread, bread, bread. Fortunately, the Spaniards are excellent bread makers.
  15. And learn to love olives while you’re at it. Don’t worry; Spanish olives are amazing.

To be continued as we continue learning…

Embarrassment in an airport

Some embarrassing moments haunt you all of your life and make you groan whenever you remember them. Other moments are so embarrassing at the time that they are not easily forgotten; yet, their memory makes you giggle instead of groan. Why? Maybe because we can relive the humor without reliving the embarrassment.

For example, recently I had a embarrassing moment that was completely mortifying for about 20 minutes before I started giggling. Why so short? Well, it happened in another city in an airport with people I am 99% sure I will never see again.

My friend and I took a trip to the desert for the holidays. We had a lot of luggage due to the fact that we had to haul bedding and towels with us (“a lot” perhaps being relative to someone who usually travels with a backpack). Therefore, when our train arrived at the small airport, we decided to take turns using the restroom. I went first and my friend waited at the bottom of the stairs with our suitcases.

Although I had never used the upstairs restrooms at this airport before, I followed the signs. But there appeared to only be one option. At least, there was a “WC” sign with a little man beside it. But where was the women’s? I looked farther down the hallway, but there was nothing close by. I was ready to continue on my way when a woman appeared in the restroom doorway.

Startled, I asked, “Is this for women?”

She gave an affirmative response. And spotting another woman behind her in the restroom, I shrugged off my hesitation and entered. But at some point, behind that closed stall door, I realized that I was no longer hearing women’s voices, but men’s.

I admit that I wasn’t initially embarrassed and just tried to decide whether to hang out indefinitely in the stall or make my entrance into the male-dominated room. But I couldn’t hang out in the restroom forever. I would miss my flight!

So I emerged. I kept my head down as I walked to the sink to wash my hands. Therefore, I don’t know how the men reacted to my presence. I assume it wasn’t favorably. After all, we were still in a culture where gender distinctions are clearly defined. But they didn’t say a word to me. Maybe they didn’t know how to confront the foreigner who was pretending to be oblivious.

Actually, it was the cleaning lady passing by the open door that hollered inside, “Madame! Madame!” When she had my attention, she continued in French, pointing to the little man symbol next to the WC sign.

Feeling the need to justify  myself (human nature, I suppose), I protested that someone had told me it was for ladies. But the delay only prolonged my presence in the room of unsettled men. Finally, I gathered my wits enough to apologize and scurry down the stairs to where my friend awaited me.

“Don’t go to the first restroom!” I admonished her wisely. And she vanished up the stairs while I waited with the heap of luggage. But as I waited, I realized I was standing by the doorway of the only restroom exit.

And there I stood, incapable of desertion for the sake of our luggage as one by one the men emerged from the restroom and came down the stairs to find me blushing on the bottom platform.

Experiencing Eid Kbir

I could write a lot of things about this important holiday, but this post isn’t meant to be informational or theological. It’s is simply a snapshot of what my last couple of days have looked like. Granted, I decided not to display gruesome images of animal slaughter (thus limiting my photo options).

The first couple of photos are from the days before Eid. The city began to fill with the bleating of sheep and shops sold the necessities for the special day. Some shops even closed as their owners traveled. This is the country’s biggest holiday of the year.

Then, I had the chance to experience the celebration firsthand. I guess the first sign that Eid was upon us was when the neighbors moved a cow and then a sheep into their courtyard below my window. Soon the sheep’s bleating was only one of many others ricocheting off the concrete walls.

On Sunday evening, I joined my friend and her family for the Monday celebration. My head is spinning with the lifetime I feel like I lived in those two days. To my credit, I tasted a bit of everything that was served. The first meal of liver and heart kebabs with a side of spleen wasn’t too bad. But by evening, I admit that my mind refused to go over matter with the stomach and lungs dish. And what was worse was getting up in the morning to a breakfast of the head and feet. At least, now that I’m on the other side of it, I can look back and smile. I think my sampling of meat dishes until this point has been too tame!

bags and piles of charcoal in marketplace
Many little stands and shops sold charcoal to fill the thousands of grills around the city.
busy old city street and man hauling sheep in cart
One way of carrying your sheep home
sheep tied with blue rope
chopped liver and strips of fat on wooden table
Preparing for grilled liver and heart kebabs, also known as بولفاف
chopped brain and eggs in frying pan
Brain and eggs for breakfast, anyone?
loaves of fresh round bread
And of course, fresh bread with all of this!