Sometimes, I wonder if I’m two people

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m two people. How can I feel so alive in a field of green with no one else around when I feel just as alive walking down the street of a busy little town?

The green grabs me and pulls me in to whisper, “And God said that it was good.” I see His hand in the great green and blue of creation.

But as I walk down the street in the middle of humanity, I hear the same words, “And God said that it was good.”

city street with blurred lights, burger king and fountain

Here in town, surrounded by manmade structures and, well, manmade everything, I long for the moments I can slip away and just be by myself with nature. Or even without nature. Sometimes, what I’m really longing for is anonymity where I can step out of my house without someone reporting it to someone else somewhere along the line. 

I’m a country girl at heart, but I know that should I ever move again to the country, even under that vast starry sky, I would miss the connection and relationship of the daily ins and outs with humans.

I would miss the Spanish pop blaring from someone’s front window that puts a spring in my step. I would miss the evening chamomile with a friend who has invited me into her inner circle. I would miss the cars that stop as I approach the crosswalk. And the store owners who ask how I’m doing because we’ve been around each other long enough to care. I would even miss that dog yapping at me just because I walked past. Or the neighbors drilling into their wall when I want to be sleeping. And that little boy greeting me as if he knew me and then turning to his friend and saying, “She’s the one who visits Khadija.”

It’s the living and breathing together that makes me aware of God’s Presence. But it’s also the furious ocean waves and the placid Midwestern cornfields that make me aware of Him. 

I can’t explain it. Except maybe to say that God’s Presence transcends our preferences and breathes life wherever we are.

(But I still sometimes wonder if I’m two people.)

His Presence in the waves

The JWs caught me for the first time in my life. The woman was nice, but the man’s smile was as big and fake as he was pushy. When I finally said I wanted the chance to speak, his patronizing smile grew even wider and he pretended to listen. 

The bus came, thank goodness, and my scrambling on board provided a decisive exit.

Minutes later, I was disembarking and descending to the beach. I looked up to the looming mountain and sighed. JWs or not, it had been a good decision to bury myself in God’s artwork for a few hours.

I love being at home. But sometimes there is an accompanying trapped feeling. Trapped within my own honey-do list. Seemingly endless people to contact and visit, groceries to buy, food to cook, laundry to soak, languages to study, paperwork to stress over.

Right now, I had only my Kindle.

I parked in the sand and gulped the salty air that was cold enough to keep most tourists away. The rhythmic roar of advancing and receding waves drowned out the remaining background noise.

Feeling gloriously alone and free, I drenched my mind with St. Augustine. He reads like a famous blogger, I decided, and read until my mind was too saturated to absorb any more. Then I turned to Daddy Long Legs and delighted myself in the simplicity of a young lady’s letters to her mysterious benefactor. And shame on me for not reading the book sooner for all that it had been recommended to me. 

By then, it was dark and I was cold. And I still had some grocery shopping to do. So I gathered my few belongings and left behind that glorious alone spot.

And the next day, when emotional and physical demands nearly drove me to my wit’s end, I drew upon yesterday’s strength which God had multiplied into the present.

Sometimes, God is harder to see in the rhythmic roar of emotional waves. I would rather drink in His clear Presence in nature.

But some days are like this. And He is in these days too.

A day in Málaga

We only had one day in Málaga. Málaga is a large city and we knew we wouldn’t have the time or energy to hop hither and yon on public transportation. Therefore, we narrowed our scope [predictably] to Málaga’s Alcazaba and Castle of Gibralfaro. We also got to zip around the Atarazanas Market and gaze up at the Málaga Cathedral, known as the “La Manquita,” or “The One-Armed Lady” (due to the south tower never being completed).

towering cathedral facade

And of course, there was food. The restaurant will go unnamed. The food was delicious, but if only we wouldn’t have had to get hangry while watching customers who had sat down after us finish their meals before anyone came to take our order. Living in Spain, one must get accustomed to bad service, but really?!

The Alcazaba, or Moorish fortress, was beautiful. Built in the early 11th century, it’s one of the best preserved fortresses in Spain. We explored the nooks and crannies while trying not to trip over the other tourists.

sign outside of the alcazaba
the sprawling malaga alcazaba

Just outside of the Alcazaba was a Roman theater, dating to first century B.C. The view was outstanding, but I can’t say much for the smell. A friend mentioned that it was reminiscent of a zoo exhibit. After that, we kept expecting poo-flinging apes to appear from somewhere below.

roman theater exhibit

The Castle of Gibralfaro was connected to the Alcazaba. However, tourists had to go out and around on the side street. It was hot. It was exhausting. A street musician encouraged us on. I was completely soaked in sweat by the time we stopped for a few soggy pictures. But the view…

bird's eye view of malaga port

No one checked our tickets. They must have figured that anyone who made that climb deserved to be there! Our exploration of the nooks and crannies was severely limited due to our short supply of energy. We found a bus that took us to the bottom of the hill (and asked ourselves why we hadn’t bothered finding one to take us to the top).

My friends humored my Indian craving by hunting down The Great India, an Indian restaurant we had spotted at the beginning of our day. And that, my friends, is the way to end any day of tourism.

Take a hike

I was bustling down the quiet morning street toward the bus stop when it hit me. Today was Saturday. And I had looked at the weekday bus schedule. The Dalías bus had gone ½ hour ago. 

At 10:30, the day was already looking bleak.

My roommate joined me and we hopped on the next bus. We would make the most of the extra hour and a half by exploring a town that was halfway in between Immigrantville and Dalías. The next bus came close to 13:00. I browsed my map and we found a green spot labeled “Parque forestal.”

“Ooo. Let’s go there!” 

So we set off like disgruntled tramps in our hiking clothes. The sun was intense. The map was deceptive. There was a park all right: a dry field of puny trees, dead grass, and greenhouses. There wasn’t even any shade. Of course.

It was 11:30 and the day was only getting bleaker. But at this point, we began to chuckle. And we chuckled our way into El Corte Inglés, past the prim and proper salespeople, to the café on the tippity top floor.

(This was after we did a diligent search and ended up at the downward bound escalator. “Of course,” Roomie said. But we chuckled.)

We feigned confidence as we took our seats in the classy café. The server poured my Aquarius into a goblet as I subtly tried to air out the sweat stain on the back of my grungy T-shirt.

We made it to our bus on time and carefully selected our seat. Then we looked up. “Of course,” said Roomie. And we chuckled. We had carefully selected the seat with a missing “stop” button.

But finally, we were on our way to Dalías!

We didn’t have much experience with taking the bus there and arrived long before we thought we should. Roomie noticed that businesses were starting to mention the town name. I checked my trusty map and lunged forward to push the “stop” button on the seat ahead of us.

We strolled around Dalías, trying to not look too out of place. But as we wandered down a skinny street with a hand’s breadth of sidewalk, I leaned into a window grate to accommodate a passing car. It was probably the only jagged window grate in the entire town.

Rip. And my sleeve was left with a gaping hole.  After the initial surprise, we chuckled. “Of course.”

town square painted white
stairstep flower boxes

We found the hiking trail on my trusty map and our casual wandering soon turned into panting and rolling sweat. Uphill we went, winding through greenhouses and barking dogs and the thick scent of livestock. (Who goes hiking in Spanish July anyway?)

rolling Spanish agricultural countryside

Although it was hot, the scenery was beautiful. And somewhere beyond all of that, there was a restaurant. At least we hoped so. Partway through the hike, as we stared at a dead end, Roomie asked, “How old were the reviews for this restaurant?” She was picturing one of the crumbling buildings along the side of the trail to be the former “Restaurante el Arroyo.”

Despite our pessimism, we made it. Even without dying of sunstroke, being devoured by rabid dogs, or falling down a ravine. We sat across the table from each other, laughing at each others’ red faces. 

“Water please. Cold!”

“You know, there’s air conditioning up there.” The server pointed to an upper room. We dashed upstairs without a second thought as he went to retrieve cold water for the red-faced Americans.

After lunch, I parked myself under the perfect tree beside a cool spring of water and pulled out my Kindle. This was the “of course” that I had planned the day around. The other “of course”s were just there to make this one sweeter.

stream surrounded by trees and spotted shade

Under the Sevillan sun

The sun’s fury didn’t really matter from the front row of the bus. I plugged in ear buds and listened to Los Miserables. (No, that’s not a spelling error; I really am attempting to listen to Hugo in Spanish.)

But I kept drifting into that almost dream state where thoughts don’t make sense and I happily embrace the sleep I know is coming. But then a truck and trailer tried to pull into our lane. The bus driver honked, swerved, and muttered something under his breath. That was the end of my nap.

But it didn’t matter, because tired or no, I was on my way to Sevilla.

As the Andalusian landscape whizzed by, I enjoyed the rolling olives groves, the plains of ripened wheat, the fields of yellow sunflowers, and the occasional glimpse of stubborn snow on mountain peaks.

My first impression of Sevilla? The realization that there are two bus stations and I was at one and my friend at the other.

Finally reunited, we dropped the luggage in the car and strolled through the Plaza de España, despite the scorching afternoon sun.

brick plaza with horse and carriage in forefront

We met our airbnb hosts and then set out to shop and fill our empty bellies with Udon’s veggie yaki udon.

The next morning, we visited Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation… whose name sounds infinitely nobler in Spanish), a giant structure that provides a lookout of the city. Honestly, the modern bulk seemed a little out of place in the old city; yet, there was something intriguing about climbing a mushroom. And the view was fantastic.

mushroom-shaped structure
white city of sevilla spain

Strolling toward the cathedral, we happily made pit stops to enjoy the lovely city streets and even watch a bit of street flamenco.

At the Cathedral of Sevilla, not only did we behold the grandeur of the outside walls, but were able to walk around inside and observe the ongoing mass.

elaborate facade of cathedral

We stopped for coffee in the Jewish quarter before taking a picnic lunch to the beautiful María Luisa Park. Regretfully (in retrospect), we barely made it beyond the first row of luscious trees. We were tired and hungry.

We strolled home along the Guadalquivir and topped off the evening by attempting a picnic in the Jardín Americano, a park from the 1992 Expo. Not a good idea. If ever a park could give vibes… We backtracked when the only people slinking around looked like they were not the picnicking sort.

Instead, we sat on concrete boulders along the river’s lip and dipped our toes in the water. We talked until long after the sun had gone down.

bridge over river at sunset

The next day was a picnic in the Alamillo Park (see a “picnic in the park” theme?) and time to soak in more of Sevilla’s scenery.

We also met up with friends to experience real flamenco. Photos weren’t allowed, but they wouldn’t have captured the experience anyway. Not the guitarist nor the vocalist. Photos wouldn’t capture the way the dancer’s eyes glittered concentration beneath the changing lights. Or how his face gleamed with the sweat of maintaining perfect control of his feet in time to the music, even while at times keeping his upper body motionless. The whirring fans did little to cool the room packed with eager spectators. Our tippy wooden bench always seemed to fit one more and why not?

On our final morning, we awoke to banging and drilling in the apartment below. We packed up and did a bit more strolling of the streets. Our last adventure was the unexpected and charming Parcería Cafe.

latte and smoothie on wooden tray next to plant

I thought I was ready to head back to Immigrantville, but as the bus pulled out of the station, I admit that there were tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

Belated birthday trip: Florence

Our final stop was Florence, Italy. Since we had already done a quick tour of Pisa the same day, we arrived tired… but still had a long walk to reach our airbnb (due to a [not-so-slight] miscalculation). Our little suitcase rattled long-sufferingly along behind us.

We had to wait for our host to come with the keys. In the meantime, we met some friendly Italians who were curious what we were doing so far out of tourist territory.

We spend 3 1/2 nights in Florence. During the day, we ate, napped, met a few nice people, and browsed the city. Since none of us are touristy at heart, we were less impressed by the normal touristy places and more impressed by the food.

street in florence, italy
white vintage car in front of house with wooden door
florence countryside
florence cityscape
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.
corner of duomo
The Duomo was more impressive from the lookout where you could see more than just a corner of it at a time.
flowers in windows with green shutters
bridge over the arno river
We spent a lot of time strolling along the Arno. This bridge is the Ponte Vecchio, known for being lined with little shops (and too many tourists).
crowded marketplace
The market place was not our favorite stop. We unanimously decided we didn’t need souvenirs after all and headed home.
plate of gnocchi
Give me rice over pasta any day… unless I’m in Italy. The gnocchi and bucatini were so amazing that we have yet to recover.
pasta aisle of grocery store
The pasta aisle in an average grocery store. And these are only the dry pasta options.
elderly man standing behind gelato counter
We read up on what makes gelato worthwhile. This man had nailed it… and his shop was close enough for us to swing by more than once.
cup and saucer with italian coffee
And the coffee was always worth our while, even when we sipped our cappuccino after 11 a.m. like the ignorant tourists that we were.

We left Florence at 3:30 a.m. and spent most of the day racing from one mode of transportation to the next, with several heart-stopping moments when we thought all was lost (hello, train to Bologna). We made it back to Almería by 10:30 p.m., exhausted. No one seemed interested in brainstorming for our 40th birthday trip. 🙂

France and other things

Tomorrow!

My little sister and my friend are already on their way.

After lots of planning, we are still sitting on a bunch of unfinished details. But the 3 of us have decided that even if we lounged around and did nothing for 2 whole weeks, we would still have a blast just being together.

But doing nothing is NOT the plan. Instead, we have plans to attend class, visit friends, browse the market, make complete meals out of olives, tour various cities, and do lots of other together things. We will see what actually comes to pass and how exactly it comes to pass… I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, enjoy a few pictures from a recent (and brief) trip to Lyon, France. Although the trip was not a vacation, we managed to spend an afternoon touring parts of the city. During my trip, I discovered a few things about France, namely:

  1. The French are snobbier in my mind than they are in real life.
  2. French food it incomparably better than Spanish food. Sorry, Spain.
  3. French is hard to fake. I can’t even say merci with the right accent.

Awesome

“Our God is an awesome God.” Amen.

One night, we watched a video with the song “Awesome God.” As pictures of God’s glorious creation flashed across the screen, my heart sang the words. A beautiful sunset. God, you’re awesome! A craggy coastline firm against the crashing waves. God, you’re so awesome! Rows of mountains carpeted with lush green trees. Wow, God!

But partway through the song, my enthusiasm dwindled. How do I miss God’s awesomeness in everyday life? I would like to say that it’s because I live in a world of asphalt, concrete, and tile and I’m not exposed to many of the scenes portrayed in the “Awesome God” music video.

But what do the great outdoors have to do with it? Of course, nature reveals a bit of God’s awesomeness. But it doesn’t define it.

Why can’t I see God’s awesomeness in today, even in my asphalt, concrete, and tile world?

Can I see an awesome God while sipping tea with someone made in His image? Can I marvel over Him as I watch hibiscus flowers turn tea a deep purple-red or chop vegetables for a salad—squirting tomato seeds, fanning cilantro leaves, pale rings of an onion? Can I be breathless before His creativity when I behold the variety of personalities in a room full of chatty women?

I’m writing this as I reminder to myself to be wowed by an awesome God in the everyday. Maybe your everyday looks different than mine, but God’s awesomeness is still in your day too. Look for it.

Note: I will be out of the country next week and will most assuredly not take time to update my blog. More on that later. 🙂