Thursday, January 28, 2010

Getting a Routine

I'm settling in here finally and getting into a normal day to day routine, although not the typical boring one. I just mean there's a lot less chaos now than there was originally. I'm really getting close with my host family, and they're a lot of fun. Last night I figured out why Santiago, the 25 year old son isn't around very much...he and his girlfriend are preparing to have a baby. So I hung out with them last night while Antonio watched a soccer game and Dolores decorated a baby crib. Dolores and Antonio are a lot of fun, though. Last night, Antonio made arroz con leche for dessert, and used lemon peels and cinnamon to give it flavor. But he left the lemon peels in Dolores' bowl, and we all laughed hysterically when she found them one by one. It was the first time I have laughed really hard abroad and felt great. Antonio really is like a little kid and he makes it fun.

Here's Antonio before Dolores started dessert^

And here's Antonio as Dolores is putting everything together^

I love spending time with the family and it's good to get to know them better because our whole situation together involves a lot of trust. They trust that I won't cause them harm or even do something minor like leave the door unlocked when I come home at night. I trust that they will both provide my food and that it will be safe to eat. This may sound minor but there have been times where it's required a lot more trust than you would think. Trusting people that I really don't know well and understand poorly honestly doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense for a situation that you choose, but I think it will be rewarding. It's the situation I've got and it's not bad at all.

This is a picture of spinach something. Lot's of trust.

In other news, I saw my first male satchel yesterday, and I'm sorry for the picture quality but it was dark and I was scrambling to get my camera out.

You know I really thought there would be more of those.

There really isn't a lot lot more to say but my walks are still beautiful and my spirits bright.

A view of the Giralda tower I see every day. ^It crowns the largest gothic church in the world.

A view of the sunset I watched tonight^

I hope everyone is doing well and counting their blessings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Long Update

Sorry for the poor upkeep, I still haven’t gotten into much of a routine here and I never know what kind of internet connection I’ll have. But all at one time there’s a lot to update and not much at all.

Two days ago I got out of the house late, I forgot my rain jacket and decided not to go back and get it even though it was drizzling. Drizzle turned to rain and a little over a half hour later I arrived at my class registry session soaked and shivering. It was my own fault but at the time it was easier to blame everyone else…people that bumped into me on the street, cars that seemed to deliberately be splashing through puddles, etc. I unhappily (because of the rain, not the classes) signed up for history, anthropology, 20th century literature, and writing (all of them focusing on Spain), and then I left frustrated by the poor internet and the idea of a long walk home. In my frustration I turned the wrong way out of my classroom building and began what was to become an hour long trek through a labyrinth of narrow streets, where the rooftops hang over the perfect amount so that they can soak you with the really big drops as you walk along.

I finally got home and was at what you could call a low point just because I let myself get there. I took off all my wet clothes and hopped in bed. I took a short nap, read my Bible, and prayed. And not to sound like a televangelist, but it worked. One of the verses I read was sent to me in a note last week in Jamaica, and although then it was meant to encourage me working in a town of poverty, it applied just as well to me in a big city, but feeling very alone. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4. Thinking about it that way, days like this are exactly what I need over here. I didn’t leave friends and family to skype them all the time and always feel comfortable. The whole point is to test myself in a foreign place and learn everything to be a complete person, with perspective, patience, and as much wisdom as I can get.

Yesterday was Sunday, and so I went to church, and it was difficult to say the least. It involved a lot of muttering prayers in Spanish during which I just muttered jibberish so that I wouldn’t stand out. I was already against the odds in that department because I was about the 3rd tallest person in attendance, which could be a result that I was also top 5 youngest. I hate to say it but overall church was uncomfortable. However, the church was the most beautiful church I have ever been in, and every word the priest say rose up into the high ceiling before booming down back at us. I couldn’t help but wonder what my chances of playing guitar in there might be. And speaking of guitar…this morning I could resist no longer. I had scoped out 3 handmade guitar shops and ventured into the city to claim my Excalibur. Needless to say it didn’t take me long. I found a beautiful guitar and the craftsman assured me I could not find a handmade Spanish guitar for any cheaper, and the deal was done.

Here's the inside of the church I went to ^

Here's my guitar^

The best part of the story is that when I got home, Dolores, who is 63 years old demanded I play for her, and although I was just playing the chords to Brown-Eyed Girl, she started singing at the top of her lungs in words I could not understand. The only thing I understood came after she was done singing when she told me very slowly and deliberately, “I will invite my friends and they will come this week.” I haven’t had the stomach to ask about that so stay posted.

But back to yesterday…I spent a lot of the day wandering the city and reading my guidebook, but the late afternoon and evening I spent with Antonio. Dolores was at work (at a hospital) all day, so Antonio and I had some serious man time for bonding. First we watched a Spanish comedy, which pretty much follows the plot of a three stooges film, and then we watched a romance. Antonio clearly was very high about the romance and I missed the first part of it going over school stuff, but he went over everything in great detail about how these two people were torn apart by their families but ended up escaping to marry in Mexico. As the movie went on, Antonio fell asleep, and I became very confused. For two married people with family quarrels behind, they seemed to be in a tight spot and their families apparently had not adjusted to the marriage. It wasn’t until the last scene where the two married on a beach that I realized Antonio hadn’t given me a summary of what I’d missed, he’d told me the plot of the entire movie.

Here's my senor, Antonio^

At dinner, Antonio told me about his family, with 8 brothers and sisters (2 of which have passed away), and how his mother died of a stomach infection. He talked about past professions, which involved a lot of specific vocabulary, making it hard to decipher at times. What was not difficult to understand was that he had been working full time since he was 14 worked up until about 9 years ago (he is 69 now). He worked in fruit and vegetable factories (again, not really sure), and some sort of mechanical factory. But his favorite job was at a shoestore where he repaired people’s old shoes. All of these things he did with his hands, and I couldn’t keep from trying to imagine those hands at work, for over 45 years. His hands have worked through Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, almost a near complete change of the Spanish government, and I realized what an honor it was to have this man share his story. It’s not important or valuable because of the facts but because it is his unique story, the story of his life apart from the opinion and reception of everyone else. It made me think about how I’ve just only recently really listened to my grandfathers story, and it makes me hope that I will daily see the meaning and value in the lives around us because we all know first hand that this is not always easy or convenient.

Today brought not only the purchase of my guitar, but also the first day of classes. I was worried about it because my Spanish is simply not very good, but my professor’s name was Jesus so how bad could it be? Turns out the first ten minutes were really bad. We were getting assignments left and right but then Jesus told us he was just kidding and hopes we all had a good scare. The rest of the class went much faster than a 3 hour grammar class should, and we learned a lot of immediately useful things. I left thinking there might be hope for me after all.

This won’t mean anything at all to most of you, but on the way home I noticed this sign and knew things were looking up.

On a bad note, I realized today when I lifted up the trashcan lid that the “no toilet paper in the toilet rule” applies to my house as well as my study center. I can’t explain to you my dismay…and I imagine the turtles aren’t too fond of this rule either, as they live next to the bathroom trashcan.

Until next time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Getting Deeper...

Life is good over here but there are a few things I've found are seriously wrong with the culture. Yesterday for lunch I had a hamburger but they had no concept of a bun or lettuce or really anything besides the burger and ketchup. Lunch also introduced me to Steinburg non-alcoholic beer, which is non-alcoholic beer's version of Natural Light, with the main problem being that as you drink it you're aware that you could drink a gallon and it would never taste better in the least. Overall the food has been really good, though.

Another issue that it took me some time to fully understand is that in a lot of the old buildings here, the plumbing is not good and you're prohibited from flushing toilet paper down the toilet. Instead it goes in a trash can by the toilet. This cannot be safe. Here's the proof from a toilet in my classroom building...

Probably the most serious issue I'm dealing with here is rollerblading. These guys love it. Neon wheels, full padding and helmet, and I'm not sure if this is the best or the worst thing about it but most of the rollerbladers here are not good. I've seen so many of the awkward stances where you lose your balance and end up in a very wide-legged stance looking around to see if anyone's watching. Little do they know that I'm always watching, as you can see from the pictures below. Something I struggle with is whether it is just a hobby or a legitimate form of transportation. Just yesterday I saw a man, obviously late for something, running in socks and struggling to hold his rollerblades, which were swinging wildly at passersby. I had to wonder whether he knew that if he would've kept the rollerblades on, he would not have to struggle with them, and he would likely get to his destination in half the time, without sore feet.

Rollerblading youth

Girls rollerblading home from school

And the grandaddy of them all: It's hard to see but it's a rollerblading man, holding hands with his girlfriend/wife, who is not rollerblading.

Other important things to note:

I have been under the impression for a week that the word for straight is "erecto", which I have used daily when asking for directions. The word I need is "recto", and the small difference in spelling unfortunately leads to a bigger difference in meaning. There's a lot of moments like this where I feel like a total idiot, but it makes it fun.

Also, my friend Mark and I have been jokingly complaining about how far of a walk we have from our neighborhood to the city center. It's between 30 and 40 minutes but all the staff here claims it's no more than 20. Nonetheless, we were walking around aimlessly yesterday and asked directions back to our neighborhood and the women we talked to vehemently answered, "I know the neighborhood but you can't walk there. It would be an impossible walk!"

In more serious news, I can go no longer with my old camera and I'm buying a new one today. After that my next purchase of substance will be a guitar. Things are expensive here but some things I'm just not meant to live without.

Hope you're not reeling from how much time you've wasted reading this! I promise there will eventually be something with meaning.

Gato Con Botas

Today I attended some of the last orientation sessions and met a really cool girl from Delaware. Hi, I’m in Delaware. (I hope at least one person gets that.) Finally bought a dictionary and Sevilla travel guide so that I can know the history of all the beautiful buildings here. Also, I bet you’ve been dying to know, I bought shampoo, soap, dental floss, and a bottled water. Life is glamorous here. Mostly I walked around the center of the city for about two hours, trying to gain my bearings and find a handmade guitar for under 100 euros. Unsuccessful I finally got some internet at my study center and at an internet café, and I’m finally through all my email and facebook responses.

Lunch was enormous again and required a two hour siesta afterwards. I did a lot of reading today and mostly relaxed after a few days of chaos. For dinner: wine and cheese, sardines, chorizo, and pizza. Although there is so much beauty outside my apartment, my favorite moment in Spain so far was dinner tonight because conversation with Dolores and Antonia is so great. They are very patient with my Spanish but also genuinely interested in my stories and my day. Life is good just talking to good people over wine and cheese, and hearing about all their grandchildren and the grandchildren of their friends. I can’t understand everything, but one of the funniest things about Dolores and Antonio is that they can talk about anything for a really long time. They talked about what time I need to wake up tomorrow for about a half hour but it’s only because they clearly are invested in the people around them, which now includes me. It’s easy to just attribute this to Spain and think things like, “Isn’t Spain great? They really know how to live.”

I think there’s something more because as I think about it, there are probably a lot of people here who are totally different, and in all likelihood don’t have foreign students living with them. And furthermore, I’ve realized that my grandparents know how to live just as well. So though I think it is a cultural difference, generational difference might be more accurate. Life keeps getting faster and faster, and we need to look to the people who have experienced the most life to show us how to live.

After dinner, Dolores mended some clothes while singing. Antonio joined her at intervals but mostly helped narrate a movie we were watching: Gato con botas (Puss in Boots). I’m in Spain, with thousands of beautiful women and bars and what am I doing the first week here? Watching puss in boots with people over triple my age.

However, it was great. So relieving to finally be listening to Spanish I fully understand, it made Antonio’s narration hilarious. Every once in a while he would mutter something like, “The king is very fat, he must eat a lot”, or “The cat plays many tricks, very sneaky cat”, or my personal favorite, “The cat wears boots. It’s funny”. While other students were out partying, Antonio and I fell asleep on the couch, watching Puss in Boots. What can I say? Light switches may be upside down and people eat French fries with mayonnaise, but it’s still just life over here.

Talking with Turtles

Today was an exciting day because I moved in with my host family. The dog’s name is Baxter and there’s a parakeet living in the kitchen. I live in the area Triana and it’s actually quite a long way from the city center…about a 30 minute walk. I was immediately bombarded with questions about my life, family, food preferences, etc. by my senora and was completely overwhelmed. Everything was going so fast I could barely catch anything at all. I’m sure everything made perfect sense but every word sounded like it could be one of about 4 or 5. Here’s an example of me translating the Spanish of my senora: “Do you like dogs? Our dog spends much time maintaining trees in our stores and we use little soap to cook with.” Or: “Our son Santiago plays soccer in his room but never eats standing up in the park.” My jumbled Spanish was embarrassing but Dolores and Antonio were very complimentary and I they continue to be incredibly caring towards me.

I have a great room with a bed, desk, and dresser, but overall I was surprised at the size of the apartment. The only rooms are a living room/dining area, my room, that of Santiago, a kitchen, closet, bathroom, and a room for Dolores and Antonio. I think it speaks to the arrogance and abundance we cling to so tightly in America that the thought did cross my mind I was living with poor people. However, that is not the case whatsoever; life is just more compact.

I can tell that a highlight of my semester will definitely be going to the bathroom because I discovered that there are four turtles living in basins there. It’s the best restroom company I’ve ever had. The funniest part about it was that I asked Antonio, a man who cares for four turtles in his bathroom, what their names were, and he looked at me with surprise and asked, “Why would you ever name a turtle?”

I spent a lot of time hanging out with Santiago down on the street corner and meeting his friends. It’s a little awkward because I don’t smoke and smoking is social activity number one here, but his friends were all very cool and thought I was quite amusing (probably laughing at me, not with me).

I was late for my oral evaluation to determine what classes I’m eligible to take because lunch lasted about 2 hours. Dolores brought me more and more food and I could not tell her in good enough Spanish that I had to leave. I learned very quickly that although men dominate life outside the house, women wear the pants inside and the way of the house is the way of the senora. It’s interesting that Antonio does most of the cooking but Dolores does most cleaning.

At night my orientation group went out for tapas and drinks and I almost missed out because I lost track of time and had to run to the meeting point, looking like a classic American idiot. But similar to the night before, dinner was a lot of fun and it’s very easy to get into buying multiple dishes and sharing between everyone. The sangria was sweet and the food very good, and afterwards the guides took us to the Plaza del Salvador, which is a square of a couple bars, ironically surrounded by old churches. I had my first conversation with random Spaniards…it was rough but I found it a little easier to talk to people my own age.

Next came two more bars, one of which was bartended by the son of a host couple for our program, and as I knew the girl who lives with them, drinks were free all night. Nothing crazy but by about 2am (which is early here), I found myself a little borracho, and headed home. The bars were fun but I must say it was a little disappointing that the music they played included eminem, the bee gee’s, and even Miley Cyrus.

Random note of the night: Met two businessmen from Granada who desperately wanted me to introduce them to the girls I was with. The guys turned out to be 34 and 36 and not wanting to be a possible kidnapping accomplice, I told them I didn’t know the girls well enough.

Back at my apartment, I’m tired and ready for bed. Overall: Un exito.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 2

The schedule for day 2 included an exhaustive orientation session, tour of Sevilla, and a scavenger hunt for important places around the city. The highlight of the morning was when I received information about my homestay. Tomorrow morning I will move in with Dolores Alves Fargallo, her husband Antonio, and their son Santiago, who is 25 years old. They also have a dog; name unknown. I’m hoping that having Santiago in the house (which is normal in Spain) will give me a person to show me around and help me meet Spaniards, which is an intimidating task at the moment. The name of my barrio is Triana, and I live on the very farthest west side of Sevilla. Although this means a 25 minute walk to school everyday, I think this will probably end up being one of my favorite parts of the day…There’s a little bit of a difference between walking past 500 year old buildings lined with orange trees and walking down college and by Ellis library to get to the Arts and Sciences Building. (Disclaimer: I know there will be many times this semester where I’m sick of Spain and Europe and deeply want the simplicity of Mizzou)

The tour of the city finally revealed to me those streets lined with orange trees and ornate buildings and places like Plaza de Espana, Gran Catedral de Sevilla, y La Iglesia de Santa Cruz. The narrow alley ways hold restaurant and café one after another, so that I could get a coffee every morning I’m here and never enter half of the cafes in Sevilla. Brightly colored buildings grow on each side of the alleyways with many balconies across from one another, only divided by a clothesline here and there. The only problem with all of these scenes is that I quickly realized that the digital camera I won at my senior all night party will not be anywhere near sufficient to capture them. I found two guitar shops that couldn’t have been more appealing, each begging me to come inside and marvel at guitars hanging above detailed descriptions that I won’t understand. It won’t be long before I buy one.

It’s hard to really describe the city so I’m looking forward to putting up some pictures sometime soon, and hopefully I will have a steady stream of internet from tomorrow on.

Tonight we went to a flamenco concert which includes guitar, singing, and dancing, and it was one of the craziest performances I’ve ever seen. The guitarrista was the most incredible player, his fingers moving faster than I thought was possible. And the dancing was amazing as well. Had I not been starving, I could have watched the performance for hours on end. Afterwards my orientation group partook in tapas, which is the popular dinner in Sevilla where 2 or 3 dishes are ordered and shared amongst the group. A little sangria helped everyone finally warm up to each other and the night was a lot of fun.

This is my first time blogging and I know so far I may have been a little too detailed. From now on I’m going to stick to the highlights and my own thoughts, and leave out a lot of the pure description. I hope all is well at home and I love you all.

P.S.-today at 11:23, I saw my first real European. Mustache, ponytail, capris…I was very relieved.

Day One: "Lo Siento, Mi Espanol es Malo"

I spent the last week in Harmons, Jamaica and had an incredible week. There were highs and lows but I made a lot of new friends and our team truly created a community together down there. I was very sad to have to say goodbye to them knowing I won't see any of them this semester and many will be graduated and long gone by the time I return to the states, and the goodbyes were made more difficult by the fact that after missing their original flight to Atlanta, most of the goodbyes were yelled at people with crazed looks in their eyes, running to their gate to avoid missing a second flight.

As I boarded my plane to New York, I had quite low morale and spent much of the plane ride journaling about Jamaica and trying to make sense of the trip. I still can't believe how a life can be so affected in a week but after a 4 hour plane ride, we started our descent, and I was finally changing spirits. My short (lack of) layover at JFK necessitated me to run through the busy and vast airport and when I got on the airbus to take me to my terminal, I finally realized that I was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, and I was filled with excitement. My jaunt through JFK was made possible by a few suspiciously helpful people including a dread-locked businessman to a security guard that winked at me after giving me directions. It was as if I was being given personal signs pointing me forward.

The song “Setting Forth” from the Into the Wild soundtrack came on in my ipod and I knew that’s exactly what I was doing. For a guy who has lived in Columbia, MO his entire 20 years of life, Sevilla, Spain is about as unknown as civilization can get. I called my parents for the last time from America and boarded my flight. It’s difficult to describe all the emotions I’ve experienced traveling but that flight to Madrid encompassed excitement, thrill, apprehension, confusion, hope, joy, regret all rolled into a general feeling too strong to be stifled by groggy sleep and questionable airplane food.

My flight from Madrid to Sevilla was delayed 2 hours, allowing me to explore The Barajas-Madrid airport, where I made some important discoveries. 1) European airports have faucets on each water fountain to avoid the frustrating maneuver of angling your nalgene diagonally and trying to act nonchalant as everyone in line behind you begins to scowl. 2) The Madrid airport is big. Much big enough to get lost and waste a lot of time. 3) Europeans wear a lot of cologne. 4) Although you can easily find 40 shoe stores at the airport, it is difficult to find a newspaper, and possibly even more difficult to buy it. My euros were still wrapped in small bags and it took me 2 minutes to get at a measly 10 euros in coins. 5) Although I can formulate a perfect Spanish question in the five minutes I wait in line at an information desk, the response I will receive will be in Spanish…probably fast Spanish, and will only leave me with the sad option of repeating my question in English.

I finally arrived in Sevilla around 3pm and had a nice shower and nap before heading out into the city. My first impression was shock and awe. I wanted to go in every building and eat at every restaurant and pray in every church. My roommate Riley (from Oregon) and I were looking for some food and after being totally baffled at two restaurants where we failed to find the menu and then failed to find real food, we found a nice little place to settle down. We ate tapas and sampled the main beer, Cruzcampo, and somewhere in the middle made friends with a local who can only be described as insane at best. He talked our ears off about Pink Floyd and the Pretenders and although his English was worse than my Spanish, I think he passionately questioned the sexual preference of the Rolling Stones and Englishmen in general. Back at the hotel we attended an orientation presentation and dinner. The conversation at dinner proved once and for all that my Spanish is atrocious and my listening skills even worse, which may be due to the jet lag. Nonetheless, it was quite a relief to be able to get to my computer and try and get in touch with my parents. Sadly, the internet at my hotel was spotty at best and I couldn’t find a payphone to accept my visa card…a few obstacles that cloudy decision making easily turned into incredibly frustrating struggles. I finally got some change and called my mom. It was so relieving to talk to her even though I could barely hear her. Talking to her made me miss my family so much, and regret that I couldn’t see them before I came to Spain and that I was leaving them for 5 months. I walked around the river (I’m too overwhelmed to remember the name), and honestly felt like I wanted to be home.

I walked for about 2 hours and was very much comforted by the end of the walk because I knew that this trip would not be easy, but it was the biggest chance for me to grow as a person and become a man. I saw the old Sevillian neighborhoods and the old fortress and once again was brimming with the sense of adventure. It was a crazy 48 hours but morale is high and I will surely sleep soundly tonight, knowing that I’m not and will never be alone.