Today, the 29th of September, there was a country-wide strike in Spain. Huelga is the Spanish word for strike, as you can see in the title, and I’d like to let you into this world.
When we first arrived in Spain, the huelga was already being “advertised.” To me, this is strange. I always imagined a strike to be something spontaneous and unexpected with the intent of attracting as much attention as possible. This strike was advertised through official posters “Huelga…29 de Septembre…Me voy! (I’m going!)” Up until today the city was inundated with posters, graffiti, and news in preparation. About two weeks ago I asked my senor what the purpose of the strike was, and from what I can still remember of the conversation, I believe people were fighting against unemployment, labor reforms, low wages, and something having to do with unions (a topic which is foreign to me). He assured me that it would most likely be very peaceful, and that life would not be disturbed here.
Which brings me to this week. Early on, we got a message from our program urging us to have caution on strike day and stay away from any rioting and organized groups. This message stirred up worry in many of my friends and we discussed the possible gravity of the situation, and how interesting, cool, and scary it would be if the 29th of September came, and not a single store or cafe was open, and the entire city had taken to the streets. Tuesday morning, however, we received a message saying that all types of classes were cancelled for Wednesday. Our first thought? Huelga day! No one seemed to have any idea what to expect from this organized demonstration. My senor thought it should be rather peaceful, while a spanish girl that I chatted with told me she had no plans to leave the house.
So what did we do? We celebrated snow day style. You know when your high school used to cancel school prematurely in anticipation of dangerous snow and ice? It’s essentially the same. At first we all rejoiced, and discussed what we should do tonight because we wouldn’t have to go to 9 AM class the next morning. So instead of staying up late in our pajamas, sipping hot chocolate, and peering out the window to look for the first signs of snow, we made it a sangria night. We went back to the restaurant where I had my birthday dinner and shared many pitchers of deliciously fruity sangria and tapas. All 8 of us. We laughed and talked and thanked the “huelga gods” for giving us this extra night of fun. We imagined what it would be like to be at the forefront of a such a demonstration, and Sam gave us the face she would make if she were to make it on the front page of Diario de Sevilla, rioting and picketing with the Spaniards. We stayed out til 3:30 talking and laughing and enjoying the view of the river, lit by the Torre del Oro. It was one of many nights in which I have been very thankful for the friends I have made here.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find close bonds with Americans through my study abroad experience. But right now, I can say that is one of the biggest things I’ve found. A group of people, many of which go to Northwestern, who share my goals, and make me laugh, and always have new ideas, and love speaking in Spanish. The people I have met on this trip will be my friends long after we have departed from Sevilla. We’re already planning reunions at a local Northwestern Tapas bar. For this (and I don’t say this often…) I feel truly blessed.
Anyway, so in snow day style we slept late, cuddling in our beds til 12 and 1 PM, waking up to check our lap tops for the news on how many inches had fallen, or rather, the state of the nation in riot. I read about three newspapers and I was shocked. Madrid and Barcelona were being hit the hardest, where people were setting things on fire, smashing stores, blocking highways and getting arrested. In a northern highway in Sevilla, as well, protesters lined the road with tires and lit them on fire to block the way. At 4 PM we all decided it was time to roll out of our apartments and see just exactly what was going on. Just like when a snow day is winding down and you decide its time to get out of your pajamas, throw on your snow pants, and go out and play. But when we finally went out…all the snow had already melted. It seemed like a normal day in Sevilla, stores and cafes were open, women were walking their babies and dogs, all was calm. We did notice the aftermath. Stores and walls near the cathedral had been vandalized, and hundreds upon hundreds of huelga fliers, pamphlets, stickers and flags lined the streets. Trash was piling up everywhere. No one came to clean it, because those people were on strike too. I took some photos of the fliers and flags, and the stickers proclaiming “THIS BANK NEGOTIATES WITH WAR AND TERRORISM”. These things made it all seem real. I later learned that the majority of the rioting happened between 6-11 AM, while I was still asleep. We went to get yogurt and snacks as usual.
To all of this I say “Here’s to the Huelga!” Here’s to the huelga for making me more politcally aware, and to opening my eyes to the dire economic situation in Spain, here’s to the huelga for bringing my friends and I closer, here’s to the huelga for a break from the stress of choosing classes, and here’s to the huelga for not closing Cien Montaditios. Because god knows there would have been a lot of angry people waiting to get their Wednesday Euromania deals on beer and sandwiches. Here’s to the huelga, because the extra sleep, extra sangria, tinto, and montaditos (half price!) were all that much sweeter.