Category Archives: Travel

On Nomadism

Ok…so I looked back over this and decided to post it.  Just in case you’d like to know what its like to be a nomad!

It’s a understatement to say that I’ve become friends with my North Face day pack.  More like inseparable life partners, a companion without whom I cannot live, breath or function, basically my do-all, survive-all, go-all best friend travel buddy extraordinaire.  Sometimes a day here feels like a second, and other times it feels like a month.  But I thought it only fitting to let you in on my new life as an American nomad.

In ten days (which have past) I spent 2 and a half days in the bustling Spanish capital of Madrid, one breathtaking day exploring the pueblos blancos (white villages) of the Andalusian mountains in a manual car, and 2 and a half days exploring Roma with my sorority sisters.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself.  But after returning from Granada a few hours ago, and being in the process of moving in with a new Spanish family here in Sevilla I just knew that I had a lot to write about today.

As my first self-organized adventure, I chose to explore Madrid along with 6 friends here on the Sweet Briar Program.  After a disorienting six-hour night bus, we stepped into the cool and foggy Madrid air around 7 AM, daypacks in hand.  Excited, my first statement was, “Great, let’s start walking!”  to which a friend replied, “Rebecca, we can’t walk its more than 8 km.”  Yes, I was aware I had not done my research, but only because this time I was 100% sure that one of the other more than responsible chicas that was accompanying me would take care of it.  I had dreams of grandeur for the trip as a whole.  What could be better, I thought, then spending a weekend with some of my best friends in the capital of Spain, with the best art, best food, and best atmosphere?  I soon found out that I was not so patient and flexible.  On Friday we dedicated ourselves to reaching every outside tourist destination including los Jardines Botanicos and Parque Retiro after which we made a stop at the Thyssen.  Saturday was dedicated to solely the Palacio Real and El Prado, and on Sunday morning we woke up bright in early to explore the Reina Sofia.  What did I learn from this crash course in Madrid?

#1 Traveling like a tourist is NOT relaxing.  By any stretch of the imagination.  It is stressful and exhausting, but quite the adventure. Traveling with 7 people is also not relaxing.  I am not patient.  It’s something I’m desperately trying to work on.

#2 My mood depends a lot on the weather.  I’m still mad at Madrid for having a downpour all of Saturday.  I think I would’ve been a lot happier sans dark and angry downpour.

#3 I need to read the New Testament so that I can appreciate religious art to the fullest extent.  It was frustrating spending hours on world-renowned religious artwork and not knowing exactly what story the artist was attempting to represent.

In front of the Palacio Real

All and all, I was really satisfied with our time in Madrid.  I definitely saw everything I had hoped to and the best part is that I will be returning with my family in 2 weeks!  I will then fully appreciate it, stress-free.

Next up…Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra.  I’m not going to devote too much blog-space to this one-of-a-kind, best-day-of-abroad, breathtaking, scary, hilarious, bonding, adventure, because I can’t really put it into words.  But I can say that it has been one of my favorite days of my abroad experience.  Not only did I see some of the most rich and unbelievable views in Southern Spain, I bonded with my friends, took a crash course in independence, tested my patience, made amazing memories, and now have a newfound respect for everyone here who drives a manual.  Make that everyone in the world.  Kudos to you my friends, I was the shot-gun witness to just how much focus and diligence it requires.  Never have I felt so on top of the world.

Climbing to the top of the Moorish castle in Zahara

So after exploring Spain, North and South, you can only imagine how excited I was to embark on my first out of the country experience, where I would meet up with 6 other Delta Gamma sisters.  Eliza Epstein and I met at 4 AM to make our way to the airport for our 7 AM flight and by 11 AM we were on our way to our hostel.  Thank god this hostel was more like a bed and breakfast, because I slept for the majority of the night on both Friday and Saturday.  I fell in love with Rome just like I fell in love with Sevilla.  The narrow and winding cobblestone streets, quaint cafes lining every path, grand piazzas with elaborate fountains of marble and ornately formed metal, ancient ruins casually alongside of normal, modern life.  Rome is historical, romantic, charming, delicious, beautiful, ancient, grand, modern, and lovely in every way.  Did I mention delicious?  Three bowls of pasta, 1 pizza, and 4 heaping scoops of gelato later…  It was so comforting to see all of my friends again, most of which I hadn’t seen in more than six months.  We saw almost all of the most important places and landmarks in Rome, ate well, and talked and laughed for hours.  It couldn’t have been more perfect…except for the fact that once I had immersed myself in the Northwestern mindset for a weekend, I couldn’t seem to reintegrate in Sevilla.  My mind dwelled on friends, Evanston, and the life I was comfortable with in Delta Gamma.  But after lots of rest and good times with friends, I was able to snap out of it and go back to being enamored with Sevilla.  I would love to return to Rome soon.  I felt as though my time was cut short, that there were so many more churches, ruins, and museums to explore.  And so much more pasta to eat.  But for the first flight out, it couldn’t have been better.

All 8 of us on the Spanish Steps in Rome

Part of my funk, however, was due to the fact that my situation in my homestay had turned sour, very quickly.  While I was in Rome, my senora requested that Eliza loan her 300 euros ($420) and when Eliza didn’t quite give her a straight answer, she suggested that Eliza and I split it.  Although I was not present for this request, I was extremely offended by it, and when my senora came in to ask me if I had “though about it” I sternly told her, in Spanish, the multitude of reasons why I was not going to loan her any money. Before this conversation, I had already e-mailed our program in a desperate plea for help.  Long story short, I was stern, the program was unhappy, Eliza and I decided to move.  Our intended move, a secret, was to occur on Monday. My senora, however, was displeased with my attitude and cornered Eliza once again, ranting about me and my “manipulative tendencies” and my rude and inconsiderate behavior, which she attributed to me being an only child.  Long story short we ended up moving out the next day and residing in a hostel for the weekend.  Which didn’t really matter much because we spent Saturday and Sunday in Granada!

We toured the beautiful Alhambra, truly a breathtaking example of architecture, design, geometry and landscape and spent the night with a Spanish friend we had met in Sevilla (originally from Granada).  It is truly a hippie city with a rich history as well.

Sunset over Granada

It’s always nice to be trav’ling!  In my next post I’ll have to reflect on my absolutely perfect 4 day weekend in Paris.

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The First Weekend

Saturday morning came way too early because we had to get up for a bus tour of Sevilla and a trip to Italica.  Everyone was exhausted from being out late the night before and it didn’t help that all tours and explanations were in Spanish.  It’s very frustrating because I really am interested in the history of the city and the meaning behind the Roman ruins, but it takes every ounce of my concentration and effort to focus on the Spanish especially when a lot of the vocabulary is foreign to me.  I took some pictures of the impressive mosaic designs on the remaining floors of the houses, but unfortunately I could not tell you the meaning behind them.  It was hot and difficult to concentrate.  Everyone was dragging.

In the afternoon I took a nap and then decided to meet Jessica on la calle de Asuncion.  My roommate came to and we met at 5:30, casually forgetting that for some stores, siesta lasts from 1-6 or 2-7:30.  It must be nice to have all that time off, and for it to be socially acceptable.  It’s so weird to me because Saturday is the probably the biggest shopping day back home, but here the world basically stops on Saturday and Sunday. So we walked around a bit and shared our frustrations over our new Spanish phones, laughing about how all the food here is filled with olive oil and salt making us thirsty 24/7.  The funny thing about that is…you can’t walk into a cafe and ask for a free glass of water without buying anything so you have to buy a water bottle.  A bottle which is usually much smaller than the US standard and more expensive.  Ay the Euro.

We met up with a bunch of other girls from our program at a cafe and everyone though we are not supposed to talk for a long time in English, we spent about an hour swapping stories of our senoras, cell phone worries, the food, new rules, and just all the changes we are going through.  Then a few of us walked around el centro de Sevilla and searched for a good ice creamery.  Dessert hardly exists in our new homes.  For most senoras, dessert means having a piece of fruit or a small yogurt, while to us that is a part of the meal or a snack.  I can’t believe how much I am going through withdrawal, from cookies, potato chips, candies, and drinks other than water. Our pantry is basically stocked with fresh bread, rice, pasta, and cereal and our refrigerator contains little more than  water, fruit, yogurt, and some cheese.  The two weirdest things I have noticed are: the milk and this low-alcoholic drink called Tinto de Verano.  The milk my family uses is powdered and they must have about 10 boxes of the powder in the pantry.  To make coffee, Angel takes some milk powder and mixes it with warm water and then mixes in instant coffee and sugar.  When they drink milk, they simply mix the powder and water.  I haven’t tried it and I don’t intend to.  It often looks lumpy and warm, and to be honest I’m sort of afraid of it.  Tinto de Verano is apparently wine mixed with seltzer water.  It’s basically watered down fizzy wine, but I sometimes drink it with a meal just so I can have a break from water.  At home I drink juice, iced tea, milk, soda, or coffee, but here I have learned that water is basically the drink of choice.  When I go to cafes I try to get a bottle of something different just to mix it up a bit.

Saturday night was magical.  At first I didn’t want to go out because I was really tired, but our student orientation guide, Megan, was going to show us some more authentic spots for nightlife and I didn’t miss out.  At first she took us to a packed flamenco bar.  I watched intently as one man played gently on the Spanish guitar, while another sung and a women danced alone with great emotion and intensity.  Though I barely see, it was quite exciting to get a small taste of the real Spanish flavor.  Afterwards we wound though the impossible streets in the center of Seville until we reached the Alfalfa Plaza.  There we found several bars lining a small cobblestone streets and endless clusters of Spaniards drinking laughing and smoking.  Several of us purchased what were, in my opinion, very delicious mojitos, and we spent the majority of the night taking in the atmosphere of that small street and enjoying ourselves.  Some people sang “Feliz Cumpleanos” and we also encountered a man wearing a devil’s costume and a woman’s blonde wig.  We later found out it was his bachelor party and  it seemed like he had no idea what was going on.  Some of us went home rather early because we had to be up on Sunday morning to go to the beach.  On the way home I noticed that every street was like a hidden treasure lit up by the small lamps of the bars and glowing with personality.  The cathedral was very beautiful and glowing in its spotlights.

Old Sevilla is so precious.  Everywhere you step there seems to be another fountain, or building, or archway with immense detail. And I live here?  The few pictures I have taken don’t seem to do it justice.  I am excited to become acquainted with the small bakeries, bookstores, and ice creameries that line these streets.  I am even more excited for the change in season when I don’t sweat every moment of the day.  Those of you who know me, can attest to the fact that I am a winter girl and this heat is killing me!  I can’t wait until I can retire my tank tops and sandals and break out my scarves, jeans, and flats.

On Sunday we went to the beach!  It was about an hour drive to Matarascanas and when we got there it was packed!  At first glance it reminded me of Ocean City, Maryland. Hundreds of multicolored umbrellas, and children running back and forth with their boogie boards.  Now that I think of it I have no idea why anyone would bring a boogie board because the water was as warm and calm as a bath.  It was so pleasant I barely laid on the beach.  It was also ridiculously hot, so for me lying on the beach was an uncomfortable and sweaty experience.  After what seemed like too many hours in the water a bunch of girls went to find a cafe to sit in.  But since it was almost 5:00 PM many had just closed to begin their siestas!  I was so confused because I thought siesta would be over, when I remembered that many remain open for siesta because people like to purchase their lunch at the beach.  We finally found an open cafe, but I couldn’t seem to get the attention of the bartender in order to get a drink.  It’s frustrating because I couldn’t tell if she saw me or not and I didn’t know the polite way to get her attention.  After a while I gave up and drank my warm bottle of water that I had brought from home.  Warm was better than nothing.

Aside from the smoke, and heat, and overcrowding the beach was beautiful.  The water was almost a crystal green and the sand wasn’t too rocky.  It was really relaxing, but after about six hours at the beach everyone was ready to go home.  Eliza and I crashed early and slept for more than 12 hours on Sunday night which I guess we needed.  All and all I couldn’t imagine a more perfect introduction to life in Spain.  I could definitely get used to this 🙂

El viaje que siempre he imaginado…

I leave for Sevilla today (in more than twelve hours) and I feel like I should be feeling pretty chatty.  But for once I’m actually at a loss for words.  All of these emotions are stirring inside me, settling in my stomach and frankly making me pretty nauseous.  My bags are packed and my plane outfit is laid out and I’ve been reading Spanish newspapers and listening to noventa y nueve punto uno solo exitos to get my fill of trashy spanish love songs.  I looked up the words for fork and knife and plug and “to charge” and a whole bunch of other simple things I have forgotten since seventh grade.  I nervously bought myself three spanish phrasebooks and I’ve been reading them religiously.  Why do I have the feeling that I’m not going to retain any of it?

I’m anxious about the strangest things.  Will my senora be entertaining or serious?  How will I survive all the time between breakfast and lunch when a normal spanish breakfast is coffee and toast?  How can I explain to her that I’d really rather wash some of my clothing in the sink and not in her washer?  What if I feel completely alone?  I guess only time will tell.  For now I’m going to try to sleep and stop obsessing over all of the things I can’t remember how to say in Spanish…as if that will make me seem any less American.

Hasta luego amigos, ahora comienza el viaje de mis suenos.

Slummin It

While I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, I’m still not sure how to put it into words.  I’m still unsure of how to convey to you the immense poverty, hurt, and hopelessness I see and feel every morning that I ride into Baltimore City on the light rail (public transit), transporting me from the green and perfectly maintained streets of suburbia into some of the grungiest parts of Baltimore City, where I have been enlightened.

Windows boarded up, addicts hunched over with their eyes half open, slobbering on the street, a hooker (or what I imagine she was) leaning on the corner of a building smoking a cigarrete.  The light rail station where I depart is Lexington Market and I am always surprised by the number of people mulling around this stop at 930 AM.  Lexington Market is actually a massive warehouse filled with kiosks serving seafood, deli meats, nuts, cakes, pastries, buffalo wings, fried chicken, sodas and beers, and more seafood and fried chicken.  When I stepped inside on my first day home I felt like I had been transported back to early America in the 1900’s.  What I imagine this market might have looked like without a roof and so many walls.  But it’s hardly glamourous.  Long lines spill out of the entrance for what I assumed was a popular kiosk.  My boss later informed me that these lines were called “testers.”  At the front of the line stands a drug dealer who passes out samples of his products for free, hoping to hook the desperate addicts in an attempt to gain more business.

How niave I am.  The truth is it’s hard for me to feel comfortable during my commute for work.  I’m never sure if the loud man next to me is starting up a conversation about the weather simply because he wants to talk, or because he specifically wants to talk to me.  One morning a man on the street who I assume was high off something leaned over and asked me to marry him.  In my sundresses and heels I feel very out of place because I am.  This neighborhood is predominantly African American and really run down.  On one block you’ll find the Hippodrome and a Starbucks, and on the next you’ll find “Blue City Urban Shop” “KFC” and a “7-11”.  This area is essentially a food dessert serving only processed foods, snacks, take-out, and fast food.  And while the “World Famous” Lexington Market does sell produce, I have rarely seen a family walking out with bags of apples and vegetables.

While I know that my commute alone has been a eye-opening experience this summer, I feel helpless.  These people look at me and I’m sure they are judging me.  Probably thinking that I’m using the light rail to “go green”, not because I don’t want to pay for daily parking.  Men and women in wheel chairs missing arms, legs, and eye patches.  People falling over in their light rail seats…not because they are tired.

But everyday is a little rush because I don’t know what characters I’m going to see. I irrationally clutch my purse and work bag to my body because I don’t know what people are thinking when they bump into me or eye me. Its a bit of an adventure that I didn’t really ask for.  But here I am.  Slummin it on the corner of Fayette and Howard.

All you knead is love.

Ever since I’ve returned from my alternative student break trip to Guatemala I can’t escape the images of the children flashing through my mind.  The way their tiny hands and thin arms grasped at my arms and legs.  Their sincere smiles, though often black and sometimes toothless, as they played jump rope in their plaza for hours.  Their hands full of warts and calluses from constant play and not enough hand-washing.

I met two different types of children during my week in Casa Guatemala: the believers and the skeptics.

The believers would run up to you and ask “Como te llamas?” (What is your name?) “Rosita,” I would say.  And before I could return the question they would be reaching for neck excitedly, hoping for a piggyback or an airplane ride.  I scooped up each of their fragile bodies as I trotted around the plaza, sometimes like a horse, sometimes like an airplane.  I would run until I was out of breath.  As soon as I put one down, another would come running.  These children believe.  They believe in you.  They believe that the love and attention you provide, even though it is shortlived, is worth taking advantage of.  And they have grown to depend on the constant volunteer who will always be there for their next ride.  They smile a lot.

Then there are the skeptics.  The skeptics approach and ask “Como te llamas?”  “Rosita,” I reply, “como te llamas?”  But they don’t answer.

They looking up at you searchingly, “Cuando vas a salir?” (When are you going to leave?)

This is the reality.  I only stayed for six days.  I hugged, and carried, and smiled, and laughed and played for six days.  And then I left.  It is so unfair.  Somehow the skeptics know.  They know that most volunteers, even if long-term, will only stay for two years.  They know that their orientador (counselor)  will not become their mom or dad.  And because of this, they avoid attachment, because none of it is permanent.  One day the hugs, the free clothes, the piggy back rides…they will all be gone.  And they will be adults.  Adults without adults to guide them.

Casa Guatemala is an amazing place.  The children are so close because they have to be.  Friends are their family.

Our last day at the orphanage was so bittersweet.  Some wanted to say goodbye to children with whom they bonded.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t want to say goodbye because I felt guilty for ever saying hello.  It felt so selfish.  I traveled here to enrich their lives as well as my own.  And while I dug holes, and collected manure, and organized the bodega (warehouse), I still feel as though the time I spent with every child was something selfish.  For even one child to know means one child that will have to miss me, even for only a few minutes or hours.  To not have a hand to hold on the way to the mid-morning snack.  Most of them are young enough, so I know they will forget.  But in those brief moments when they have to watch me speed away on the boat, I am sad.

I am privileged to  have had this opportunity.  To remind myself of all of the things that I take for granted.  Which is why I want to help the world.  It is why I am devoting so much time to Challah for Hunger.  I have the time, the love, and the resources to help others.  What was I waiting for?  Why did it take me this long to wake up and realize that?  Every minute I spend mixing, kneading, baking, braiding, and selling is one more dollar towards a child in need.  And hopefully another person is inspired to do the same.

After all, all you knead is love…

love is all you need.