Thursday, June 9, 2011

Familiar Things

“Experiences are only as good as their catalogue and analysis.”  - Mars Chapman
I’ve had a lot of experiences.  I’m rotten at sharing them.  
For example, the other day I went to Retiro to soak up the Spanish sun and awoke to find a group of guys kicking the soccer ball around in a circle.  This would be no big deal, of course, and hardly worth sharing... except that not one of them had any pants on!  That’s right, they were playing soccer bare-chested and in their underwear - a wide array of underwear, might I add.  And they were having the time of their lives, delighted with their present circumstances and location. This is Spain.
Every week, I meet some new, interesting person.  There’s an African guy a few feet up the hill from my apartment who stands outside the Dia grocery store everyday holding newspapers and opening doors for old women.  The other day, I finally stopped to ask what he’s about.  As it turns out, he’s from Nigeria, and he’s working here to earn money.  He can’t return because of pending paperwork, but he says he doesn’t really want to anyway.  “Africa is rich,” he said.  “But the people are poor.  We don’t have even basic infrastructure - water, electricity, hospitals.  You learn that money isn’t important.  You can live without money, but you cannot get ahead without infrastructure.”  There’s an Iraqi man at church here, Mustafa, who has some incredible perspectives on The State of Things.  My German roommate, Florian, is a wealth of information and precision.  People are fascinating, and most of them are really, really terrific at sharing their experiences.  It’s easy to find them here.
So a lot of things have been charming.  A lot of things, though, have been grueling.  Hunting for an apartment was awful.  I saw some strange apartments, and some even stranger people.  Deal after deal fell through right before the closing date.  Living with a family an hour away from everything, this was a frustrating investment of time, as you can imagine.
Becoming familiar with the Spanish education system has been equally taxing, especially as an assistant coming from a full-blown teaching position.  As it turns out, a Fulbright ETA grant is, paradoxically, a sort of demotion.  While it translates to a low level of responsibility, it also means less power, control, and efficacy.  Hammering out an actual job description and personal mission for myself (because it was never given to me) relieved but did not console me.  I love my co-workers and I feel I can learn a lot from them.  There are just days that it seems a little futile.  (Please note - that’s an American measuring self-worth in productivity, right there.  Run and hide.)
Moreover, leaving a perfect life at home with truly wonderful friends, family, co-workers, a beautiful relationship, and a job I truly loved has been borderline tragedy.  If you feel you have not heard from me often enough, this is why, for I refuse to write when I am grumpy, irritated, angry, cynical, or just plain homesick.  It’s much more efficient to put on a brave face and rent a stupid car in Italy and have an adventure of sorts.  There are 15 days until I come home; I know this without having counted.

And yet, faced with the prospect of leaving, I'm realizing that over six months I have, in fact, carved out quite a life for myself.  I have friends from all walks of life and a multitude of countries (though admittedly, it's often difficult to escape the American expat community), and we meet up for tapas and savor the Spanish evening at a sidewalk cafe eating olives and patatas bravas with Tinto de Verano.  I only just located Golden Crisps at the Hiper [mercado] down the street, thanks to a friend's recommendation.  The annual Bollywood Festival last weekend breathed out colorful dances and delicious food.  Who knows what this weekend holds!  

The prospect of packing all of that up into two suitcases and leaving with little more than a truncated 'sta-lo is daunting and, if I'm honest with myself, borderline tragic.  To use the words of Prince Caspian, I've spent a lot of time missing what was taken from me.. but... luckily, I definitely haven't squandered what was given: experiences, experiences, experiences.  Memories, friends, food... that is my catalogue - the very beginning of it.  I am so thankful, and so, so blessed.  

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