Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Every day at 4:30, my host mom watches a telenovela called "Herederos," which means "Heirs." It's about a family who spends half of their time working with bullfighting and the other half sleeping with each other. It's insane...the wife of one of the men (who is also sister's with the matriarch of the whole clan), is having an affair with her sister's husband. Meanwhile, one of her sister's daughters is in love with her psychiatrist and the other one is in love with a bi-sexual bullfighter. Confused yet? 
And don't even get me started on "Amores Verdaderos." At least "Herederos" is well-acted and well-filmed. "Amores Verdaderos" looks like a community theater troupe found a semi-professional camera and an encyclopedia of clichés decided that it would be a good idea to make a television show. It focuses on a rich family, whose members are protected by two principal body guards (In Spanish, they're called "guardaespaldas," which literally translates into "back guards," which delights me to no end). The younger, incredibly handsome bodyguard is in love (surprise, surprise) with the gorgeous and spoiled daughter. But the daughter has a boyfriend, who is pursing the daughter of the other bodyguard. Said other bodyguard is also in love--with the mother of family that he guards. Meanwhile her husband is--the expression in Spanish is "se pone cuernos", which means "to put on horns" (get it, like the devil?!)--sleeping around with his predatory secretary who wears skin-tight dresses and five inch heels! 

Alright. Let's just take a moment to catch our breath...
...we're back!

So the wife of the married bodyguard finds out that her father wasn't really her father all along, and then has a long sequence of crying and yelling and stumbling against trees in a park while a confused inner monologue laments her situation. But the crowning achievement of the show happened when the mother of the rich family found out that her beloved bodyguard had left, leaving her a loving note. She sits down to read the note and then gently sets it down and the "love theme" begins to swell and for the next five minutes--I wish I was exaggerating--the camera zooms in and out on her quivering lips until she finally bursts out in a fit of overdramatic tears. 

Needless to say, I was in hysterics. 

At this point, you may be wondering...what is the point of all of this? The point, my friends, is that I had a very intriguing realization the other day. At the university, I'm taking a contemporary history of Spain class. Before coming to Spain, my knowledge of its history was as follows:

   The Inquisition happened. At some point.
   Ferdinand and Isabel got married, and there was much rejoicing. 
   Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada.
   Muslim kingdoms occupied Spain. Yeah. 
My professor's name is Francisco (feel free to repeat like Elf...we all do) and he has an awesome mustache, and after a couple weeks of class, I realized....

Spain history is like a telenovela.

It really is. And I'm completely hooked! Drama! Intrigue! Betrayal! It's all there! 
Two examples: 
Back in the day of the great Spanish monarchs, there was a king (Carlos IV) and a queen (María Luísa de Parma) and their minister (Manuel Godoy). It was rumored that María and Manuel had a little thing goin' on, but no one really knows for sure. During this time, Napoleon was raging through Europe, and hadn't yet obtained Spain. But more importantly, France was interested in occupying Portugal, Britain's only access to the New World. So France was like, "Hey Godoy, if you let us pass through Spain, we'll give you the bottom of half of Portugal." Godoy, who was little power hungry, was all, "Let's go!" So they arranged to call the king and queen to France, and when they got there, the French imprisoned them! Meanwhile, the French marched through Spain and decided, what the hell, let’s stay in Spain too. Obviously, more happened, but you’re going to have to look that up! Yay Wikipedia!
The other story deals with the son of Carlos IV, Fernando VII, the most “torpe” of all Spanish kings. At this point, Spain was running low on money and resources, but its colonies were fighting for their freedom in the America. Fernando ordered his armies to defend the territories, but one complete bad-ass, Rafael Riego, knew that sailing to the New World would be suicide. So instead of obeying his king, he said, “I don’t think so.” But wait…there’s more! Riego was just a powerful general in the navy—that’s it—but he had the support of the whole army. Riego told Fernando that he wasn’t going to defend the colonies, because Spain couldn’t afford to keep them anyway, and ordered the king to reinstate the old constitution of 1812! Fernando complied with Riego, because he literally had an army—his army (awkward)—and for three years Spain operated beneath the constitution and new ideals of liberalism.

Then class ended. I begged my teacher, “¿Qué pasó con Riego?” (What happened with Riego?!)
Francisco, of the cool mustache, told me that we’d have to wait until Wednesday.

In conclusion, I am a gigantic nerd. I regret nothing.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Month

February 16th: Exactly one month since I've arrived in Spain. It's hard to believe...time seems to have both flown and crept. I think back to how I felt when my plane landed in Sevilla, to my reactions at my first sight of the city and its countless orange trees, and my excitement for the coming semester. In just one month, I have already learned and changed more than I could have imagined. It was fitting that today I went out exploring alone, to the far north of Sevilla, to La Macarena.

Yes, its true. The song "The Macarena" came from two brothers from Sevilla, who named their hit after  la Virgen Macarena, an important figure in the neighborhood and in the Semana Santa celebration. I walked all the way there--3.5 km!--and encountered the mighty yellow Macarena gate that marked the entrance to the neighborhood. Beside it was a pretty yellow and white building with wrought iron gates. I decided to go inside, because, why not?

La Basilica de Macarena
Earlier today, my host mom had mentioned la Basilica de Macarena, but I didn't really know what is was or where it was. Turns out, I had just walked into it. My unsuspecting self was immediately overwhelmed by its beauty. La Basilica is the most gorgeous church I have ever been in. It isn't overwhelming like a lofty cathedral is; it is warm and inspiring. Magnificent murals of biblical scenes stretched out through the ceiling, while three intricate golden altars decorated three sides of the church. The centerpiece of the church was the grand altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who gazed out at the pews. I took a few pictures and then sat down to enjoy the artwork around me. And as I sat, while tourists milled around, taking photos and whispering to each other, I thought. I thought about God, about my life, about my purpose on Earth, about everything--for some reason this church inspired a wellspring of emotion within me.

Inside la Basilica

I wandered back home, through the tangled streets, past vegetable and meat markets and crowded bars, continuing to think. I can't say why this happened, or even what's different now...what I do know is that I am so incredibly grateful to be in Sevilla. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to explore and to learn. It's funny, I didn't really think that learning about myself would be one of the classes I take abroad (if you can forgive the horrid cliché). Anyway, it seemed appropriate that I have such a day of introspection on the anniversary of my arrival in Spain. If you are studying abroad and reading this, I urge you to take advantage of everything and keep your mind open--you never know what will surprise you next. I hope that I have many more wonderful experiences like this one!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

My first day at Candelaria

Through my study abroad program, they offer us an opportunity for an "internship," which really just means a volunteer position in the Sevilla community. When I first applied to go abroad, I didn't even fill out the section for this, because I didn't want to overburden myself. But the more than I thought about it, and the more that I talked to other people, I realized...why not? It would be so much more enriching to help out the community and confront realities of where I am living. I think that with studying abroad, we can get caught up in the "exoticism" of the place, and take it--although there is studying of course--as a sort of vacation from reality. But by volunteering, we're slapped in the face by the situation that challenges some Spaniards everyday. I was assigned to work at Candelaria, an organization linked with a church in a big working-class neighborhood. Candelaria provides an after school program for children, where the first two hours are devoted to tutoring and the last two are arts & crafts, games, etc.

I began my volunteer work at Candelaria last Tuesday right after classes ended. All through the day, I was excited, but a little nervous. After all, I had trouble understanding was I going to understand children?

I met the head volunteers at the association and they told me I was going to work with the older children, ages 13-14. But, as fate would have it, the older class consisted of only one girl! There had been a strike in the secondary school, so the children hadn't gone to school that day. I was reassigned to the youngest class. The kids were adorable, and they weren't really sure where the US was. I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. But then I thought, when I was six years old, did I know where Spain was?

After about ten minutes, Mari (the leader here) came up to me and said, "I think these children might be too young for you." She lead me upstairs to the middle class, where a friend of mine was working.
They introduced me to the class, the kids erupted in chaos. Everyone wanted me to work with them! I ended up spending most of my time sitting at a table of three girls who were doing their science and math homework. Listening and talking to them, I realized that I would probably learn much more from them then they from me. I may be able to hold a conversation in Spanish, and write a paper on social issues in Spanish, but I didn't know how to explain math! So, if you can imagine, I crouched next to table, conferencing with an 8 year old boy on how to do long division and assist his classmate who didn't understand her error. In Spanish.

In all, I enjoyed my first day, and I look forward to continuing my work here. Although, I think I need to brush up on my elementary school skills!


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Sunrise over the Mediterranean

Yesterday, we returned from a weekend in Morocco. The experience was incredible...I'm not even sure where to begin. What was the coolest part? It's hard to say. But I'll tell you all this story:

The first morning in M'Diq, I was awoken by the call to prayer. It was sung over a crackling loudspeaker, blared through the city still cloaked by the darkness of night. The sound was solemn and beautiful with words that I didn't understand, but I felt the call all the same. It was time to explore.

The song ended and silence descended once again, only to be broken moments later by the crowing of a rooster. I dressed and showered quickly, and somewhere in between all of this, I realized that sun still hadn't risen yet and our hotel was on the beach. Normally when I go to the beach for the summer, I don't exactly want to drag myself out of bed at 6:00 to watch the sunrise--however pretty it may be. But here, something was different. I felt an energy coursing through my veins and driving me forward. I was giddy with excitement and gratitude at the fact that I was in Morocco—in Africa! I grabbed my camera and room key and walked down the winding stairs to the lobby. The man at the reception desk gave me a quizzical look as I approached, which only increased when I asked him what time the sunrise was.

“Right now,” he answered in broken English. When I asked again for confirmation, he admitted that he didn’t speak English very well.
“Habla español?” I suggested. He nodded gratefully and we continued our conversation.
“You want to go outside?” he asked.
“Yes,” I told him. He said that it wasn’t a good idea for me to go outside alone right now, because it was still early and there weren’t very many people outside yet. I was taken aback. But what was I thinking? Did I really believe that I could just stroll outside at 6:30 in the morning, alone, as a woman in Morocco? He suggested that I wait until 7, and then I could go.
I thanked him and prowled around the hotel for the next fifteen minutes, searching for a window—something—so that I could see the sea. This was turning into an impossible task! I finally went back to the room and woke up Sam. I had to see the sunrise! She, being the true friend that she is, obliged and got ready as I bounced up and down on the bed in anticipation.
We headed back downstairs, and he waved us on to go outside. We walked through the doors to the terrace and saw it.

A band of vibrant peach stretched across the horizon, painted with gold, blue, and purple. Seagulls flew over the sea, black silhouettes against the canvas of the sky. Boats of fisherman shoved into the water, preparing for the day’s labors. The only sound we could hear was the crash of the waves on the shore in endless repetition. Gazing out at it the sunrise, all I could feel was the pure happiness in the fact that I was able to experience this moment. It’s funny—sunrises happen everyday, yet every single one is different.

In the peace of the morning, we watched the sun rise over the Mediterranean Sea.