Exactly one month ago, I sat in this same airport with this same computer in my lap anxiously awaiting my flight to Spain. I hid in a corner, soaking up my last few minutes of alone time and eating Chick-fil-a as though it was a feast. I was nervous but I wouldn’t admit it. I was afraid of falling in love with Spain and its people (I’m afraid of falling in love with anything or anyone but God). I had no idea what to expect, but Jesus prepared my heart. He got me there. He gave me courage and excitement and anticipation. And man, did He meet me there.
Salamanca was a gift. This whole month was a gift, everyday and every place I visited, but my brain can’t write about all of that now. My time in Salamanca was a short season that felt like a million years. I left as one woman and I am coming back another, but that isn’t as dramatic as it sounds. I am still Ashton. I am still sassy and realistic and creative and I wear a lot of black clothing. I am in love with Jesus and now more than ever, I am excited to see what He has for me in my next steps. When I say I’m different, I just mean that Jesus used my time there to shape my heart to look more like His. He used the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes in Spain to show me more of Himself. He drew me in and we never walk away from an experience with God unchanged.
I’m trying to write this as though I’m sitting down for coffee with you but it’s hard. It’s hard because I’ve been awake for a long time and I sat on a plan for eleven hours and my head is pounding. I’ve spent a month numbing myself to my inability to understand signs and conversations around me, but here I am, in America, understanding every word and being overwhelmed by it all. But there is grace for sloppy, sleepy, confused writing.
The sights of Spain were old and grand. They were neutral stone colors paired with deep reds and romantic orange and yellow. Salamanca’s streets were made before America and I walked on the stones embracing their age and hoping I wouldn’t trip. Everyday we walked through the city and I saw people from other countries, people of all ages. I saw other Americans fumbling their way around the city. I saw herds of tourists; my favorites were the Asians. I saw the abundance of beautiful men that was the normal in Spain (it was both hilarious and difficult). I saw things that were new and old and things that continuously took my breath away—but then they became normal.
The smells were a different story. Spain looked better than it smelt most of the time. Every morning we’d walk down the apartment’s marble stairs and be greeted by the reminisce of cigarette smoke. We’d open the heavy iron door and I’d quickly proclaim to Carolina what wall hit my nose when we made our exit. Most days it was garbage. Some days it was fish. Others it was body odor. But as we walked, I’d smell the expensive perfume of the city’s women and the fresh bread from the bakeries. Our reentrance into the house had its own set of smells, too. Mama would make a silent welcome with the smell of her cooking, but the sound of her singing wasn’t too far behind it.
Her whistles and hums and songs were light and free. We learned in time that we could find her mood within her songs. Though we couldn’t understand the words of her songs, her songs allowed us to understand her. Salamanca sounded like any city: car horns and conversations and anything else it felt like. There was so much Spanish, but I welcomed it like an old friend. I missed the familiar sounds of America but I didn’t run away from the sounds of Salamanca. We would go on trips and I made playlists to be my soundtrack. I slowly and shamefully became a fan of the music I hated in the States, but sometimes that’s what it means to miss this silly country. Rather than having some hip song to relate to my time in Salamanca, I have American pop music, but I’m okay with that. We all have weird things that make us happy—unlike Spanish food.
The truth is that Spain tasted bland—but bland with a side of sangria. It tasted like weird meals that I can’t remember and relief when I could tell what I was eating. There was a lot of meat—pork and ham and fishy fish that I will not miss at all. We had meals that made me gag and sent us running to McDonalds. And we had meals that I celebrated because they tasted like home.
Spain was different. It was full and exciting and scattered—just like these words. It was a season I will never forget, written by a God that I love. I don’t know if I will go back, but I hope I will.