Salamanca is becoming a home in different ways. I’ve been here for a week and I am learning to walk with my head held high. I don’t always know where I am going and I don’t understand most of what people say to me, but I am learning. I am always learning. This place, this tiny Spanish city that is busting at the seams with culture, tapas, and history, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember what this newness feels like, so here I am.
We just finished a weekend in the capitol of the country, Madrid. I returned to sweet Salamanca feeling tired and hungry and homesick. But as my first full week comes to an end, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on in my heart. I’ve slept seven nights under the Spanish sky, eaten a lot of Spanish meals, and attempted a lot of the language. I go to sleep in my small, plaid bed and I wake up in hopes that I will be one of the first to the bathroom. I eat my sad, thin breakfast. I make shitty instant coffee. Carolina and I make the cold and quick walk to school. Life happens.
The classroom is different. Our classes are full of students from all over the world. Last week, we had nine students and three continents represented. I am trying not to judge Ireland off the attitudes of my teenage classmates. I am trying to focus on my professor—on the language. The walls of my classroom are decorated with scenes of Central American history. Across from me hung pictures of the Spanish speaking countries in the region of the world that I love the most. Through all of my professor’s lengthy, rapid rants, I would attempt to follow. But my eyes so often wondered to those flags—to those reminders of why I am here.
The walk home happens as though we are robots. We walk through the clouds of cigarette smoke and tightly clutch our schoolbooks. We search for our keys and make our way up the marble stairs and into our flat. As soon as we open the door, the smell of Mama’s cooking hits, and quickly reminds us that we have to wait for lunch until two. We are always hungry. The sweet sound of Mama’s singing reminds me of grace. I believe that she is the happiest woman alive.
I do not know Esperanza’s last name, nor have I ever called her Esperanza—to me she is Mama. She stands at, maybe, five feet tall and cooks the best food I’ve eaten in a foreign country. She is one woman, one flat, and about seven bedrooms that become home to students from all over the world. She cooks and cleans and does our laundry, proudly proclaiming that this is her job and we are her daughters. Today I learned that she loves motorcycle racing, as she rearranged the table at lunch so we could all watch the race (her favorite didn’t win—we grieved with her). Though she is small, the love and joy that she gives is unreal. I will never forget her singing, her sweet voice calling me, “mi niña” or smiling as she sees me and says, “hola, mi corazon.” This woman is such a gift.
Though the meals are late (lunch at two and dinner at nine), they are good. Eating at restaurants is scary, but there’s always sangria. Eating at home, there is always bread. We have fruit after lunch and pudding after dinner. There are a lot of tomatoes and too much ham. Like I said: we are always hungry. But we are surviving, because though the times are weird, the food is good. The Spanish are really big on long meals, heartfelt conversations, and love. Before anything else, enjoying life is the most important thing. I am trying to learn that, too.
It’s weird experiencing this season with strangers. I share a tiny room with Carolina and we laugh so much. I am making friends with humans I hardly, or never, knew before last Sunday. We have a solid group, but selfishly, I am thankful that this is only four weeks. I miss my people. I am not in a place where I want to start over—so I will continue with my short answers and hidden stories. They will know me, but I will comfortably live within my boundaries.
This is not a season to be introverted, but there is grace. I think that has been my biggest prayer this week: that I will survive well without ample alone time. I don’t want to miss things—experiences, joy, meals, stories—because I cannot meet my needs that come so easily in the States. I believe I am being watched and cared for. I believe it will be okay.
I have three weeks left, but today I am homesick, which is okay. I can hear Mama singing and I can smell our dinner. In minutes, I will sit around the table with my friends from all over and I will be glad that I am here. This season has purpose, though right now things are all new and they don’t feel quite right. It is not my job to fall in love with Spain, it is just my job to embrace my time here. Which I will do with the help of my friends and gelato and a lot of walking.