May 6, 2005
Dearest Friends, Family, and Rotarians,
Ten months ago today, Burak and I left the US. We have since lived in Turkey for two months and Spain for eight months. With just 3 months until we have to fly back to D.C., I am trying to pump myself up for returning while continuing to make the most of every minute over here.
In summation of April, I think I did a good job of seizing the moment. I visited Andalusia (southern Spain) and went to La Feria in Seville, spoke to 8 Rotary clubs, subbed high school for a week, hosted 8 people, and walked 120 km of the Camino de Santiago.
Furthermore, I am continuously organizing the Americans for Informed Democracy conference and Martinez Foundation Fundraising Dinner both being held in June in Barcelona.
For more details and photos, continue below, and check out my website at:
The Full Update:
On the 2nd, Burak and I held one of our monthly parties. This time we had my Belgian host brother and his girlfriend visiting. We also had two Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars (one living in Basque country and the other living in Italy). That night we learned that the Pope died. It was a sad and historical moment.
That Monday, I had a full Rotary schedule with a speech to Rotary Club Barcelona Europa and my club, RC BCN Millennium. It was fun but draining to public speak in Spanish at both meetings. I think it is sort of funny how I am not scared to speak publicly in a foreign language. I guess I have had a lot of training.
On the 6th, I was asked to speak at Burak’s high school’s Career Day regarding International Relations careers. I was happy to speak about something I enjoy even though I honestly think I have more to learn and do before I can be an expert on the subject. Within that day alone, I found two speakers for my June Americans for Informed Democracy conference. One of those speakers is the Consul General for the US in Barcelona and the other is a Human Rights Officer for the UN in Geneva. I guess when you give, you receive.
On the 8th, Burak and I went to the director of his school’s party. It started at 4pm. I really thought that was a typo because parties don’t start that early over here. It wasn’t. We didn’t leave until 1am or so. I think it is funny how I am at a point in life when I realize the teachers I always looked up to (and still do), are now in my peer group. I am even a high school substitute teacher. It is a weird moment in life when you realize you can be a HS teacher.
So quite tired the morning after the party, we hosted 3 Fuqua (Duke’s Business School) students/alumni at our house for tea and snacks. Two were studying here on a term abroad and one has been living here for a while. We chatted about the school, life in Durham, and job prospects. Only at the end of the time did we realize we had met one of them before on our visit last year to Duke. He was from Brazil and we learned he was friends with our Brazilian friend that hosted us at Duke last May. He was also the person that organized the Brazilian music at the Fuqua Friday event we attended. No wonder he looked so familiar!
That same Saturday, a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar (Pam) arrived while she was on her way back to Spain from a Europe trip before returning to the States. I coordinated a Rotary Scholar Tapas Dinner with the 2 other scholars in town and we all had a blast.
Later that same day, Sabi, arrived. He was an exchange student to El Paso the same year Burak was there and lived with the same host family as Burak. Sabi stayed with us for 10 days and the guys had a lot of beer and catching up to do.
On the 11th, I spoke to Rotary Club Barcelona ’92. They were really nice. It was a little intimidating walking into a meeting speaking to a group of men in my 2nd language, but I am getting used to that as well. They asked me some tough
questions. One was something regarding ‘what do you think about governments that adhere strictly to one religion?’. For example, Spain has had a strong tie to the Catholic church for a long time and has recently had more of a separation between the church and state. I told them that after living in five countries, I like the separation of church and state as seen in the US and I also like having a Christian ideology from our Founders. As a woman in Turkey, although the government is secular, it was difficult because their predominant religion of the country affects the culture heavily which affects the government. Trying to be diplomatic in a foreign language is a skill I am still perfecting.
The next day, I flew to Malaga in the wee hours of the morning (southern Spain) and was picked up my a scholar, Christanne, and her dad at the airport. We then drove to Granada to see the Alhambra, a well preserved, old Moorish-style fortress. For a late lunch we met up with Pam and the other Granada Rotary scholars. We then drove on to Seville where we would stay for the week to enjoy the annual Feria de Abril.
The Feria de Abril is a weeklong party in Seville where the town dresses up in flamenco dresses and traditional suits and drinks and dances until dawn. This is considered a nice break after the seriousness of the Easter week which is just a few weeks before the fair. I arrived with no fancy dress, but within no time, with lots of help from scholars and host moms, I looked the part as I pretended to dance the Sevillano.
Organizations, clubs, and companies sponsor these temporary restaurant/bar tents called ‘casetas.’ There are about 1,100 casetas in the fair park and in most cases you can only enter if you are a member or have tickets. At the height of the event, there are 2 million people at the fair.
Christanne, is a Rotary scholar in Seville, and had tickets to the Rotary caseta all week. We would arrive in the afternoon and not leave until the early morning. It was a tough schedule and I had to keep telling myself ‘you don’t get this chance very often in life’ so that I would keep up the pace. In the process, I presented the South Austin Texas Rotary banner to the Seville club and had a great time chatting with the Seville members.
In between going to the fair, I also went to an Arab bath and saw the Cathedral. The Cathedral in Seville made my mouth drop when I walked in (and I have seen a lot of cathedrals!). It is largest Gothic church in the world and the third largest church in general after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It is said to hold the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The Arab bath was fun but a little disappointing after being in a real thing in Turkey. They ultimately recreated an Arab looking bath area and put in a variety of pools with various temperatures. My favorite was what they called the ‘Bano Turko’ which is a ‘Hamam’ in Turkish for bath. But really that bath was just like my wet vapor sauna in my local gym. It was exotic and I had a nice massage at the end. It also made me wonder if North Carolina would appreciate a ‘Hamam’?
Later in the week, a few of my Rotary club members from Barcelona planned to visit for the celebration as well. We had a lot of fun together when they arrived. After going to the fair on Friday afternoon, I returned home on Saturday around 5am, woke up at 8am, panicked, ran out the door with most of my luggage, and made my 8:55am flight to Barcelona. I want to blame my Rotary members for keeping me out so late, but I think it might have been my fault. :)
On the 17th, while our Hungarian friend was still here, we had a friend that I met in the Krakow airport visit me for 24 hours. She is an American studying in England and was on her way from Italy to Spain.
From the 18th to the 22nd, I subbed high school algebra, chemistry, and was a study hall monitor. Considering my last complete math and science class was my junior year of high school, I had to read up a bit on what I was supposed to ‘teach’. In the end, I let them do a lot of independent review of the material. They were fun, but really I don’t know what is harder to manage four-year olds or 14-year olds!
The week I subbed from 8:30 to 4:00pm all week, I was also teaching my adult class twice a week, my kids class twice a week, welcomed three new guests after seeing two leave, and also saw Burak leave to Rome.
On the 19th, I welcomed another American I met in the Krakow airport and two Belgian exchange students for the weekend. I gave them a brief tour since I was going to be busy all week and really didn’t hang out with them until Friday night when I made a tapas dinner for them.
On the 21st, I spoke to RC BCN Centre. The language of the club is Catalan, but occasionally they would switch over to Spanish for me. They were really nice and we had a great discussion. Around 11:45pm at the end of the dinner, the discussion turned to the topic of Socrates. I figured it was too late to listen to a philosophical discussion in Catalan regarding Socrates so I excused myself since I still had to give up early to work the next day.
At the end of the week I couldn’t do anything else. I was TIRED. So I went to the beach with my two Belgian exchange students and we just chilled out and got some sun while talking about the fun and silly experiences of living in Belgium. We carried on a conversation in a mix between French and English since we had all lived in Belgium.
On Sunday the 24th, all the guests left and Burak returned from Rome that afternoon. Minus the Americans for Informed Democracy planning meeting I held that evening, I tried to spend all my time with Burak before leaving him for another week the next morning.
Monday the 25th of April, I flew to La Coruna with just my backpack. From La Coruna I took a train to Santiago de Compostela where I got settled into my hostel and wondered around the small town on my own. That night I spoke to the Rotary Club Santiago. Because of a local holiday, there were only 3 members attending. I decided to forgo the formal presentation and just gave them some highlights of my speech continued by a discussion. I will see some of them again at the District conference in Segovia May 20-22.
The next morning, Christanne (my travel buddy) flew in from Seville. The plan was for her to land at 8:25am, catch the 8:30am airport bus, and rendezvous at the Santiago train station for a 9:04am train to a town where we could take a bus to the start of our Camino de Santiago. When I got the text that she had made it on the bus from the airport, I was ecstatic because our crazy plan was going to work. We had to catch this 9:04am train or we would lose the day to travel because the next train was at 4pm.
The Camino de Santiago has a long history. Basically the remains of James or St. James are said to be in the Cathedral of Santiago. The name Santiago comes from ‘Sant’ and ‘Iago.’ ‘Sant’ is for saint and ‘Iago’ is from Hebrew’s Yaacob. (‘Yaacob’ in Hebrew, ‘Jacobus’ in Latin, ‘Jacques’ in French, and ‘James’ in English)
For more history: http://www.caminosantiago.com/web_ingles/index.htm
Back to our travels on Tuesday: We arrived at the free hostel in Sarria for pilgrims but to be able to stay we had to have walked at least 10-11km. So we had planned to do this already but we decided to start the Camino from Samos which was just 10-11 km away from the hostel. We had to take a taxi there so we wouldn’t waste time waiting for a bus and would be able to still get a spot in the hostel. After a plane, a train, a bus, and a taxi, we finally got to a small town with a monastery, Samos, where we could commence our 120 km Camino. Whew!
As we watched the territory the taxi drove by, we got a little scared to think we were going to have to WALK that distance back. When we arrived, we slammed the taxi doors, said ‘thanks,’ and proceeded to check out the monastery. What we quickly realized was that at 2pm, the monastery and almost everything else in the town was closed until 4:30pm. Then the worry was how to obtain a stamp or a ‘sello’ on our little Camino passport to have proof we had been to Samos while all was closed.
We asked a restaurant lady and she told us to go to the monastery because maybe the hostel would be open. We quickly got excited and walked over there but found the hostel open without anyone supervising it. Then I saw one person working, the gas attendant, and I asked him when the hostel person would return so we could get our stamps. He said the magic words, ‘ I have the stamp.’ I wanted to kiss him. We were so excited we got our stamps and then I took a picture with him. He felt like a king for being of such importance to us and had a grin from side to side. We had our first stamp and even if we couldn’t see the monastery, we had begun our Camino!
I can’t put into words my experience for the next 5 days where Christanne and I covered 120 km (74.4 miles) in 32 hours and 30 minutes of continuous walking. We stayed for free each night in pilgrims’ hostels. We woke up at 5:30am to start at 6am and walk the 18-27 km for the day usually reaching our destination town between 2 and 4pm. We would shower and change into our clean set of clothes at the arrival of the new hostel. We would then shop for dinner for the night and also breakfast and lunch for the next day. We ate dinner at 6pm and were sleeping by 10pm. We met some really amazing and interesting people and also a couple of really weird characters. I felt like I was on my modern-day Canterbury Tales with various pilgrim characters with peculiar stories.
We would often only see towns with stores at our destination towns and wouldn’t see stoplights, street signs, nor anything of that sort during our walks. We often walked into a village and had a cow or two standing in the middle of our Camino. We almost got ran over by cows during our lunch in a small field. We crossed over flowing creeks and I almost fell because I was balancing my weight and the weight of my backpack (10 kilos/22.2 lbs) on one rock while trying to find the best place to put my next step.
In the end, I learned that I could walk 120 km in 5.5 days with a heavy backpack up and down hills, through creeks, and in the hot sun and rain. I had time to be introspective at a point where I have only three months before I return to my home country again and start a new stage in my life. I learned the joys of not checking my email everyday and not being in contact with the rest of the world. I learned how eating should be about fueling your body. I learned I could walk 4 hours without stopping. I confirmed my belief I have a small bladder. I took joy in finding toilet paper in hostels and café bathrooms. I saw the value of not having much because it would weigh you down on your walk and it is the same in life (I have storages in MD/VA/TX).
I saw a lot of analogies for life on my way as well. Once we entered a part of the Camino that crossed by a creek. On the left side, I saw stone steps that would keep us off of the mud and water. On the right side, I saw these twigs in the mud and I thought why where they there if there are stones to cross on the left? Then I followed the stones on the left with my eyes and realized they only led halfway down the watered path. The least likely path, the one with the twigs in the mud, was the right path because after the twigs, there were stones that led you to the other side of the creek. Ultimately, it made me think that sometimes the most ‘obvious’ path might not be the right one and sometimes rocky and unusual routes at the beginning can still lead you to where you want to go.
We arrived in Santiago on Sunday, May 1st and celebrated with fellow pilgrims that night. On Monday morning I flew back to Barcelona. While I waited for the plane in La Coruna I walked in the airport parking lot because I missed the Camino. That night I spoke to a Rotary club in Sabadell, just 40 min from my place. I managed to pull off a decent presentation even though I was ready to go to sleep when they started eating. Well, more about that all later.
May’s events will include:
- Rotary speeches to more clubs in the Barcelona area
- Welcoming my brother and sister from the States to BCN for a visit
- Going to Burak’s high school’s prom ( :) )
- Hosting 5 guests from USA and Belgium
- Speaking at the Rotary District (2210) Conference regarding my scholarship and experiences
Hope all is well, take care of yourself, and keep in touch.
Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2004-2005
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain