It’s CHILLY in Rhode Island! I’ve been working at Girl Scout camp for the last week and a half, like I have for the last 4 summers, and last week there was a little “heat wave.” Everyone was talking about how hot it was, at camp we were told to stay out of the sun, drink tons of water, etc. All very logical of course. But let me tell you, it was NOT hot. There were no rivers of sweat running down my body, and in my book at this point, that means comfort. I mean, it was hot for sure, but compared to Senegal, it was absolutely nothing. My sense of temperature in this part of the world is totally messed up. Later in the week, it got rainy and cold, and Friday I spent all day at work wearing a sweatshirt and rain jacket, and still freezing cold - I had to take a hot shower and bundle up in sweats when I got home! Not okay. Though it is really nice to sleep under a snuggly warm blanket at night.
It’s weird being back in the states and being 21 - I can order drinks at restaurants! But I don’t know what to order…in Senegal there were 2 beer options, and neither was very good, but both were really cheap (and of course I NEVER drank before I was 21…). Last night I went out to dinner with a couple of friends, and there were like, 50 beer choices! So overwhelming. Also, going out to eat is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. The $75 in my bank account isn’t going to go very far… I miss those $1 plates of rice for lunch!
I’ll be back in California two weeks from today, and couldn’t be more excited!
Well, I’m back! After 10 months away from the U.S., I am finally back. It was a long trip - flight from Dakar to Paris, slightly delayed due to thunderstorms; flight from Paris to New York, delayed for 2 hours to replace a trash compactor; shuttle bus from JFK airport to Grand Central Station; Commuter Rail train from Grand Central Station to New Haven Connecticut; picked up by my dad and driven from New Haven to home, all lugging my two suitcases, one backpack, and purse around. Whew!
I was really surprised at first at how normal it seemed to be back - I was expecting it to be a lot weirder right away. I enjoyed my first meal back in the states on Friday night, DELICIOUS mexican food (tacos, chips, and guacamole!), and slept for about 10 hours. I had Saturday and Sunday to unpack, chill, and get ready to start working at Girl Scout Camp on Monday morning. That was weird. I had to set an alarm for the first time in months - and an alarm for ridiculously early in the morning too, 6:45am!!
Ohmygoodness, American kids seem more annoying than usual, and make me feel older than ever (I know I’m only 21, and that’s not really old). I never have any idea what they’re talking about when they talk about TV shows and stuff, and even the high school assistant counselors know what they’re talking about! Also, weirdly, my assistant unit leader is an 18 year old guy who just graduated from high school (what?! a guy at girl scout camp??), so that’s odd.
BEST story ever: On Monday night, I went to the grocery store to get ingredients to try to make Senegalese yassa from the cookbook my mom and I bought. There I am, walking through the store, and I hear someone speaking Wolof! I was SO shocked! I turned around and there was a Senegalese family doing their shopping in the Wakefield Shaw’s supermarkets. WOAH! So, I busted out my Wolof, asked them where they were from, etc. If I was surprised to hear them, booooyyyy were they surprised to hear me! White girl speaking Wolof in Wakefield is weird. I wanted to talk to them longer, find out what they were doing here and stuff, but they had to leave unfortunately. They did, however, approve my pepper choice for yassa first!
I’ll keep you updated about my readjustment probably until I get back to California on August 7th, so keep reading!
**This was written two weeks ago while my parents were visiting, but I wasn’t able to post it. So, enjoy the old news!
Well, my semester is officially over. My long, grueling, painful semester. The only thing left for me to do is finish my research paper, and I’m discovering that it’s really difficult to write quality academic English after a year of not thinking like that in English (or even really in french for that matter). It’s been difficult to really get going, and my goal to pretty much finish by the time I leave Senegal on the 12th is almost certainly not going to be met. But anyway, the real reason for this post: my parents are here!
They were supposed to arrive on June 21st, a Thursday, at 5am, but as luck would have it, about 20 minutes after I left Saint Louis in a sept-place (at 11pm), I got a text from my dad saying the flight was delayed and they would maybe get to Dakar Thursday evening. But, there was no turning back for me, so I had to continue to Dakar. Luckily for me, Ryan, who is spending his last month doing research in Dakar and living with his host family, didn’t mind me waking him up at 3am and let me crash at his place for the night. Through periodic text updates from my dad, I knew that the flight was delayed yet again, so I ended up spending Thursday night at the apartment of my friends Nico and Corinne (I didn’t want to bother Ryan TOO much!), and hanging with them for two days. My parents finally arrived on Friday night after being stuck in Washington D.C. for two nights, and it was great to see them!
We spent the next week-ish in Saint Louis, visiting town where my parents were staying, and the UGB campus where I continued to stay in my dorm (I decided that the following two weeks of living in hotel rooms all together would be more than enough for me, and I must say, that was a good decision), etc. Between all that, I was packing up all my stuff and saying goodbye to friends - so much sadder than I thought it would be! :( From Saint Louis we went to the Desert of Lompoul for one night, just like Emily and I had, then headed to Dakar. This is about the point that I started getting really stressed out. Of course, I was expecting to have to translate everything and do all the talking with hotels and such, since neither of my parents speak French. But I was also expecting my world-traveling parents to be able to travel in sept-places and just follow my lead and plan. Turns out they had a lot of continuous things they needed me to ask about, and expected me to know all about Dakar (I spent my month in Dakar going back and forth between my house and school, far away from downtown where our hotel was, and I actually don’t really like Dakar very much at all), and it just got to be too much.
It also didn’t help that despite my best efforts to make sure of everything beforehand, this is Senegal, and that’s not possible. So when it turned out that the boat we were planning to take from Dakar to the southern city of Ziguinchor wasn’t running, we had to modify my plans completely. All this honestly made me feel like a complete failure, and made it was impossible for my parents to just follow my plan, because it fell through, and not everyone was comfortable with my back-up plan of taking sept-places overland to Ziguinchor. I also find that I’m really disliking this in-between place that I’m in now - not in Saint Louis with my friends, but not at home in the U.S. either. Just an awkward mix of being in Senegal, but in a constant little bubble of American toubab-ness with my parents. Also, eating at all these nice restaurants that actually serve something other than just carbs (I forgot these existed!) did not agree with my completely-habituated-to-carbs body.
Anyway, we were all stressed, I had a bit (okay, a lot) of a breakdown, and now we find ourselves at a very fancy resort hotel in the Gambia instead of Ziguinchor, because the Gambia speaks English, and my dad can therefore be in charge of everything, which apparently suits everyone better. I’m pretty sure that at this point I’m really ready to go home - actually, to go back to California, but back to the states at least!
Well, I’ve posted many times about how much the forwardness of guys here frustrates me, but this time, a good story! Monday afternoon, Astou started braiding my hair around 4pm. Let me tell you, this takes a LONG time! Astou is fasting this week, because (as I found out when she explained to me), she has to make up for the days of fasting she missed last Ramadan while on her period - I had no idea women did that, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps for the same reason they can’t perform their five daily prayers while on their periods? They’re serious about that “uncleanliness” thing… Anyway, we finally took a break around 8:30pm after the sun went down so she could eat. Since my hair was half braided and I looked ridiculous, I (skillfully, I might add) wrapped my head in a bright yellow scarf before heading outside. On the way to dinner at the resto, I passed a group of about ten guys, who, as they passed me, said in unison and in English: “HI!” to which I started to respond, not sure what was happening, “hi!” but before I finished, they continued with: “YOU EXCITE MY HEART, YOU!” and kept right on walking. Though I think if anything it was probably a somewhat different body part that was feeling excited, I appreciated the sentiment. I couldn’t stop laughing for a few minutes, it was so funny! It was really corny and hilarious, because it was obviously just in jest, unlike many of the other professions of love I’ve gotten here. It was a fantastic break in the middle of my 13 hour sitting and hair braiding session. Though my braids look quite fantastic, if I do say so! And Astou is incredible - spending 13 hours braiding my hair while fasting. And now, she’s busy braiding Mamy’s hair too - can you say best roommate ever? In other news, I’ve done two more interviews and written almost 10 pages of my research paper. And, I’ve planned out most of my parent’s trip here, including making some hotel reservations, and have (sort of) started wrapping my mind around the idea that I’m leaving in exactly one month - GAHH!!
That’s right, my sister came to visit me in Senegal! Her flight arrived last Wednesday morning at like, 5am, and I was planning to take a bus to Dakar around 10pm to get there just in time. So, I went and stood outside the university, but after waiting for 45 minutes with no bus in sight, I headed to the garage to get a sept-place, getting there around 11:15. Unfortunately, a sept-place to Dakar pulled out just as I pulled into the station. On the plus side, this meant I was the first one there for the next sept-place, so I got the suuuuper (comparatively) comfy front seat. On the down side, this meant I was the first one there for the next sept-place, so I had to wait for 6 more people to show up wanting to go to Dakar. So I waited. And waited. And napped a little. And talked to a nice guy waiting with me for a bit. And waited. By 1:45, there were 5 other people there, and we were waiting for just one more, but I was FREAKING OUT that I wasn’t gonna get to the airport on time, and Emily was going to be stuck waiting there not knowing what to do and not speaking any french. So, I got the nice guy I had been talking to to explain my situation to the other passengers, and they agreed to chip in to pay for the extra seat so we could leave right away - I paid for most of it, but it was still super nice of them to help out. My friend also explained to the taxi driver that I needed to be in Dakar by 5:30am, and miraculously, he actually got us there in 3 1/2 hours - I’ve never had a trip of fewer than 4 or 4 1/2 hours before.
I got out of a taxi at the airport 10 minutes before Emily walked out - pretty perfect timing if I do say so myself! And a huge relief for me, because I would have felt absolutely horrible leaving Emily stuck at the airport.
I won’t go into all the details of what we did for the week, but here are the highlights:
- Hung out at the university in Saint Louis making tea (Emily helped!)
- Went to good-bye parties for both Eveline and Erik, who left that weekend (come baaaaaccckkk, Erik, it’s not the same here without you!!!)
- Visited the city of Saint Louis, and ate delicious yassa!
- Helped record English sentences for an online English class designed by some friends of mine.
- Went to the beach with friends
- Spent the night in Lompoul Desert in a Mauritanian style tent. Rode camels in the desert (The fulfillment of my failed Mauritanian camel riding dreams from my Sahara trip), awkwardly danced to live drumming in the desert.
- Made it to Dakar in one (hot, sweaty) peice after a few squichy sept-place rides
- Visited Île de Gorée
- Ate Dakar’s best ice cream (I miss ice cream a lot)
- Went to three different markets in Dakar
- Went to the Dakar zoo (I had no idea there was a zoo!) and saw animals in the saddest cages ever :(
It was a great week, and although she had to rely on me to translate everything, I think (I hope!) that Emily had as good of a time as I did! Now I’m feverishly working on my research paper in an attempt to finish it before my parents get here on June 20th. My time in Senegal is quickly winding to a close, and I have very mixed feelings about it. But, I’m so glad Emily came to visit me and got to see a bit of what has been my world for the past 8 months - can’t wait to see you again when I’m home in July, Emily!
I think this link will work to see the photos I put on facebook - it’s easier than posting them twice!
My ear hurts. And I can hardly hear anything out of it. Actually it sounds like I’m underwater. This started last Thursday, and first I thought I had just gotten some water in it while showering or something, but it didn’t go away and started to REALLY hurt on Saturday. So, Monday morning, I went to the campus medical center, where after standing awkwardly in the entrance for a minute, I was pointed in the right direction. I had to show my student ID card, which they used to create a paper file for me, then pay 50 CFA (10cents) for the ticket for a consultation with the doctor, then wait.
There were about 20 students sitting on benches around the courtyard, waiting for the one doctor (there are SO many people working at this place, but only one doctor to see students??) to call us in one by one. About halfway through my two hour wait, a girl sitting on the next bench, who had looked perfectly fine up till then, just went completely stiff, started sliding off the bench, and breathing super fast and loud. The guy next to her went to get the doctor, but nobody seemed the slightest bit worried. In fact, I don’t think anybody said a word from the time her attack started, through the doctor coming out and, along with the other guy, picking the girl up and carrying her away down the hall. It was weird, I’m pretty sure in the U.S. there would be a lot more commotion. I guess there is more than one doctor in the building, because the one who carried her away came back a few minutes later and continued his consultations.
When I finally got in to see him, I explained that my ear really hurt, and that I couldn’t hear anything, and after taking my weight (not sure why that was necessary for an earache…?) and hunting through his box of medical odds and ends to find that tool they use to look in ears (what’s that called, Nurse Emily?), he did so. And told me that I don’t clean my ears often enough. And told me again and again. What was I supposed to say to that other than “okay, I will”? He finally said that he thought we should try cleaning my ear out, and that I needed to use the eardrops he was prescribing for 3 days, then come back to get it cleaned out, so fine. I agreed. He wrote me the prescription and sent me down the hall to the pharmacy.
But, the pharmacist said they didn’t have those eardrops available, but would have them that afternoon around 3pm and I should come back. So, I went back at 4pm (gotta give them the extra time), and they still didn’t have it. So, I took a taxi into town, walked into the first pharmacy I passed, handed the guy my prescription, and he promptly picked up exactly what I needed from the counter right in front of him, I payed him 1,800CFA (About $4), and was on my way! Unfortunately these eardrops did nothing for the pain, they just softened the earwax or something, so I spent Monday-Thursday in serious ear pain.
This morning, I went back to the medical center, and luckily didn’t have to wait quite as long to see the doctor, who looked in my ear again, asked if it still hurt, called another guy into the room, and had him walk me down the hall to yet another guy (I don’t know if they were doctors or nurses or what). The first guy explained to the second guy what was going on (in Wolof) while I sat awkwardly, then the second guy left the room, and came back with the exact same electric hot water heater that Erik uses to make himself coffee. He washed it out with bleach, filled it up with water and plugged it in to heat. When it was warm, he had me hold a metal dish under my ear while he squirted the water into my ear with a turkey baster-like thing, which he had just rinsed off with water before using it.
It HURT. That water was a tad too warm for my comfort and it made my ear hurt even more. Afterwards he dried off my ear, wrote my info down, and sent me on my merry way, and I didn’t have a chance to ask the first (I think real) doctor what to do if it still hurt. But it still hurts. And I still can’t hear very well. I might have to go back AGAIN tomorrow, ugh. Also, the cleanliness of this medical center makes me really, really hope I never have an actual serious illness that I need treated, because I would not trust needles or anything here.
Not being able to hear properly is even more annoying here than it would be anywhere else. Because here, when I ask someone to repeat something they’ve said to me in French or Wolof, they think it’s because I don’t understand, and when they repeat it and it was really simple, I look and feel like an idiot. Kindof makes me just want to go into hiding until I can hear again. Also the pain in my ear is a lot less if I’m lying down, which just makes me want to be even lazier than usuall…unfortunately I have one last paper to write for a class and then I’ll be comletely done with schoolwork for the year, except for my research paper. I wonder if I could type my paper while lying down?
The bathroom on the second floor of my building, where I live, has two stalls. Both of them started the year with working door handles and locks. Neither of them currently has a working door handle, they just have dead bolts, which work fine to lock the doors. Yesterday morning, I went into one of the stalls, and as I was closing the door, a gust of wind came up and slammed it shut super hard. I didn’t think anything of it, just slid the deadbolt in and went about my business. After I slid the deadbolt out, however, I realized that I couldn’t push the door open as usual, no matter how hard I tried. It turns out that although there’s no handle, the latch part of the door is still there, and got wedged into the door frame when the door slammed shut. There being no handle, I couldn’t get it out.
This is when I started to mildly (okay sortof a lot) freak out. How was I going to get out of this bathroom stall with no way to open the door from the inside? First, I waited for a few minutes, hoping somebody would walk by who I could ask for help. Unfortunately, it’s the middle of final exam week here, so everyone is pretty much off taking exams or holed up in their rooms studying. After a few minutes of waiting, I decided I really did not want to be standing in a small somewhat smelly toilet stall anymore, and also didn’t have the slightest idea how I would explain my predicament to someone who did walk by, so, I pulled out my Girl Scout Problem Solving Skills.
What these skills ended up involving was me stowing my roll of toilet paper on top of the door frame so it wouldn’t be left behind (it would be a tragedy to lose a role of toilet paper here), and standing on the end of a pipe sticking out of the wall to survey my options. I decided that I could climb over the wall separating the two toilet stalls by way of that pipe and a slight ledge in the tile wall, but I had to take my sandals off (and stow them with the toilet paper) and hike up my pagne (sarong/wrap skirt) for easier movement.
Once I did all that I climbed back onto the pipe, leveraged myself into sitting on top of the separating wall, trying not to think about the fact that I was sitting in (literally) an inch of dust, swung my legs over, grabbed onto another pipe for balance, and jumped down, hoping all the while that I wouldn’t end up landing/falling into the toilet in that stall. And I made it! Pulled down my skirt, retreived my sandals and toilet paper, attempted (and failed) to open the door from the outside, and decided to leave it alone. I was so covered in dust that I immediately had to take a shower to wash it all off. I was just glad neither of my roommates were around to wonder why it took me 20 minutes to come back from the bathroom…
In other, less ridiculous news, I’ve actually been busy with schoolwork! I know, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve spent these last 2 weeks writing, writing, writing! Most of my seminars have a final paper to write, some tougher than others (2 page summary of the course vs. 8 page research paper), but all a lot more work than I’ve done in the past year! I also had to hand in the first section draft of my big research paper to the advisor in Wisconsin, so had to spend a lot of time on that. My literature seminar also had an oral exam, which was quite possibly the worst experience of my life. We didn’t learn much in the class to begin with, and I don’t think well on my feet in English, let alone in French, and the professor asked some questions that I’m 99% sure had nothing to do with what we talked about in class - I certainly can’t explain the different concepts of God in Islam and Christianity without studying it! But, by next week, after two final papers, I will be completely done with “classes” for this year, though I still have to finish my research project!
In the meantime, I’m getting really excited that my sister Emily will be here to visit me in just 2 weeks! Senegal won’t know what hit it when it sees the George sisters here together!
I’m almost done with updates about my trip, I promise! I know I’ve talked about tea in Senegal (attaaya) before, but I’m bringing it up again, to compare with Moroccan tea. In both cases, they use the same ingredients - Chinese gunpowder tea leaves, sugar, and mint. In both cases, it’s drunk from small shot-glass sized glasses, traditionally in three rounds.
In Senegal, the first cup (lëwel) is very strong, not super sugary (by Senegalese standards, which means very sugary by anyone else’s standards), and has no mint. The second cup (ñaarel) is a little bit lighter, sugarier, and minty. The third cup (ñetel) is very light and super sugary. For all three cups, the tea is poured back and forth between two cups (xiim) in order to make a mousse/froth on top. This does nothing for the taste, it’s purely for presentation. Senegalese attaaya is traditionally served in the mid-afternoon right after lunch, particularly if there are guests over, but for students at the university, it can be made at any time of the afternoon, evening, or night, but never the morning. Regardless of when it’s made, attaaya is always a social activity to sit around and talk while making tea, which can take hours and hours. There are usually only two attaaya glasses in circulation (really good way to pass those germs around!), meaning you have to drink your share very quickly and hand it back to the attaaya maker so he/she can pour a cup for somebody else. I’ve never heard of anybody making attaaya by themselves.
In Morocco, the tea is a lot less strong, all three cups are very sugary, and very, very minty. The mousse is not usually a mousse-y there, and the cups of tea are sipped slowly, since everyone usually has their own cup. Moroccan tea can be a communal activity, as it was for us with our host Hassan in Marrakech, but it can also be a solitary activity. Morocco has a thriving café culture for men (and me), and you can order yourself a pot of Moroccan mint tea at probably every single café, and just sit there drinking it by yourself.
Of course, I had much less exposure to tea culture in Morocco than I’ve had in Senegal, so this comparison is maybe a little bit biased. I loved the tea itself in Morocco (so deliciously minty!), but I much prefer the communal social aspect of tea culture in Senegal. I love that inviting someone over for tea (or being invited over) is really an invitation to come chat/hang out for 3-5 hours!
I fully intend to bring attaaya back to the U.S., so prepare yourselves, family and friends, to sit and chat with me for a few hours while I made beautifully moussed attaaya for you! Maangiy xiim bu baax! (“I make mousse with attaaya really well!” - it doesn’t translate particularly well)
Well okay, it’s two weeks old, but I’ve been busy writing posts about my trip, and going to class! That’s right, I said going to CLASS! I’ve been predicting since about January that classes would start up again in the middle of April after the Easter break, and I was right! Classes at UGB officially started on Monday, April 10th. Students are back on campus, and things are going back to normal! Although, after five months of strike, this actually seems much less normal than the empty campus and sitting around with nothing to do all day. Unfortunately, despite the fact that students here are all back in classes, we, the Americans, are not participating in regular university classes.
Our program has decided that since we won’t have enough time to finish the whole year here taking regular classes (we haven’t been telling them that since February, or anything…), we will follow the “strike plan,” which means we take individual seminars based on classes here with professors instead of regular classes. It seems just a little bit (okay, very) silly to me that we’re implementing this “strike plan” AFTER the strike is over, but whatever. Now, I’m definitely happy that this means I’ll definitely be getting credit for the year, at least at Wisconsin (then I have to deal with transferring those to Pacific), but these seminars are literally exactly what I was trying to avoid by choosing a direct enrollment study abroad program. Allow me to explain how the academic year is now working for us:
Each seminar is based on a regular UGB class, and taught by its regular professor. This is good.
Each seminar is attended only by all/some of us Americans (Erik, Neal, Ryan, and me). This is not good.
Each seminar is conducted in French. This is good.
Each seminar is conducted in French that is slightly dumbed down because the professors don’t believe that we understand normal classroom French (we do). This is bad.
Each seminar lasts for a total of ten (10) classroom hours, generally broken up into two or three hour chunks. We will get credit for the equivalent of a 45hour class at Wisconsin. This is good/bad/stupid.
Each seminar is in fact a highly condensed version of the regular class, in order to be conducted in 10 hours, added to the dumbed down French, and the fact that it’s just us few Americans, and we don’t learn much. This is bad.
Each seminar, along with the ten hours of class time, includes one (1) assignment or exam, which is our entire grade. One of my assignments is a simple 2-page synthesis of what we talked about in class. This is bad/stupid.
Each seminar started last week (week of April 17th). I’ve already finished the class time for one seminar. As of this coming Wednesday, when I hand in two papers and take an oral exam, I will be finished with three of my seminars. I will finish with all of them within the next two weeks. This is bad/stupid.
Basically, they’ve managed to shove an entire year of academic work into less than a month, and almost no work. Here are a couple examples of how rigorous this curriculum is:
All four of us are taking a Senegalese literature class together. On the first day, the professor explained what we were going to talk about in the course, which was mostly the history of Senegalese literature. I asked whether we were going to read a book in the literature class. The guys agreed that they would like to read a book. The professor seemed surprised that we wanted that, but finally agreed and assigned us one book to read. We also asked if we could write a short paper about the book, in addition to the oral exam he wanted to give us, so we would have something to show our universities if they asked (this was mostly me, I’m afraid of Pacific denying me credit). He initially agreed, but then said no, because we wouldn’t be able to write well enough in French, and would therefore fail. Apparently in this French/Senegalese education system, it doesn’t matter if your ideas are good, only if you write in perfectly grammatically correct French.
I’m taking two classes with one professor, Madame Sall. I’m the only one taking these classes, so it’s just me and her, one on one. On Thursday, we were scheduled to have class from 9am-12pm. I showed up at her office at 9:10am, and she wasn’t there, so I waited outside. At 9:25am, she called me to say she was on her way and would be there really soon. She showed up at 10am. We went into her office, and I sat and waited while she spent 15 minutes figuring out what she was going to talk about, and finding her papers. We talked from 10:15-11:20, splitting that time between the two different classes I’m taking (Family Sociology, and Women of Africa). I left her office at 11:25. A three hour class got cut down into a one hour class. I’m not sure if she’s counting that as three of our hours or not. On Monday, I’m going to go to her office and watch a movie pertaining to one of these classes while she’s teaching another class. Again, I don’t know if that’s counting towards our hours or not.
The classes are (mostly) all interesting, but like I said, this is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I wanted to go to classes with Senegalese students, struggle through the French, and actually learn from other peoples’ ideas, not be talked at by professors who don’t really want to be giving us classes, but who are getting paid for it, and therefore do the bare minimum amount of work necessary. I also hope hope hope hope hope that none of my professors at Pacific ask to see any of the work I did in classes here when I’m trying to get things transferred, because if they do, there’s no way any of these will be accepted. It has been nice to have things to do though, I’ve been so busy these last couple of weeks! Don’t worry though, when I finish these seminars in a week or two, it’ll be back to sitting, napping, and tea making!
Bienvenido a Madrid! The flight from Tangiers to Madrid was only 1 1/2 hours - ridiculously short! Like I said in the Tangiers post, I still can’t wrap my mind around how close Morocco is to Europe. Luckily for me, the Spanish customs official didn’t ask me anything in Spanish, he just looked through my passport, stamped an entry stamp, and that was it! I managed to get through Spain with this highly extensive Spanish vocabulary: “Hola!” “Donde estan el baño?” “Por favor” “Gracias” “No hablo español.” And boy, if I thought I was overwhelmed by the big city-ness of Marrakech, it was nothing on Madrid! The airport, all shiny, with automatic things, the Metro, which you never really have to wait for because it comes so frequently, the huge, tall, old buildings - so Western!
We took the metro first thing to our hostel, stopping along the way to eat lunch - I had a vegetable sandwich, which included more vegetables than I think I had eaten in the past month! We stayed at Cat’s Hostel, and luckily everyone who worked there spoke English - Heather and I initially tried to check in with my 5 words of Spanish, and her Spanish interspersed with French words, until the lady just started speaking to us in English. We were staying in a 14-bed mixed gender dorm in the “attic of the building, aka the third floor. That first night, a Thursday, there were only a few other people in the room with us. Heather and I started talking to the girl sleeping above Heather (bunk beds!), an Austrian girl named Neela (I have no idea how to spell it, but that’s how it sounded), who studied in Valencia, Spain, and was visiting Madrid all by herself. Later, when Heather, Ryan and I decided to go on a pub crawl put on by the hostel, she came along with us!
After a brief siesta (oh look! Another Spanish word I know!), we headed out to explore, and ended up in a super intensely crowded shopping district. Heather and I were on the look-out for inexpensive looking stores where we could buy something appropriate for the Spanish club we were going to later, since none of our Senegal/Moroccan appropriate outfits would work. We happened upon an H&M (familiar stores - shopping - WOAH), left Ryan outside, and headed in! After much deliberation (we kept ending up with almost the same outfit, and didn’t want to be twins!), we ended up buying things for cheap - I got a cute skirt for just 5euros! By the time we left the store, it was almost 10pm, which we hadn’t realized because of the time change and the fact that it gets dark SO late in Spain! Despite the fact that Spain is directly above Morocco, Spain is 2 hours ahead, so it doesn’t start getting dark until around 9:30pm. It was weird, but definitely perfect for the Madrid lifestyle of eating dinner super late, and then sitting in a bar or café!
We took (HOT!!!) showers, get dressed for going out, and headed down to the basement bar of our hostel. The 15euro price for the pub crawl included two free drinks (beer or sangria) at the hostel bar, a free shot at the next bar (don’t worry, I definitely did not drink all of this that night), and entry to Kapital, the seven-story club we were headed to. Considering that just getting into the club should have cost 20euros, it was a really good deal! It did feel really weird to be walking around Madrid with this huge group of foreigners, being led from place to place, but it was fun! Everyone we had talked to, including Heather’s boyfriend, who studied in Madrid last semester, said we couldn’t leave without going to this club, Kapital, and it was absolutely worth it! It literally took up an entire building, and each floor had a different theme - a huge main dance floor with general pop/dance music, a latin music floor, a mojito bar floor, a hookah floor, etc., etc. The first thing we did when we got there was run up and down the stairs checking out each floor, and then we ended up spending most of our time on the main dance floor. It was so much fun - Ryan and Neela got too tired around 4am, and headed back to the hostel, but Heather and I stayed till almost 5am dancin, dancin, dancin!
The next morning, we got ourselves up just before 10 so we could eat the free breakfast offered by the hostel - tasty croissants and orange juice! - before starting the day. Ryan headed out on his own, because a friend of his studying in London was supposed to be arriving in Madrid that day, and he wanted to see her. So, Heather and I headed out solo, and after a lot of wandering, and a little getting lost, we ended up at the Palacio Real, a huge old palace, that we were planning to go into, until we saw the ticket line winding down the street farther than we could see. So we satisfied ourselves with a couple of pictures, and moved on. We later came across a café we had seen before that had a huge line, but that afternoon there was nobody there! So, we went in and sampled the most rich, thick, decadent, and delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Heather and I shared one mug of it, and literally just ate it with spoons because it was almost as thick as pudding. It was the absolute perfect way to warm up form the cold and rain outside!
Back at the hostel, we found Ryan, because unfortunately his friend had gotten the flu and cancelled her trip! He had waited for her for almost two hours before finding an internet café where he could check his e-mail and found out why she wasn’t there. Such a bummer for him! We all took a little siesta, then headed out down the street to watch a Good Friday parade/procession, which was really cool! There were a lot of people dressed in purple robes with tall conical hats, then a statue (would effigy be an appropriate word here? I’m not sure) of Jesus on the cross, being carried by about 20 men hidden under a platform, then a group of older women all dressed in black with lace covering their heads, and another statue(effigy) of the Virgin Mary, this one carried by a group of women. It was really interesting to see, despite the fact that it was freezing cold! And then of course what did we do after this religious event? We went to a bar!
Tapas are a really big deal in Spain, Madrid particularly. They’re basically just small finger foods which are served when you order a drink. We had decided that we would spend one night doing some tapas-bar hopping, and this was the night! We started at a place called Monteditos, where we got pints of beer for 1euro, and little sandwich tapas to share - pretty good! From there, we spent a long time wandering around trying to choose the next place, but boy was it difficult! Heather and I wanted a really cheap place, and Ryan wanted a certain ambiance, and it took forever to pick a place. We finally did, and got glasses of sangria, with cured ham on toast tapas - tasty again! After that, we were tired of walking, so just went to another place a few doors down, where you could get a bucket of 5 beers and a big tapas to share for 5euros. Here, we got patatas braves as our tapa - fried potatoes topped with a fried egg, and hot sauce - yumm yumm yumm!! That was about all I could handle as far as bar hopping went, so we headed back to the hostel. Now, on this whole trip, I relied a lot on Ryan’s amazing sense of direction, particularly in cities. I think all that bar hopping might have gotten to him too though, because we ended up getting just a bit lost in Madrid at 1am, and spent about half an hour wandering around trying to find out way back. We made it eventually, and it was hilarious while we were lost - it was the one time Ryan’s directions led me wrong though!
Saturday, we paid a visit to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a huge art museum that we could get into for free as students, and which, among many, many other beautiful pieces of art, is home to Pablo Picasso’s famous Guernica. I had no idea this painting was as big as it is! There was a lot of security around it, and a huge crowd, but it was really, really cool to see it in real life! We had thought about going on a picnic in the afternoon, so spent some time wandering around really cool food markets, but decided eventually that it was too cold for that. We siesta’d again in the afternoon (I love that the siesta culture is prevalent at least all the way from Senegal to Spain!), and then headed out to find some Spanish paella for dinner - along with a pitcher of sangria, or course! I discovered that I’m not a huge fan of paella, or at least not the one we had, it was too fishy, but that I could eat a whole plateful of spicy potatoes and chorizo sausage - yumm! We were all pretty tired that night, and ended up hanging out in the bar of our hostel, playing cards again.
Heather had to fly back to Morocco on Sunday (Easter!) so she could start classes again on Monday, but we spent the morning before she left walking around a beautiful park (Parque del Buen Retiro), posing in front of the statue of El Angel Caido (the fallen angel - Lucifer), which is a really odd thing to have a statue to. We also rented a rowboat and boated around a little lake in the park. Not to boast or anything, but I was definitely the best rower of the three of us - I guided us back to the dock perfectly, despite Heather’s and Ryan’s attempts to steer me towards hitting other boats! Heather headed out around lunch time, and Ryan and I walked around for awhile, and came across something I had heard about but completely forgotten - Europe’s largest flea market! It was truly, truly huge, and you could buy absolutely anything you could possibly want. We walked down one street of it, and it was probably at least a mile, with all the side streets full as well. We even saw a group of Senegalese singing and dancing down the middle of the street - I was so happy to see that, I wanted to talk to them in Wolof! We had ham sandwiches for lunch (I willingly ate ham on Easter, Mom - imagine that!), went to a bit of a Catholic Easter mass (Ryan said he knew pretty much what was going on even though he doesn’t speak any Spanish) took another siesta, tried to see the Easter procession in the Plaza Mayor, but missed all but the tail end of it, then set out to find a nice but cheap restaurant where we could have a real sit-down meal. We were headed for a good looking place, when a guy came up and said to come inside, they’re giving out free beer or sangria and tapas! So, we got free sangria (it was like juice), and a tapas, then sat down to their fixed-price menu dinner. I got asparagus for my first course, which was so overcooked and smushy that I could squish the water out of it, and then grilled chicken and fries for my main dish - nothing special, but not bad! Ryan got baby eels in garlic sauce for his starter (they looked like worms, but the sauce was delicious!), and something we thought was beef on the menu, but are pretty sure was actually pork, for his main meal. For desert we got rum cake and flan, neither of which I particularly liked. Overall, I think it’s safer to stick with tapas in Madrid!
Ryan and I were headed back to Morocco on Monday afternoon, but we spent the morning at the Caixa Forum, which at the time had a really cool exhibit about the Russian Ballet - doesn’t sound very interesting, but I was mostly interesting in the actual costumes they had on display - so beautiful! Since we were leaving that afternoon, we were carrying my big travel backpack with us. At the Caixa Forum, we had to leave bags in lockers, but our bag was too big. So, Ryan walked up to the security guard, pointed at the bag, and just said “grande.” Amazingly, she understood exactly what was wrong by that one word of Spanish, and put our bag in the coat closet for us. Apparently you can get by with absolutely no Spanish! After the museum, we grabbed a couple sandwiches to bring with us, and headed to the airport - adios, Spain!
Madrid was absolutely fantastic, so much fun despite the cold and rain. Heather and I both agreed though, that we’re really glad we didn’t study abroad in Europe. Of course there are huge cultural differences, but overall, on this short trip, it was really similar to the United States. Just look at my pictures of the Good Friday parade - there’s a Domino’s Pizza in the back of a lot of them! Hard as it is sometimes, I’m much, much happier to be studying in Senegal, where the culture is so completely different form the U.S.
p.s. Pencil me into your July calendar for a night out for sangria, Emily - I’m buying!