The past month and one-half has been a complete whirlwind. I finished graduate school in London, went home (United States) for a month, back to London for a week, Switzerland for a week, back to London for two days, and then flew to Madrid where I have now taken up residence until the end of the year. I am, needless to say, tired. Not only am I physically tired, I am also tired of living out of a suitcase, traveling, and moving. Most of all, I am tired of saying goodbye to my family and friends.
I came to Spain to take an English teacher training course. I could have taken the class anyplace in the world. I chose Spain because they offered a part-time program which would allow me to not only focus on school, but immerse myself into the culture. Also, I had never been to Spain, I wanted to live in another country, and I wanted to learn some basic Spanish. All of these ideas sounded good as I explained it to other people and as I sold it to myself. I had no doubts about coming to Spain at all until…I arrived.
My friends and family can vouch for me when I say I was not super excited about coming to Spain. I do not know why. Perhaps it was my multi-sensory perception kicking in or maybe I was so tired of moving that I could not muster excitement for yet another move. When I arrived in Madrid, I was happy to meet sunny skies and hot days which was another key reason I chose Spain. This was a real Indian Summer. While it does get cold here, the average temperature is much better than in London on any given day. Once I was able to unpack for good I did not waste any time putting on my summer clothes (which consisted of tank tops, sleeveless shirts, skirts, dresses, and flip flips). For someone who comes from a geographic location with four distinct seasons (one of which includes massive snowfall), I was experiencing a treat and I have been basking in the sun every chance I get.
I left the enormous and complicated Madrid airport for my flat by taxi. Compared to London, taking a taxi from the airport to central Madrid is dirt cheap. I arrived at my flat and after a few moments my landlady appeared. She spoke no English at all. Not one single word of English came out of her mouth. I understand very little Spanish and speak even less. However, I understood that I was to stay with her, in her house, for two nights. The first two days in Madrid I slept and explored my surrounding area as well as figured out how to catch the train and get to school. I was excited to live around the corner from a famous bull-fighting stadium. Although I am still up in the air about whether I will visit or not. Attending a bull-fight was on my list of to do’s until I realized they kill the animal in the end. I am not an animal rights activist, but I would feel bad paying to see an animal get slaughtered.
The best part of my time thus far was attending school. I do not know anyone in Madrid so I was looking forward to meeting some people from my program. There are 15 of us from various places: United States, Australia, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Australia. I am the only person of African descent in the program. For the most part, I have not seen too many people of African descent in Madrid. My school and neighborhood are located in the Northern part of the city. I know they are here, but I have yet to find a massive community of blacks like I have in Switzerland. When I do see other blacks, they are usually on the corner selling CD’s, magazines, or knock-off purses. One black women on a train called me her sister, in English, and asked me to help her out. I ignored her plea.
After the first day of class, I was eager to head back to my apartment and unpack. I began the tedious task of moving my things to an apartment a few feet from where my landlady resides. My mouth was floored when I walked in. I was greeted by an Asian man-child wearing a once-piece cow jumper. Additionally, his bed was in the ‘living’ room with a curtain closing it off. My ‘room’ was on the other side of the wall with only a curtain separating it from the bathroom. My room also consisted of two twin beds. I unpacked and as the day grew to a close I realized that this was not going to be acceptable. I packed up a few bags and booked a hotel on the internet.
After contacting the school and explaining the situation, the next day I moved into the apartment I went to upon arrival. It was a huge improvement; I had a real door that locked, a double bed, a nicer kitchen, and a bathroom that looked like it was built this century. I unpacked (again) and I was relatively happy. Despite the fact that my flatmates smoke and do not wash the dishes when they are done, I am ok with my living situation. However, I know that I cannot stay here beyond the month that I signed up for. While there are only two other people staying at present, the landlady will be bringing other people in to stay. After speaking with my flatmates I learned that she moves people in and out of rooms at will and comes in and out of the house when she wants without knocking (which I observed at both places). I feel as if I am living in a step above a hostel.
As a result, I have spent a considerable amount of time buying things that I got rid of in London or would not need had I moved into a suitable flatshare like an iron, trolly, drying rack, sheets, dishes, new floor rugs, and cleaning supplies. It is only after these purchases that I think “why didn’t I just take this class in London”?
My neighborhood is nice, but uninspiring. All the stores close early. Today I was kicked out of a home goods store at 1:50pm because they were closing for the day. By the time I went to one other store and walked home, all the other stores along the main strip were closed. I am not surprised as plentiful holidays and early store closings are typical of Europeans across the board. I have found the major department stores and I know where to get almost everything I need. I live around the corner from a Burger King which I frequented twice in less than one week and I have found a Starbucks which gave me the much needed comfort of English speakers in the background to my iced-tea and cake.
I cannot formulate a valid opinion of Madrid as I have only been here less than one week. I can say that most of the people I meet do not speak English. I find less people in retail positions speak English than in any other country I have visited this past year. I have been accused of stealing in a store. I did not lock up my shopping from another store upon entering the new store. Although I had items they did not carry, they insisted that I show them my receipt (which I did not have). Finally I was let go with a warning to lock up my things upon entering. I am often stared at as if I do not belong. Other times, I am ignored as if I am invisible. As I am standing in line at stores or seated in a restaurant. People just walk right past me as if I am not even there. I often have to ask for the check because the waiter/waitress never comes back around once giving me my food. On another occasion a hotel clerk noticed a couple’s disregard for my position in line (which was next) and made them wait until he dealt with me. Prior to coming to Madrid I read articles about the issues the country is having with their financial insecurity and the racial tensions between the Spaniards and the African immigrants.
For now, I will continue to explore, learn, and take in all that Madrid has to offer. Last night I listened to Martha Munizzi and Fred Hammond as I drifted off to sleep, I had to remember that while I am having a difficult few days, “my steps are ordered“, “my latter will be greater than the rest“, and that God says “for I know the plans I have for you…I know just what you are going through” And… “the best is yet to come“!
Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!