Friday, March 18, 2011

Enamorada de Granada

This is why I keep coming back. The smell of incense, the dread-locked guitar players, the harem pants, stern faced fortune-telling gypsies, the view of the Alhambra, the white buildings that dot the horizon, the maze of cobble stoned streets, moroccan style teterias, fountains and statues and history written everywhere, graffiti, strawberry shisha, dangerously enticing dessert bars and who could forget the tapas gratis

Málaga feels a bit like Sydney, great weather and that sense of home. Granada is all Melbourne, that vibe you get that everything's just a little bit cooler, there's something in the air. An hour and a half away by bus and a completely different Spain altogether. The accent, the vibe, the people. 

Full of ex-students who have fallen in love and decided to stay, jugglers and street performers, girls making large bubbles in the plaza and her scruffy looking boyfriend asking for money, Moroccan vendors who speak French, Spanish, Arabic and English and make jokes and ask for your number. There are tan leather bags that catch your eye and a mixture of American, english and european twangs that make you turn your head to see who said what. 

Suffice to say, estoy enamorada de Granada. The second love, the enchanting city that steals my interest and a bit of my heart. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Say what? Learning the language and the lingo the long way..

Back home, I take it for granted that I understand everything on the menu at a restaurant, that I can eavesdrop on funny conversations on the bus, that somebody can ask me a question and I can speak for ten minutes ranting and raving about my day.

I take it for granted that I can communicate and express in whatever words I want, exactly what I'm thinking, feeling, down to the intonation and last sarcastic sentiment. I can complain, whine, tell stories, describe my friends and go on long tangents about nothing in particular.

What's more, back home when people are talking, I can understand what they mean. I can laugh at all the right places, make comments, interject and ask as many questions as I want simply because I get it.

In between eating berenjenas fritas, going for tapas, trips to Granada, Nerja and Cadiz, in between carnaval and Spanish classes there are days when I want to turn the spanish 'off' and take a break the shiny newness to have the old comforts of home. 

Those days are few and far between, in fact they've only been since the sun decided to go on holiday. The rain came, the sun went away and I had to find that good feeling again. While I've been practising my spanish with friends and classmates, with people at bars and discotecas sometimes after a long day, or too early in the morning.. I wish it wasn't so hard

I love the language, learning new phrases, slang, spanish songs and translating idioms and slang in english that aren't quite right in spanish but that I use anyway (eg. sausage fest: fiesta de chorizo, Fingers crossed: Dedos cruzados). I've slogged it out in my class at university trying to keep up with the other students who have been living and working here for months and (shock horror!) I actually do my homework!

I've gone to watch Rango (in dubbed spanish of course, is there any other kind of movie?) and try my hand at conversations with room mates and friends who don't speak a word of english, spanish 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I'm loving the experience but still, there are some days where I don't love it as much. When the lovely owners of the second hand shop are telling long stories to me for ten minutes or more and I wish I could grasp every detail, when I wish I could press pause, slow it down and whip out my spanish-english dictionary.

The days when the loud, extroverted, never-shuts-up side of me really really wants to say something but can't find the words, can't learn them quick enough or get them from inside my head to outside in the perfectly formed, gramatically correct sentence with that castellano accent. 

It's a weird feeling not being able to express what you want to say, because you just can't. Because of this thing called a 'language barrier' you thought wouldn't be such a big deal. Most of the time it isn't because the people are forgiving of my timid, mumbling broken spanish. But other times the timid, mumbling broken spanish I speak makes me feel a little stupid and makes me mumble more and proclaim that I am 'shy'. As one of my friends exclaimed, 'Shy? You? DESDE CUANDO?' Since when!

Getting over myself and out of my own way is the bottom line. Having to get over this idea that something bad is going to happen if I say something wrong, if I conjugate the verbs wrong or if I'm using a feminine adjective with a masculine noun. Or all the rules that are gushing through my head while I'm just trying to explain that I went out last night and had a great time.

Still, poco a poco. Con tiempo, as they say. I may not get all the details but I'm working my way up, una palabra a la vez. One word at a time. One dubbed spanish movie, one spanish pop song, one slang phrase and swear word at a time!

For now though I've learned to express my random bouts of mild frustration in perfect spanish... JODER! (Pardon my french)

Todavia, con tiempo.. después de un año en España, dedos cruzados, mi español sea mejor!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Will Travel For Life

I've watched the sun set over the Alhambra, booked tickets to Barcelona to spend my 21st birthday and shed a tear or two moving out of my first apartment here into my new student home. The adventures keep rolling and the people are refreshingly sincere. There’s one thing that I’ve learned not only from being here in Spain but of course the incredible month I spent in Darwin that has changed me for good. After all that’s happened I’ve learned down to the moment the value of life and more over other people’s lives.

One of my room mates said to me the other day, People are people, no matter where you go. No matter where you are in the world or what you’re doing. People are people. It's true here in Spain, in Malaga, in Granada, in Sydney, in Darwin and everywhere I've ever been. Through all the culture shock, the differences, the similarities, the language barrier people are people. That's one thing I know is true.

So this post is a bit different from my other notes from Spain. It's not about my drunken nights, my 7am adventures, my first impressions or attempts to speak spanish. This one is for them. The incredible people I met in Darwin who I promised I would never forget. (As a refresher, I spent a month volunteering in a Darwin detention centre running programs for asylum-seekers who were in indefinite detention). People who travelled hundreds and thousands of miles to live, to have a future, only to find their futures caught up amongst barbed wire and politics. 

I want to honour all the asylum-seekers I met in Darwin, the volunteers that worked in an incredible program that unfortunately is no longer running. I think a lot about the people I met there, the honesty and dignity with which they were trying to continue to live their lives. After going through so much, it’s that resilience you always hear about but don’t believe often enough.

I’ve set up a fundraising page and connecting blog called Will Travel For Life that is currently in it’s baby stages. This year, through all the traveling I’ll be doing and all the travelers I’ll be meeting I’ll be relating my travels and those I meet back to those asylum-seekers who travel for life. Raising awareness and funds by comparing my own ongoing travels with the reality of theirs. 

The charity I’ve chosen is STARTTS which assist newly arrived refugee families and Asylum seekers in Australia. You can find out about the incredible work they do here and here. I will be posting facts and links so you can find out for yourselves what’s really going on.

We all travel for different reasons. We travel for work, for vacation, to discover something new, to visit family, to visit friends, to learn a language, for a challenge, for a change of perspective, to feel alive and for a million different reasons you don’t even discover until you get somewhere.

These people I met in Darwin, these Asylum-seekers travel to live. Simply put, there is no other reason they flee from their own countries, hand over their entire life-savings to a people-smuggler and risk their own lives on a rickety and overcrowded boat never meant to brave the seas. They leave the places they were born, the home they grew up in, the familiar streets, their cultures, communities, relatives because they have a genuine fear for their lives. They travel to live.

When I think about all opportunities I have here and that I’ve had already I can’t wrap my head around the world of difference between their travels and mine. They are incredible people, engineers and teachers, farmers and writers – regardless, they are all people.

So through all the hype, the policies and the playing political football with the lives of these men, these women, these children, these families – I want to share my experience in the hopes it makes a difference. That you know why they travel. They travel for life.