Hoy fue un buen día (Today was a good day)

Today was a good day.  I had no mission to carry out, the sun was shinning and it was a balmy 40 degrees (my friends in parts of Europe and the DC area don’t hate). I ventured forth on my none mission and stopped for a “chocalo y postrie” at a small cafe near my hotel.  After ordering and asking to take a picture of the interesting arrangement  over the back counter (I promise to upload when I can) the owner began to chat me up.  Either Black Americans are extremely rare in Madrid or my accent has gotten better.  But, I was debated about my ancestry.  He swore I was a Brazilian (actually this also happened when I was in Brazil until I opened my mouth and it was clear I was not from Bahia.  But that is another story).  I assured him I was and he asked me what I thought of Spain.  I gave my standard response: “España es grande y la gente aquí es muy agradable!” (yes my dear reader I am going to force you to learn some Spanish:-). He seemed satisfied with my answer.  I collected my bill and off I went, as I had taken a look at my ever present map and suddenly developed a mission.

The largest mosque in all of Europe is in Madrid, Centro Cultural Islamico.  It was on the other side of town and required me to navigate further then I have ever been and on train lines other then “lineas 6 y 4”.  And after getting off the train I would have to walk about a mile.  And yes I did it without getting too lost! Not only did I make it there I met a delegation of mayors from Turkey who treated me like a rock star.  I was an American Muslim who had been to Turkey.  I think one adopted me or offered me his daughter. My Turkish is not good enough to understand which.

With this accomplishment and offer under my belt my belt I got brave.  I decided not to return to my starting point, which was my practice until today.  I decided I would try to find estancion principe pio (near where I hope to be living) and check out plaza de espana.  I found it!!! A triple play.

This called for a celebration.  I not only ordered a lunch that included the best “buffalo wings” I have ever had (YES IN SPAIN!!!).  The chicken meat fell off the bone.  Talking about finger looking good! Topped it off with a wonderful chocalate cake and cafe con leche.

Hoy fue un buen dia.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 4:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Relocation Blues

One never really thinks about what it takes to pick yourself up and plop yourself down into a different culture sans all the normal support systems you normally have in place.  We take for granted the people we know and interact with.  Their familiar faces, speaking to us in a language where we do not have to ponder the meaning of words and phrases.  Going places with well tread routes or if we don’t know the route landmarks to help guide us, or at lease a sense of direction of which way is north and south. We know what time the bank opens and closes and we can expect to find something to eat whenever we want it.  And finally, no matter how large or small we come back to a place we call home (even temporarily). Now take all that away.  A little scary.

I have been greatly (and gratefully) assisted by kind strangers.  People have been patience with my Spanish.  Nothing can be done when you show up at the bank at 3 when it closed at 2 for lunch and will not reopen until 5.  You learn to eat a big lunch so that you are not hungary at 8 and restaurants don’t start serving until 9 or 10.  The unfamiliar street names and the metro becomes familiar.  Your pronunciation and understanding of a foreign tongue get better.  You do what all human beings do.  You adapt.

Published in: on December 20, 2009 at 3:05 am  Leave a Comment  

The Airport (Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself)

So, after a 6+ plus hour flight with a child screaming 90% of the time, an older man and young man almost coming to blows over whose arm was touching whom’s on the armrest, I arrived in London.  Tired cold, but belly full:-) Changed in London for my 2 1/2 hours flight to Madrid. More food and more anxiety.  I am concerned about what is going to happen when I get to immigration.  Will I be like be looked at suspiciously, asked about my “documentation” and when I stutter, thrown on the marble floor, handcuffed put on the next flight leaving for the US or disappeared into a Spanish jail.  I think I have seen too many movies or heard stories about this happening to people trying to get into the US without proper documentation.

As these things ponder my mine in my long travels to the immigration checkpoint I become distracted from my worries by the beautiful Madrid airport, its clean environment and the beautiful Christmas tree.  Heck, by the time I got to immigration 1/2 hour later I had almost forgot I was suppose to be nervous.  I watched the African in line in front of me get given the once, twice and three times over. Trying to answer questions he apparently barely understood. I lost track of what happened to him as I was signaled to leave the “non-EU” line I was in to come over to the line for citizens of the EU. I was called up to the counter.

I presented my US passport and … Nothing, Nada, no questions about how long was I going to be in Spain, what my reasons for coming where. AS I walked away from teh smiling immigration officer I wondered: “Is this what being free is like???”

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

A Surprising Anxiety

I have often shared how I have spent time in over 40 countries.  Saying, with too much pride I fear, how I enjoyed these ventures and wondering why more people did not leave the comfort of their lives in the US and venture forth.  Well, I find myself faced with the fear and trepidation of a novice traveler.  All my previous adventures have involved well planned trips (often by someone else) and I just had to show up and a car or other form of transportation would whisk me off to some 5 star hotel where I would encounter staff whose job was to make be feel comfortable for however long I was staying at such location.  Oh yeah and no matter where I was, everyone in the hotel spoke English!

This trip is different.  No one has arranged for me to be picked up at the aiport.  I have to navigate on my own to a hotel.  And the hotel is not the final destination.  That is my base operation to find an apartment, find a school for my daughter and visit the campus where I will be a guest lecture.  I will have to do all this in Spanish and actually live like people in my new home live. I am nervous and anxious.  Will I be understood? How does the apartment rental system work? I need to find a bank and how will I figure out the metro?

So, this is what it is like to be an immigrant (with resources of course)? The fear, uncertainty, anxiety and excitement that builds before you step foot on a plane that will transport you away from the life you know to one filled with the unknown.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Visa Saga

I have come to have a profound respect and deep sympathy for those who jump through all the legal hoops to come to the US for a visit, tourism, school, work, or just to be someplace different then where they are.  I have been trying to process paperwork for three weeks for my sabbatical.  Every time I have been to the Spanish Embassy-traveling to Washington, DC from Leesburg, VA– there is another form or another piece of paperwork I need.  This does not include the wrong form sent to me before going in and finding out that was the wrong form. So let’s go through a brief list:

Financial Statetments

Medicial Clearance

Police Good Conduct

Proof of Health Insurance

Invitation from university In Spain

Did I mention that all this had to be translated in Spanish?

After being translated into Spanish the English and Spanish versions had to be notarized.

After being notarized they had to have a “hague apostille” seal

Did, I mention all this cost money to do?

And since I am taking my daughter this all has to be multiplied by two, plus permission from her mother to take her to Spain.

And as difficult as this process has been, it is more arduous for those trying to come to the US.

If you have come to the US from another country please post your comment about what it took to get to the US.

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 7:27 am  Leave a Comment