A Month at Sea

Before I begin writing, I have a confession to make. This entry is actually already out-of-date; I wrote it last Wednesday and only realized today that it never actually got posted. However, the things that happened this last weekend actually go better with the things that are going to happen this coming, so this split is to preserve coherence. (It’s also because I’m in a bit of a rush, but I don’t believe in coincidence.)

It’s been exactly a month since I last wrote, which is the longest I’ve gone yet without a word to my friends and family. Granted, that’s not universally the case (you know who you are), but point being: my apologies for the delay. You may be surprised to hear, though, that until the last ten days or so you actually haven’t missed much, with three very noteworthy exceptions. Those exceptions basically constitute this entire entry; pardon that they’re not in chronological order.

Apart from those exceptions, however, the end of February was actually downright boring. I last posted on February 19th; until March 4th, I almost literally did nothing. The primary reason for that was that at the end of February, I got whacked with a particularly nasty wave of depression, as I wrote about last time. That combined with the fact my classes weren’t providing enough work to keep me busy and the fact that I was socially adrift made for a rather uneventful couple of weeks. Two of those exceptions were thrown in there to keep things interesting; the other came later.

IMG_1115

The upside to the days in which I did nothing was that the weather was usually perfect. This was the view from the bay side of the peninsula on the first Sunday in March.

The first exception was that on Saturday the 23rd, a friend I made in Vienna during my trip with Elizabeth paid a visit to Santander. His name is Vitor; he’s from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, its third-largest city and the place to which I later found out Baylor in Brazil goes every summer. His visit made for the best single day I’ve had here in Santander. He’d already been planning to visit before we met due to the fact he had another friend in town; early that afternoon, then, he met me near my house while his friend, his friend’s fiancé, her brother, another couple, and the two of us all went for tapas for the start of what would be a very long and enjoyable afternoon.

The best thing about this group was that they were a lot older than the two of us. I don’t have a whole lot in common with my peers here in Spain because I’ve decided not to participate in the nightlife scene really at all, which is where most social things happen here in this completely night-centric country. The basis behind my decision is complicated, but aside from the obvious reasons (i.e. I already have the most perfect boyfriend I could ask for, for one thing) it boils down to two main factors: one, I’m a morning person and like to wake up early, so by the time night rolls around I’m usually too tired to do anything, and two, I really enjoy conversation and bars and/or nightclubs usually don’t provide the right kind of backdrop for those sorts of things. Anyway, this environment set up a whole lot of that thing both Vitor and I happen to enjoy: conversation. The constant flipping between languages, me between two and him between three, was a little confusing, but it was good practice.

When we left the tapas bar, a jaunt to the phenomenon known as El Corte Ingles provided a gateway to a very enjoyable “night out” at Vitor’s friend’s flat. Continuing what we’d started in Vienna, we talked for hours, a conversation that probably could have gone longer until I pulled a Cinderella around midnight. That part was a coincidence—I was getting the idea that all had been said, at least for the time being—but at the same time, it was too soon. My fellow lovers of conversation know exactly what I mean when I say sometimes you just click with someone and you don’t know why—sometimes, it’s just for a short time, sometimes it’s for much longer, but either way you never forget it. I can’t consider it a coincidence that we crossed paths these two times, less even that we did so when we did, with me on my way into Europe and him on his way out. Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps the reason was just to give me at least the most wonderful single day I’ve had on this whole trip, maybe there’s more to it, only God knows. Either way, it provided a highlight in a dark month that I’ve looked back on many times with a smile.

23 feb v visit

The second exception was a bit more long-term. Just before I wrote my last entry, I found a church here in town, one I’ve been back to three times since I last wrote. (I’d have made it perfect attendance but for a half marathon that took place two Sundays ago and cancelled nearly all busses on the trans-city route I needed to take.) I also wrote that the college group has a Bible study that meets on Fridays. Both of these are unlike any place I’ve ever been. At first, I was a little surprised by the church—not that it was small, I was expecting that, but that was a. so international and b. conducted in a very different style to what I’m used to—but God has softened my heart to my initial reservations, and since then it’s been getting easier and easier to just enjoy the fellowship I know is a rarity in Spain. What made it easier was realizing it’s not all about me; I’m not going to the church for what I can get out of it, necessarily, but for what I can bring. Same goes for the Bible study. The Bible study actually brings students together from as far away as Bilbao every week—my friends Harriet and Ethan work for a Christian ministry there and make the commute every Friday afternoon—and is actually not taught by any one figure, rather that each of us takes turns leading the study every week. This last Friday, it was my turn; I taught Mark 10:32-45, one of the servant living passages. That was an interesting experience.

Last Friday was a day when nothing seemed to go right. I was sick—the previous day, a friend I’m about to tell you about and I got caught in a sudden, sky-is-falling rainstorm after passing the sunny afternoon at the beach and I wound up with a sinus infection—I’d also literally run from a meeting I’d had with a professor immediately before and arrived late only to realize I’d not only forgotten to make handouts of the discussion questions but even to translate them at all. Better yet, I was feeling a bit cloudy, so my Spanish was right awful to begin with. However, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I couldn’t bear to have our study in the usual rooms we took in library when it was that nice and everyone seemed to agree; don’t know if it was the weather, my awesome and understanding friends, God, or all of the above (probably that) that somehow made it work, but we laughed, we learned, and we prayed, and for the first time since I got here I literally felt what it’s like to be a member of the greater body of Christ.

That day, last Friday, rounded out the best week I’ve had here in Santander. My Spanish class finally started, which has mucked with my schedule a bit, but I wouldn’t change it because it was through that class that I met my closest friend here in Santander. The way that started was fun; I walked into the class being the only American, which was a surprise. I was just on time, so I was the last to arrive. Since I’m blind, I like to sit close to the front, which left me with a choice: follow the near-universal social custom that when you’re taking a seat by someone you don’t know and the room is not full, you leave a seat between you and them, or to hang it all and actually sit right by them just to see what happens. Option B sounded like more fun, so that’s what I did. I cracked jokes with the professor throughout the whole class, and by the time it was over, I’d actually made a friend.

I don’t know what it is about Santander, but for some reason, locals here don’t like to chat with foreigners. Santander is like Mendoza in that all the local students are actually from that area as opposed to surrounding cities or even other states like at Baylor; however, unlike Mendoza, they really keep to themselves. It took well over two weeks before anyone in my Econ classes talked with me, nearly a month before they did so on a regular basis, and  still don’t have any local friends, only acquaintances. Not so in my lit class. Maybe it’s ’cause we’re all foreigners and used to being the only people we know in a strange new land, I don’t know, but it was a light at the end of a socially-isolated tunnel for me that has taken a dramatic turn for the better.

Anyway, Thomas. Thomas is basically my twin. He’s French; other than that, though, we have a ridiculous amount of things in common and the conversation comes easily and naturally. It’s hard for me to describe what a friendship is like in words, as the words for what it’s like are in a language that’s beyond language language, if you can get your head around that. What I can tell you is this. Like I’ve said, he’s basically my twin. I’ve always wondered what it would have been like if, say, Dalton were two and a half years older or something; though they’re very different, I think this is something a lot like that. We’ve spent most of the time that’s not taken up by class or my various commitments together, which I hope continues because I can tell he’s a rare kind of friend. God knows best, of course, but that’s my wish.

 

In two short weeks, I’ll be making my way to Dubrovnik, Croatia for Holy Week. That will likely be the next time you hear from me; until then, one last little story before I leave you in peace.

Two days ago, I was having an off morning. I woke up late on accident; it was Monday, so I didn’t have class until that evening, but I’d been hoping to get a lot of work done and the unproductivity was killing me a little bit. Right when I was about to give up, a package arrived. It was orange and covered in stamps; it was from my mom, and it was a complete surprise. Inside were delicious things like maté and chocolate pomegranate seeds, all put together with the kind of thoughtful hand can only come from my mom. There were also two letters, both of which surprised me but both of which are a bit too private for this venue. I felt the kind of outpouring of love from them I felt when my dad surprised me last semester when he ordered an electric mixer for me for my birthday after I’d told him once, in passing, about attempting (and failing) to make meringues by hand. They just…care. A lot. We may not talk every day like Luke and I do, but to be reminded to tangibly of the fact came exactly when it needed to, perhaps on both ends.

It’s been a slow month, yes. It’s also been a difficult one, what with my depression being as bad as it was and to an extent still is. But it doesn’t matter. Things are looking up, and it’s no longer about me, this trip. I don’t think it ever really was; now that I have more ways to live that out than I ever imagined, I feel the blessing that’s always been there but that I used to think of as a curse. And I’m excited. Really excited. I can’t believe March is more than half over, where is the time going?!

Can you even believe I’m asking that?

p.s. About my Facebook status the other day. (Not March of Wisdom—I’ll explain that at the end of the month.) Wednesday, I learned just how my number-challengedness can get me in trouble when I realized the paper I thought was due on Friday was actually due two days earlier than I thought—I had yet to translate it, thinking I’d had time, so I had to sprint and to miss my two morning classes today to get that done before the deadline. I was about 20 minutes late and the translation wasn’t as good as I’d have liked, but it could have been a lot worse. Luckily I’ve had perfect attendance in class up through this point, so I don’t think this will hurt much. Adventures adventures. These last few days have involved a lot of literal running to make it on time, though…I’m sensing a theme. Mysterious.

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