Sunday, May 27, 2012

A visit to Madrid

Madrid is not my favorite Spanish city. I think that comes from having spent so much time there in the past. In 2006 I was there for about four days. Then I went for a day in December after my trip to Barcelona and didn't really enjoy myself. And then I had one final trip to Madrid this weekend which left me, still not as a huge Madrid fan, but a better experience at least. This time the trip had a purpose. After spending a year in Spain as a graduate of Arkansas State University, I had the opportunity to meet a professor I had several classes with during my time as a student. It is amazing how much the place and situation can change things. Not having to work for a grade, speaking came much easier. It was a very enjoyable night.

But the next day was more of the same. After only sleeping for four hours, walking all day wasn't on my list of fun things to do. And the planned trip to Segovia fell through when there were long lines at the train station and it was impossible to buy a ticket and catch the train. I wasn't going to buy a ticket to just turn around and come back an hour later, nor was I going to spend an hour and a half on a train when the normal journey lasts 30 minutes. So it was a day in Madrid. On the bright side I saw a park which I hadn't seen before and I was able to see Guernica again. I could probably stand in front of that painting for an hour, but standing wasn't something I wanted to do much of. The longer I stood, the more tired I became. So it was off to the bus station, in hopes of finding there was a 6 p.m. bus to Huelva. Unfortunately, there wasn't one until 10 p.m. So four hours in the area of the bus station seemed like it would take forever.

I'd never explored the surrounding area before. So I only knew about the Corte Ingles that was nearby. Saturday I found there was a planetarium and Imax within walking distance as well. Unfortunately I missed the only movie I would be able to watch and still catch the bus by 15 minutes. And when I arrived to the planetarium they closed in 15 minutes. So it was back to the bus station with another hour before the bus left. Then came a surprise.

As I mentioned in previous blogs, people seem surprised when someone shows some simple kindnesses such as letting them out of their seat on the bus. But in Madrid, while I was waiting on the bus, an older lady, probably in her 70's, asked for help getting her bags out of the elevator because the doors would end up closing before she could get it all off. She had five or six bags and was unable to find a cart. She was trying to figure out what to do and I volunteered to help her take the bags to the taxi. Between three of us, we easily made it in one trip. And in that I also found that although I don't understand a lot of words in Spanish still, sometimes from pronunciation other times simply vocabulary, I can pick up key phrases and guess what people are asking.

I have one more week to practice Spanish before taking the bus from Huelva to the Madrid-Barajas airport, one last time. Only one more eight-hour bus ride. It is bittersweet. I am ready to see my family and friends back home, but I have made friends here that I am leaving behind. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


Foods from the USA that I currently miss:
Fried okra

Foods from Spain I have grown to love and might be missing soon:
Fresh seafood

Iberic Ham

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Learning Spanish hasn't simply been sitting down with a textbook for me. That is how I began, but it became far much more than just that. Literature, films, television, cartoons and simple conversation have all been a part of my learning.

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Spanish a few weeks ago. It took me more than a year to do so, not because it was difficult, just because I wasn't reading often. I turned some pages blue with underlining while others remained relatively untouched. I underlined vocabulary words I didn't know and sometimes different grammatical structures. Although I didn't always understand some of the words, I knew what was going on.

And there has been plenty of television in Spanish while being in Spain to practice my listening. But conversation is by far my favorite. Living somewhere a language is spoken is the best way to learn it. During college it could be annoying when instructors didn't translate things we didn't understand in a Spanish class. But now I see why they didn't. During the conversation last night people kept translating. I didn't learn much and don't feel like I could really understand Spanish. But when no one translates, eventually my brain switches over and I begin understanding more and more. Lesson learned: translating = bad. Unless, of course, translation is the purpose.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hunger Games

I am a little behind on some popular reading, but decided to catch up the other day after continually seeing and hearing about Hunger Games. I found the book online and began reading around 2 p.m. on Wednesday. I read for twelve hours straight, stopping only for a bite to eat. I read about two hours the following day and was finished with the book. After all, I only had about 30 pages left to read.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into the book, just that it was very popular. I approached with an open mind. It captured my attention from the beginning, something fairly difficult to do for me. I will say that some of the ending is predictable, but the events in between were unknown. What would happen next? I had to know. The writing style was almost journal-like as it was in first person. It often annoyed me. It was definitely not Harry Potter. But it was a great read. And throughout the entire read I kept trying to analyze it as if I were back in my high school literature class days. What was being said about our society? Was this an allegory?

I began to think that maybe the Capitol was meant to represent the United States. The districts which were more well off, at least with plenty of food, might be considered Western Europe and possibly other industrialized nations such as Australia and Japan. And further districts were representative of places where, although some people may be surviving without much problem, there are many people starving. Many people were needlessly dying from malnutrition and a lack of money to buy food, medicine and shelter.

I previously interned with an organization, Heifer International, whose mission was to end world hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. I couldn’t help but think about that in this context either. They work to teach communities invaluable skills. Later the community may receive plants or animals to help them become self-sustainable. These gifts begin to change their lives as they are not allowed to eat the gift itself. They can, however, eat the produce from the gifts and sell the rest for extra income. Take a cow for example. They can drink the milk. Or a nanny, which can provide milk for drinking or cheese. Keeping this in mind, I continued reading and then I came across this on page 144.

Owning a nanny goat can change your life in District 12. The animals can live off almost anything, the Meadow’s a perfect feeding place, and they can give four quarts of milk a day. To drink, to make into cheese, to sell.

That brings me to my conclusion. Whether or not this book is meant to be allegorical or not, it has some truth to it. It is no game at all. People around the world fight for their lives every day. Maybe they aren’t set up by the government against each other, with only one person allowed to live, but they have to fight their environment. They have to fight empty stomachs. They have to fight disease. They have to fight for their lives.

But, you and I, we can do something about this. Unlike the sponsors in the book it does not cost us a fortune to send gifts to these people. In fact, through Heifer International we can buy an entire flock of baby chickens for $20. Or, if we don’t want to spend that much, we could pay for a share of a goat for $10. Every little bit counts. Even a Heifer is relatively inexpensive, $500, when compared with the benefits. And these donations aren’t helping just one person, they’re helping many. The first female offspring will be given to another person in need. The gift keeps giving. You can view Heifer’s entire gift catalog online. With Mother’s Day just around the corner this is a great opportunity to help a family in need in her honor.