the good seeker

My mom has this gift. She is able to find the good in every situation. And if the good does not exist, she creates the good for herself. Naturally, as my mother, she was well-equipped to handle my worries and woes growing up. It was not uncommon for my mom to come up with a detailed list of solutions and positive outcomes for any problem I had, big or small. Along the way, she taught me how to seek out the good for myself.

However, sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find the good.

In December, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Over the course of 7 weeks, she underwent weekly chemotherapy and daily radiation treatments. Additionally, she lost the ability to taste and was forced to get a feeding tube to receive the nutrients that she needed. As I write this, I am aware that I cannot accurately describe what my mom went through. But I can write from my perspective.

The following story is about my mother, “the good seeker,” and my own (recent) experience seeking out the good.

First, I must begin with a trip I took last summer.

A couple of months ago, I received a Facebook notification alerting me of a “time hop: one year ago.”  It was a post about my trip to Dachau, Germany:

“During my time abroad, my world has expanded, which is of course to be expected. There are times, however, like today, when I wish my world would shrink back to the way it used to be. Everything was a bit simpler and I could make sense of most situations without much heartache. Today I visited the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, just outside of Munich. It serves as a memorial and a reminder of a not-so-distant past. Yes, there are moments when it would certainly be easier to be less aware of such atrocities and how they continue to take place although we profess the term “never again,” but I would be doing a disservice to myself and to those who suffered and continue to suffer. I hope that “never again” can someday become a full reality.”

I remember this trip very clearly. At the time, I did not realize how much this experience would shape my last year of college. In the midst of my mom’s fight with cancer, I was at school working on my senior thesis—researching humanitarian intervention, genocide, indifference, and inaction. To be completely honest, school was the last place I wanted to be. I didn’t want to leave my mom to fight this cancer without me; I wanted to help her find the good. But since I had to leave, I wanted to forget. I wanted my world to shrink back again. I wanted to forget everything—including what I was researching for my thesis. All of it was too painful. And sadly, my research topic and my mom’s cancer had something in common; they both seemed incredibly senseless. While I couldn’t find any answers for why my mom had cancer–and why she, of all people, had to go through this—I thought I could find answers with my research. So I attempted to distract myself.

Part of my research involved reading human rights reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that outlined unimaginable atrocities and human rights abuses. I had to read two decades’ worth of reports from both organizations (for two different cases). After a couple of reports, I thought I would become numb to the words, but I didn’t feel numb. I couldn’t. The worst part was reading the names. Amnesty International lists the names of people who are killed or unjustly arrested/beaten. There were so many names. Too many. Actually, reading the names wasn’t the worst part; reading what little the international community did to stop it was worse. None of it made any sense to me.

I summarized these reports, feeling incredibly helpless. At this point, helplessness seemed commonplace to me. I felt like I was contributing very little to such a huge problem. School troubles seemed to pale in comparison to the real problems happening around the world–and in my life. I kept thinking to myself: find the good, find the hope, find the solution, it’s there. You might be thinking: you’re researching genocide and a lack of humanitarian intervention, of course there isn’t anything good to be found. But I chose this topic because I have a serious problem with injustice and a desire to find some good where there appears to be none (Or a desire to make the good myself).

I inherited this optimism from my mom. Of course, if there was a scale, I would fall on the “cautious optimist” side. Some people might even call me a pessimist, but I am really just an often-disappointed idealist. Still, my mom has always been my rock, encouraging me to find solutions to my problems and to seek out the good. But she was crumbling, and I was too. The last thing I wanted to do was burden her further. Nevertheless, even as she was getting weaker physically and our conversations were getting shorter, she was still teaching me. It was her strength despite her physical weakness that inspired me the most.

My mom is a fighter. She taught me what strength looks like. Strength is complicated–it’s not at all what people paint it to be. Strength is not about masking suffering. It means showing weakness when you cannot hold in your pain anymore. It means being honest when things are not great. It means pushing through difficult situations with the hope that things will improve. I have seen my mom endure incredible physical and emotional pain. Even at her worst, she was determined. She broke down sometimes, but there is nothing shameful about feeling pain. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in pain right now. For some, it’s masked by anger. For others, it looks like hate. My mom never showed anger or hate. She was simply honest. And the world needs more of that honesty.

One day, a professor emailed me an article about Fred Rogers. There was a particular quote from the article that my professor shared with a lot of students, inspiring them to look past senseless tragedy. It is a great quote:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The first time I read this, I thought of my mom. She is the ultimate helper. More specifically, she is a teacher. During her last few weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, she was unable to teach. Her doctor told her that she could take the rest of the year off, but she didn’t.  My mom went back to teaching energetic 10-year-olds as soon as she could stand up straight.

My mom is also a runner. She always says that she can work out all of her problems (and ours) during a good run. She loves running, but she wasn’t able to for a very long time. However, as soon as her chemotherapy and radiation treatments were finished, she started running again, probably before she was ready. Again, I was not surprised. She seeks out the good.

Senior year was hard for many reasons. My research didn’t help. On a particularly discouraging day, I was scheduled to meet with one of my readers for my thesis. Although it was almost finished, my thesis was weighing heavily on me. It was becoming a little too personal. But this particular professor told me that I was researching something that mattered. More importantly, I was researching something that mattered to me (“embodied research”…I think he called it). He was right.

A couple of months later, after I presented my thesis (for the fifth time), someone asked me: “Now that you know this information, what are going to do with it?” I was glad that she asked me that question. I told her that there were two possible reactions to this research: give up because it is too dark and too hopeless OR do everything in my power to change it. I am choosing the latter. In that moment, I felt most like my mother.

Finding the good is difficult. While looking for the good, you’re going to find the bad, too. However, there is nothing foolish about being an optimist. It is actually brave; you are often disappointed or heartbroken, but despite it all, you continue to seek out the good.

Yes, the world is really messed up. Every day there is another tragedy. But I hope that I continue to feel disappointed rather than indifferent; I hope that I continue to feel heartbroken without feeling paralyzed.

Thank you, Mom, for reminding me every day how important it is to look for the good. When people ask me what I want to “do,” I often wish that I had a job title, organization, company, etc. in the back of my mind that I could blurt out. Instead I just laugh and shrug uncomfortably; my plans are complicated anyway. No one ever asks what kind of person I want to be. Well, I have an answer to that question, and I think I knew it all along. I want to be like you, Mom, the good seeker.

~Alayna

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to succeed

I have not written a post in 4 months! A lot has changed. For example, I graduated from college.  Walking across that stage was surreal, and I will always remember that moment. However, the following observation/musing involves post-graduation (aka after walking across that stage).

First, I will begin with an image. I am currently eating on a cardboard box in my furniture-less living room. This image perfectly sums up my present state; I am in a transition period. My lease ends at the beginning of June, and I don’t know what comes next. This realization is 70% terrifying and 30% exciting.

I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to discuss something that has been occupying my thoughts lately: “success.” When I was a student at TCU, I was surrounded by extremely successful individuals. This environment motivated me to try to become the best version of myself. When I returned to the US from Spain, this competitive atmosphere became even more pronounced. Honestly, I was completely turned off by it upon my return (see previous posts). Sometimes it seems as though people are busy for the sake of being busy, and I was sick of that. I took a step back and decided that my last semester was going to be a time of reflection. Still, there are moments (especially now) when I get sucked back into the “rat race.” Sadly, the job hunt makes this even more painfully evident.

However, I have learned a couple things about success over the past few months that I would like to share. I looked up the meaning of “to succeed” and found this definition: “to happen in the planned or desired way.” I laughed when I read this because it encompasses everything that I am feeling right now. On the surface, this definition is fantastic. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything happened in our planned or desired way? Plot twist: no. I argue that the result would be utterly boring. Do I want everything to happen exactly as I imagined? I don’t have that good of an imagination. If everything had been planned out (according to my plans), I wouldn’t have graduated from TCU last weekend, and I certainly wouldn’t have had such a wonderful college experience. If we planned out our lives completely, we would miss out on the mystery of it all. I realize that this sounds like a flowery statement, but the surprises in life are the ones that should be cherished; the unplanned moments are opportunities to rise; and the strange circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in are often the most rewarding. I don’t want to plan out my life because my plans would certainly pale in comparison to the mystery. “To succeed” implies that life is linear, but that is not true. Life throws you curve balls, it pulls the rug out from under you, it closes doors and opens new ones. There is nothing linear about life.

A lot of people around me have concrete plans now, whether they are continuing school, starting jobs, etc. I don’t even know what I am cooking for dinner tonight. It is a wonderful mess. There are certainly moments when I question my path. I sometimes feel as though I failed for not having anything lined up after graduation. And then there are the constant questions from friends and family alike regarding future plans. And those random strangers who try to give me advice (“This is how you should do it…”). Then, there are the expectations–often high ones (from myself and others). However, in the chaos, I have experienced an equal amount of encouragement and kindness–sometimes from unexpected people.

So how do I navigate all of this uncertainty? If my goal is no longer “to succeed” according to its literal definition, what am I doing? I don’t know. That is the best part: I don’t know. From past experiences, I have found that my complete confusion is the perfect opportunity for life to throw something at me that I didn’t expect or desire initially. In other words, an opportunity to experience serendipity. So, if anyone is curious, I guess that is my goal: to experience a little bit of serendipity.

~Alayna

 

 

 

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Courage, dear heart.

4 months until graduation to celebrate 4 years as a TCU student. How can I possibly sum up 4 years?

With 1 word: Courage. I learned to be brave here.
Here are just some of the many highlights. I apologize for the length; I tried to be funny in some parts, so maybe it will be worth the read.
-March 2012– I remember visiting TCU for the first time. I fell in love for no apparent reason. It was a feeling. Although seeing purple everywhere didn’t hurt. I had visited a couple of schools before TCU…My mom and I had this joke that I would only buy a sweatshirt from schools that I was strongly considering. Needless to say, TCU was “sweatshirt worthy.” In fact, I still have that sweatshirt…
-April 2012– I chose TCU. It was terrifying. I took a leap of faith. And ran with it.
-August 2012– I remember leaving Thousand Oaks for Fort Worth, waving goodbye to my dad and sister from the top of an escalator at LAX. Thankfully my mom was with me. I don’t think I could have done that alone.
-Have you ever experienced that feeling where your stomach cannot stop churning and it takes every fiber of your being not to run? That basically sums up how I felt when coming to TCU. Another example: you know when you’re driving through an intersection and the stoplight has turned yellow, but you have already committed so you hold your breath and pray that you can make it before other cars start coming through? Yes, that’s the feeling. I knew no one coming to TCU. Nadie. Still, I knew that this was something that I had to do. Somehow, I was able to find that brave, little Alayna that had been lying dormant for the previous 18 years.
-The following are general themes of each year, with little examples of bravery sprinkled throughout.
Freshman Year: Faith. 
I found faith like I had never experienced: faith in God, faith in myself, faith in my decisions. It came in waves. I made friends that remain my friends to this day. I made easy decisions, I made tough decisions. But somehow I was very much at peace during my freshman year.
-August 2012– I went to church for the first time. It consisted of me fumbling through an old Bible without a clue what was going on. But apparently it was too hard to pass up because I kept going back.
-September 2012– I attended my first football game as a TCU student. Confession: I didn’t know a thing about football. So yes, entering a stadium with people who had grown up with football took courage. Also that frog horn scared the crap out of me.
-April 2013– I became an active member of Eta Iota Sigma (HIS)- a Christian sorority at TCU. This was really cool for me. I met so many people with faith that I had only started to experience.
Sophomore Year: Inspiration.
I had to take off my rose-colored glasses of freshman year. College was more difficult than I thought it would be. Classes got harder. Friendships got harder. But I found inspiration everywhere.  I was inspired by the people I met and hopeful that I would find my passion.
-August 2013– I started working on campus. I could go on and on about this gem of a decision. In short, I met some of the kindest, most inspirational people at my work study job.
-September 2013– I led my first bible study. Talk about awkward. I had no clue what I was doing. I was so new in my faith, but I learned a lot from my bible study group. I listened to stories that motivated me to continue growing and questioning.
-April 2014– I went to New York for a Model UN conference. Yeah, once again, I had no idea what I was doing. I gave speeches–my least favorite thing in the world–and enjoyed it! I was inspired by the people that I met from the conference, and I started to discover what I was really passionate about.
-June 2014– I lived in Fort Worth for the summer (by myself) where I started my first internship at Sister Cities International. I had to muster up the courage to believe that I was actually capable of being useful! It sounds silly, but it was my first experience with an actual job.
Junior Year: Wonder.
Let me tell you, it did not start out that way. The first semester of junior year was my hardest at TCU. I pushed myself to my breaking point. I realized that I wasn’t being brave at all; I wasn’t brave enough to give myself a break and reevaluate what my endgame was. Finally, I found that bravery.
-October 2014– I bought my plane ticket to Spain. There was no turning back. Yes, bravery again.
-January 2015– I left for Spain–by myself. I had never traveled internationally. Funny things happened (see previous posts).
-Bravery and wonder describe my entire study abroad experience, but here are just a couple moments that stand out at present (see previous posts as well):
-April 2015– I visited Sagrada Familia in Barcelona…Wonder like you wouldn’t believe. I’m pretty sure my mouth was open the entire visit.
-May 2015– Hey Stephanie, remember when we stayed in that hostel in the middle of the Bavarian Forest? That took courage. Or foolishness. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
-June 2015– I left Spain. And cried on the plane.
Senior year: Humility 
Oh, senior year… Nostalgia is a b****.
-June 2015– I started working for Tarrant Literacy Coalition, a nonprofit that provides tools for adult learners to pass their GED and/or acquire basic reading and writing skills. Part of my internship involved volunteering as a GED teacher. I thought to myself.. “How am I supposed to tutor these adults who have experienced more hardship than I can even fathom?” Little ol’ Alayna.. Yes, that took bravery. And I was humbled.  The students that I interacted with taught me more than I can begin to express.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to do it again this semester!
-November 2015– I traveled to the Czech Republic for a Model UN conference. Leading up to the conference, I was worried…most of the other people going on the trip were MUN veterans…I had participated in just one other conference… As I’m typing this, I am painfully aware of how nerdy this probably sounds (oh well). I was convinced it was going to be a low-key disaster on my part. Anyway, I didn’t really advertise this worry. But yes, I had to be brave again. It worked out–and I got to know some pretty awesome people in the process.
-All of fall 2015– I ain’t perfect. Also, I really suck at cooking. I sure ate a slice of humble pie this past semester, but it definitely wasn’t me who made it (and now seems like a great time to publicly thank everyone for putting up with my jokes). I also realized that I am a tiny human in a big world. Speaking of which, “the working world….” That’s a scary thought. What am I supposed to do with that? Not everyone is going to be impressed with my extracurriculars or involvement at TCU (what is Frogs First? A potential employer might ask..)?? Basically, I am humbled daily.
So, I have 4 months left. I am humbled because I know that my degree is only as valuable as I allow it to be. Pessimists will tell you that a college degree is not worth it. Oh, but they don’t quite understand. This degree is much more than a little slip of paper. To me, it is a tangible sign of bravery, an end in itself. My degree is walking through TCU’s campus for the first time. My degree is saying goodbye to my family for the first time. My degree is seeing the world, my oldest and dearest dream. My degree is the friends that I have made. And most of all, my TCU degree is a permanent mark that I will be a frog for the rest of my life.
-It’s funny because at the surface, there is nothing particularly remarkable about my 4 years here. To some, these years might even seem ordinary. But to me, they have meant a great deal.
-Entering the “real world” is going to be my biggest challenge to date. It is going to require blind and sometimes foolish bravery. I am terrified–I cannot lie. But if I have learned anything from the past 4 years, it is that silly courage pays off.
-Thanks to every person who has made these 4 years some of the best years of my life. To those of you who are also graduating or have already graduated, I hope that you find some silly courage too.
-And to those of you who ask how a school can possibly have such a strong impact on a person, I only have this to say: it’s a frog thing.      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
~Alayna

 

 

After Abroad

As most of you know, I am not in Spain anymore (sad day), but I wanted to write a post anyway. It is not exactly an “after abroad” post, but I guess it can be counted as one. Returning to TCU after a semester abroad is not easy. Unfortunately, there is no way to create a comprehensive list that perfectly encapsulates the many struggles that come with returning to an old life. Still, I will do my best to sum it up.

At this point—six weeks into the semester—I appear to have acclimated into the TCU-American culture, but the truth is that I haven’t and I don’t want to. Spain feels like a dream…There are moments when I even forget that I was living there just four short months ago. And it breaks my heart. I don’t want to forget anything.

There are two aspects of living abroad that have been on my mind lately that I can’t seem to shake.

  1. I lived “widely” when I was abroad.
  2. I had the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be.

Living “widely.” What does that mean? Well, to me it means being appreciative, content, constantly curious, and seeking out wonder…I lived widely last semester. Sure, there were days where I did absolutely nothing (I won’t lie to you), but the majority of the time, I explored. I discovered. I used every moment as an opportunity to experience something different. I appreciated my surroundings. I got lost and didn’t care. I failed at things. I embarrassed myself. I felt like a fool sometimes. Why, you might ask? Because my time abroad was limited. There was a deadline, there was an end in sight. I did not want to waste a single moment.

Fast-forward. Here I am. At the library. I should be doing homework, but I cannot seem to focus on anything. My mind is constantly full of “shoulds” here. I should be applying for jobs. I should be writing that paper. I should be studying for that test. Oh, I should be having fun. It is my last year, I should be enjoying it. I would like to preface with the fact that I am eternally grateful to be attending TCU. It is the best school in the world, and I will be a horned frog forever. But I have changed. I can’t really describe it. I change every year, so why is this change more significant? I don’t know.

I want to live “widely” here, but I am frequently weighed down with responsibilities and expectations that I have set up for myself. I have convinced myself that I am satisfied with my busy life. I have built up my life with activities, classes, jobs, etc. to push myself towards my uncertain future. Instead of building up anything, however, I have cluttered my life. Instead of living widely with curiosity and wonder, I have a checklist of things that individually matter a lot, but together soak up all of my energy to the point where living “widely” is a chore that I don’t have time for.

In Spain, I could be whoever I wanted to be. When I was living there, this terrified me. To say I suffered a major identity crisis would be an understatement. But I learned to enjoy the anonymity of walking down the street without a familiar face in sight.   I did not have to worry about disappointing anyone—myself included. I was an amateur at the “Spanish life” and I knew it. On the other hand, here I “think” that I must have everything figured out. The “American life” is sink or swim, right? Some people would disagree, but this is just what I have observed. I know this does not have to be true, but it sure is hard to fight. I cut myself some slack in Spain if I messed up (no pasa nada), but here I struggle to give myself a break.

Going back to Spain will not solve my problems, just like going to Spain in the first place did not provide ultimate clarity. It did give me perspective though–to take time to enjoy life, really enjoy it. There are moments this semester when I have lost this perspective.  Regardless, I am determined to get it back.  My ultimate goal is to live “widely” with a sense of freedom wherever I am. I am not there yet, but I am working on it.

~Alayna

Learning to be content with uncertainty

I know that I promised y’all a Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia post, but it has been a crazy couple of weeks!  And I have a more pressing post to write about, which is this one: “Learning to be content with uncertainty.”  My semester in Spain is wrapping up: I finished my last day of real classes today and next week I have final exams.  Once again, I am torn by the dilemma of studying for finals and enjoying Sevilla for the short time that I have left.  If only we had more time, right?  After classes, I am going on a two-week trip to Berlin, Salzburg, Munich, Mallorca, and then back to Sevilla with my friend Stephanie.  I am really looking forward to it.  I am also looking forward to going home.  It is strange, though.  I feel like there are people who know exactly where they are meant to be.  For example, I have friends that swear that they will never leave Texas–it defines them, it is their home.  Unfortunately, I do not know where I am meant to be, not at all.  I was just talking to my host mom the other day about going home.  But which home?  I told her that now I have three homes: one in Thousand Oaks where I grew up, one in Fort Worth, and one in Sevilla.  I am torn between places.  When I am in Thousand Oaks, I miss Fort Worth, when I am in Fort Worth, I miss Thousand Oaks, and when I am in Sevilla, I miss Thousand Oaks and Fort Worth.  I am always restless.  There are days that I am so happy to be where I am (whether that be Thousand Oaks, Fort Worth, or Sevilla), but then there are days that I just want to escape. I highly admire those people who are content with where they are and where they are headed.  I wish that I had that faith. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)  There are times that I get a glimpse of this contentment when I am walking around Sevilla.  I feel at peace.  But then I have worries that invade this peace, whether it be about classes, my family, my future, etc.  In a lot of ways, I am the biggest worrier there is (thank you Mom for this trait).  I like to be in control and to eliminate as much uncertainty and doubt as I can.  Study abroad is full of uncertainty and doubt, however.  It can be really humorous sometimes, but it can also be taxing.  Nevertheless, I feel like I am more accustomed to this uncertainty now–I am no longer really surprised when something unexpected or unplanned happens.  I now try to make as few plans as possible because I know that they are (probably!) going to change.  For example, my Little Holly who studied in London this semester came to visit this past weekend and we literally walked around the river, ate tapas, drank tea, and wandered around the gardens most of the time.  And it was fabulous (of course we saw all of the sites, but still).  The point is that life in Sevilla is fluid and you just cannot structure that. It is one thing that I love most about Sevilla even though it goes against my personality in every way: where Sevilla is random and unexpected, I am reliable; where Sevilla is lively, but low-key, I am tense and unsure. Opposites attract? But I love my other homes, too.  Thousand Oaks is where my family lives and Fort Worth is where I grew up away from my hometown.  So where do I stay? One of my friends who studied abroad last semester (Kacy!) recently sent me this message: “wait until you come back and realize just how different you really are.”  Honestly, this kind of freaked me out a little.  I do not feel as though I have changed, but maybe I have.  It is so hard to tell here in Spain.  Once again, *uncertainty*.  Who knows what kind of culture shock I will experience in the U.S. (apparently it’s worse going back)!  I feel like my personality has been in a wrestling match against the Spanish lifestyle, but maybe I have adopted more of the “Sevilla life” than I am aware of.  Because I love how Spaniards live in the moment, how they value their friendships and relationships, and how they love be outside, enjoying every single moment of the day (and night) that they possibly can.  I am jealous of them, because I wish I could do that more.  I mean, technically I could, but once I again I am torn. One topic that I have noticed seems to dominate my conversations with my TCU friends in Sevilla is productivity (“UGHH I’ve been so unproductive today…all I have done is sleep and walk around” or “I have accomplished nothing today”)  We are so hard on ourselves.  Tell me–what defines productivity and when did it become the most important thing?  What about, “Today has been so relaxing and rewarding–I walked around one of my favorite cities and took a much-needed nap”?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love being productive (I like my lists and I LOVE crossing things off of these lists). But why have I made productivity the end-all, be-all? My friend Stephanie and I have this on-going conversation about what our “hopes and dreams” are. I think it is a joke that we started in Portugal.  It is a joke because…how are we supposed to quantify and identify our hopes and dreams?  It seems like an impossible task.  I keep changing my “hopes and dreams”/”life goals.” First, it was to have a good career that satisfies my obsession with international relations. But I have recently modified this dream.  Now, I want to own one of those beautiful Spanish balconies with a bunch of flower pots decorating the railings.  I just want to sit on this balcony with a nice book and a cup of tea, enjoying and appreciating my life. And if my other dreams come true too with this dream then that is just icing on the cake.  🙂 People have told me that if my dreams don’t scare me then they are not big enough. On some level, I agree with this. But I like my dream. It’s simple. And there is something endearing about simplicity. Why does a dream have to scare you to be great? And it’s not that I don’t want a career that complements my passions (like human rights, international relations, politics, etc) but it’s not the ONLY thing that I want out of life. One of my dreams is to have a balcony, darn it. Plain and simple. (Sorry for writing a paragraph about a balcony).  We are obsessed with how life should be, but who is to say what your life should look like? As you can see from these random thoughts, I am starting to reevaluate my thought process and my priorities. Essentially, uncertainty is inevitable. Uncertainty is constant. In fact, it is the only you can be absolutely certain will occur. See what I did there? 😛 But you can learn to be content. This contentment won’t be a daily occurrence. It will come in spurts and sometimes might even last a week or two. But it is possible nevertheless. I am still working on it, but you’ll be the first to know if I find the secret of contentment todos los días. Until next time, Alayna

Mi aventura en Granada

Hey, there. It’s been awhile.  I promised y’all a Granada post more than a month ago.  Here goes.

On February 21st, three of my friends and I went to Granada for the weekend. Granada is southeast of Sevilla, with a heavy Moorish influence.  It also home to the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains–not to mention the most-visited place in Spain: the Alhambra. We left by bus on Saturday. It was super cheap and easy–I definitely recommend the bus! I have used it many times while traveling within Spain. We even had a wonderful view of the olive trees and orange groves that decorate the Spanish countryside. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked into our hostel in the city center. Our hostel was very unique: there was an open courtyard in the middle, with hammocks and even a small fort! When we climbed up the fort we could see the tops of all of the white-washed buildings and even a glimpse of the Alhambra.  Granada is a smaller version of Sevilla in a way: the streets are narrower, the cobblestone paths are smaller, and the buildings are scrunched together in a haphazard, charming way. We got lost many times, with only the Alhambra or the Sierra Nevadas as our guide.


After dropping off our things, we ventured closer to the city center where we came across my favorite place, the tetería street. It seemed to be a street right out of Morocco, with the colorful lanterns, intricate tapestries, and the smell of mint tea and pastries. I was in love. Granada also has a tradition of sorts…if you buy a drink, you get a free tapa (I could get used to this tradition). Not only is it cheap, it is fun because you never know what kind of tapa you will get. Over the course of our trip, we ate mussels, garbanzos, ensaladilla rusa (like potato salad), jamón (of course), albondigas, etc.

The Walking Tour

After getting our fill of tapas and drinks, we wandered back to our hostel where they provide a free walking tour of Granada each night. After experiencing this tour, I wouldn’t exactly call it a walking tour–more like a run-up-a-mountain-and-try-not-to-die tour. In other words, I was not prepared (which seems to be a theme of this semester), and wore my boots and jeans. Likewise, my friends also wore their boots and nice coats. Julia was the only one with enough sense to wear her tennis shoes. Oops.
Anyway, we started our journey by walking towards the Alhambra, which is essentially a palace on a hill, overlooking the city. We walked through a couple of plazas and were thus lured into a false sense of security, (“typical walking tour, how nice”). Then the fun started. We arrived at the base of a large hill, with a nice path. I love hiking, so I wasn’t too perturbed. But we didn’t go on the trial, claro que no. We took the road less traveled by. And that certainly made all of the difference.
Essentially, we ran/power-walked up a steep slope with plenty of mud and ominous ledges. I grasped at anything I could reach, a twig there, a rock that looked reliable… Eventually, we made it to a resting point. I am pretty sure our guide was either intoxicated or worse as he seemed less than concerned. Nevertheless, we had to shout out our “numbers” to make sure that no one had been left behind (AKA fallen off of the mountain).
Now, Granada is known for its caves. Many gypsies decide to make homes out of these caves, so my first thought was that they would be pretty large. Our fearless tour guide informed us that we would be walking around one of these caves, and I was excited to see what they looked like. As he told us about this new development, I began searching for said caves, but saw nothing. To my utter surprise and slight concern, he led us to the equivalent of a rabbit hole. Yes, a rabbit hole. Granted, it was a big rabbit hole, about 2-3 feet all around, but still. I felt like Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Courtney, Hannah, Julia and I looked at each other, speechless. And away we went, through the rabbit hole.

The Cave

It was pitch dark in this “cave” and the voice inside my head told me that this was a bad idea, but there was no turning back…I forged ahead reaching my arms out for anything that could help guide me. Not a moment too soon, I saw a light. I have never been more thrilled. We emerged into the sunlight with a wonderful view of the Alhambra and the city of Granada. It was beautiful. Maybe it was worth it for the view..climbing up a vertical mountain and digging our way out of a rabbit hole…maybe. We walked further along the mountain and hopped a fence that we were not supposed to hop over. We were welcomed with an even better view of the Alhambra. Illegal things can pay off? Who knows. Our tour guide ushered us off this private property, but encouraged us to take some pictures before we left.


And the fun did not end there. We had to climb down the mountain.The muddy, rocky, treacherous mountain. Did I mention we had sangria before this wonderful outing? Well, we did. Courtney’s heel broke off of her boot, leaving a hole in it’s place. She looked a little less than thrilled. We all had some combination of scratches and smeared dirt all over us at this point. And we essentially slid down the mountain. And boy was that a sight to behold. Courtney and I gave each other a “we survived” hug after making it safely down the mountain.
Our tour guide, a old pro, then informed us that if we hurried, we could watch the sunset from the top of another mountain. ¿Por qué no? Long story short, we ran up the next mountain, painfully aware of the gypsies laughing at us in their cave-homes (which were awesome by the way and much bigger than a rabbit hole). At the top of this mountain was a church where there was group of guitarists singing “The Ring of Fire.” And the view was alright. –>

After the walking tour, we hopped from tapas bar to tapas bar, tetería to tetería. One of the things I will miss most about Spain are the teterías. They are so tranquil. The lanterns, the cushions, the music, the teapots… We wandered back to our hostel and fell asleep soon after.

The Alhambra

The next morning we walked to the Alhambra, made up of 3 palaces; the Alcázar, the Alcazaba, and the Generalife (or summer palace). The Alhambra was incredible. It reminded me of the Alcázar in Sevilla. The Moorish influence was clear. Here are some pictures to better describe it.

After the Alhambra we headed to the center of Granada. We window shopped and toured the cathedral where King Fernando and Queen Isabel were laid to rest. And, of course, we got more tea.  Granada was beautiful and charming! There were young people everywhere and the city was very lively. I was sad to leave, but alas nothing compares to Sevilla. Stay tuned for a post about Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia.  I promise it will come soon.

~Alayna

The truth about study abroad 

{Please excuse my poor writing–I am now simply mediocre at two languages} 😛

Choosing to study abroad was kind of a given for me. I’ve always wanted to travel. TCU had a program in Spain, I am studying Spanish. Junior year fit with my schedule. Spring in Spain is popular with world-renowned festivals like Semana Santa and Feria. Everything just fit. So, I jumped. The process before leaving for Spain was stressful and exciting. I got my student visa, called my bank, made dozens of packing lists, brushed up on my Spanish, and said my goodbyes. People kept telling me that study abroad would be the most exciting time of my life, and I still believe that to be true–just for different reasons. 

Two and a half months in, and I can honestly say it has flown by. But not for all of the reasons that people may think. Yes, I have made some of the best memories here in Spain. And Sevilla might just be my favorite city of all time. I am already homesick for Sevilla. It’s amazing how a place can have such an impact on me. Every time I return from a trip, I feel a sense of relief when I touch down in Sevilla. I love everything about it: the people, the weather, the food, the atmosphere, the river, the old and new buildings, the cobblestone streets, the tiled street signs that are nearly impossible to see, the orange blossoms, the pastries…Even just writing about it makes me want to go outside and enjoy every second of it. Sevilla is magical. How cliché, I know. But actually I am convinced there is something other-worldly going on here. Come visit and see for yourself. Now, I heard about this part of study abroad and it is definitely true. In every way. I would not change my decision. But there is a shadow side that people rarely talk about. No doubt, when I return from study abroad, I will conveniently forget the shadow side because I will be so homesick to return! But, however much of a wet blanket I might be, I think that it is necessary to put this information out there. It is not all fun and games. I am sure that it varies depending on the person, the program, the country, but I believe that the topics I am going to discuss are nearly universal.
Homesickness. Pretty typical right? Seems intuitive. However, it is different. I have realized that the more places I call home, the more homesick I become. It is easier now because I am used to it, but at the same time it’s harder. I can honestly say that I rarely felt homesick for my California home when I started my studies at TCU. I missed my family and friends of course, but I was so excited for my new adventure. I told myself that I could have two homes, after all, it’s better than one. Then I came to Spain after making TCU my home. And for the first time, I felt homesick. I thought to myself, what is this? I am in Europe–my dream for so many years! But TCU, just like Sevilla, is a magical place. Once again, I know it’s silly. But it’s true. I have realized it even more being here. TCU should not be taken for granted. The people, the community, the sense of pride, the campus, the academics… In many ways they are unrivaled in my eyes. And then I am homesick for the little things. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, alone time, free tap water, wide open spaces…. It seems so trivial to miss these things, but I cannot deny it. I miss the comforts of speaking a language that I have mastered, having a support system that is a call away (not with a 9 hour time difference), working wifi (my roomies can back me up on this, after having to make multiple trips to McDonald’s or hanging out in our bathroom where the wifi usually works mysteriously)…all of these things collectively make me homesick at times. And of course it depends on the day, the hour, the weather, what I ate that day.. It is so flippant! One second, I am loving Spain in every way and I think to myself “I am never going back.” The next second I am day dreaming of the U.S., Texas, TCU… There is no magical formula or explanation, it just is what it is. If nothing else, Spain has taught me what things I appreciate, what I cannot live without.
Academics. Studying in Sevilla is certainly different. There are positives and negatives, of course. The school side of study abroad is probably my least favorite part–and not for the reasons that you may think! I love school. I love everything about school. I love studying (most of the time), I love learning, I love reading/writing, I even love the stress for some strange reason. I think the reason that I love it is that it is something that I can control. I work hard, I do well. I can improve. I can change. Well, school in Spain is not like that. Not for me anyway. Grading is fickle, most of the international students just need to pass the class (a 5) to get credit, and a professor’s attitude and motivation largely determines the success of the class. There is a lot of uncertainty. And I hate uncertainty. How am I supposed to react or improve when I have no reference point? I have no guide. I do learn in my classes here, but it definitely depends on the day. Regardless, I am plugging away. I am finding small victories. For example, there is the cute little tent café on campus that has the perfect breakfast food. And tea. Lots of tea. The people there are so nice and friendly–they help me practice my Spanish. And the food is so cheap! I am able to get té con leche and a tostada for 1€. Now that is something to celebrate. The sugar packets even have inspirational quotes on them! It’s basically the only reason that I am still going to school (that and the mini chocolate-filled crescents that they sell in the vending machines). I am only half-kidding. But in all seriousness, school abroad is not a joke. At least not in Sevilla! I study and work hard, regardless of the results because I can’t control the results, and I am still struggling with that fact. Essentially, Spain has reaffirmed the fact that I am a huge nerd. I miss researching and most of all I miss political science. I am not taking any political science classes this semester and it’s taking a toll on my sanity. At least I know that I chose the right major!
Travel. Traveling is oh so much fun. But it’s also a nightmare. Yes, you read that correctly. It can be a complete nightmare. And you have to just roll with it. Whether you miss a flight/train/bus, get lost, book a weird hostel, etc, traveling can be quite the adventure. People also will tell you that traveling is cheap in Europe. And that’s half true, but there is another truth: it is cheap, but it adds up when you are traveling all semester. And then you inevitably feel this sense of enjoying Sevilla versus seeing the world. I have tried to find a balance. So far, I have largely traveled within Spain, with trips to Portugal and Morocco. I love traveling and it really is addicting. But just be aware that the pictures you see of people smiling next to a famous monument are more complicated than they seem. There is a story behind that picture. (There was a sleepless night or perhaps a missed train ride, etc.) With all of this travel, it is a necessity that you have a sense of humor. If you don’t, you will likely lose your mind. I don’t mean to be dramatic–perhaps I am learning something from the Spaniards after all (side note: we told our host mom that Spaniards are dramatic and she responded: ¿Queeeeeé????, so there you have it).
The people. The people are great. I have nothing bad to say about Sevillans. They are kind, thoughtful, and considerate. For example, recently there was a local metro strike. The metros were overcrowded and   less frequent. Even still, everyone was willing to make room on the metro. Another example: when I go to Café de Indias right by our apartment, I run into the same people. I love people-watching. And Sevilla is the perfect place. There are two old men who drink their coffee while reading the newspaper every morning (if you need an image they look like Grandfather from The Parent Trap). The funny thing is that they sit at separate tables, right next to each other. They come in at different times, and while they read, they also chat. It is the coolest thing ever and I hope to be that classy when I am older. Another example, my host mom. She has so much sass–it continues to amaze me. She loves to make fun of us, and laugh at us. She can’t understand why I am scared of birds, for example, but that is a story for another day. I am so glad that I am living with a host family: she loves to talk to us about Sevilla and all of the events that happen here (such as Semana Santa).
Life goes on without you. Although in many ways Sevilla is something of a fairy-land where communication with the outside world is hard to come by, life goes on. And most of us are almost seniors. We are graduating next year. This means that we have to figure out our lives. While abroad. Internships, jobs, research, friendships, relationships, none of that disappears. Studying abroad forces you to confront the difficult reality of enjoying the moment while simultaneously planning for the future. And that is life, I suppose. It’s a balance.
Despite it all. I love Spain. And most of all, I love Sevilla. And I know that I am going to miss it dearly. Every second, the good and the bad. There are times when this is hard to see. But I know that it is the truth. Above all, studying abroad has made me more excited about life. I want to learn more, see more, meet more people, learn more languages… I have found new inspiration despite the frustrations and difficulties. I may be more confused than ever about what my future may hold, but I will always have more questions than answers. I know that I will continue to learn more here, for the short time that I have left (about 2 months). Studying abroad isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, it’s a lot more. And by “more” I mean more fun, more craziness, more uncertainty, more stress, and much more than I can describe.
~Alayna
 

Las influencias en España

One reason that I decided to study in Sevilla was for its diverse history. Southern Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors when they conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, ruling for eight centuries (the Muslims named the Iberian Peninsula Al-Andalus; there are many Arabic words that begin with “Al”). There are countless ways that the Moors influenced Spain, but the two areas that stand out the most are the art and language influences in Spain.

El Arte

I am currently taking a Spanish art history class where we discuss Islamic-Spanish art in great detail. This is one of my favorite classes because it is unlike any class I have taken before—we get to discuss art, architecture, history, politics, religion, language, etc AND we have the opportunity to actually see the art! All I have to do is walk around Sevilla to enjoy famous churches, cathedrals, and monuments that I have been studying in class.

In my art class, we just finished discussing an art period known as “Hispanic-Muslim” art. One of the elements most commonly found in Sevilla and other parts of Andalucía is the Caliphal horseshoe arch (there are also variations of this arch, such as the polylobulated arch). These arches are visible all around the Sevilla cathedral, the Alcázar (another A-word; means fortified palace within a city with gardens and fountains), etc. In fact, the Sevilla cathedral was built on top of a mosque. You can see the remains of the mosque by gazing up at the beautiful Giralda tower that used to be a minaret of the old mosque (built by the Almohads, a Berber tribe). Additionally, the courtyard in the cathedral dates back to the Moors (it was known as a “sahn” rather than a courtyard). The Almohads also built the famous Torre del Oro, located by the San Telmo bridge on the Guadalquivir river.

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Alcázar gardens

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Giralda tower

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Polylobulated arches at the Alcázar

I have visited two other cities in Andalucía that have a lot of Muslim influence as well:

(1) Córdoba (where you can find the Mezquita, which is essentially a mosque inside a church) and

(2) Granada (home to the famous Alhambra, which includes the following three palaces: Alcázar, Alcazaba [fortified palace overlooking the city], and the Generalife [summer palace]).

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Moroccan influence

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Alhambra

Southern Spain certainly has a lot of Moorish influence, but northern Spain was also introduced to the Islamic style by an unlikely group of people: the Christians. This specific type of Christian was known as the “Mozarabs” or Christians living under Muslim rule in Al-Andalus (some notable artistic examples from the Mozarabs include San Cebrian de Mazote in the Castilla-Leon region and the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Aragon—I have yet to visit these places, but I hope to visit them before I leave!). There was also a group of people called the “Mudejares” or Muslims living under Christian rule during 12th-15th centuries. Art during this time is now known as Gótico-Mudéjar (the Alcázar in Sevilla is a perfect example of this).

La Lengua

In my Spanish civilization and culture class this semester, we discuss many of the different cultures that have influenced Spanish society. During our first day of class, our professor called Spain an “encrucijada” or a place that lies at “the crossroads.” After all, Spain is a peninsula with Morocco to the South, France to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Before coming to Sevilla, I knew very little about Spain: I saw it as a largely homogenous country, when in fact it is quite diverse and multifaceted. As I continue my tireless quest to master the Andalucían accent, I am beginning to recognize certain words in Spanish that I never learned in the United States, where we primarily focused on Latin American Spanish. For example, several weeks ago in my Spanish culture class, we discussed various Spanish words that have a distinct Arabic influence. I have included a couple below:

-Molar: gustar

-Mollate: vino

-Privar: beber

-Sobar: dormir

-Tasca: taberna

Every day I learn a bit more about Spanish culture–and more than half of the time it has some Islamic connection. When I visited Granada after traveling to Morocco, I was very conscious of the African influence present in this region—there were Moroccan restaurants, tea shops, and beautiful tapestries lining the streets, clearly reminiscent of my time in Chefchaueon, Tangier, and Assilah.

I do not believe that the Islamic influence is disliked in Spain—it is a part of its grand history, after all. There is a festival known as the Moros y Cristianos that even reenacts the wars that took place between the Muslims and Christians (all in good fun, apparently). Nevertheless, I have noticed that the Spaniards are a bit more guarded towards the culture–at least Moroccan culture. When we told our host mom that we were traveling to Morocco, she was excited for us, but she also told us to be very careful, not to drink the water (which is true), and to be aware that Morocco is very dirty. After talking to our study abroad coordinator, we found that many Spanish host moms have a similar perspective of Morocco. When my friend Stephanie and I were riding the ferry back to Spain from Morocco, we sat next to a woman from Morocco who had similar sentiments, but from the Moroccan perspective. She told us that the Spanish school system is inadequate compared to the Moroccan system and that Spaniards never try to learn any other languages besides Spanish. It is so interesting to me that groups of people can coexist, but still have strong (and sometimes harsh) opinions of each other. Nevertheless, in general I believe that there is a good level of tolerance between both cultures—they are so interconnected that it would honestly be hard not to find ways to live side by side. Additionally, there is a very small Muslim population in Spain now—most of the population is Catholic.

I continue to enjoy discovering knew things about Spain, but there is still so much to learn—and I only have two months left!

~Alayna

Source:

A History of Spanish Art: An Introduction. Dan Manuel Serradilla Avery. La Universidad Pablo de Olavide. 2014.

 

Sustainable Sevilla

It rained all weekend in Sevilla. Spaniards don’t like the rain and neither do I. Nevertheless, the sun came out at random times during the day and Sevilla seemed to come alive once again. The truth is that rain is good for Sevilla, so I really shouldn’t be complaining too much. Like states in the U.S. such as California, Southern Spain (and Spain in general) is in a drought—any rain is better than no rain at all.

The sun came out!

The sun came out!

Our assignment for this week was to focus on sustainability in Spain. Sevilla specifically is very energy conscious (at least in some ways). In our host-stays, it is expected that we take no more than 5-minute showers in order to conserve water. Lights are supposed to be turned off the instant we leave the room and chargers should not be absentmindedly plugged in for no reason. Natural light is preferred over artificial light. Most apartments in Sevilla do not have A.C. or central heating (May should be interesting…). Outside on the streets, cars are small, motorcycles are common, and public transportation is a necessity. For example, I take the metro every day to school and I am sure my host mom does not own a car. And who can blame her? The streets here are so narrow it would be a nightmare to try to navigate them! I think one of the main reasons that Spain is energy-conscious is that it complements the culture so well: public transport has always been important in Spain and people are rarely inside to use all of the energy (lights, etc). Instead, they are in the streets enjoying the sunshine. Conversely, I believe that people in the United States often live in excess because we have the resources: we’ll have every light on in the house, laptop and phone plugged in, T.V. on, and the A.C. going. Additionally, we drive everywhere without a second thought because we do not have the public transportation that Europe has built up over time (Sevilla even has a public bike-share system known as Sevici). The United States is much more individualistic, so driving in a car and enjoying home-life are preferred over taking the bus and wandering the streets. In other words, we like wide-open spaces and our own domain.

One of the questions included in my study abroad assignment for this week is “What are the voluntary practices that people engage in?” I believe that all of the practices mentioned above are in fact voluntary, whether it is to save money or to help the environment in a small way. However, the local government also plays a role. While researching sustainability in Spain, I came across an article with this information about recent efforts to make Sevilla a greener place to live:

“Kick-started by proactive city mayor, Alfredo Sánchez Monteseirín in 2007, the lightning pace of Seville’s ‘greening’ defies its laidback fiesta and siesta image. In the span of just five years, the Sevillanos have instituted a community bike-sharing scheme, a surface tram, an underground metro, two high-speed train links, a pilot electric car programme and — 20km away in Sanlúcar la Mayor — the first commercial solar power plant in Europe.”

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Metro

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Bike system: Sevici

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So many motorcycles

It is evident that Sevilla is more sustainable than other cities in Europe and the U.S.: the sky always looks clear, especially compared to the L.A. smog that I am used to. There are a couple of things that surprise me about Sevilla, however. Although Sevillanos are very energy-conscious in some ways, in other ways they are a little bit negligent. For example, smoking is still very much alive and well in Spain: people just throw their cigarettes on the ground like they are decorating the sidewalks with confetti. Every morning, you will see janitors and shopkeepers washing the sidewalks and picking up the trash, but I do not understand why people won’t throw away their own cigarettes. Nevertheless, in many ways Sevilla is a very clean city. The Sevilla metro is the cleanest metro I have ever seen and the streets are always presentable–besides the cigarettes. Once again, I believe this smoking is a cultural act rather than a lack of being environmentally-conscious: it is a way of socializing and bonding. I do not know why they choose to throw these cigarettes on the ground, but I can understand the act of smoking (kind of).

Perhaps Sevilla is also energy-conscious because they have no choice: there are so many people in Europe per square kilometer that public transport, energy programs, etc. are all very necessary. In the United States, we have a lot more room to drive, resources to consume, etc.

I have talked to several of my Spanish friends about sustainability in Sevilla and energy in general and they agree with my thoughts that are stated above: Sevilla is certainly sustainable. The way that they use public transportation and turn off the lights after leaving the room does not limit them, however—it is a habit that they learned at a young age. They are used to taking public transport and being conscious about water. It is not a chore like it was for us Americans at the beginning of our semester here. At first, it was difficult to remember to turn off the lights each time we left a room or to take 5-minute showers as opposed to our leisure 20-30 minute showers. Nevertheless, after 3 months here, I believe that I am accustomed to it. In fact, I will probably bring these habits back with me to the United States. It is such a simple way to help the environment and even save some money—who wouldn’t want that?

Until next time,

Alayna

Sources:

“Seville goes green.” Brendan Sainsbury. Jan 04 2012. <http://www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/seville/travel-tips-and-articles/76948&gt;.

A land of colors: Marruecos (المغرب)

I apologize for the delay, as I traveled to Morocco a little over a month ago! Hopefully the wait will be worth your while.  On the weekend of February 13th to February 15th, I traveled to Morocco, my priority destination for this semester. After taking an African religion course at TCU, I developed a passion for Africa as a whole–from an academic standpoint as well as from an emotional standpoint.  As you no doubt know, I love my quotes.  Here is one I found by the one and only Nelson Mandela: “I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.” This quote gives me chills. Many people disregard Africa as a lost cause or perhaps too broken to be fixed, but I see potential and hope.  Perhaps I am an optimist, but I can’t help myself. I could go on about all of the political and economic reasons that Africa has potential, but I would probably end up writing an abridged thesis on it, so I’ll spare you. Africa has a place close to my heart, and although I only visited Morocco, which happens to be one of the wealthier countries in Africa, I was able to get a taste of life on another continent, in another world.  It has been my favorite trip thus far.

I traveled to Morocco with one of my friends from TCU through a travel group called Discover Excursions.  I cannot tell you how nice it was to not have to plan everything–I felt very at ease.  We left Sevilla in the late afternoon on Friday by bus to Tarifa where we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier.  The ferry was huge!  Prior to the trip, I was imagining a small, wobbly boat as our mode of transportation to Morocco.  I was pleasantly surprised.  From there, we took the bus to our hotel in Tétouan called Hotel La Paloma.  As I walked through the doors, I was instantly handed a cup of mint tea with a scone, so obviously I was hooked from the start.  The hotel was incredible and the food was delicious–the spicing was sweet and the couscous was so flavorful.  Exhausted, we went to bed soon after our late (midnight) dinner.

PINK/ROSA/وردي

I woke up to a deep pink and orange sunrise. Our hotel room had a great view of the valley. I am not exaggerating in the slightest–this sunrise was unlike anything I had ever seen.  It is probably one of my favorite parts about the trip.  You may be thinking, it is just a sunrise, what is so special about a sunrise?  And I don’t know what to tell you–it was honestly just so breathtaking that I cannot even begin to describe it.  Here is a picture. And a picture of some couscous and dessert because why not.

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BLUE/AZUL/أزرق

We spent the day in Chefchaouen (or the “blue city”), nestled in the Rif Mountains, up in the clouds. Our guide led us through the winding streets, every door and wall was painted a different shade of blue.  I cannot even tell you how many pictures I took of blue doors.  Yes, blue doors.  They are cooler than you think.  The people of Chefchaouen paint the buildings blue in order to keep the bugs away. After our tour of the town, we had some free time to eat lunch and shop for souvenirs.  In Morocco, bargaining is a way of life–it is a social activity that the vendors very much enjoy.  Our travel group leaders told us that we should offer a fourth of the asking price.  This was definitely a new experience for me–especially when I do not speak Arabic.  However, many of the Moroccan shopkeepers spoke several different languages.  Half of the time, I did not know what language I was speaking (Arabic, Spanish, English, French)!  I love that they really encourage people to learn different languages in Morocco.  After all, tourism is one of their biggest sources of income.  I was amazed by how kind the shopkeepers were to us–I was expecting them to be loud and aggressive.  One shopkeeper taught us a couple of phrases in Arabic and another taught me how to wear a hijab.  They loved to hear about where we were from and what we were studying.  I was able to buy a handful of souvenirs (using the euro and their currency, the dirham) for great prices!

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Here are some phrases that we learned in Arabic:

Na’am: Yes

Salam: Hello

Waha: Okay

La: No

Shukran: Thank you

GREEN/VERDE/أخضر

The green mint tea in Morocco is my absolute favorite.  It is sweet and absolutely delicious.  They served the tea in these beautiful glass cups.  I could drink this tea everyday and never get bored of it.  Another thing that surprised me about Morocco was how green it was.  As we drove to and from our hotel (while watching Aladdin on the T.V. screen of course), I loved gazing out the window at the green countryside.

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GRAY/GRIS/اللون الرمادي

On Sunday (our last day in Morocco), we went on a bus tour of Tangier.  Unfortunately it was raining, but there was something charming about the rain.  We were not able to see the coast of Spain from Tangier because of the rain, but I can imagine how beautiful the city must be when the sun shines down on it.  It is similar to Sevilla in this way–the sun absolutely loves Sevilla.  Tangier is a wealthy city in Morocco with a lot of potential–we saw a lot of construction, etc.
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GOLD/ORO/الذهب

After our bus tour, we went to a great restaurant that provided us with giant platters of vegetables, sweet bread, and couscous.  It was delicious and the decorations and tile work were incredible.  After our lunch, we went to a beach on the Atlantic side where camels were waiting for us.  Now this was an experience! I rode a camel, and I survived.  And the sun came out!  The sand looked golden in the sun, and we walked along the beach picking up seashells.  They were quite ordinary, but something about these shells being from Morocco made them special.

After our camel ride, we went to the beach town known as Assilah.  The city walls were covered in colorful murals and there were vendors on the street, painting tapestries and doing henna. It was a nice way to end our trip, but my favorite place by far was Chefchaouen.

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Later that night, we boarded the ferry where security was incredibly lax.  It still blows my mind how nonexistent the security is between Morocco and Spain–I am so used American airport security.. An hour later, we arrived in Tarifa, boarded the bus home (with the Lion King playing in the background).

This trip was certainly short and sweet, but it was without a doubt my favorite trip.  I cannot wait to go back.  Soon.

Stay tuned for my next post about Granada!

~Alayna