Treasured Laughter

It’s been almost a week since I returned from El Salvador for the third time. Every time it’s harder to leave. There was something different about this trip than the previous two. I don’t know if it was because we stayed in a new place, had several returning team members, or because it was such a wonderful team of people to work with. Every year, God puts certain people together in preparation for the people we will be serving, but this year was an especially good team.

Monday is always our travel day. We all met up at RDU at 4:30am and flew to Atlanta, then from there to San Salvador. From the airport, we get on a big yellow school bus and drive to Ahuachpan. In all, about 14 hours of traveling. This year we stayed at Hotel el Altillo, instead of Pepe’s House. The hotel was very comfortable, with air conditioning in the rooms and wonderful food all week long.

Tuesday we had our first day of work in La Gloria. We split up the group and had 9 of us working at the medical clinic and the other 6 working on food bags and delivery. Patti and I did the triage table out front, where people would come up, tell me their name, age, and why they needed to be seen. Melba and Dr. Bailey had a table with glasses outside by our triage table. Dr. Spivey, Donna, and Kathy were inside seeing patients, with Nelson and Mike running the pharmacy. The first day we saw about 175 people. The main complaints were headache, stomach ache, and arthritis. We went through almost all the ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and used a lot of the glasses.

Wednesday was my favorite day. Leading up to this trip, I had been wanting to ask our leaders if I could spend some time at the school with the English teacher. I never asked anyone because it might sound selfish and I didn’t want to pull out of the group when we were all there working together. Well, little did I know, we would be given the opportunity to go to the school for the morning anyway, because of the generosity of one of the ladies groups at church. They donated books and money for us to give to the children. So Wednesday morning, we divided our group again. Four of us went to the school and played with the kids (Guess Who, Twister, farm animals, number bingo, Mr. Potato Head) and the rest of the group went out to Coatepeque to set up another medical clinic. It was a wonderful morning with the children, but also to spend time talking to Ellyn, the teacher, about daily life and teaching in El Salvador. For the afternoon, we rejoined the rest of the group and helped with the clinic. That day we saw about 200 people.

Thursday we went back to La Gloria and set up medical clinic again, with some people delivering food also. We saw about 220 people that day because word had traveled to the next village and people were coming from there too. The pastor, Gloria, was a big help for us, especially me, because when I couldn’t understand what the people were saying, she would repeat it to me and I could understand her well. We had a little bit of down time between patients and I enjoyed getting to know her.

Friday we went out to San Lorenzo, the only place we have visited all 3 years. The pastor there, Fransisco, has an amazing story about how he ended up in San Lorenzo, and you can tell he loves the community so much. We set up a clinic at his house and some of the group went out to deliver food. It was a slow day, we only saw about 75 people, but some of those really needed medicine, like one with pneumonia, and several children who needed glasses.

Saturday we had planned to work, but because we had seen so many people, we were out of medicines and didn’t have many glasses left either. So instead of working with limited resources, we decided to make it a fun day and went ziplining and then to the hot springs. About half the group went ziplining. It was so much fun! Flying through the canopy and coffee plantations of El Salvador and seeing the little towns below, it was exhilarating. The hot springs were very relaxing and had amazing food. It was so nice to spend a day with the group, just relaxing and getting to know one another, especially after working intensely the previous days.

Sunday we got up and went up to Ataco for shopping. Some of us hiked up to the giant cross overlooking the city. It seemed tougher this year than last year to make it up that mountain, but the view is so worth it. We walked around town and bought little things to bring back home, my favorite of which was from the Fabru’S shop. They are brothers who paint “las memitas”, traditional Salvadorian women. Sunday afternoon we went to El Shaddai for church, which on our first trip, we had been helping to put dirt down for the altar. It was incredible to see it almost completed now.

Monday again, travel day. This time the bus got to us early enough that we were able to stop at the market in San Salvador and shop a little more. It may sound silly that we spend so much time shopping, but for some of these people, it is the difference between feeding their family and not.

This trip was one I will always treasure. It was full of joy and laughter, from the 4:30am meeting at the airport to the separation after we landed back at RDU. We built new relationships, both within the group and with people in the community, and strengthened relationships we’ve had for a long time. I’m already counting down for next year.

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The group waiting to see the doctor

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Our group in Ahuachpan

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Trying to reach a mango

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Playing Guess Who with the kids

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Our ziplining group

 

 

 

El Salvador: Take 2.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It doesn’t matter how many words I write about this trip, there aren’t enough to describe everything that happened. This is a collection of pictures from the first week:

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We spent the week in a squatter’s village. The people living there do not own the land and live in houses made of scrap materials, like metal, wood, plastic bags, and bamboo. It’s a very poor area and several team members really had a hard time seeing the living conditions at first. This year we were able to do a walking medical clinic, food distribution, and construction. (Last year we did food and construction. See posts #1, #2, and #3.)

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It was really great to have the doctor with us this time. It seems like many people have asthma or respiratory problems, because they cook on open fires in closed areas. We handed out a lot of vitamins, to both children and adults. Some people got medicines they normally have to pay for, or antibiotics that they would’ve had to go to the clinic and pay for. It might not seem like much, but just a little bit can make a difference.

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This little boy is 2 1/2 years old and his name is Alejandro. He has a heart condition and his family told us they are looking for some way to get him heart surgery through a nonprofit organization. We have pictures of his paperwork so if you happen to see this and know of anything, get in touch with any of the Holland’s UMC people! His older brother was so funny; as we walked in, he started saying “Don’t take my picture!” but of course we snuck one picture. He was too cute not to!

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This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip. Sarah and Lindsay were blowing bubbles with the kids, Dean was kicking the soccer ball around, Melba was taking some pictures, and the rest of the group was doing food delivery at the houses nearby. All of a sudden, it went from like 5 kids around us to 20. All of them were laughing and running around in the bubbles, playing with the soccer balls and having so much fun. It’s such a contrast to kids in the US: they stay inside with their video games, cell phones, televisions, and all the other electronics, and are rarely as happy as these kids were to play with some bubbles.

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We took this group pic before we headed back for lunch one day. Every day (pretty much) we rode like this, in the back of the truck. Standing, sitting, 5 to 10 people, with all our bookbags and food bags packed around us. It is one of my favorite parts, even when a bug hits you in the face like a speeding bullet.

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Saturday night we were invited to a concert at New Jerusalem church. It’s safe to say that was one of the best nights we had, we all got to relax and enjoy some great music. Nobody wanted to leave to get ice cream…that should tell you how much fun we were having.

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On Sunday, we took a drive up the mountain to Ataco for shopping. First, a group of us hiked up to the cross. I’m glad my apartment in Spain was at the top of a hill, because it prepared me for this hike. From the top of the mountain was a beautiful view of the town and surrounding mountains. We took this picture because I was a “third Spivey” for the week. This is the second mission trip I have been lucky enough to go on with the Spiveys and I hope there is another in the near future.

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The first international mission team from Holland’s UMC with some of the local guys who helped us. This trip was so different from any I have been on before…I think because it was a team of people who have known each other before and who truly care about each other for longer than a week. Some of the adults have watched the younger team members grow up over the years, and many of the younger people have looked up to the adults for most of their lives. Across the world, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but I’m especially thankful that I’ve been blessed with these people in my life.

Spanish I should have learned in school but didn’t

I’ve been making lists in my phone since, oh I don’t know, October probably, of things I should blog about. Since we are in the home stretch (hallelujah praise) I figure I should actually publish a few of these lists. This first one is dedicated to Spanish words and phrases I hear/have heard in Spain that I swear I never heard in school.

  • Quedar: staying somewhere. This is a crucial word when discussing an apartment contract. Luckily our landlord was patient and used it 754 times in the same sentence until we understood what she was trying to say.
  • Marchar: leaving somewhere. Again, very important in apartment hunting. Or when you are talking about how you already booked your plane ticket and you’re trying to not pay for the entire last month’s rent because you won’t even be there. If you can use this word correctly, it seems to be more effective.
  • Dejar: to leave. I really still don’t get this one completely and I’m fine with that. Don’t try and explain it. I know it’s like “Leave it on the table” or “Leave me alone” so I try to work it in where I can.
  • Mojar: To (be) wet. Like that time the sink broke and water was all over the kitchen floor. All our towels were mojadas after that.
  • Secar: To (be) dry. Opposite of wet. This word is irrelevant in Galicia, nothing is ever truly dry.
  • Qué chulo/churro/guay: Cool, awesome, sweet; when something is great this is what Spaniards say.
  • “con lo cual”: I don’t really know where to begin with this one. It’s kind of an action/consequence phrase. When describing the consequence of the action, it goes in the sentence. Like “with the result being” or something like that. I have one teacher that uses this all.the.time. and I still can’t figure out half the time why.
  • “te lo juro”: “I swear” or “I’m not lying”. The ‘con lo cual’ teacher uses this phrase a lot too.
  • Any form of vosotros verbs: Using them is not particularly important, I did learn them in high school Spanish (shout out to Mr. Wood), but hearing them still throws me off.
  • Caña: the cheap but perfect sized glass of beer. Along with this, “tinto” for red wine, “tinto de verano” for red wine with carbonated water or sprite, “clara” for beer with carbonated water/sprite, basically the useful things you use when having a drink with friends. Nope. Never learned that in school.

Living in Galicia with another official language spoken, there are many words I hear on a daily basis that should also be on this list, but sometimes I’m not sure if they are castellano or galego. Any words you would add to the list?

Sevilla: a weekend of shenanigans.

I never planned to go to Sevilla. It was kind of a spur of the moment trip. My friend Elizabeth (Eli) mentioned that she was going and so I just jumped in and she said it would be cool if I joined her. Little did we know, it would turn into a weekend of full-blown shenanigans.

We went to Sevilla for their famous Feria (fair) and I had no clue what that involved. When we landed and got on the bus to head to the AirBnb, there were women in flamenco dresses everywhere and men in nice suits accompanying them. At this point I was silently thinking, “Oh, what did I get myself into?” We got to the little house and our host’s daughter answered the door in this gorgeous flamenco dress and flawless makeup. She showed us our room and there was a double bed, two rocking chairs, a coffee press, coffee, tea, sugar, cups, a bottle of wine, cheese, fruit, and fresh flowers! We were not expecting any of that.

After dropping our stuff off we headed back out and down to where the feria was happening. As we walked in, I saw all these little tents with tables and bars inside. Each tent is a “caseta” or stall/booth, and each caseta is paid for by a family, company, political party, organization, etc. There are some public ones, but for the most part they are invite-only. Our host extended an invitation to us so we got to hang out in her sister’s caseta on Friday night.

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Friday was our first full day in Sevilla. Eli got up and went running while I slept in. Shortly after I woke up, she came in the room with her arms full of flamenco dresses and exclaimed, “LOOK WHAT I GOT!” to which I responded, “What did you do?” Our host had some extra dresses and said we could try them on to wear for the weekend! After Eli picked a dress, our lovely host said she and her daughter were going shopping for shoes and we could join if we wanted, so of course we did.

The first shop we went to had lots of dresses and I tried some but Spanish women just don’t have hips. We walked around with them for a while and found some cute shoes. They went back home and we had lunch. On our way back to the house we stopped so I could get ice cream and then continued walking. Right after that, as we crossed the street, I was betrayed by my flip flop. I kept walking and the sandal did not. All I really know is that one second I was up and the next I was on the ground. But my instincts allowed me to save the ice cream in my hand, while crushing all the gifts I had bought. I banged my knee up pretty bad but nothing was broken. Eli said later she thought I had had a seizure because I went down so fast.

Friday night was when we really experienced feria. At feria, the typical drink is called “rebujito” and it is an alcohol made from dandelions mixed with sprite. It’s refreshing and doesn’t taste strong…which can cause problems. In the casetas, there are bars, bartenders, kitchens, chefs, and security guards for the entrance. We sat in that caseta for 5 hours, drinking rebujitos and eating tortilla (potato omelet), solomillo al whisky (pork in whisky sauce), and fries. 5 hours sounds like a long time, but it was nothing. We found some fresh cotton candy and walked around a little bit, before stopping for more rebujitos. (The theme of feria seems to truly be “eat, drink, and be merry”.)

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To backtrack a little, Saturday morning and afternoon we explored the city. Eli studied in Sevilla so she showed me all her favorite places and told me stories along the way. It was really fun! We saw the bullring, minus the bulls of course, a giant cathedral with interesting moorish architecture, the Jewish part of the city, and Plaza de Espana (below), where part of Star Wars was filmed. Sevilla seems like a big city but we saw most of it (I think) in about 6 hours.

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The weather wasn’t very good on Sunday (plus our feet hurt) so we didn’t do much. We had to be up really early Monday morning for our flight back to Coruña, so we tried to stay up all night. That didn’t work. We also tried to take the bus to the airport, but as it came up, we were waving our hands so it would be sure to see us but then he just kept driving. An uneventful flight back led to an awkward meeting in a train station, which was followed by Eli sitting next to nuns on a train, and thus concluded our shenanigans. Traveling with other people makes you form a bond with them and I’m so glad I jumped in with Eli on this trip. It was quite the memorable weekend.

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane: Spring Break Stories from Rhonda

As promised, here is the second part of the spring break saga. This one was written by my mom:

When Megan told us she was going to take a job in Spain for 9 months, Mike was still living. He said right away, “Well, we are going to have to go visit her while she’s there.” So, arranging it around Meredith’s spring break from high school, we did just that! We flew from RDU to Miami, then 8 hours overnight to Madrid, then on to A Coruña, the northwestern coast of Spain where Megan resides. After spending 4 days with her, we all three took a train to Santiago, Spain to catch a flight to Amsterdam, Holland. After a couple of days there, we took a train to Brussels, Belgium. Then we hoped another plane to Rome for 4 days, returning to the US back through Madrid and Miami. Whew!

My list of memories pretty much falls into 4 categories: Food, People, Places and Accommodations.

Food:  For the most part, the food was really good.

In Spain, we went to eat one afternoon with Megan’s roommate, Courtney, who is from Tennessee, who it was nice to get to meet. We went to a restaurant in Maria Pita Plaza, where I ordered Langostinos, thinking it was something like shrimp. I was somewhat surprised (and grossed out) when this rectangular plate was delivered with 8 large crustaceans on it, complete with tails, shell, feet and head…with beady eyes staring at me. After freaking out a little, I managed to peel and eat about half of them. It was softer and less flavorful than shrimp and I later learned it translates to “little lobster” and is of the lobster crustacean family, not shrimp.  Other things I enjoyed in Spain were Raxo – a dish of cubed chicken, diced potatoes, onions and peppers in a light mushroom sauce, served over French fries. The best though was the Tortilla. Nothing like what we call tortillas, it is almost like an egg and potato pie. Something I didn’t care for was that drinks are not served with ice. Drinks are not chilled either and Coke is hot and comes with a lemon in the glass.

In Belgium, we had waffles a couple of times and they were delicious. When preparing for our trip, I learned that what we call French fries actually originated in Belgium. And let me tell you, being fresh cut from the potato and not frozen, they are amazing! Of course, we had to buy (and sample) some Belgian chocolates. One thing I missed in Belgium was beer. They have more breweries than anywhere else in the world and it was on our “to do” list but it was so cold and rainy, it just didn’t work out.

In Rome, the pasta was out of this world delicious! Nothing like ours here – hard and in a box – this was so fresh it was soft, almost dough-like. In Italy, you have to specify the water you want to drink – gas or natural. They prefer carbonated water there. Good thing is that their water was chilled, even if there was still no ice in the glass. I didn’t care for their surcharge for not cleaning your plate. Romans charge €5 if you don’t clean your plate. I relied on Megan and Meredith to clean my plate!

Oh and everywhere we went the cappuccinos were to die for! Starbucks ain’t got nothin’ on these people!

People:

I am a people-watcher by nature, so this was extra fun for me to watch Europeans. One day in Spain, we had an interesting ride on the bus going from Megan’s apartment to our hotel. The streets are narrow and parked cars are close to the driving lanes anyway, but when one car was double parked, it became impossible to pass on the bus. The driver blew the horn, nothing happened, so he kept creeping forward and blowing the horn more and more. People walking on the street were so intrigued they stopped to watch, laugh and take cell phone pictures. Finally, a lady comes out of a market and can’t get in her car to move it because the bus driver had crept so close to her car that she couldn’t get the door open. She couldn’t get in the passenger door either because she was so close to the properly parked car. So funny to watch them argue in Spanish about how to get out of this predicament. She finally got into the back seat on the passenger side, crawled over and moved her car as bystanders clapped and laughed some more.

In Amsterdam, most people we met were nice and friendly. More than once, we smelled why they were so “chill.”  Haha

In Rome, the taxi drivers were abrasive and impolite. When we took one to Vatican City, Megan was in the front passenger seat with Meredith and me in the back. When she pulled over to let us out, another taxi driver came up to the passenger window and started yelling at our driver. Our driver rolled down Megan’s window and yelled back at him right across Megan’s lap. Of course, it was all in Italian, so we weren’t sure exactly what the problem was, but it was an unpleasant situation to be in the middle and no way out for Megan. Needless to say, we didn’t come across any old men to help us like Megan and her friends usually find when they travel.

Places: Ah, the places we went!

In Spain, since Megan was working, we didn’t get to go see too much but we did go to the Torre de Hercules, a lighthouse built by the Romans in 3 AD. It was by far, the most beautiful day we had in A Coruña, where it usually rains on and off most days. The sun was shining, the temperature was mid 60s and the wind was mild. We all 3 went different directions to look at different parts of the park. I went up to the base of the lighthouse, but not inside or to the top. The water was the most brilliant blue I’ve ever seen. Truly a sight to behold.

In Amsterdam, we were looking for the Rembrandt House Museum and took a wrong turn. We knew it was a wrong turn when we both looked up at the same time and saw a window display of 50 or so condoms (monkeys, giraffes and lizards, oh my!) After laughing at our turn into the Red Light District, we navigated back to the right street. The Rembrandt House was very nice and had some beautiful furniture as well as art. My favorite was the Van Gogh Museum where I stood in front of the real, original Sunflowers painting in awe. What a sight to behold! Meredith and I also took a canal boat tour and saw lots of sights from the water, including the Anne Frank House. Megan went a different direction that day, so she can share her adventures.

In Belgium, we took the train from Brussels to Bruge one afternoon to the Grote Markt (a plaza). At 8:30 pm, most of the lights went out and we thought they must have been closing down early, even though it was Saturday night. It was time to catch the train back to our hotel anyway, so we left. After getting back to the hotel, the girls discovered that it was actually part of a global climate change awareness initiative called Earth Hour. Personally, I don’t believe in global warming, but it was pretty neat to be a part of something global while in a foreign country!

In Brussels, we took a bus tour of the city because it was a cold, rainy day. We did get to spend a little time in the Grand Place (The Grand Square) which has shops and government buildings.  There was such beautiful architecture and history on these cobblestone streets.

In Rome, Megan and I took a bus ride to Pompeii to see the city of ruins. That was probably my most favorite day of the trip. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable and easy to understand and learn from. One thing I learned, there was never any lava on the Pompeii side of the mountain, only ash. The lava flow was on the other side of the mountain.

The next day, we toured Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel. The museums of the Vatican were huge, but to me, contained a lot of old statues, paintings and jugs. I was satisfied after the first couple of rooms, as was Meredith, but Megan wanted to see it all. The Sistine Chapel was amazing to me. Since it is still used as a church, we were instructed that you weren’t to talk while in there, no hats for the men and covered shoulders for the women. I became overwhelmed at the history of the place and had to leave. St Peter’s Basilica had a 3 hour long line, so we opted not to do that, but went to St Paul’s Outside the Walls instead. It was beautiful as well. I lit a candle for Mike while there as a way to say “hello, wish you were here” and said a prayer, thanking God for the days I had Mike in my life.

Our last day in Rome, we took a pedi-cab around town to the Pantheon, which is actually a church that still functions as such; the Spanish Steps. which weren’t that impressive to me; the Trevi Fountain, which was drained and under repair; the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, which was amazing and my favorite ruin we saw. The pedi-cab was so fun…and frightening! In Rome, the paint on the road might say two lanes, but if the cars want to make it three wide, they do. Add a bicycle driver pulling 3 ladies and it can get very interesting. I think I even said something I shouldn’t one time!

Accommodations: This was probably the most enlightening thing of our trip.

Bathrooms may or may not have toilet seats. Most don’t have toilet paper or even napkins that they want to call toilet paper. Even if you pay €1 to use it, don’t expect much.

Beds have thin, hard mattresses and strange long, flat pillows. I missed my pillow top mattress just about as much as I missed my dog!

Bidets do exist, even though I have no idea how to use one. Every bathroom in every hotel we stayed in had one, even the hostel in Madrid that was scary strange and had no room to walk between the toilet and tub.

You have to use your hotel key card in a slot in the wall to get the lights to turn on. Guess that’s how they insure you turn the lights out when you leave, because you need to take your room key with you.

There’s so much more I could say about our trip, but I should probably stop. Thank you Megan for suggesting a guest blog post! And thank you for living your dreams and moving half way around the world for 9 months so we could visit. I don’t know if I would have ever made a trip to Europe, or even applied for a passport for that matter, if you hadn’t.

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Coruña, Pompeii, the Coloseum, and Brugge

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All the delicious food

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Pictures of us

Three Wild and Crazy Gals: Spring Break Stories from Megan

First, sorry to family and friends who have been looking for a new post. School has been busy and I just didn’t feel like writing, but in the next few days there will be several posts to read so get ready! This is going to be a three part “series” about Spring Break; one post from me, one from my mom, and one from my sister. Here’s mine:

For spring break my mom and sister came to visit. I can’t even begin to count the hours that went into planning the trip. Most of the time was spent pricing and buying all the flights, bugging them to get their passports done, and telling Meredith not to over pack so she would have room for mom’s extra stuff. But finally after what seemed like forever, they got here March 22. I had planned to take the bus to the airport to pick them up but then I decided to straighten my hair and missed it, so I had to get a taxi. All the taxis that usually sit out front of the clinic near my apartment apparently aren’t there on Sundays, which meant I was running around trying to figure out where to find one so they wouldn’t be at the airport by themselves. I finally got one and the driver was a very nice woman, she got me there fast and waited while they came in, then took us back. Probably the best cab driver we had the whole time.

Once they got to Coruña, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I mean there’s plenty to do here, but I was working so I had limited time. Meredith came to school with me everyday and the students really enjoyed it. Several asked if we were twins (I am 5 years older, thank you very much). One afternoon we went to the Torre de Hercules, another day we went to Marineda City, the giant mall. They got to meet some of my best friends and see a little bit of what I’ve been doing the past few months, so I hope they enjoyed it!

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On Thursday we started the grand adventure: 3 countries in a week.

First stop: Netherlands. We stayed in Haarlem, about 30 min outside of Amsterdam. (That night Carolina lost in the tournament…not the best start to a vacation.) Friday morning we woke up and there was no power in our room. Hmm, that’s strange. We went up for breakfast and no power in the whole hotel, what?! Then we heard from the front desk that the whole city of Haarlem had no power. Cool, that’s cool. I went into Haarlem center to visit the Corrie ten Boom house, something I’ve wanted to do for years and when I got there it was closed. Tears started coming out of my eyes from the overwhelming disappointment. I walked back to the center of the city to the cathedral and went inside, took some pictures and asked the people in the gift shop if they knew anything about the Corrie ten Boom house being closed. They told me it would be open as soon as the power returned! Naturally the only thing open was a bar, so I went and had a beer while I waited. When the power came on the whole bar erupted in cheers. I rushed back to the house and found 2 American families waiting who had reserved tours for earlier but due to the power outage couldn’t do them. Once the doors opened, we were able to have the tour and it was wonderful! The guide knew so much and told us everything as usual plus a little more because of the delay. It was amazing to be in the house where so many people were hidden and especially to climb into the hiding place itself! I picked up some bookmarks and a book from there and we have now started a ladies small group for the last few weeks we are here. 30 years after her death, Corrie ten Boom is still changing people.

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The center of Haarlem with the Cathedral
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Inside the Corrie ten Boom house. This used to be 4 bedrooms.
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Me inside the hiding place.

Second stop- Belgium. We visited Brussels and Brugge. It was my second time in these cities and they are still beautiful, even if it was raining and miserable. The rain killed my boots, thanks to the little holes I had accumulated walking around Coruña.  Barry’s Hotel was lacking, even for 2 nights. I had a meltdown trying to go to sleep the first night because it was the lumpiest pillow I have EVER had to sleep on. When we went to Brugge all the lights shut off at 8:30pm. We thought the city was closing so we left, but later found out it was earth hour. In Brussels we used one of those sightseeing tour buses and rode around. At the European Parliament we got off so I could see it but it was disappointing because it wasn’t open (or I couldn’t find the entrance). The waffles were, as usual, to die for. I could eat waffles everyday.

Third stop – Italy. This was my second time to Italy. (Click here to see my post about Florence.) I love Italy! The food mostly but the places are really cool too. The people aren’t my favorite, but some are really nice. Depends on the person I guess. Rome was a little bit of a letdown to me, I think it would’ve been better if we had been closer to the center of the city instead of out by St. Paul’s. Our hotel was very nice and the weather was great. My favorite part of Rome was definitely St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the basilica with Paul’s tomb. There are giant columns surrounding the outside and then a courtyard with a big statue of Paul. Inside along the top of the walls are frescoes of Paul’s life. Paul’s tomb is in the center, and you can go down into the area and see where the excavation is. There are chains there that he supposedly wore. It was amazing to be in a place where one of the first and greatest missionaries was. Mom and I took a trip down to Pompeii while we were in Rome and that was really cool too, although also a little disappointing. I guess I never really thought about it being a city. We walked around a lot but our tour guide was awesome, she showed us places that other groups don’t go and told us fun facts. We ate a lot in Rome too; gelato, lasagna, gelato, pizza, gelato…I love gelato, especially the hazelnut.

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Eating our gelato outside the Pantheon.

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This picture pretty much captures how amazing and huge St. Paul’s was.

Finally after all that we arrived back in Madrid, where we split ways the next morning after a stay in a hostel where you couldn’t fit between the toilet and the bathtub. Mom and Meredith headed back to Raleigh via Miami and I got on the 8 hour bus back to Coruña. It was a fun but exhausting trip. I don’t plan to go back to Amsterdam but I’d love to explore more of Italy!

Moments that I’ve laughed a little too hard

Sometimes when learning a new language there are words that do not translate the way you want them to. If you’ve ever had a language class, it’s something you’ve dealt with whether you realize it or not. You may have had a teacher with a fantastic poker face or a teacher that laughed. Hopefully somewhere in between. I like to think I’m between the two, but sometimes, I really can’t hold my laughter. Kids really do say the darndest things. I’ve been keeping a list of things that have made me laugh and it’s getting pretty long, so I’m going to list them out for you and who knows, there may be a second edition down the road.

Sorry if you don’t understand some of them, there are some Spanish things that I can’t explain.

  • We played a game one day where I was thinking of an animal and the students had to ask questions to figure out what animal it was. (Side note- fur and skin are the same word in spanish…what?!) One student was ready to guess the animal and said very confidently “Jump mountains!” I just looked at him, looked at the teacher, and said “Could you repeat please?” To which he replied, “Mountain jump!” The teacher looked at my very confused face and started laughing and explained that he meant “grasshopper”. The spanish word is “saltamontes” which literally translates to “jumps mountains”.
  • We did tongue twisters in several classes. One was something about witches. A few classes later, I said “which” in a sentence and a student looked at me, very concerned, and said “Which? Witch? Which or witch?” The whole class laughed at that one and it took all of us a while to really get back on track. (I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I love that class.)
  • I was sick for about a month and one of the teachers used it as an opportunity for the students to learn some vocabulary about medicine and health, since that’s not a common topic in beginner classes. There were several funny things but the funniest was that so many students kept saying “medicaments” instead of “medicine”. The spanish word is “medicamentos” so it makes sense but I chuckled a few times.
  • We had a fiasco with the word “carefully” one day. I have never heard so many different pronunciations of the same word. Carbelly, carbully, carfully, carebully, cabally…I kept saying it, then they said it wrong. I said it again. They said another wrong version. Finally it was good enough and we quit. That wasn’t so much a laugh as just a what-is-happening-here feeling.
  • I put together a powerpoint for the Travel and Transport unit for the second level classes (13-14 year olds). The first slide had the quote, “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page.” The teacher asked a student to translate it to Spanish and he started okay, “El mundo es un libro y los…..” that’s where he got stuck. His fellow students tried to help him out by saying “que no” because those were the next words, but he thought they meant he was wrong. It went something like this: “…que no…” “Cómo que no?” “Ay, que no, que no!” “Que no qué?” And then the teacher stepped in to explain they meant “que no” were the next words, not “que no” as in you’re wrong. Once it was straightened out, everyone was laughing pretty hard. (This was the same student that confused witch/which…he’s a character!)
  • With the same Travel and Transport unit, but a different class, we were planning our class trip. The students decided to go to Brazil. Easy summer trip right? Well they wanted to leave that night. By ship. I don’t think that needs much explanation.
  • Another Travel problem: we were listing modes of transport. Car, plane, truck, bike, ship…”Sheep?!” One student thought someone said sheep instead of ship. Pronunciation is important. No, you can’t ride a sheep.
  • The first level classes (12-13 year olds) did a unit on Around Town last week. We spent the majority of class listing places around town. We talked about a police station, court and then where do criminals go after that? To prison. What’s a synonym for prison? Jail. One of the students said “That’s a university?” I just looked at the teacher, waiting for an explanation. He was looking at me waiting for an answer. I said “Can you repeat please?” The student said “Is a university?” to which I thought he was listing a new place in town, so I wrote university. The teacher says “No, is there a university with the name Jail?” I said “No…?” And then it hit me – Yale! Pronunciation kids, learn it.
  • Another place around town is a fire station. In Spanish “parque de bomberos”. Fire station literally translated would be “estacion de fuego”. So the students got creative and combined the two to “estacion de bombas” or “bomb station”. Sorry, no.
  • I have two girls that I give private classes to, both 2 hours per week. One is 3 and the other is 10. The 3 year old obviously says things that make me laugh all the time, but I expect it from her. The things I hear from the 10 year old are what really crack me up. One day we were doing a worksheet with “Park Rules” and had the question: why shouldn’t you feed the animals in the park? She says, dead serious, “So they don’t get fat like pigs.”
  • Another day we were working on animals and I asked if she could be any animal, which one she would be. Now, there were 25 animals on the table in front of us, from alligator to spider to rabbit to deer. She said “A panda.” I asked why. “Because then I wouldn’t have to go to school.”

I hope you have enjoyed these little stories, because I laughed again as I was writing them. As hard as it can be to try and teach these kids English, moments like these are totally worth it.

Unexpected beauty

This past weekend was a long holiday for me because of Carnival. Originally, I wanted to go to the south of Spain and see some places, but it was going to be too expensive so when I found a cheap ticket to Milan, Italy, I booked it. Instead of staying in Milan though, Courtney and I went down to Florence. I’ve always heard Italy is wonderful, Italy is beautiful, Italy is the best, but I didn’t really think I would love it as much as I did. It was definitely my favorite place I’ve been so far.

We started the trip out taking the overnight bus to Madrid and then flew out Friday morning. I got lucky and had an exit row seat on a Ryanair flight…with 2 other auxiliares from Coruña. That made the flight pretty enjoyable. Once we landed, we waited for the BlaBla car to come get us at the airport. It was my first time using the BlaBla car but it was fine…a little strange with the  sing alongs, psychoanalysis, and Patch Adams video, but we got to Florence in one piece.

The AirBnb we got was great. The location was basically the center of everything. A 5 minute walk to the Duomo/Cathedral, 3 minutes to Ponte Vecchio, and only 15 to the museums. Seeing the Duomo for the first time was overwhelming. It is a gigantic, ornate building and there are so many people walking around you, but you can’t help stopping and staring. It’s incredible. We ate dinner at the restaurant that the Jersey Shore cast worked at (sometimes, you gotta be an American) and then went to bed super early.

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The Duomo, the Cathedral, and the tower

Saturday we had planned to go to the Galleria della Academia where the David sculpture is, but when we got there, the line was around the building. People at the front had been waiting for an hour and a half, so we got some gelado and went to see the Cathedral and Duomo. Inside is even more beautiful than outside. The paintings on the ceiling of the Duomo are fantastic. All the stained glass was brilliant. There were a lot of people inside, but it didn’t feel crowded. When we finished inside, I toured the underground portion and the Bapistery while Courtney climbed the tower.   DSCN2742
The ceiling of the Duomo

The Bapistery has these amazing bronze doors with scenes from the Bible on them. The doors are huge, but we could only see one set because it was under construction. I thought it was closed to visitors, but then I saw people coming out. Of course, I went in to explore. If the doors are that cool, the inside must be worth seeing, right? Breathtaking. Absolutely incredible. When I got inside, I just stared at the ceiling for a little while. It looks like it is made of gold. There are pictures of scenes from the Bible, angels, the resurrection, the “underworld”, and decorative mosaics too. It was so unexpected to see such a beautiful place.

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The ceiling of the Bapistery

Saturday night we walked around town a little. We saw Ponte Vecchio and then found a plaza with a bunch of statues. I was taking a lot of pictures and walking at the same time. I walked toward a building, beside a fake David statue and a horse statue. Except the horse wasn’t a statue. It tried to lick me! I saw it’s tongue coming at me and I think I screamed. The woman driving the cart got a pretty good laugh out of it.

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Ponte Vecchio

Sunday we got up early and went to the Galleria again. We stood in line for an hour, but we got in. It was full of art. I really didn’t expect so many paintings. I thought the David was the main attraction and that was basically it. There was a special exhibit on the history of musical instruments and that was more exciting to me than seeing the David. An original harpsichord from 1700 is way cooler than some statue. But the David was pretty impressive. There were a lot of really cool pieces. Most of them were based on Bible stories or people. By the end, I was tired of looking at all the representations of chubby baby Jesus (why do they think he was so big?) but it was still a cool experience. I do wish there had been some of Da Vinci’s work in there though, especially his anatomical journals. Unfortunately they are mostly in London. DSCN2916
The original Harpsichord far right

Monday morning we got up early again and met another BlaBla car to get back to Bergamo. A more normal ride with general conversation and the music was a flashback to high school. In Bergamo, we had to walk around with our stuff for like 6 hours because there was no one at the B&B to let us in…even though they were supposed to be there. Really irritating. We went up to Citta Alta, the high portion of the city, and saw some amazing views of the Alps and the city below.DSCN2957
Panoramic view from the top of the city

There was also a Basilica and Cathedral there that we went into. Again, we had no idea they were there, much less what would be inside. They were both ornate. Incredible artwork, tapestries, mosaics, but still a simple reverent church atmosphere. The Cathedral had several tombs underneath the pulpit…kind of creepy.

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Basilica on the left, Cathedral on the right

That pretty much sums up the trip. Except for the food, which I can say for sure was the best I’ve eaten ever. Stouffer’s lasagna is never going to be the same. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Italy because I would be the size of an elephant. We ate pizza, panini, gelato, bread, lasagna, salad, gelato, pasta, bread, gelato…you see the pattern. I’m getting hungry thinking about all the food I had.

Italy spoiled me. I can’t wait to go to Rome in a little more than a month when my mom and sister come to visit! I might even try to learn a little Italian.

Taco soup a la Expat

Yesterday I had a craving for some good, hot soup. It has been rainy and cold now for a week. I decided to try and make taco soup, which I make often at home but always in my beloved (48 year old) crockpot. Making it in Spain is a little trickier…no crockpot and NO Rotel Tomatoes! After researching a little on Pinterest I found a decent way to make Rotel-like tomatoes and decided the rest would be easy enough. All that being said, here is the recipe I used. It will yield about 8 bowls of soup.

(These are all approximate amounts- I never follow a real recipe.)

Taco Soup

1 lb ground beef
2 8oz cans of corn
1/2lb (1/2 bag) pre-cooked black beans
2 8oz tomato sauce, any kind
3 fresh tomatoes
1 can salsa verde
Water

To make the “rotel tomatoes”:
Dice the tomatoes and put them in a sauce pan. On low-medium heat, add a few spoonfuls of salsa verde. I had 2 spoonfuls for each tomato I diced. Let simmer, stir so it doesn’t stick.

Meanwhile: Brown the ground beef. Pour tomato sauce, corn, beans in a large pot. Add the beef when it is done. When the tomatoes are ready (taste them, you’ll know!) add them. I like to put in about 2 cups of water so it is more soupy but if you want chunky, leave it like it is. Let simmer with lid for 30 minutes.

The longer it sits, the better the flavor is. At home, I like to add cumin and cayenne pepper but I didn’t have them here and it was still delicious! Not too expensive either- total about 12€ for all the ingredients.

Christmas celebrations

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The Christmas tree at my grandparent’s house

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Home sweet home, not my house though.

This Christmas was one of the best ever. Back in November, my mom texted me and said that I should come home for Christmas and after discussing it a little bit, I bought a plane ticket. At that point I said to mom, “Wouldn’t it be fun if it was a surprise?!” And so the lies began…little ones at first, like when asked what my Christmas plans were I was very vague, just saying I was traveling. Then my grandma got concerned about me spending Christmas alone, so I wrote her a long email explaining that she shouldn’t worry, I had friends who weren’t going home, and I wouldn’t be alone. Not a single lie in the email actually. Apparently for Mom it was harder though, and my sister is good at figuring things out, so my skype call on my birthday started with “22” by Tswift and then immediately “YOU’RE COMING HOME AND DIDN’T TELL ME!?!?!” Well…yes. There were 6 family gatherings that my mom and sister got through without blowing the secret though, and I’m pretty proud of that.

Flash forward to December 22 and it’s time for me to go home. My plane was flying from Coruña to Madrid, then on to Philadelphia, then to Raleigh. I left my apartment around 6:30am to catch the bus to the airport. I soon realized my luggage was way too heavy to walk that far so I decided I would just suck it up and pay for a taxi. There’s an urgent care clinic not far from my apartment, so I knew there would be taxis there. Not before 7am. I walked about 20 minutes before I finally got a taxi at the train station. By that point, I was really close to the bus stop, but I had missed the bus. When I got to the airport and checked in, the woman at the desk said there was too much fog to fly out of Coruña, so we were going to be taken by bus to Santiago and fly out. Great, fine, I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. About 5 minutes after the bus was supposed to have come, I went looking for it or someone who could tell me where it was, and was told that, oh nevermind, we are going to fly out of Coruña. There were at least 30 people trying to check luggage and get through security and the plane was supposed to leave in 20 minutes. I guess they held the plane, because we all made it.

Madrid was much less eventful. I got starbucks, ate my chorizo sandwich, and waited to board. In all the messiness before, my seat had been changed so instead of a comfy window seat, I was in the middle of the middle. Thanks guys. But for the first time ever, there were little individual TVs on the seats! Philly wasn’t bad, we had to reclaim our bags and recheck them, and then go through security again. I got a little nervous because I lied to customs about bringing in food or alcohol (NO SIR!) but I had 2 bottles of wine, 4 beers, a bottle of sidra/cider, and lots of chocolate. Poker face.

I wasn’t really that hungry when we landed but I saw a Chick-fil-a and had to have it. Best chicken sandwich of my life. They even had sweet tea. The plane to Raleigh was basically empty. I think everyone had their own row pretty much. Once we landed, baggage took forever, but I finally got it and went outside and then scared my mom because she didn’t see me walking up to the car. From there, the first stop was obviously Cook Out. I was texting my sister and she was with my grandparents and cousins looking at Christmas lights. They kept looking and looking and finally I guess she said she wasn’t feeling well so they got home. Mom and I got there about 10 minutes after they did and I had to hide in the garage until everyone was gathered in the living room. I went to open the door and it was locked. Ha, spare key, you’re always there for me to let myself in. I got inside, walked into the living room, and they just looked at me for a second. Finally, Grandad said “Are you a hologram?” and everyone realized that I shouldn’t actually be there. It was great.

I sat down and we talked for about an hour, while my cousin tried to get her parents to Skype me for an “emergency Christmas problem”. I put on my snow hat to distract them from the familiar couch and then when they got on I talked a little bit and then my cousins leaned in. My uncle said his immediate thought was “Why is Abby in Spain?” After that, we headed home because at that point I had been going for about 23 hours. And I wanted to see my dogs. The dogs were beyond themselves. I got so many kisses that I didn’t know what to do. And then finally, I went to sleep.

The next day, I had a dentist appointment and then went to Target just because I wanted to. After a long nap, we had dinner (Smithfield’s BBQ, I’m dying without it here) at my great-grandma’s (Mamma) house. She still didn’t know I was home, so she was very excited to see me.

My family Christmas is a little crazy. On Christmas Eve, we went to my sister’s church. Then we had a light dinner with Grandad’s family, then went to our church. (It was so nice to see everyone and be home again!) When we got home, we got to open one present. Now, I had only asked for one specific thing this Christmas. The Boy Meets World complete series, seasons 1-7 on DVD. My sister and I debated over what to open and I chose my present carefully and it was the DVDs!!! DSCN2676
My cousins and sister

Christmas morning we open presents with just our family. It was the first Christmas without Dad, and it was a little weird that he wasn’t sitting in his chair, fiddling with the presents while he waited for his turn. After the family presents, we go to my grandparents house for brunch and then open presents with them and my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much at brunch before! It was delicious. And even though I came home with no warning, I still had a few presents to open. Everyone loved their presents from Spain. It took us about 3 hours for brunch and presents. We know how to do Christmas. Christmas dinner is at Mamma’s house. There weren’t many of us there this year, but if we all get together I think there’s 47 people? Mamma opened all her presents and then we each had one from her.

These are all pictures from Christmas morning:

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Grandad with his White House ornament

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Mom opening and Gram watching

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The mess of presents

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Uncle Chris got insulated waterproof gloves to work on the pool

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Reagan and her Spanish scarf and bug goggles

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Meredith, don’t look so excited.

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Gram opening her present from me

The rest of break, you could call me the very hungry caterpillar. I ate everything I could that I can’t have in Spain. My favorite Mexican restaurant, Olive Garden, Ragazzi’s (local Italian favorite), and so much ice cream. There’s ice cream here, but it’s not the same. I got to see friends, got my hair cut, went to the mall, normal things.

I also went and saw my dad’s mom, Granny. It was very nice to get to spend some time with her and tell her some of the stories of my adventures. When I got back to Spain, I had a present waiting for me from her!

New Year’s Eve was spent with my dogs and Ryan Seacrest. And a little bit of Fireball. The dogs weren’t pleased I made them dance with me to some of the songs, but I got kisses at midnight anyway. I flew out on New Year’s Day and was running around like crazy trying to get last minute things done. Gram sewed up my jacket for me, I got all the hot sauce from Food Lion, got some coffee and donuts, and then finally made it back home. I handed Mom and Meredith my suitcases and a plastic bag and said “See if you can make it all fit.” They did. Flying back was less of a hassle than getting home. (Minus the hassle once I got there, but that will be in my next post.)

I really enjoyed being home for the holidays and I’m glad I didn’t travel around like I had planned. It was nice to see my family, dogs, and my friends. Now it’s time to start the new semester and have more adventures.