Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Azonto Virus: A PSA

A new study published today by the University of Wope Laif  revealed some troubling news.  The study claims that a new virus has emerged, and the contagious viral infection has been traced back to the country of Ghana.  Apparently the primary means of infection is a genre of music called hiplife.  The virus is said to have been dormant until now.  Although hiplife as a popular music genre emerged in the 1990s, scientists say the virus has probably only been an active infection for the past five years.  It is said to affect hearing, range of motion, and memory. Scientists participating in the study describe the infection as one of the most contagious and evasive viruses they have ever studied.  As of publication, the virus only appears to affect oburonis.  "Eh! The virus, you know, it takes over the body stealthily. Ohh, slowly but surely the victims of this virus find that their past skills and abilities on the dance floor have been erased.  All memories of former dance moves and dance behaviors are forgotten, and only the azonto remains," Dr. Kwame Ankaa said.  The study took place over a five year period and included a group of two hundred participants, all having studied abroad or lived in Ghana for an extended period of time.  "We included people from all over the world.  They all came from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic, lingual, and regional backgrounds.  They all traveled to different regions of Ghana.  They all ate a diverse array of both local and international cusines, from jollof to KFC.  The only constant was their exposure to hiplife music while in the company of Ghanaian natives," said Dr. Francis Rockstone.

Although they may vary, symptoms most often presented were:

A sense of increased agility
Unrequited pivotal foot motion
Tandem parallel arm and leg extension
Isolated hip rotation
Pantomimed activities such as driving, cooking, and ironing
Exaggerated throwing of shade
Spontaneous male vs. female dance battles
Extreme nostalgia

What is worrisome about these symptoms is that although hiplife music is the main carrier of the virus, it is by no means necessary for continued presentation of symptoms.  "Once you have been infected, the virus is in you permanently.  Once exposed, all the study participants presented the same range of symptoms when hip hop, reggae, dancehall, (and even electronic music in a few cases) was played," said Dr. Michael Asante.  All study participants were in Ghana from a minimum of two months to a maximum of two years, and all of the participants returned to their native countries.  Once home, each one reported continued presentation of symptoms, usually induced by a club or party environment where music with rhythms similar to hip life music was played.  All participants reported that once home, they expected to revert back to their original styles of dancing, but were unable to remember how they danced before they traveled to Ghana.  "It was like I had been brainwashed or conditioned or something.  My best friend and I traveled to Ghana together, and when we got home, it was like we were Pavlovian dancers when we went to the club.  The music was our trigger and the response was azonto.  We could not stop doing it," a young college student stated bravely.  Of the two hundred participants in the study, only seventeen have demonstrated small levels of resistance to the virus.  "If I try really hard, I can sort of remember the dougie and the bernie, but those are the only two dance moves from my pre-Ghana days I can recall,"claimed one participant.  All participants expressed an intense desire to return to Ghana.  "We want to go back as soon as possible.  We love our home and all, but Ghana is just, well, it's just home to us too.  The people I studied abroad with, we all keep in touch on our Facebook page for our program.  We felt less awkward when we azonto-ed in Ghana.  We know we were infected there, but in all honesty, this is probably the best virus to get infected with," said a young volunteer.

Doctors warn that the infection is incurable.  "Chale, it can only be managed.  Victims must avoid triggers if they don't want to present symptoms and risk facing stigmatization from friends and family.  Although the azonto virus is aggressive, it is not destructive or immuno-compromising.  It is highly contagious in that even secondary exposure can cause infection and make people who have never been to Ghana desire to learn azonto, but no participants have experienced any life threatening symptoms from the virus.  Doctors say that the best course of treatment is unique for every victim.  "Each person must choose how they want to treat their illness.  If they view their infection as a sort of biological souvenir of their time in Ghana, then they should embrace the azonto, and express it in dance venues whenever possible.  If they are embarrassed by their memory loss and often unconscious movements, they should avoid trigger music ask themselves how did they behave before their Ghana experience, and maybe try hypnosis if they are unable to naturally recall their pre-Ghana dance repetoire," said Abena Sarkodie.  

This PSA is a warning to all individuals who are considering traveling to, preparing to travel to or are returning from travel to Ghana.  If you present with any of the above listed symptoms, you may have been infected with the Azonto Virus.  Doctors recommend locating your nearest African student union and/or chop bar to find an ally.  Managing this new and increasingly less rare infection may be difficult, but look on the bright side, you probably look much cooler on the dance floor now, than you ever did before.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Guess I Like Grass

What up my readin' people?!  It's been less than a day, so you know what that second post of the day!

The topic of this post is, drum roll northern Spain trip!  I made the great journey of four cities in five days, and it sounds like a WTF! trip, but it was actually quite do-able, and I did not feel ridiculously tired from the journey.

So, where did I go, what did I do, how was it, you ask?  It was awesome!  I never knew how much I liked grass and and trees and all around greenery until I traveled up north.  It was absolutely refreshing.  The first city I visited was Bilbao.  As the capital of the Basque region (País Vasco for you Spanish nerds) it is home of the weird and confusing language known as Euskara.  Apparently, the language is as old, if not older, than Latin.  It sounds nothing like Spanish, and is filled with X's and Z's, and is all around fun to read and scary to hear.

I decided to ball on a budget when I went up North, so my friend and I flew RyanAir.  Now, if you've never heard of RyanAir picture the worst domestic airline in North America, change the language to Spanish, but then raise your eyebrows in shock at how surprisingly clean and non-death-trapy the plane is.  RyanAir is notorious for their strict one carry-on rules.  You can check luggage if you want, but their prices are outrageous for that, so most people only bring a carry-on.  You must only have one carry-on, your purse must fit INSIDE your carry-on, your coat must fit INSIDE your carry-on or you must wear it, there is no drink or snack service, and I would hesitate to even take a blanket on-board in fear of being charged for that as well.  But, besides the sneaky fees, Ryanair isn't all that bad if you follow all the fine print.  My flight from Seville to Bilbao was slightly less than an hour, and it felt like twenty minutes because I passed out immediately once I was on the plane with 2 Chainz lulling me to sleep.

So, what's so awesome about Bilbao you ask?  Well firstly, if you fly into the city, you must take a bus or taxi from the airport into the actual city, and that journey in and of itself is pretty awesome.  After being in flat Seville for so long, being surrounded by a hilly, green landscape, with mountains in the distance felt wonderful.  I felt like I was breathing in cleaner air, surrounded by all the freshness.  As you drive along the highway, there isn't much to look at besides the mountains in the distance, and then you will enter a tunnel.  The tunnel is nothing special, but when you exit you feel as though you've just been dropped into the beginning of Road to El Dorado because you just pop into this beautiful valley town.  Immediately on your right side when you exit the tunnel is the massive Guggenheim museum, and you see the river that twists its way through the city.  Bilbao is so cool because it feels large enough to be exciting but small enough to see some cool sites in a short period of time.  I spent two days in Bilbao, and I feel like I hit the major sites.  I saw the Guggenheim (which is awesome even if you're like me, and you like you're art like you like your men, real) and it's weirdly awesome sculptures and upside-down paintings and abstract works and walk-through exhibits.  I went to a river-side market and took a tram up a hillside for some great views of the city.  My traveling companion and I took an unintentional detour through the city and found a huge stadium/gymnasium and a park that was clearly for children, but since we were obviously still children at heart we played on the huge rubber jungle gym with no shame.  I can't really say what the food was like in Bilbao, because I didn't really eat out there.  My buddy and I kept it economical and split the bill for groceries each night because the hostel we stayed in had a small kitchenette we could use.  So, all in all, Bilbao was nice.  It was drizzly my entire stay there, but it kind of fit the whole weird, old-world language, Narnia-valley-town feel that it had going on.





My second city on my four city, five day adventure was San Sebastián.  If you go anywhere up north, you must visit this bayside town.  It is soooo pretty.  The city is rather close to the French border and it feels like a whimsical mid-sized town with mountains on one side and beaches on the other.  I only spent half a day there, which admittedly is not enough time, but I still got to view it a bit, and get a feel for the city.  My travel buddy and I got SO lost at one point in this corkscrew of a town.  Luckily we had six hours to kill, and only three hours (four if you count eating then recovering from a food-coma) worth of activities to do.  We strolled along a water-side path, found a stairway to the beach, then walked into the old part of the town full of old churches, an old monastery,  and lots of other old religiously-affiliated things.  There were lots of pretty little gardens and walkways, and the beautiful contrast of standing on a beach with a mountain at my back was just awesome.  I had one of the best meals I've had in Spain at this unassuming basement restaurant in the old part of town.  One piece of advice I have for travelers, especially in somewhat big/popular European cities, is to get lost to find food.  Don't eat where people wearing jean shorts and sun hats are eating. They are tourists and they are being cheated out of their money.  Walk until you start to feel worried. Not "crap we just entered a crime scene" worried, but "wait, where are all the stores" worried.  You will find the best restaurants in residential areas, away from the major streets and tourist traps.  That's also where you will find the best prices.  You're a sucker if you pay 20 euro per person for paella or any other traditional Spanish dish unless it comes served on edible gold leaf paper.  The Spanish love good food at great prices, and they will serve it to non-Spaniards, you just gotta know where to look.

Like I said above, I didn't get to see any of the major sites in San Sebastián, partly because I didn't research what the major sites in the city were (yolo you know?)  Instead, my bud and I just strutted around town, with the mindset that if it looks cool, let's go, well, look at it.  Traveling like that is actually kind of fun.  You can see some cool and unexpected things when you don't strap yourself to a schedule.  For example, my bud and I had about two hours to kill so we took a walk by the river that cuts through the city and empties into the Bay of Biscay.  He noticed this weird rickety-looking bridge that looked like it attached to a random building for no reason, so instead of being normal, schedule-oriented travelers, we thought hey, let's walk across it and see where it leads.  And do you know where that bridge led to? An awesome botanical garden!  Full of peacocks just roaming around and being rather ornery but pretty nonetheless.  We saw cherry blossom trees in full bloom, a cellist just chillin' wit her instrument, and a cool bridge that looked like it would have fit perfectly in Lord of the Rings.  So, what's the lesson to learn from this?  Sometimes that scary, out-of-place looking bridge might actually lead to cool places.  We explored the gardens for a bit then headed back to our bus.  That night we gathered all our stuff and left our hostel and headed to our third city, Santander.  (The pics below are of San Sebastián)

My third city was Santander, the capital of Cantabria.  If you travel to Northern Spain, you must see Santander.  It is nearly a tie with San Sebastián for beauty.  Although, my opinion might be biased because it drizzled throughout my stay in both Bilbao and San Sebastián, but the weather was gorgeous on my last day in Santander.  

Santander is another bayside town with mountains in the distance, only these mountains are snow-capped, so they are even more picturesque.  I spent the majority of my time in Santander on the peninsula de la Magdalena that holds a zoo, a museum, and the old castle of Magdalena.  There were seals and I think I saw a penguin and there were some boats and a huge castle.  It was gorgeous and you could see water on either side of you.  My hostel also happened to be situated right next to the water, so I had a nice view from there (although I do not recommend my hostel because their idea of breakfast was a free glass of orange juice and two slices of toast).  My travel pal and I walked around the city, got lost 'til we found a Mexican restaurant with an owner from Mexico and I had the best margarita and meat and tortilla combination I've had in my life.  Again I only got a day and half to see Santander, so I know, not enough to see a big capital city, but I hit the peninsula, which is like three sites in one, so, I get to say I was there.

My fourth city on my wild northern adventure was the medieval town of Santillana del Mar.  It is about an hour and a half long bus ride from Santander, and if you have the time, it is worth the excursion, just check the bus schedule so you don't end up stranded there for three hours like I was!

My travel bud and I are both students that enjoy history, weird news, and artifacts.  All three of these joys were combined in this small town.  The city is famous for its medieval stone-cobbled streets and buildings and the pre-historic caves nestled into a hillside about a mile outside of the city.  Las Cuevas de Altamira were the main reason we decided to make the journey.  I love archaeology and anthropology and anything to do with history, culture, and artifacts so we made the trek to the museum that hosts an exact replica of the caves.  The actual caves are not open to public viewing because apparently human breath is toxic and was ruining the cave, and also, a bunch of delinquent youths were graffiti-ing the Neolithic artwork in the cave. Who does that? I mean really?!  Anyway, we went through the exhibit and interactive showcase, and it was pretty cool to see art and tools and clothing from a group of some of the first humans.  

Besides the caves, the city really plays up the medieval vibe, and it is full of cool artisan shops like pottery makers, leather workers, wood carvers, and candy makers.  There was also a rather creepy toy museum above the candy shop that was obviously just an attempt by the owners to trap people in their store long enough for them to buy more candy.  There was a medieval torture museum in the center of town, but I didn't get to go inside because my travel bud wasn't feeling it and I wasn't about to enter a torture museum alone, in the middle of a medieval town, in rural northern Spain, as a black woman. As a precaution, if I'm traveling alone, or my travel buddy/buddies don't want to participate, I normally stay away from all haunted woods, torture museums, and plantations as a black woman, just to be safe.

We ate some really funky but good cheese and chilled out around town waiting for the next bus to bring us back to the 21st century.  It was a fun journey, but you really don't need more than four hours there.

All in all, my Northern trip was awesome!  I went during the first half of Semana Santa, which is Spain's version of Holy Week for any Catholics reading this post.  I didn't want to be in Seville during the entire event because it is a rather solemn week and their tradition of dressing in pointy white hoods and sheets (the KKK stole their wardrobe from Spain, not the other way around) and walking down the streets with trumpet choirs and bleeding Jesus statues just isn't my kind of party.  It is definitely something to see if you visit, but I don't recommend viewing it for seven whole days.  So, if you find yourself uncomfortably close to a white hooded figure handing out candy and wondering if there is another place in Spain you could be better enjoying your time, go north!

That's all for now lovely people. As always, thank you for reading, and a new post will be coming soon!

So, I Kinda Fell in Love...

Well hello there!  Did you miss me?  I missed you guys! I'm so so sorry for the ridiculous delay. There is no excuse, but my excuse is that I was too busy with life to write it down. But after constant reminders from friends (and family) that I do in fact have a blog that some people do read, I think it's time for an update on my existence.

So, what's new in my life? Hmmm, well I got a nose ring! Yep, I did it, gave my face an extra hole (a pretty one though) so, you know there's that news.  But honestly, the only big change here in my life here in Seville is the weather. It's not cold and rainy and ugly anymore! It's actually sunny and beautiful and breezy and the weather you think when someone says southern Spain.  There are so many things I could update you guys on, but I think the easiest way to play it is to go in order, so first things first, I'm gonna talk about....Lisbon, Portugal!!!

Yes, Portugal, the land of Portuguese, the most forgotten country on the European continent, and the most confusing accent I've heard thus far.  I mean really they sound like Russians speaking French, what's going on over there?  But seriously, if I have anything to say about Lisbon, it is GO! The food was delicious, the weather was nice, the views were incredible, and the people were pretty friendly as well.  There are three things you need to know about Lisbon, Portugal. Number one:  you will get lost.  Whether you bus into the city like a normal budgeting traveler or prefer to get your fancy on and fly in, you will be confused about how to get around.  Luckily, I went with a group of girls, one of which had lived in Lisbon for an extended period of time and was nearly fluent in Portuguese, so I had a living cheat sheet to help me out.  However, had I not been so lucky to have a group of people to blame for my disorientation, one thing you can count on in Lisbon are the locals.  The people were very approachable.  Many spoke English, and will speak Spanish if necessary (although they hate Spanish, and the Spaniards hate Portuguese FYI), so if you have one of those languages down you should be alright.  If the confusing twists of streets between the various old and new barrios don't get you lost, the ridiculous hills might.  If your'e like me, and see hills as a challenge instead of an adventure, a challenge of not only strength and endurance, but balance and all around uprightness, than Lisbon might prove challenging for you.  The hostel I stayed at (which I highly recommend for the free breakfast, friendly staff, and INCREDIBLE showers) was situated atop a hill that I don't feel is an exaggeration to say had about a 70 degree incline.  However, Lisbon is equipped with those old timey transportation vehicles called trams.  I recommend purchasing a day or week pass for the trams.  You can use them to get all over the city and you feel like you're in a weird world where outside it is the 21st century but you're sitting in a vehicle from the 19th century.

The second thing you need to know about Lisbon is that you will eat cod and pastries sooner or later.  I don't care if you like fish or dessert or not, it will enter your body in some fashion, and you will love it.  The Portuguese are codophiles, and they are proud of it.  They are personally propping up the Norwegian cod industry, so hey, Norway, send them a thank you note, and maybe toss a couple million Euro their way to help 'em through the recession, that's all I'm saying.  Anyway, the cod, yea, it's everywhere.  Like cream of cod soup, and codloaf, and cod with cream sauce, and cod ice cream (ok, not sure if that's real but I wouldn't be surprised).  You will eat cod.  If not cod, it will be some sort of seafood.  Like octopus, or clams, or some other sort of delicious sea creature.  And if not fish, it will be dessert.  The one dessert you must try in Lisbon are pasteis de Belém.  They are this pastry that is made with this flaky crust and filled with this pudding-like cream, and it is baked and delicious.  You can coat it with a bit of cinnamon and powdered sugar and just ignore the stares as you loudly foodgasm over the creamy flaky goodness.  So yea, you will eat, and you will eat a lot, and you won't curl up in your bed that night and wonder how you will afford the next three weeks of life because Lisbon is one of the cheapest capital cities in Europe.  So, recessions aren't always a bad thing you know?  I personally partook in a six course meal with my ladies and in total it was 10 euros per person, including drinks! Also, they have green wine!  It's wine made from young grapes, and it is really sweet and refreshing and fizzy.  So for those of you who are like me and know nothing about wine, you just like something sweet and tasty, green wine is for you.

The third and final thing you need to know about Lisbon is that it is basically San Francisco.  Now, I have not been to San Francisco (although ironically, I'm headed there for the summer!) but on one of the walking tours I took of the city, we learned a lot about Lisbon and apparently a lot of people call Lisbon and San Fran sister cities.  They are both ridiculously hilly, they both have trams/street cars everywhere, and they both have a red hanging bridge built by the same architect.  Weird right?  So, I kind of feel like I know a little about San Fran just by being in Lisbon.  Another cool fact about Lisbon, they have an identical (albeit shorter) version of the Jesus statue that looks over Rio de Janeiro.  And further factoid, the capital of Portugal was actually moved to Brazil for a short period of time when the royal family escaped during an invasion.  So yea, Lisbon, is pretty cool.

So in conclusion, Lisbon, Portugal is the most under-rated capital in Europe.  If you're looking for cheap eats on winding streets,  riding trams with pastries in hand, green wine and cod (couldn't think of a cool rhyming phrase for that one) go to Lisbon.  And if you have more than a weekend to spend in Portugal, travel a bit, go to Porto and Lagos, two famous cities that are known for their beauty.

That's it for the Portugal post, but don't despair, my next post is coming in a matter of minutes/hours so be looking out for that!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Know I'm Sexy But...

Hello all!  It's been a while since my last post, but that just means I have more to say!  So, let's begin with the fun stuff shall we?

 I went on a weekend adventure to the Sierra Huéznar which is basically a countryside retreat.  The entire weekend was full of activities and food and fun, all designed to make us practice Spanish.  I went kayaking, got to shoot some arrows, had my first wine tasting, and realized how awkward/awful I am at ping pong/ table tennis.  At the end of the weekend, prizes were handed out to the person who kept/took the most buttons for not speaking English/catching people speaking English.  The buttons were counted and lo and behold I won! (Well, it was a tie, but still...)  All in all, the weekend was very fun; I got to make some new friends, took a spin and making tortilla española (and I nearly dropped it all on the floor), and I discovered I am a fan of sherry.

The following is also definitely worth noting because I went to... (drum roll please!) CARNAVAL!!! Yes, for those of you who don't know, there is Carnaval in Spain!  The largest one is in Cádiz, and that is where I went.  I would love to tell you that it was an awesome bacchanalian fiesta, but it was actually a tiny bit of a let down.  In the future, I think I would like to go in the morning to view the floats and the groups of men dressed as women singing satirical ballads about Spanish politics.  I chose to go at night through DiscoverSevilla (which is a company I cautiously recommend...if you like traveling with a huge group of Americans then this company is for you!).  At first the night was awesome because I had never experienced anything like it.  The streets were packed with people in all sorts of costumes, publicly drinking, and just having a crazy good ol' time.  HOWEVER, after three hours of just walking up and down streets drinking and being pushed around by drunkards in chicken and M&M costumes, it gets old.  I will say that my two favorite costumes consisted of a tiny man dressed up as the Spanish equivalent of baby bell cheese and the other of a man dressed as a pharaoh with very well done make-up.  My most scandalous moment of the night was towards the end, when I got so hungry I stole a sausage from one of the many food stands, but in all fairness anyone who charges 5 Euros for a sandwich that I could make for myself for 2 Euro deserves to lose a sausage or two.  All in all, I would go again but I would definitely go in the morning to view the parade.

I also spent the last week scoping out apartments for my family for when they come and visit me during La Feria.  The process was surprisingly easy, and I definitely recommend that people look at apartments instead of hostels and hotels because they are often a cheaper option.  I used Flipkey, which is recommended by TripAdvisor.  One thing I will say about Sevilla is that most of the people here are very helpful.  A lot of them will go out of their way to help you, especially if you are American and look like a lost puppy wandering the winding streets of El Centro.  I spent days corresponding with the owners of the two apartments I was comparing, emailing them in terrible Spanish, and they were both very patient and kind.  They even let me come view the apartments so that I could see the layouts before I made the final decision on which one  I thought my family would be more comfortable in.  Each owner gets a definite four stars from me.  And now I am very excited to be staying with my mom and cousin for eight nights in our very own apartment in Sevilla!

Now on to the racial theme of this post...

When I arrived in Spain, along with my 2 over-50 pound suitcases and 2 carry-ons, I brought a lot of reservations with me.  I was worried about how the Sevillians would treat me because of my race.  I did a lot of "research" online, reading about the perception of black people in Spain, and I spoke with some black students who had traveled to Spain before.  A lot of what I read said that there is a lot of animosity directed towards African immigrants because they are viewed by a lot of Spainards pretty much how Mexicans are viewed by a lot of Americans.  However, I found very little information about the perception of Black Americans in Spain.  One of the reasons I chose to study in Sevilla and not Madrid was because I heard Sevillians are friendlier and more accepting of other people; I read the further North you go in Spain the more close-minded people can be.  Of course, I always take what I read with a grain of salt and save a lot of my judgement for after I experience things personally.  But now that I have been here in Seville for nearly a month and have had a few incidences, I feel like I have some right to comment on my perspective of the black experience in Seville.  Firstly, I think I shock elderly people the most.  Anytime I notice someone staring for too long or simply looking at me with a bewildered expression, it is usually an elderly man or woman.  The youth and people my age and a bit older don't really give me much of a second glance, which leads me to believe they have been more introduced to people of color than the elderly population.  And it is for this reason that I believe the staring is not out of fear or hatred, but simply surprise/shock/wonder that a black girl is walking around their neighborhoods.

Secondly,  during my orientation and in the reading materials my program sent me, I was warned that terms like "morena" and "negrita" were not usually meant as an insult, and therefore I should not feel as though I was being insulted when these terms were used to describe me.  In my time here, I have come to see Sevillians as a rather direct people.  Physical characteristics are noted and commented on, and it is not to be rude, it is just to state a fact.  If you're getting fat from all the croquetas and tartas de queso you're eating, your host mom will call you gordito/a; if you're the only American in the classroom your professor will call you out; and if you're black you are "moreno/a" or "negro/a."  It's simply a fact.  The problem arises when you either a) misunderstand someone while they are using these racially descriptive terms or b)someone uses the terms to make a negative comment about the person or people it describes.  For example, my host mother's mom has a boyfriend.  He is a very friendly man, especially when intoxicated, and he talks very fast.  I met him a few weeks ago when I went to the discoteca with my host mom and we were only going to stop by to say hello but he wanted us to stay for a drink.  To persuade us to drink with him and not at the bar we were headed to,  he told us how the bartender at our intended destination would insult his customers by calling them "negrito" if they didn't buy more drinks.  However, he said this so fast all I heard was mumble, mumble, mumble "NEGRITO!" mumble, mumble, so I was a little confused, thinking it was weird for him to just start shouting that after just meeting me.  I asked my host mom what he was saying and she thought I'd been offended and told him to repeat himself slowly.  He apologized profusely and began to kiss me on the cheek every few minutes, apologizing for confusing me.  He then repeated the story until he was sure I understood that it was the bartender and not him that was racist.  I've related this story because I think it is an important lesson to learn for anyone person of color:  when you  travel anywhere where you are an obvious minority, you should never assume the worst because you can create a problem where there isn't any.

Thirdly,  like I said earlier, I do get stares from people.  Usually it is a quick glance, sometimes it's a lingering look, and other times it's a rare event where I actually stop a conversation in mid-sentence.  That is what happened when I was investigating an apartment in Triana.  Four young men were having a drink outside of a restaurant, enjoying a conversation when I walked by.  I swear it was like a scene out of a movie or a cartoon where eyes bug out, jaws drop, and everything goes quiet.  I am a naturally self-conscious person.  When people think something is wrong, I always check myself because I fear I'm the problem.  Let me tell you, four men staring at you in amazement can be very disconcerting.  I immediately thought I must have forgotten pants, or I had a nip-slip, or my afro was laid flat on one side or something.  But I gave myself a quick once-over and nothing was out of place.  I have come to the conclusion that either they had never seen a black woman before, never seen a black woman with natural hair before, or I was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen.  Which one of these it is we may never know.

Fourthly, I had some worries about how I would be perceived here.  I read that some Spainards immediately think "Prostituta!" when they see a black woman, so I vowed to never walk alone at night wearing a skimpy outfit.  I also worried about being seen as attractive here.  I have been told countless tales of Spanish men and European men in general that only go after American girls that are tall, skinny, and blonde, which made me think I might as well forget about it because I am NONE of those things.  But after my first club experience, and more recently, after my walk home today, I think I don't need to worry about being attractive here in Sevilla.  Two weeks ago, I went to Buddha, which was fun and loud and full of Americans.  I was approached by a guy who cleverly danced his way over to my group and introduced himself.  After literally two minutes of conversation he said the equivalent of "So, you're my girlfriend now right? You'll be my black girlfriend?"  Needless to say I danced away from him, and after a few more attempts to chat with the other girls in my group he went away.  Any guy that wants to date me because of my race (or in spite of my race!) is the wrong guy for me.  I've never really been exoticized before, and I did not enjoy that experience.  My second personal encounter with the opposite sex happened today.

Today was my first day of classes at the Universidad de Sevilla.  I was both excited and nervous to begin classes that have Spanish students and Spanish professors and everything is in Spanish ALL THE TIME.  My first class went well, and I'm not really worried about it because the class is full of Americans and other international students, and the professor seems very nice and funny.  However, my second class, although equally as interesting, is a lot more nerve-wracking because I am the ONLY American in the class and so far there are only 15 students.  To be completely honest, I am excited about this because it will force me to pay attention and I think I will learn so much more and bond with my fellow classmates, but, on the other hand, I have to focus all the time and I feel really awkward and slow when I have to ask the professor to repeat something because I have no idea what he said.  Today, I sucked it up and during our five-minute break I asked a girl behind me to clear up a few concerns I had about the class.  She lived up to the helpful Sevillian reputation, and I am forever thankful to her.

I left class on a high because I had been brave enough to speak to the professor and a fellow classmate, but my happy bubble was soon busted.  As usual, I got lost trying to find something; this time it was the bus stop I needed.  I asked a guy, who looked like he was waiting for his own bus, where I could catch my own, and he offered to walk me to the stop.  I accepted, thinking that his offer was a bit much but also incredibly kind, so we walked.  After the small talk things got awkward because he just started asking me out, saying "que guapa (how pretty)" y "morena bonita (beautiful black girl)" and asking me to go on a date and have a drink with him.  I'm uncomfortable receiving profuse compliments no matter who's giving them, but the fact that it was a man, and they were compliments on my looks made me all the more uncomfortable.  First I pretended like I didn't hear him, but obviously when it's just two people walking that's hard to do.  Then I pretended I didn't understand him, which worked for a while, until he started to gesture emphatically to get his point across.  Then I turned him down as nicely as I could.  I felt bad because he had gone out of his way to walk me to my stop, but I didn't think that was worth a date with a man I wasn't interested in.  Before we reached my destination, he finally seemed to give up hope, and I relaxed.  I don't know if he thought he deserved some sort of payment for his good deed, and decided to take what he could get since I wouldn't go out with him, but whatever his reasoning he thought he was within his rights to grab my ass before he ran off into a nearby park.  More than anything, I was shocked.  I had been grabbed by guys before (my scariest experience was with a bouncer in Ghana who was the size of Big from the show Rob and Big) but never in a sexual manner.  I rode the bus home in silence, and when my host mom came home I told her about it.  To be completely honest, I was a little disappointed in her response.  She kinda made it sound like I should view it as a compliment (which I can understand, but it was a MAJOR invasion of personal space and NOT OK).  My study abroad program warned the female students about "piropos" or cat calls and the macho male mentality here, and stuff like that, but I did not expect out-right sexual harassment.  I am hoping that this is a rather isolated incident, and that that guy was just crazy or just couldn't help himself because I was looking especially bootylicious today, but I think I need to be prepared for future unwanted attention.  For the future, I now know to ask female or a trusted Spanish friend or classmate for directions when I need them.

Well, that's all folks.  It has been an eventful week and a half that is fo sho!  As always, thank you for reading! I will post again soon when I have something interesting to say.

P.S.  If anyone would like me to focus a post on a specific topic, such as Spanish food, things to do in the City, or stuff like that, leave a comment and I'll do my best!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Sista-Motha-Friend

Surprise!! This blog serves as an excellent way to procrastinate, so here's another post only one day later!

As promised in my previous post I will now describe the interesting dynamic of my homestay.  I live with a young woman in her early thirties' and her father in his mid-fifties. Her parents are divorced, and her mother lives about two blocks away.  Coincidentally, her mother also has a girl from my study abroad program staying with her (and her overly-affectionate boyfriend, but that story is for another post...).  My homestay mom is awesome.  I admit I was very nervous before I came to Spain.  When I received a very brief email giving me all the information my program deemed necessary for me to know about my homestay (i.e. name, address, and phone number, that's it, no pics or nothin...) it only served to increase my anxiety instead of relieve it.  I had been enjoying a fantasy of a medium-sized Spanish family made up of a mom, dad and kids, with an old Doña ruling over the roost and cooking delicious meals she made from an ancient recipe book that she had to hide behind the fireplace during the Franco-era because the recipes were too progressive.  But instead I was placed with a woman and her father, and honestly now that I am living with them, I think I much prefer this reality to my fantasy.

I often forget who I am when imagining things.  I enjoy my privacy, I like it quiet when I want it to be quiet, and I am rather independent.  Measuring myself up to my Spanish family fantasy, I now see I probably would have gone crazy up in that house.  People yelling at one another in Spanish, having to wait for the bathroom to be free, having to communicate with multiple people with my limited vocabulary everyday; all of these things are scenes from a nightmare.  Whoever places people in homestays with my study abroad program did a good job with me.  My homestay mom is young, fun, engaging, and understanding.  She made me feel comfortable in her home, she is patient with me when I destroy the Spanish language, she is a great cook, and she is an awesome club partner (yes, I club with my Señora).  She respects my privacy, but is always ready to laugh, joke, explain, or just plain talk to me about stuff.  She loves the same music I do, which makes choosing a club to visit so much easier, and she understands my shopping addiction, which is actually a bad thing because I think she might serve as a bad influence on me; especially considering we are in REBAJAS right now, which is, for those who don't know, the equivalent to Black Friday in the US except it happens twice a year and it lasts for like two months.  Because I vibe with her so well, and because she is so young, I hesitate to call her my Señora, and feel more comfortable calling her my hermana (sister).  She calls me her sister all the time, so I think it's already a done deal. So, in conclusion, she is awesome, my homestay is awesome, and you should be jealous.

The other members of the household also definitely warrant mentioning.  As I said before, her father also lives in the apartment.  When I first arrived lugging one of two suitcases weighing over fifty pounds (I always over-pack, ALWAYS), I entered the apartment to find my him wrapped in blankets on the couch watching television.  He hasn't moved much from that spot during the two weeks I've been here; he's either on the couch or chilling at the cafe downstairs.  In fact, if he's not on the couch, I worry because it's like something is wrong in the apartment.  My first night in the apartment was difficult because I thought there was some horrible late-night construction going on right outside my window, but then I realized it was just him snoring on the couch.  But after more nights, I have become used to his electric saw-like breathing, and it no longer bothers me.  Everyday we greet each other with an hola or comó está and sometimes we watch television together (my favorite show to watch thus far is Dos Hombres y Media a.k.a. Two and a Half Men and Hombres y Mujeres a.k.a. trashy Spanish dating/talk show).  In conclusion, he is a nice, simple guy that lives on the couch.

Now, last but certainly not least, is Lolita.  She is tiny but oh so feisty, and honestly I haven't decided yet if I like her or not.  Some days I find her adorable and other days it is all I can do not to throw her into her room and close the door quickly.  I am starting to like her because she is useful as a heater, and the first few nights were freezin' up in this place, like, no joke!  She is also undeniably adorable, especially when my homestay mom/sis puts her front bang in a ponytail.  What's keeping me from officially deciding whether I like her or not is that she has this annoying habit of frantically scratching at me whenever she sees me.  I could have just entered the house or been sitting in the living room for hours; no matter what, it's as if I'm her long lost love and she must feel me against her paws, repeatedly, to make sure I'm real and she isn't dreaming. She gets really excited and starts sniffling and sneezing all over the place, and has this weird habit of swallowing frantically.  For such a tiny thing, she is so noisy.  Oh, and also, she is a freakin' magician.  I will close my door and get in bed and she will magically appear beside it, scratching away, trying to figure out how to jump up into the bed with me.  I swear I even locked the door once and she still found a way in, freakin' magician perrita.  So yea, I'm on the fence about Lola, but I think in the end I will like her, she is a really cute dog.

In conclusion, that is my Spanish family.  A sista-motha-friend as a Señora, her father, and her magic dog. A small but awesome family, I look forward to getting to know more about my new relatives.

 Thanks for reading!

P.S. I am going away for the weekend, so don't expect another ridiculously fast post like this.  But on the other hand, I will be experiencing three days, in the desert/sierra/whatever talking only in Spanish and doing lots of cool things, so I'm sure I will have plenty of interesting things saved up for my next post.  For now, hasta luego!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where are the Words...

Before I began my year abroad, I had grand plans of writing about all my adventures.  I planned to sit and write each day's events, wrapping them in witty descriptions about my latest encounters with the natives of the country I was in.  Then reality set in, and I had to remind myself of how lazy I can be, and the idea of writing about my daily life became a chore that would take to much energy to keep I never started a blog...until now.  Too much has happened in the past two weeks that I have spent in Seville for me to not dedicate at least ten minutes of my time describing it.  My expectations for this blog are as follows (they are in order from most to least likely to occur):

1.)Only my mother and I will read this blog.
2.)I will often forget that I have started a blog and thus forget to post.
3.)I will reference people, places, and things so obscure and random that no one will know what I'm talking about.
4.)I will only rarely forget to post...
5.)One of my friends will comment on my blog, prompting others to comment, leading to a mass facebook following of my blog.
6.)I will win a fancy award for blogs.

These are my expectations and/or dreams, you may laugh or scoff, I don't really care because I can't hear you.

Anyway, back to the occurrence that prompted me to start this blog.  I had been feeling guilty for not chronicling my awesome experiences up to this point, but nothing so dramatic/awesome/weird happened to actually make me put fingertips to keyboard...until tonight.

I am currently studying abroad in Seville, Spain.  I live with my host mom, who is really a host sister but that entire topic is for another post altogether, and her father. Tonight, I was eating dinner with my host mom/sis when her grandmother decided to stop by and drop off some food and, from what I could gather from her rapid spanish, some sweatpants she bought from some Chinese people around the corner.  I had just been telling my host mom/sis about this girl in my Spanish grammar class who is switching to another homestay because her host mom does not feed her well.  When my host mom/sis shared this information with her grandmother, her grandma said something along the lines of it not being so bad to eat a lot of soup because then you won't get fat.  She then proceeded to lift up her shirt to give a visual of how easy it is to get fat when you don't take care to eat a lot soup.  At first I was startled because I had only known the woman for five seconds, and from what I understand, although two kisses on the cheeks are normal over here, baring ones stomach to strangers isn't a normal "first meeting" activity.

What also startled me was the fact that the elderly woman seemed to have forgotten to put on a bra, so when she lifted her shirt, she flashed some boob.  I tried and barely succeeded to play it cool, and I'm sure my host mom/sis saw my discomfort, and she quickly urged her grandmother to put her shirt down.  But the grandma seemed to enjoy my discomfort and she lifted her shirt up higher asking why was it such a big deal, all three of us have boobs (or "tetas" as she called them).  I just started laughing hysterically because I didn't really know why this woman was showing me her naked body to prove a point about soup, and then I excused myself and retired to my room to start this blog.

I am both excited and frightened that this is but one in a series of weird/hilarious events that will occur during my time here in Sevilla.  I already have another odd story that I could share, but honestly setting this blog up took a little effort and I have three essays to write for tomorrow, so I'm done for now.

I don't know when my next blog post will be or what it will be about because I'm not that organized but, I will try to make my next post within a reasonable time frame, but no promises!

Thanks for reading.