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!

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