Nature at Home

Today I’m sharing a piece written by my good friend Will Lake who’s also here at the Oregon Extension. Earlier in the semester we read Annie Dillard, a nature writer, and were asked to copy her style of writing and observation. We each trundled outside and found a spot to sit as still as possible (not very still in my case) for an hour. Then we trundled on back and wrote about our experience.

I loved Will’s piece especially because he connected the idea of nature as home to our family homes. We forgot how well taken care of we are, how much nature does for us. Will’s piece captures well the guilt and remorse I think we should feel for ignoring the nature that takes such good care of us. Without further adieu, here it is:

I come down the valley on the path to the creek. I feel foreign here, alien, in a sense. I feel like a stranger coming into a house at dark, or better, like coming back home after too long away. I stumble, rumble, bumble and fall. I break bushes, I have no heading, I see no path, I make a ruckus. I fall into the creek. My pants are wet, and I sit up on a mossy rock while my socks dry.

It feels like coming home, sort of. Yet, I feel like I never quite lived here. It’s almost like I’m coming to visit my grandma after much time has passed. If I see it in this way, nature is my grandma and her house is wilderness, and today, I am visiting gram at her house: I’ve been away for too long; it’s probably been years. I overlook her house, passing it twice on the street. The lights are on, and the door is always unlocked. I walk right in like I own the place – I mean, I certainly wouldn’t think to knock. I stumble in, bumbling, tripping, slipping on knick-knacks and ancient rugs, knocking a glass bell off the bell shelf on the way in. It shatters, but I don’t care. Besides, there’s a million of them. I sit down at the table on her hard-wooden chair. I find tremendous comfort in the steadfastness of my grandma’s house, like I want to roll in the nostalgia that surrounds me, breathing in the comforts of old – the things here that always have been and probably always will be: the box of toys my mom had, the same kitchen table with water bottles filled with rocks so the dog wouldn’t jump. Don’t forget the smell, oh the smell! Had she bought the same air freshener for 70 years? I find it all deeply familiar. Yet, it is heartbreaking to see the things that have changed and died. No more laughing of grandchildren, no more Christmas mornings with the whole family, no more pierogi from the polish deli down the street. I find joy and sadness all the while. I realize how deeply my life is intertwined IN this very house. My mother, after all, was born here. Half of my genetic being lived here, toiled here, cried here, and yet, I am removed from it. Just a few, small memories are what have connecting me to this place, the place of my ancestry. Soon, grandma will move from the house, and when she does, we will sell it, her grandkids, that is. We will justify it for our college tuition, our needs unmet, and because that’s “the way of life”. After all, nothing lasts forever, not even grandma’s house.

Gram is at the table with all her wisdom and ancient beauty. I feel good here, full. I feel for a moment like I am a good grandson (for I have visited her, listened to her stories, acknowledged her teachings, and tried to preserve her in this way). And yet, my belly aches, and I know she has not a crumb I won’t have to rummage for. I start to feel like this is not my home. I feel separate. I get restless after an hour of pinochle. “This was fun,” I say. The sun is setting out her window and I feel even more uncomfortable now in her home. I long to leave. I love her, truly, I do, but night time here depresses me and chills me to my bone. At night mysteries fill her creaky corridors. I tell her I had a great time, and that I’ll be back again soon as I make up an excuse to leave. I stumble, again, towards the door, breaking more bells as I leave. “Never mind it,” she says. She is always giving. I leave with another “grandma check”. She has filled me up, sustained me. She does it, I suppose, because she wants to, or maybe because she wants me to come back. I feel guilty now. I stumble to my car and drive away in silence. I take for granted that she will be there next time I come, whenever I choose to return. I am comfortable again: my feet off the itchy shag, my butt off her hard, wooden chairs, and done tirelessly playing pinochle. I eat. I cash my check. Satisfied, I think of when I might go back.

I see the sun set over the creek. It is cold now, and I put on my jacket. I pick up my bag, put on my stiff-dried socks, and limp my way up the valley towards my cabin. I eat a warm dinner and crawl into bed. I am home.

Viajando alrededor del sur de Francia/ Traveling around the south of France

Castellano: 

El siguiente blog trata sobre un periodo de aproximadamente diez días a finales de marzo y principios de abril llamados Semana Santa. Es una semana muy importante porque los Latinos y muchos cristianos nos pasamos mucho tiempo durante esta semana celebrando la muerte y resurrección de Cristo. Yo originalmente tenía pensado quedarme aquí en Madrid pero al llegar al programa me indicaron que se requiere que los estudiantes dejen su alojamiento durante la semana. Entonces pues a buscar que hacer durante Semana Santa. 

Sabía que tenía dos primos aquí en Europa que estaban estudiando en Francia y pues esto me daba una buena oportunidad de poder conocer por lo menos uno de ellos. Lo bueno de ser mexicano es que tenemos familia por doquier y aunque no sea un familiar de la forma más directa, somos familia. Tengo varios recuerdos de cuando llegaba a alguna fiesta o reunión familiar y mi mamá o papá me señalaba a un señor o señora que no conocía y me decían: “saluda a tu tía” o “tu primo”. A final de cuentas se encuentra familia hasta en los parientes más lejanos en México.

(Haz click en las fotos para verlas en grande/ Click on photos below to enlarge them)

Entonces al empezar la Semana Santa abordé mi vuelo del aeropuerto Barajas aquí en Madrid hacía el aeropuerto Toulouse-Blagnac en el sur de Francia. El vuelo fue de aproximadamente una hora y me dieron cacahuates abordo. Bueno, pues llegué a Toulouse y entre que comprendía como funcionaba el tram y por fin llegué a la estación indicada, por fin conocí a Miguel. Miguel, gracias a Dios, es un chavo criado a la mexicana. Es súper buena onda, paciente, trabajador, entre muchas otras cosas. Lo bueno de ser mexicano es que donde cabe uno, caben dos; todos somos familia y todos somos buena onda. La verdad es que ya no queda escribir mucho más — el sur de Francia es hermoso y mi primo me cayó muy bien. 

English: 

The following blog is about a period of about ten days in late March through early April called Holy Week. It is a very important week because Latinos and many Christians spend a lot of time during this week celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ. I had originally planned to stay here in Madrid but when I arrived at the official program they indicated that this would not be the case. They required students to leave their housing accommodation during the week. So I had to look for something to do during Holy Week.

I knew that I had two cousins ​​here in Europe studying in France and this gave me a good opportunity to get to know at least one of them. The good thing about being Mexican is that we have family everywhere even if it is not a family member in the most direct way we are all family. I have several memories of me arriving to a party or family reunion and my mom or dad pointing me to a man or lady I did not know and saying: “greet your aunt” or “your cousin”. At the end of the day family is found even in the most distant relatives in Mexico.

(Click on photos below to enlarge them / Haz click en las fotos para verlas en grande)

At the start of Holy Week I boarded my flight from Barajas airport here in Madrid to Toulouse-Blagnac airport in the south of France. The flight was about an hour and I was given peanuts on board. I arrived in Toulouse and after figuring out how the tram worked I finally arrived at the station where I was going to meet my cousin, Miguel. Miguel, praise be to God, is a guy who is very Mexican. He is super cool, patient and hard working, among many other things. The good thing about being Mexican is that no matter what, we are all family, and we all have good vibes. There is not much more to write other than that the south of France is beautiful and meeting my cousin was a great experience.

 

First Impressions

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The view from the restaurant window where the IES leaders took us to eat on the first day. Look at those mountains! Too beautiful!

The altitude takes some getting used to, but the view is phenomenal! This season is the rainy season in Quito, so it’s been mostly cloudy (Quito has two seasons: dry and rainy). However, when the sun comes up it gets HOT! I made sure to pack some SPF 50 sunscreen bottles to protect my skin.

So far I’ve met the other students who I’ll be studying with this next semester and the IES program coordinators/directors in Quito. We signed a contract to pledge that we would only speak in Spanish throughout our time here (except for emergencies, etc.) to really immerse ourselves in the language. Luckily for me, I already have a lot of experience con el español, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

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The main dish at the restaurant on day one: ensalada, pollo, y arroz.
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The rice was in the shape of a pyramid!

Still… there are some words that I don’t understand/use because they are not common in Mexican Spanish. For example, I didn’t know that ñaño(a) could be used in place of hermano(a). That confused me a little. Also, Ecuadorians use the word chévere to describe something that is cool or awesome or great. When I Skype with my parents in a couple of weeks, I’m going to inevitably use chévere in my conversations.

Speaking of Skype, I video-chatted with my parents last night to let them know I got here safely (but I used Facebook Messenger instead). They were super worried that I hadn’t called sooner. Ah, I love my parents, but they worry too much! I told them about the lovely host family who welcomed me with lots of hugs and kisses (I’m not making this up). My Ecuadorian family is super kind and affectionate, as most Ecuadorians are.

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My cozy room in Quito 🙂

I’m excited for this next week since I’ll still be in my IES orientation. They’re taking us to explore Quito and other nearby cities! So until next time, mis amigos. I’ll leave you with this view from the 12th floor of the IES building. ¡Que se la pasen muy chévere!

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Looking west towards the Pichincha Volcano from the IES building’s balcony.

Me voy para Ecuador

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Waiting for my connecting flight to Miami.

For weeks, I knew that the hardest thing about leaving for Ecuador would be the goodbyes. My mom is very emotional (and so am I), so there was no way to escape the waterworks as I departed from the airport on my way to Quito.

The Mexican culture is very familial, and my family is, of course, very tight-knit. I care about them a lot, so it was hard to make the decision to travel so far knowing that they would be in a panic with my absence. My parents are “traditional” Mexican parents meaning they are strict and conservative; it was hard for them to see me leave knowing that I will be on my own. The only thing that reassured them was knowing that I was going to be with a Latin American host family, and they assumed their culture would be similar to ours.

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I found it interesting that Google knows where I am! Note: this screenshot was taken after arriving to Quito.

I had some contact with my host sister through email a few days before, but I have yet to meet my host parents (and sister) face-to-face. It’s somewhat nerve-wrecking, yet I’m hopeful that my family will be awesome! I already apologized to my host sister about my language goofs because I know that some Mexican-Spanish words don’t translate well in other types of Spanish. No matter how sad I was for leaving my family for the semester, I’m excited to meet new people and gain una nueva familia.

My “new family” won’t simply be my Ecuadorian host family, but also my IES familia. I’ve only met one other student so far and that’s only because she also goes to Hope! I ran into her at the airport in Miami, and I’m positive some of my other future-familia are on the same flight to Quito even though we haven’t officially met.

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Departing Miami… next stop: Quito!

I’m excited for what’s ahead, yet glad to be taking it one day at a time. I’ve done some extensive research on insects and diseases, and I’m just about over my fears (Quito is a relatively safe city insect-wise). I’m sure I’ll have my surprises though.

My final flight is boarding soon, so until next time! Stay tuned, mis amigos! ¡Nos vemos en Quito!

Adventures, Thanksgiving and Thankfulness of the Adventure

¡Amigos!

I’ve now been stationary in Alicante the past three weeks and wow, has it been busy!

Last week we finished up our last week of normal classes at CIEE as the next few bring presentations, paper writing, review sessions and final exams. I write, now, with the knowledge of exactly 3 remaining weeks. I cannot fathom that fact. It’s going too fast!

Just the other day, one of my host family members asked me if I was ready to return to the United States. My answer? “No.” A week, or two, ago my response would have been along the lines of, “I’m getting ready…” but the present truth is not that. It’s hard to imagine returning home and quite possibly never seeing the majority of my fellow students and new friends, the professors, program directors and my host family, ever again. I don’t even want to think about that. Leaving home and Hope in August was hard enough, but I can only imagine what it will be like leaving Spain.

As for the recent adventures? They’ve all taken place here in the province of Alicante. Like I had mentioned before, I was able to spend a weekend with my parents! We had such a great time. I must say it is kind of strange having parents come visit your “new life.” – but a fun weekend, nonetheless.

Last weekend, myself and five friends took a quick day trip and rode the tram to the very last stop, a small town called Dénia. We visited the castle, there, walked along the pier, which felt like a little slice of home (Holland State Park), and had paella and tapas for lunch. “Muy typical eSpanish.”

Dénia Castle
Dénia Castle
Dénia Pier
Dénia Pier

Another fun little tidbit for my Literature and Film class, I went with my classmates and professor to see the new Hunger Games movie! Having felt slightly deprived of American Culture, it was very nice! It was the first time I’d been to a movie theatre since being here and I was extremely surprised by its resemblance to an American cinema. We watched the movie in its original version, but with Spanish subtitles.

And Thanksgiving… let me tell you. Just another reason for me to rave about my CIEE program. Early that morning, all students went to lesson on making Turrón. Turrón is a typical Spanish Christmas treat. Similar to Christmas cookies, for us Americans. We taste tested all different types and then made cookies! Mine failed miserably, but hey, it was all for the fun! But the best part of the day came later.

Taller de Turrón
Taller de Turrón

Our student services director did a more than fabulous job collaborating with a restaurant out on the marina at the Regata Club, putting together a delicious and oh-so American Thanksgiving meal. It was just another obvious example of how much the program cares about each and every one of us. Our directors both spoke and made sure that all of us students knew that we have become part of their Spanish families and that they were honored to be sharing an American tradition with us, in their country. Then 6 students spoke and shared their thankfulness. Needless to say, it was amazing. And even after Skyping with family back home and realizing that I couldn’t be there with them on this day, I was overjoyed with thankfulness to be with my new family.

CIEE Alicante students, Fall 2014
CIEE Alicante students, Fall 2014

That’s all for now, friends. I hope each of you had as wondeful of a Thanksgiving as we did here in Spain.

Hasta luego.