Friday, April 30, 2010

A Poem for Katherine.

Katherine, my dear sister (in-law) has sent me 12 months worth of letters. One letter a month, to be opened and enjoyed. I decided to wait until today to open up April's letter, and with this darling letter, came a challenge:

"If you can, write a poem in Spanish today, and post it on your blog!"

So, I did just that. It is a pretty bad poem, using very basic language, and isn't profound or great. But, it's in Spanish. And I wrote it all by myself. And when Ana checked it, she only corrected my feminine and masculine articles. She said it made sense, but that was a bad poem. (Haha!) But I don't care... Because it's in Spanish!

lentemente y miro.
yo miro a los arboles,
las ojas verdes creciendo.

los flores abriendo.
yo miro a primavera.
cuando llegé,

hacia frio -

era gris.

no hubo ojas,
ni flores.
era invierno.
los estaciones han cambiado,

y con ésta,

ha cambiado.

yo era asustada, ahora

soy emocionada.

yo era
timida, y
ahora soy

primavera ha llegado.
pronto la estacion cambiará


y despues a otoño e

cuatro estaciones puedo


quiero ver

los arboles crecer, y
los flores abrir.
quiero sentir
el calor y nadar
el mar cristal azul.

ver las ojas
de verde a
a naranja
y a armarillo.

quiero tener
frio y sentir la nieve
en mi piel un otro vez.

muchas cosas a ver,




estoy dispuesta a

a luchar por ésta


asi me pongo de pie.

tomo una
profunda y


voy a experimentar


y cuando yo vuela a
una maleta llena de cosas,
y un corazón lleno de memorias.


i breathe
slowly and look.
i look at the trees,
the green leaves covering the

the flowers blooming.

i look at Spring.
when i arrived,
it was cold -
it was grey.
there weren't leaves on the
nor flowers blooming.

it was winter.
the seasons have changed,
and with this,
has changed.

i was scared, now
i am excited.
i was
shy, and now
i am

spring has arrived.
but soon,
the seasons will change to
and then to autumn and
four seasons i can

i want to see

the trees grow, and
the flowers

i want to feel
the heat and swim
in the crystal blue sea.

i want
to see the leaves change
from green,
to brown,
to orange
and to yellow.
i want to feel
and feel the snow
on my skin one more time.
so many things to see,

i am willing to

to fight for this
so i stand up.
i take a deep breath and
i am going to experience
and when i return to australia,
i will have
a suitcase full of things
and a heart full of memories.

Hope you enjoyed my first (but hopefully not last!) Spanish poem! This one was for you Katherine, as you were the one who told me to do it... and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully next time my vocabulary will grow, and it will be better. Who'd have thought about writing poetry in another language?

As you all probably know, I love getting letters. There is something so personal and touching about a handwritten note, knowing that it has traveled from one side of the world to the other. Today, I got a package from Aunty Cath, Uncle Bruce, Sarah, Scott and Sean for my birthday.. Can't wait to open it! I also got a letter from Min. I love getting mail, and I feel as if I'm connected to the person when I read what they have to say. Min, I forgot the word for the detective thing laughed out loud, when I realised I couldn't think of what it was called. Ana looked over at me, and asked, "What are you laughing about?" And I replied without thinking, "Min and I are just having a moment. We can't figure out what this thing is called." She looked at me a little funnily before looking at the drawing and telling me that it was a magnifying glass. I loved getting the mail. It made my day! So thank you to everyone who has sent me a letter during the time I have been here. It has always been greatly appreciated and has always put a smile on my face. I appreciate them more than you can imagine. I have a warm fuzzy feeling just thinking about them.

I am going to start updating this blog in shorter, but more frequent updates. I find that the blogs get so exhausting to do, and are so long, when I try and fit a whole weeks (or more) into one blog. This weekend I will tell you about the last couple of weeks... :)

P.S. No one let me know if the black is bothering you or not... so please do! Use the comment box below. :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Frustration and that small thing called Spanish.

Something I really struggle with is frustration.

This week has been a week of trying to figure out what I've been feeling, and why I've been feeling a little bit like a roller coaster. Most of the time I feel so happy, being where I am. Like I wrote in the blog I posted yesterday, I am so excited. So many things bring such joy into my life, but so many things brings disappointment, anger and frustration. Normally I complain to Mum about it, or think about it for half an hour and then get distracted by the next crazy, fun thing in the life of an exchange student. But I think it's about time that I sit up and look at why I feel these emotions, and try to deal with the problems.

"I guess I haven't written anything in my diary because I felt like I didn't have anything to say.... except that I have everything to say. I know that in 10 years time I am going to look back on these past couple of days wondering what I did and how I felt. And I won't be able to remember. I feel a little bit like a puppy. I am getting so distracted. One moment I'm feeling so excited about something new that I've understood, and then the next I'm sad because I feel like I don't understand anything. And it's not just understanding. It's speaking. My understanding of the language is light-years ahead of my speaking. I want to speak Spanish. I do. Desperately. But I just get so scared. Not even scared really. It's just that English is easier to use. I need to get out of that mindset now. Right now. Spanish, here I come. Look out. Laura Konemann is coming!"

I often write in this blog about how exchange is hard, and then go on to say how good it is. Often, the things that exchange so hard, are things that I can't talk about on a public blog.

But, I want to write about these frustrations. I often feel like I'm getting whiplash from the emotions I experience. I feel so incredible blessed to be here in Spain, and I absolutely love it, but with every good thing, there is also the downsides. I get so frustrated and disappointed in my lack of Spanish. I know that I have improved so much from when I first arrived in Spain, but I honestly hoped and thought that I would be soaring along right now. I thought that conversations would be easy, that I would be able to communicate all that I want, and that I'd be actively participating in class by now. I know now, that that was an unrealistic expectation for most exchange students learning another language. But, I also know, that if I applied myself more, I would be further along in my language skills. I can understand so much more than I can communicate, and that just pretty much breaks my heart, that I can't yet express how I'm feeling, or reply back straight away. At home, I speak English with the kids, to help them learn English. This brings me great joy, seeing them improve a little each day, but with that the biggest frustration that the people I spend the most time with, and the people I talk to most, I have to speak English with them.

Everyday I understand a little more. I love understanding, but it also comes with its drawbacks. In school, there is one teacher who stands against everything that I am: English speaking, and faith. I am an English speaker. I am a Christian. Every lesson without fail she tells her class how much she dislikes these two things, which gets me extremely frustrated. My class doesn't like it either, but they say they have to put up with it. I get so... exhausted. Exhausted of trying so hard to understand, only to feel like what she is saying is directed personally to me. Exhausted of understanding everything except the key point. And although I'm understanding some things, most of the time I'm clueless. Especially if the question or statement is directed at me. I'm so sick of being the idiot!

I don't like not understanding, and I don't like it even more when people remind me every single time I don't understand a word or sentence. So often I feel like a failure because I don't apply myself as much as I should, and that I've been here for 11 weeks, and still don't understand a lot. I look at other people's exchanges, and get incredibly jealous of their language skills or their lives, when deep down I know that they are struggling with the exact same things as I am.

This year (so far!) has been a great year of growth for me, as I have learnt to trust and depend on God so much. As I've said in past posts, my family and friends and familiar and safe place is not here in Spain. But God is. And I feel like God has placed me where I am, with the difficulties I have, for a reason. But it doesn't make it any easier. Something that I have greatly struggled with is comfort. Comfort means, "To soothe in time of affliction or distress." I have realised these past couple of weeks, that I have put my comfort in English. Mum told me about how people often put their comfort in other things like food, sport, language instead of God. For me, this past week has been a week of true realisation that I have put my comfort in English instead of God. Things that I think I can control. And, this isn't the way it should be. I use English instead of Spanish because it is easy. I know English. I don't have to be afraid of getting things wrong, or not knowing what to say. I fall back on English too much, so that I leave no space for me to fall and make those language mistakes so I can pick myself up again and learn how to say it properly. I have put my comfort in English instead of God. I have soothed myself, relieved myself of my frustrations (at least I thought I had!) by using English. But, instead of feeling soothed, I feel frustrated. Frustrated at myself, my situation, and the fact that I can't speak Spanish.

This, this post, is me telling the world that I need to put my comfort in God. I need God's unfailing love to be the warm blanket that makes me feel better, for it to soothe my distresses, relieve the pain. English, food, sport, these things can't take away the frustrations or my problems. The only thing that can is God. Instead of trusting in Him properly, stepping forward on this scary thing called exchange, I've run and hidden under a table, excusing myself from getting my hands dirty, telling myself that it's "too scary" or "too hard". I didn't come on exchange expecting it to be easy. I didn't come on exchange to back out or run away from the hard times. I came on exchange to confront these aspects of life that I struggle with, to challenge myself beyond compare. I came on exchange to learn Spanish, experience a culture and gather enough knowledge and memories and experiences to last the rest of my life.

This is me, telling you all publicly that this is my aim of exchange. I don't want to return from exchange full of 'what-ifs'. What if I had learnt Spanish fluently? What if I had tried that dish? What if I had invited myself to that party? I want to let myself fall into the comfort of God's love and spread my wings and truly fly. God has amazing things planned for the rest of this year, and I need to trust in Him and let Him guide me through that.

So what I ask for is prayer. Prayer that I will follow through on what I am saying. Prayer that I will lean on God and have His unfailing love be my comfort. Prayer that I will praise the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

The following bible verses are some that have been really eye opening to me, and have given me great comfort over the last day or two. I encourage you to look at your own lives, and see where you have been finding comfort. You may be surprised. I was.

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. - Psalm 19:76

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:2-4

I love those who love Me, and those who seek Me early and diligently shall find Me. - (Proverbs 8:17) (Sent to me from another exchanger, Vic - )

P.S. After writing all this, I'm still loving my time here, and being encouraged greatly by all that I'm learning and being challenged in.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's days like these that make us happy.

Days where I feel my language skills are improving word by word.

Days where I get to walk around my town in the glorious sunshine, purely content and blissful that I am in Spain.

Days where I discover words that I didn't know before, and all of a sudden they are used every 30 seconds.

Days where I read two chapters of Harry Potter in Spanish and fall in love all over again with those books, and fall deeper in love with the beauty of Spanish.

Days where I can share my Australian culture, and find out more about Spain.

Days like these make me happy, and make me feel extremely blessed to be where I am right now.

Thank you Lord for blessing me with such incredible opportunities and such wonderful family and friends.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Santiago de Compostela, Burgos, Leon y mucho más!

For the Easter Holidays, I was able to travel to a few different places, in the west of Spain. It was such an incredible opportunity, and I felt like I was able to experience a new and different part of Spain and it's incredibly diverse culture.

Ana, myself and María on holidays :)

We left at about 9am from Tudela, to head off. Our final destination was to Santiago de Compostela, but we were stopping by a few famous cities on the way. I was pretty tired, and feeling a little sick, so I slept for the first couple of hours of our travels. I was sitting on the left seat in the car, with Javier in the middle and María on the right. Javier is adorable, and most of the time I had his head in my lap, or on my shoulder. If not, he'd be yelling or playing games or jumping around, or just generally being loud. This made me both treasure the times when he was asleep - because then it was quiet! - and also treasure the times when he was crazy, because for a little bit I could be a bit of a kid again.

María, Javier y yo in the car... travel buddies :)

I slept for about two hours and woke up to see that we were parked outside an old deserted church that was situated at the bottom of a rocky hill. It was absolutely beautiful, and really old an stunning. We all got out to have a look, and I could feel the crisp air swirling around me, with the smell of nature assailing my senses. Oh, how I missed you nature! It reminded me of Kangaroo Valley, even though it didn't look anything like it. I think it was just the association of green, and bush that made me think of home, and with that Nowra and Kangaroo Valley - especially the drive from our place to Nowra.

Me on the little bridge in front of the church.

We all went and looked around the church, poking around when we heard the sounds of small bells. Looking down, we saw some goats... ¡Que mona! (How cute!) It was lovely to see them, and think to myself, "Well, I'm in Spain, outside of an eleventh century church looking down on some cute goats... when does life get better than this?" It was then that I realised that we were about three kilometres out of Frías, a medieval town.

The town of Frías, the castle just being to the left of the end of the photo.

Frías is a small medieval town in the province of Burgos, in the Castilla y Leon region. It has a population of 314 people, and is absolutely gorgeous. It was full of small winding streets, and full of stereotypical Spaniards. We got to go and see the castle that was in Frías, which is absolutely gorgeous and old. It was so much fun to be able to experience such an old and rich history!

"It was so beautiful but I preferred the town over the castle that was there. Don't get me wrong, I love a good old building, but I love the people that live there more. I loved watching the old ladies chatting, and the men with their berets inhaling their cigarettes and pipes. I loved watching the kids playing with the old dogs, who would rather just lay down and sleep, and seeing the working women walking around with armfuls of baguettes to sell. That to me is the beautiful part of town!"

We had some tapas in a bar that was in the style of a tudor house, and it reminded me of England, and made me love history even more! Ana and María told me that I was lucky, because Australia had so little history. All I could do was look over at the view that was in front of me and give thanks that I was so lucky to experience this thing called exchange. I feel so blessed to be right here, right where I am, in these circumstances. Are they what I expected? No, not at all. Did I expect to be further along with my Spanish at this point in my exchange? Yes, I did. But, God has given me this experience, with these challenges, but, he has also given me these great joys. Like, a family who cares for me, they joy of being a sister, and views like the one below. I have loved so much exploring what this year has in store for me, and I am so looking forward to the coming months, because I have so loved these past two!

From Frías, we moved onto Burgos. Burgos was absolutely beautiful! The Plaza Mayor had pink, peach, orange and yellow coloured buildings. Burgos is in the middle of the north of Spain, right in the middle of the country, and is the capital of the province Burgos, in the Castilla y Leon region. Castilla y Leon means Castle and Lion. This means, that in Castilla y leon, there are A LOT of castles. These holidays I was able to see many, and lots of cathedrals, including here in Burgos.

Me outside of the cathedral in Burgos.

The Cathedral in Burgos, is extremely well-known is on the World Heritage List. The cathedrals are all filled with many rooms, all separated by iron fences. This is to give privacy to the different rooms. The cathedrals are all extremely ornate, and to a lot of people, they hold great religious standing. For me, I felt like it was a bit fake. It cost 20 cents to light a candle, everything seemed more about tradition than relationship. I really enjoyed the artistic side about it, but the huge focus on 'you have to do this to be in God's good books' really started to bug me.

Another part of Burgos.

The Plaza Mayor in Burgos.

From Burgos we moved on to Leon. Leon is in the north-west of Spain, and is home to about 130, 000 people. Leon was beautiful, as was Burgos and Frías. There is something other wordly to these old, medieval, unique towns. It's something that you'd never find in Australia, and it completely blows my mind when I see them. I hope I never grow old of seeing these places. For me, I can't really describe them as anything else apart from, 'beautiful', 'gorgeous', because I don't have the words to accurately describe them. I know that 'beautiful' and 'gorgeous' falls short. These towns are captivating, they are their own little worlds. I often feel like I've fallen into a fairy tale when I step into a church or a cobble stoned road. I often can't comprehend that I live in a town with a church from the eleventh century, or that I live right on the longest river in Spain, or that I am here for a year. So many times these pieces of information feel out of my grasp, and because of this, they are indescribable. So, I replace the proper words, words that would justify the beauty of these places, with 'beautiful' or 'gorgeous'. So, when I say these words, I mean much more than them. I mean stunning, unique, like a fingerprint - not one the same anywhere else. When I am in these places, I smile, and it can't be wiped off my face. Because, I am an exchange student. And I get to experience only what other exchange students experience. A world full of adventure, language, excitement, change, wonder. A world full of challenges. A world full of change. I wouldn't have this year any other way.

The Basilica in Leon

We went to look at the Basilica, which was absolutely stunning. We were lucky enough to also see another procession, like the ones we had seen in Zaragoza. It was really different. There was a lot more focus on the brass instruments, so it felt more like a band, than just drumming. In fact, there were hardly any drums, mostly brass instruments. Gramps, you would have loved it. They were all really great, and it was really fun to watch. As Leon is a smaller city, all of the floats were carried by shoulder, which was really exciting to see, as most of the ones in Zaragoza were on wheels. It added a lot more importance and I think culture to the procession, having them on the people's shoulders.

One of the floats in Leon, during the procession.

The brass section in the procession in Leon.

From Leon, we moved onto Ponferrada. We got there at about 11pm, and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had the best salad there, that I've ever had. (Of course, barring Dad's salads!) It had raspberries, mulberries, apple, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, nuts, onion, balsamic vinegar and oil dressing, cheese, and some other stuff. I could have eaten it every day of my life, so so so good. We finally got to bed at around 12:30am, and woke up at 9:40am, which to my family is an early morning!

We had a lovely buffet breakfast, which was really yummy - Mum, Dad, think of the resort we stayed at for Dad's ball two years ago... the name escapes me. It was so good. We made our way to Ponferrada Castle. Again, it was really beautiful and really interesting, and I loved getting to know some more about Spain.

Ponferrada Castle and the kids and I

We continued to travel toward Santiago de Compostela, and finally arrived in Padrón, which is the town we stayed in, which is about 20 kilometres out of Santiago de Compostela. We didn't want to go into Santiago de Compostela that afternoon, so we went to Carril instead.

Carril is a seaside town in the north-west of Spain, about 50 km from the Portuguese border. Carril was absolutely gorgeous. I was so excited and kept on squealing, "Mar! Mar!" ("Sea! Sea!") Ah, it was so lovely to see the ocean again, and be able to smell it. I love the smell of the ocean, and I loved walking around the town and seeing all of the fishermen and people wandering around. It reminded me of so many things; of Sausalito in San Francisco, of Woy Woy, so many memories associated with that pungent smell of salt water mixed and fish. So many family memories, so many lovely memories that made me feel relaxed, happy and at home. I know the next time I smell that smell, I will be reminded this time, of Carril, and the beauty of that place, and the excitement and wonders of exchange.

The town of Carril

The seaside at Carril.

Me sitting at my 'Spanish seafront'

I figured out how to make panoramas :) Not sure why this is so small though?

Another panorama of Carril, with Ana, then María and then the two of them.

It also reminded me of Shirley Valentine and how she 'sat down on a Greek seafront'. I told my host family that a Spanish seafront would do for me. How lucky am I to be able to experience such beautiful wonders as this? Carril is famous for their clams, so we had a dish of them, and it cost us about 50 euros! But, oh were they worth it. I feel so proud of myself. Something I promised myself was to try everything while I was in Spain. If I had been in Australia, I wouldn't have eaten them, but I ate them, and they were delicious!

José Antonio y María Antonia at our table, looking at the sunset.

Javier was feeling sick at this time, so we went back to Padrón. In Spain, each town celebrates a week of fiestas, and this week was Padrón's week. There were rides, markets and so much music! It was so much fun! We walked around, looking at all of the things, and Javier went on the trampolines, while María and I went on the dodgem cars. In Australia, the dodgem cars all travel in the one direction and everyone wears seatbelts. Here, in Spain, there is no such thing as seatbelts, and one direction? More like ten. All I can say, is that it was so much more dangerous, and so much more fun than Australian dodgem cars!

While we were on the dodgem cars, Javier decided to throw up everywhere, so that cut our night short. We quickly ate some dinner and went to bed eagerly awaiting the next morning.... Santiago de Compostela...

Monday we went to Santiago de Compostela. For those of you who don't know, Santiago de Compostela is a city that is extremely famous, as it is often the ending point for the famous walk, Camino de Santiago. Santiago was a Saint, and was buried at the sight of the church in Santiago. Around his burial site, the cathedral and then the rest of the town was built. For many people, the Cathedral of Santiago is an incredibly religious and sacred site.

Me at Santiago de Compostela.

We got to Santiago de Compostela at about 11:30 am and I was speechless. It was so amazing to be able to see this site that so many people walk to - from 1km to thousands of km. I think my favourite part was seeing the people who had finished arriving at the destination. I could see their bodies change into relaxation and their smiles on their faces were incomparable. A lot of the time I prefer the people to the sites, because the people tell me so much more. I love looking at people and seeing how they react to things, and seeing locals walk around their town. I felt a stirring within, and knew that I wanted to do this. Go on a walk, a long walk, and end up somewhere. Something about carrying your life on your back for any amount of time, walking through the wilderness, meeting people, buying foreign foods, experiencing life on foot. Ahh, I cannot wait to do it. I read a book before I left for Spain called, "A Slow Journey South", which was about a couple who walked from England to Africa. When I read it, I knew it was something I wanted to do. But now, being able to see the end result. It is on my list of to-do's.

Us at Santiago de Compostela, with the Cathedral in the background.

Santiago de Compostela has an important date - the 25th of July. I think this is the day of Saintiago, and when this date falls on a Sunday, a special door is opened for the year. This year, the 25th of July falls on a Sunday, so the door was opened. Everyone told me that I was extremely lucky and blessed to be able to walk through the door. We walked through the door, and then walked up to the statue of Santiago. Everyone hugged and kissed it, before moving on to listen to the church service. It bugged me a little - everyone hugging and kissing the statue, as if it was going to save their lives.

"I find that so many people in Spain hold too much importance on the physical and the 'religion' and not enough focus on the relationship. The reason this church is so famous is because the body of Santiago was found here. It hink it's stupid! But everyone hugged and kissed the statue and then we went to the church service. It was so lovely to be a part of a church service. Sure, it was cold, and... it didn't feel passionate; but it was still me and god. That's all that matters. nothing else matters for anyone as long as they believe that Christ came to die in place of them - 'For God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.' Nothing else then, not the pendants, saints, popes, Santiagos matter. All I hope, is that my family has found that."

Inside the cathedral.

After exploring the church, we had lunch at a restaurant - paella, and a lobster and rice dish. I had so much fun cracking open my lobster and sucking out the meat. I felt so accomplished of myself for doing that and having fun, and not turning my nose up at it. I think that exchange has taught me many important things - one of those being able to adapt. I have to say that the Spanish food wasn't my favourite at the beginning of exchange, but each day it really is growing on me.

Me with my lobster.... yummy!

After lunch we got to have a tour of the Church, which was very interesting. Mainly because it was in Spanish, spoken by a Galician. Spain is like every English spoken country placed in the one continent. Each province represents a different country. Andalucia is like a bogan accent, no one likes it, and people can't really understand them. Castilly y Leon and Navarra (biased!) is the best Spanish... so proper English, the poshest of the posh. Galicia is more like America. Each region has a different accent. So for me, someone who struggles with my own region's Spanish, I certainly struggled with this lady's accent! Especially because Galicians are known for speaking ridiculously fast.

It was great, because we were able to go onto the roof of the Cathedral, and I thought to myself, "How many people get to do this in their lifetime? How lucky am I?!" I felt incredibly blessed.

Me on the roof of the Cathedral.

The next couple of days, we spent going through small towns, stopping in O'Grove, a fishing village, where we went on a cruise. I got to talk to my parents while I was on it, which was so so lovely! We also stopped off at another seaside town, though I can't remember its name, to watch them unloading the fish. Unfortunately, we were 12 hours early, as they did it at 6 in the afternoon, not 6 in the morning! Alas, I saw the most beautiful sunrise, and I felt so excited to be up so early.

The fam and I on the cruise.

Talking to Mum and Dad on the cruise.... HELLO!!
Javier and I :)

The Sunset we saw.

The trip back to Zaragoza was really beautiful. I was awake for all of it this time! It was so interesting to see the views change from green to yellow, to brown, back to green. It was absolutely beautiful. We stopped off at a truck stop and played some soccer, while watching the sun set, before arriving in Zaragoza. It was Wednesday, and I was desperately wanting a shower, as I hadn't had one all day... except the gas in the piso wasn't working, so I couldn't have a shower. We spent from Wednesday to Saturday night in Zaragoza. And I didn't have a shower!!! It was horrible. I had bird baths everyday, with just cold water. But my family didn't have a shower at all. To me, there couldn't be anything worse.

The beautiful countryside... yellow this time.

Sunset we saw on our way to Zaragoza.

I also had to buy some clothes while I was in Zaragoza... and it was incredibly stressful, because I was the only one buying clothes, and none of the clothes (jeans) fit because they were all too long, so I tried on kids jeans but they all had elastic instead of real jeans. It really made me not like shopping. But in the end I found some, and there was a small amount of time that I enjoyed it, when Ana, María and I were trying on hats and sunglasses. I am really enjoying bonding with my 'sisters', and I'm really enjoying be able to say sisters. I love having sisters. They make me miss my sisters in Australia - Jas and Katherine. How much I love them and miss them. I can't wait until I return and I can hang out with them again!

Ana y María trying on glasses, scarves, and hats.

I also got to go to the movies three times while I was in Zaragoza. I saw Nanny McPhee, How To Train Your Dragon and The Bounty Hunter. I loved How To Train Your Dragon, and really liked Nanny McPhee. The Bounty Hunter was alright, but a lot harder to understand!

On the Friday I was feeling a bit 'homesick' but for Tudela. I just wanted familiarity, computer, movies, home. That feeling that your home, you can shower, you can do whatever you want. I prayed to God about it, and then on Saturday we went to a park, called El Parque Grande. The Big Park. And it was the biggest answer to prayer. It was the perfect morning. I was there with my host family, we were all hanging out together and having fun. The weather was perfect, twenty degrees! María and I hired a bike and rode around the park, and I was just so content. There were cafeterías around in the park, so I sat down and had a coffee, reading Harry Potter in Spanish, listening to the Spanish mingling around me. I felt like God was showing me that I didn't need Tudela, or a computer or movies, because God would supply for me. And he has supplied this amazing year abroad full of tastes and smells and sights and languages that makes my heart beat fast in excitement. God showed me that all I needed was him. And what a great encouragement that is!

Me riding the bike around El Parque Grande.

María riding the bike in El Parque Grande.

That is the end of my holidays, but not the end of my adventures. :) A blog about the past two weeks will hopefully be up tomorrow or Saturday (hoping that my blogger works). Also, I've had different people comment on the colour of my background. Do you prefer a white or black background? Please use the comment box to let me know....

Love you all x x

Monday, April 19, 2010

Semana Santa.

I've been having some trouble with my blogger, so I haven't been able to get these blogs up, so sorry about the delay!...

Semana Santa... Easter. I was lucky enough to experience another type of Easter this year. Semana Santa is what Easter is called, and the differences don't end at the name. Semana Santa has easily been the most culturally different thing I have experienced in Spain thus far, and it was incredible to see and experience and be apart of something so radically different. I was so eager to see what everyone was making a fuss about, as everyone had told me that Easter in Spain was different; I had seen photos, and agreed that it was. But, experiencing it first hand... I was completely shocked and intrigued and fascinated by the events of Semana Santa.

Semana Santa directly translates to 'The Week of the Saint'. All throughout Spain, it is celebrated; the biggest celebration being held in Sevilla (Seville), in the south of Spain. It officially starts on the Thursday (1/4/10) and runs through to the Sunday. One big thing for me, was that they don't give out Easter eggs. :( That is to say, that Easter eggs have been introduced into Spain, as the western phenomenon has reached Spain. But Easter eggs are not important, and only some small children get them. So, I had an Easter without Easter eggs, which was... strange. I was looking forward to my Easter eggs, and it made me realise how much I look forward to them, when I should be focusing all of attention on the real reason for Easter - Jesus' death and resurrection.

I got to go with my host family to Zaragoza to celebrate the Semana Santa celebrations. Each town, big or small celebrates Easter, but the larger the city, the larger the celebration. And because Zaragoza is home to la Basilica del Pilar, the Semana Celebrations are quite large and flamboyant. The celebrations start on the Thursday, during the day. I arrived at around 8pm, and didn't see anything on the way in, so felt like they were making a big fuss out of nothing. At around 9:30pm we left el piso (the flat)...

"I couldn't see anything; there were lots of people wandering around, and then I hear it... BOOM!! Big, deep drum beats echoing through the streets. Another beat, and then another, and other, steadily quickening; just like my racing heart. I still can't see anything. The drums continue, getting louder every second as they get closer to where I'm standing... and then I see it; tips of the hats. They are all deep purple. Tips slowly turn into all of the hat, then the covered, hooded faces and finally, their full bodies. Their purple robes illuminate against the dark night. It is something I have never experienced before. They're all in lines, slowly, somberly marching down the streets, las carreterras, the drums and their beats what they set their steps to. I look on with my mouth wide open, and I look around me, feeling a sense of guilt. I don't really know why, but I guess because they look so much like the KKK, that I feel like I'm taking part in a racist activity, rather than remembering Christ's death. I ask María Antonia why they wear the outfits and she tells me that it's a sign of repentance - a way to show that they are sorry for killing Christ, and for all of the sins that they have committed."

This is of one groups of the manolas. Each different coloured robe signifies a specific part of Jesus' death and resurrection.

These processions continue all through the night. We stayed out until about midnight, having tapas, and wine (Spanish wine is excellent!) and finally getting to bed at around 12:30... an early night for the Spanish people! The next morning I woke up bright and early, ready to see what else I was going to see that day... all I heard was silence, and sure enough, no one was awake. I ended up sleeping in till 10:30am and got to have breakfast and get ready for the day. Things didn't start until 5pm, so I had a good six hours to spare. I took my journal, my camera, some money and myself out and decided to go to El Palacio del Alajafería, which is a palace in Zaragoza. José Antonio told me that it was quite a walk, so told me where to catch the bus, and how long the bus ride would take (15 minutes). I got to the bus stop, took bus 32, and asked the conductor how long it would take to get to El Palacio. He said around five minutes. I sat down in the only spare seat, facing away from the driver. Three bus stops and two minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the bus driver standing next to me, asking me why I wasn't getting off to see the palace. I felt like such an idiot! I quickly stood up and went to exit the bus, but tried to exit out of the entrance. So, I finally exited the bus with a red-as-a-tomato face, feeling like the most stupid person in the world. There are some things I haven't quite figured out yet! El Palacio del Aljafería is an Arabic style palace. It was originally built by the Muslim population in Spain, and when the Christians conquered them, it was converted into a more Romanic style. I absolutely love the Arabic arquitecture, and it reminds me of Aunty Rob and Uncle Matt. I really enjoyed seeing it, but I love visiting things with other people, I think it makes it much more enjoyable. As I was leaving I knew I had two options; catch the bus home, or walk. I don't think I really understand the Spanish culture very well, or at least my host family! In Tudela, we walk everywhere. But, as soon as they get to a point where it would take longer than a minute in a car, they use the car. I, personally love walking. I love walking to school, letting the walk wake me up completely, and I love walking and discovering new things. The walk to El Palacio del Aljafería would have taken at most 15 minutes. So, I decided to walk. And I loved it. I had no idea where I was going, but I had a general idea. It took me about 20 minutes getting lost a couple of times, but I got to the main plaza. Feeling accomplished, I bought myself a coffee at this lovely cafetería, sitting outside, the sun making me feel all warm and lovely. It was such a nice way to spend my afternoon.

At around 5pm, we went down to the main street of Zaragoza to see the procession of Friday night. This is the biggest night, and this one procession started at 6pm and went for 6 hours. It was crazy. We were able to see the beginning of it, and it was really really interesting. At the front of the procession, there was a man wearing no shoes, with a bell in his hands, hooded, wearing black.

I asked why he was at the front of the group, and why he wasn't wearing shoes. María Antonia answered, "Every year, during Semana Santa, Zaragoza lets one prisoner go. They let him go to remember how the people let Barrabus go, instead of Jesus."

"So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor. "Barabbas," they answered. "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked. They all answered, "Crucify him!" "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"
Matthew 27:17-25

I found it so incredible that they actually let a prisoner go. It was beyond my comprehension, and I found it so crazy to think that every year a city actually let a real prisoner go, just like Pilate did when Jesus was crucified. Blows my mind.

I found a lot of people not wearing shoes, some people even wearing chains around their feet.

I asked María Antonia again why they did not wear shoes, and she replied that wearing no shoes was another sign of respect and repentance. She told me that a lot of people who bore great guilt and pain over their sins often walked in the Semana Santa processions without any shoes, as a way to physically show their repentance, asking for forgiveness.

Mum sent me an email about her Easter, and wrote this:

"As we came in we got a big nail and part way through the service we nailed our nails into a life size wooden cross that was lying on the floor in the middle of the room, lying on a crumpled sheet with candles around it. As they did each reading they would come and blow one candle out....sort of like snuffing the life out of Jesus by our sins. As the lady who wore a robe at the service we went to last time came to nail her candle in she could barely walk with the grief of it all and was sobbing as she nailed her nail in.....2 women came and helped her walk to her seat. I had mixed feelings with this. I feel that we can't look at Good friday without the filter of Easter resurrection Sunday and although we are sad, it is a sadness filled with hope. Her grief seemed so profound that I wondered whether she felt she had received forgiveness for her sins or not.....(gee I wonder what SHE did???) And a part of me thought that I don't take my many sins seriously enough. Mhhhhmmmm.....something to think about."

This is something that was really apparent to me as well, throughout the Semana Santa processions. I found it extremely confronting to see the hooded manolas, who were hooded as a way to show repentance and respect as well.

"I think the Spanish and the Australians, (well, at least myself) have completely different associations with robes and hooded people. I think of the death eaters out of Harry Potter, executioners, the KKK... But the Spanish people associate the robes and hoods as reverence, respect, repentance. It was so interesting to see how our associations of something can change our meaning of a situation and our understanding of an event. I saw the hoods and robes at first as something wrong, something to be feared, something to feel guilty about. But now, it's Sunday, and the robes are off as people are dancing down the street celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It's something completely different, and has challenged me in the way I let things affect the way I perceive different things. It's definitely something for me to think about!"

I didn't bring my bible with me to Zaragoza, and had wished I had. I struggled with the distinction between relationships with God, and the physical, ritualistic side of religion, that is very apparent in Spain. Instead, Brad sent me a text message that pretty much summed up everything I needed to hear.

"Hi family! Good Friday! I hope you've all had a fantastic day remembering the cross. 'He died for all so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.' 2 Corinthians 5:15. Have a great weekend! Love B + K'

I wrote that out in my diary, and underneath that I wrote,

"Looking back on what I've written, it feels like God has answered my questions with Brad's text message. Thank you God, for placing words I need to hear in front of me. Thank you for continuing to reveal yourself to me, and thank you for the life you've given me. I'm so thankful. Thank you for your sacrifice, and the promise of life that comes with that sacrifice."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Madrid, the place of art, music, culture and adventure.

I have been so incredibly busy these past three weeks; from Madrid, to Semana Santa in Zaragoza, to travelling west, exploring the diversity and culture of this wonderful country. This was meant to be posted yesterday, but I my blogger was 'undergoing maintenance'. My blog is split into three parts:
  • Madrid:
  • Semana Santa
  • Vacaciones
Today I'm posting up my time in Madrid, tomorrow Semana Santa, and Thursday Vacaciones. So sorry for anyone who has been waiting to hear what's been happening in my life!

I was lucky enough to be able to go to Madrid from the 24-27/3/10, as my class was on vacaciones en Amsterdam. I would have loved to have gone, but I wasn't able to. Instead, I was able to go to Madrid, as I didn't have class during the time they were gone. I got to stay with a friend of my Mum, who lives in Madrid. They know each other from Uni, and I met Joc a couple of days before I went to Madrid. I was really excited about the opportunity to spend some time together and get to know each other a little better! Joc has been an extremely wonderful support to me during my time in Spain. She has called me up to check how I'm going, and has offered her time to me, as someone to chat to - as a fellow Australian, who knows what it's like to move to another country. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time in Madrid, and like everything in life, it was an adventure, filled with both ups and downs...

Joc and I

I set my alarm on Wednesday the 24/3 for 6am, as my bus left at 7:30am. I still needed to pack, and I wanted to have a shower and have breakfast before I left, and I also needed to buy a ticket to get to Madrid. I wanted to have time and start my holiday on a relaxed note. I slept through my alarm. I woke up at 6:45am, sitting straight up in bed, knowing that I was late. I quickly rushed, brushing my teeth, packing my bag, finally carrying them upstairs at 7am, ready to walk to walk to the station and have enough time to buy my ticket. José Antonio was just leaving for work so he told me that I could get a lift with him to the station. It's about a 5 minute brisk walk to the station, or a 2 minute drive, so I gladly said '¡Gracias!' and opened the front door to leave. At 7:15 (15 minutes before the train left) we finally made it out the door, only to find out that we had to walk half the way to the station to get the car! Oh, the Spanish way of thinking is beyond me sometimes! I got to the station at about 7:25 and quickly bought my ticket and boarded the bus. My stomach was grumbling, as I hadn't been able to desayunar, (eat breakfast) as we left Tudela. I looked eagerly out the window looking forward to seeing the countryside, and see more of Spain. After about half an hour, the bus stopped at a random cafetería, and told us that we were waiting here for a while. I didn't really know why, but I took my chance to buy a freshly made croissant and a bottle of water. Something that I will never grow tired of, is the baking in Spain. Everyone associates fantastic bread and croissants with France... but here in Spain, oh my, it is delectable. It makes me wonder what bread is like in France, because I feel I could eat a whole baguette every meal! After eating my steaming hot croissant, the bus driver decided to drive another bus, so we got out and switched busses. After about another hour of driving, we swapped busses again at a town called Soria. When I first travelled to Tudela, after being in Spain two days, I did this swap, but felt completely lost and overwhelmed. After the help of a man who spoke English, I got on the right bus. This time however, I moved with great confidence, asking the bus conductor where I needed to go, and got to the bus without any hassle whatsoever. Being able to make these comparisons is just great, and allows me to see just how much my Spanish has improved, and with that, my confidence in myself and my speaking skills. The drive to Madrid was really beautiful, filled with a diverse countryside.

After about 5 and a half hours in total, I finally arrived in Madrid! I caught the metro to Atocha train station, which is the closest to Joc's apartment. Here, in Spain, everything is done differently. This includes busking. In Australia, busking normally happens outside. People playing music, doing tricks, pulling people in and doing shows. Here, in Madrid, musicians live in the metros. They have a portable amp, and they just hop onto a metro for a station or two, play their music, and then walk around to get money off people. It was so unusual for me to see. The first time I thought to myself, "Hey, this is actually great. I wish they did this in Australia!" But later, I realised how it could quickly get very annoying, when all you want is a little peace and quiet.

Joc is situated in a prime place. She lives in between the Prado Museum, and the Retiro, which is a beautiful, and enormous park. She is right in the centre of everything. A 15 minute walk from the Plaza Del Sol, 3 minute walk from the Prado, 2 minute walk from the Retiro. And her place is stunning. I felt so blessed to be able to experience Madrid, and to have someone so kind to open their place for me. It was great to get to hang with Joc, chat about everything and eat... Bocadillos de ensalada! (Salad sandwhiches!) On the Wednesday afternoon, we got to walk around in the Retiro, which is just a stunning park. It is huge, and is filled with lots of different sections.
Public facilities so people can play tennis and fútbol

The Blossom Garden

The Crystal Palace

The memorial for the metro bombing in... 2003?
The Lakey thing, where you can ride boats.

The Retiro is absolutely gorgeous, and I could have (and did!) spent hours there. That night, I was able to go to a Bollywood dancing class. It was really fun. It was really fun to just learn some of those moves, and our teacher was awesome. She was so expressive in her movements, but more so in her facial expression. Bollywood dancing is as much about your facial expression as your movements. It was amazing to see her transform a single movement into a story.

I spent the next couple of days exploring the city, drinking coffees, taking photos, hearing Spanish, people watching, and going to museums. Ah, museums, how I love them. But what I love even more, is student cards! Because I have a student card, the cost is cut by more than half, making my trip a lot cheaper.

I got to go to places like the Prado, where I got to see, in real life, artworks that I had studied in art. It was so incredible to see them, and I got so excited, almost squealing in delight, that I had a few people look at my in curiosity as I looked at the paintings.

"I was so shocked to find so many amazing artworks at the Prado. I saw the 3rd of May - Goya! and Saturn, by Goya! There is nothing like seeing artworks I've studied in real life. And the funny thing is, is that I didn't know that they were there, and then I turned around and let out this huge gasp when I saw them there, right within my grasp. Just staring, studying the painting I've studied before, but up close, able to see the paint strokes and the textures and tones, right in front of me, so close, just a hands length away."

On the Thursday night, I got to go to a Flamenco night. There are so many things about Spain that I love, and I have definitely fallen in love with Flamenco. Flamenco is a traditional part of Spain, coming from down south in Andalusia. It is made up of three components: the dance, the singing, and the guitars. With these three combined, a magical and incredible experience is created. I went to a Flamenco bar with Joc, and was able to see an hour and a half show. It had 2 guitarists, two singers (one man, one woman), two dancers, a flautist, and a percussionist.

The Flamenco singer.

The Flamenco dancer.

The other Flamenco Dancer. The wine glass you see is the one she's about to knock over.

"I was moved by the way the three components of the Flamenco were pieced together to show me something so beautiful. The music was so soulful, and I could hear that they were telling me a story. This was also emphasised through the dancers. The dancers moved their feet, their hands, their eyes locked to each other the whole time. The man's hair had been wet, so that when he moved his head, the water sprayed everywhere. They moved so fast, so gracefully, so full of emotion. Their movements told a love story, the facial expressions, hands, feet, music, singing, all showing us their story. Their story of how they met, fell in love, the troubles they faced, but how loved conquered. It was an amazing experience, and the whole time I had goosebumps down my arms. I looked over to the guitarists and they both had a huge silly grin on their faces. That was my favourite part of the night. To see such joy and passion in what they were doing. That and when the female dancer whipped her shawl over her shoulder, making it hit a wine glass at on the front tables, making it fly through the air, shattering, before landing all over a lady."

On Friday, I went to the Thyssen in the morning. The Thyssen is another art museum, that is set out in a really interesting way. It starts on the third floor, at the beginning of AD, and works its way down to the first floor, and to the present day. It was really interesting to see how art has progressed and I loved that there was a Kandinsky painting, of when he painted subjects, and then afterwards when he didn't. :)

That afternoon I was meant to meet Vic, one of the other exchange students for lunch. I was half an hour early to the train station, so I decided to go to the little park in between the two sides of the road to wait. When I crossed the road, I was surrounded by 5 young teenage girls, asking me to sign a petition. I didn't really want to so just told them that I didn't speak Spanish, but they just swapped to English. They were very close to me, and I didn't feel at all comfortable, but decided to sign the petition so I could go, as I couldn't really walk away, as they had all surrounded me. I quickly signed it but they wanted to check where I lived and my signature or something. I was not at all comfortable at this point, and felt that they were up to something. I felt like I'm guessing Mum felt like, when we were in Tijuana, in Mexico. I just wanted to get out of the situation I was in. Again, they were really pushy, so I quickly got out my wallet to show them my I.D.. While I did this however, one of the girls grabbed all the money I had in my wallet (over 100 euros, as I had just got it out from the bank, having just gotten back the money I had been stolen from me when I had credit card fraud!) and sneakily pass it to one of the other girls. They didn't think that I had seen it. Oh, but unfortunately for them, I had. And I was frustrated. Very frustrated. I think I probably growled and then said, "Oi! Give me back my money!" They did a feigned, 'what are you talking about' look, but I wouldn't have any of it. I said loudly again, "Give me back my money!" The girl who had my money looked resigned, and gave me back twenty euros. Thinking that maybe they had only taken that amount I slipped it back in my wallet only to see that I still had another seventy euros missing.

"I looked up and saw that they had gone. I looked over my shoulder to see them running away. I had a million emotions running through me - anger, indignation, panic, frustration... a LOT of frustration. And a little fear. I squared my shoulders. I thought to myself, 'I just got that money back from the credit card fraud. There is NO WAY I'm letting them get away with it. The fear, panic, apprehension left me, and was replaced with frustration. Lots of frustration. And calm. I squared my shoulders and yelled, "Give me back my money!" I thought to myself, "Do not mess with me" and I ran. I started to run after them. They crossed the road, with all the cars stopped at a red light, so I ran after them, yelling "PARA! PARA!" (Stop! Stop!) We then crossed back over the road, jumped a fence, all the while me running after them yelling at the top of my lungs telling them to stop. I saw a man running alongside them, and I wasn't sure if he was with them or not. Turned out he wasn't with them. I finally caught one of the girls and angrily said, "Me das mi dinero!!" (Give me my money!) Turns out, the girl with all my money had run off in another direction. The man who had been running was yelling at them, and it was at this point that all of my adrenalin left me. And with that, so did my Spanish. I followed them across the road, and we finally met up with the other girl. Again I said, "Me das mi dinero!" She gave me ten euros, so I said, "Más, más. Me faltan 50 euros" (More, more. I'm missing 50 euros.) At this point, a lady came and told me that she spoke English. She helped translate everything for me. They searched their bags, and finally I got the rest of my money back. I said thanks to the lady, and she just looked at me, opened her bag and said, "We're undercover policemen. We've been trying to catch them, and saw that they had robbed you. We're just doing our jobs. We've got some more police coming now."

I felt so blessed to have been seen by the undercovere policemen, and I felt like God had been protecting me the whole time. I called Vic, and told her what happened, and she came to the police station with me to make a report. We got to ride in the police cars, and they put on the sirens for us. It was a pretty surreal experience! They didn't offer us a way back, so we had to walk all the way back to the apartment, and I talked to Mum and Dad on Skype (waking them up at 2am in the process!) and had a little cry. After that, I met up with the other exchange students for tapas.

A reenactment of the robbing, where it took place.

I love hanging out with the other SEA exchange student kids. We are all at the same stage of our exchange, and we are all experiencing and going through the same things. It was so nice to hang out with them and chat about everything.

Vic, Rachael and Bettina at a tapas bar.

Joseph, Myself and Brinton in Madrid.

Overall, it was such an eventful weekend. I loved every moment of it. Even the robbery. Afterwards, I was like, heck yes! I fully chased those girls, caught them, JUMPED over a fence in the process, and was seen by undercover policemen. It felt like something out of a dream.

"What a couple of days it's been. I think I'm one of those exchange students that go on exchange, and comes home witha year packed full of life experiences, adventures and trips. I think that I have experienced more in my 7 weeks in Spain that some exchangers would experience in their year abroad.. or even some people experience in their whole life! I feel so incredibly blessed that God has given me such an amazing opportunity, and it is my only hope and prayer that I will be used by God, and that I will learn from everything he gives me this year - both good and bad. Sometimes I feel like I'm not learning anything, but then I look back and see the incredible journey I've been on and I can only sum up my entire life and adventures in six small words:
Only through God is this possible.

Thank you God for giving me this life. Help me to live it to the fullest and live to serve and glorify you."