Three weeks ago today, I was frantically and quietly packing my material possessions into two large suitcases and two backpacks at 4am, trying my best not to wake the 58, 24, and 1-year-old sleeping in the adjacent bedroom. My sister Ari, the 24-year-old, would wake up in the next hour to take me and my abuelita to the airport, where we would board the first flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, then Chicago to Madrid, then Madrid to Vigo.
Spain’s Got Mo. Again. This time, I am not back as a student, which I was from fall 2011 to summer 2012 in Córdoba. I am back as an employee! More specifically, as an Auxiliar de Conversación, an English Language Conversation Assistant. The Spanish government chose me, along with 434 other Americans, Britains, Russians, Chinese, Portuguese, and Germans, to live in its country and promote my culture and language in Spanish classrooms for 8 months.
Just because the first language I learned was English. I am honored by the opportunity and fully aware of the many privileges I am awarded as a United States citizen. (I am also fully aware of the many prejudices I am subject to as a woman, as a Black woman, and as a person with PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome. That’s intersectionality for you.)
My final weeks in the United States were spent having “lasts”: last American cheeseburger, last family reunion, last middle school reunion, last Metro ride, last traffic jam. I decided to tackle Spain once I got to Spain, and so I secured a hotel just a couple of days before leaving and made sure to tell Bank of America I was going abroad. I knew I could handle everything else once I landed.
My first week in Spain went like so:
1.) Day One: Check in at Hotel San Luis. Unpack the “hotel” backpack. Eat, sleep, and search for apartments.
2.) Day Two: Convert USD to Euros. Open an account with a Spanish cell phone network provider (Vodafone). Set up appointments to visit apartments and buy rainboots.
3.) Day Three: Visit an apartment and find the one, a three-bedroom apartment in the city center with three young, fun, full-blown Gallegos.
4.) Day Four: Take in the city. Visit Ponte Caldelas, the pueblo where I will teach. Meet a group of other auxiliares from the US, England, Scotland, and France for dinner. Try orejas (ok, I’ll translate this one: pig’s ears) as a dare-devil and gag on them, three times.
5.) Day Five: Check out of the hotel and exchange contact information with the nice family that operates it. Move into my apartment and let my grandmother unpack my things (because she won’t have it any other way). Smile the whole way through, and plan to rearrange ever so slightly once she leaves.
6.) Day Six: Meet the school’s director at 10am and head over to the school to meet the teachers and introduce myself to some of my future pupils. Speak only in English, and speak slowly, because your accent is difficult, as they request. Return home and go out to lunch with grandma. Appreciate the silence of the streets during the country-wide siesta from 2:00pm to 4:30pm. Tour the city, eat dinner, sleep, and repeat.
The only routine that I have fallen into is sleeping and waking once again. Even then, I keep the painful truth that Tomorrow Is Never Guaranteed at the forefront of my mind. One Monday in March, my mom was talking and smiling, although in pain from the advanced stage of her metastatic breast cancer. The following Monday, she was coughing up black blood. That Friday, she was talking to my sister, who had rushed to Las Vegas to be with her. On Saturday, unaware of the previous day’s turn of events, I received a text message saying:
“Mom is going to be taken off of life support.”
Mom. My mom. My fun-loving, sensitive mom.
That text message set into motion a chain of events including the first flight from Hartford to Las Vegas, a night spent visiting my mother and then signing her death certificate, and the painful process of de-housing the house that my mom had called home for the past several months. I learned how to sell a car, how to tell people that my mother had died before my soul had accepted it as real, how to listen while a funeral director discussed the body parts up for donation, how to design a funeral program, and how to sum up my mother’s life in 10 minutes of music and pictures. I learned how not to kill my family as we spent more time together than ever before, discussing harder topics than ever before. Finally, I learned how to put it all behind me when I returned to school to walk across the stage and finally, finally, get my diploma.
Tomorrow is Never Guaranteed. In other words:
NOW IS OUR ONLY GUARANTEE.
I would like to highlight a few people in the “Now” of my last three weeks who have shown me love, support, kindness, and (even for the fourth time) the way back to a place I had been several times before.
She uprooted her life from the hot border of Mexico to the rainy coast of Spain for no other reason than to be here for me. Little did she expect that she would have some eye-opening experiences of her own, such as taking a walk for pizza at 10pm in Portugal and trying octopus (which, as you can judge by her facial expression, she had decided she didn’t like before it hit her tongue). You have loved me unconditionally in the many shapes and forms that ultimately gave shape and form to the present me. Thank you for being you, and thank you for being here.
They were my buddies all summer, and they gave me a big goodbye (ok, Jade slept through the goodbye) as I left for my flight. Thank you for being there as I struggled to re-find myself. Also, thank you for taking everything that wouldn’t fit into my four bags. I miss you very much.
This man is so much more than a taxi driver. Outside of possibly being the closest Spanish rendition of Prince Charming that there is, he simply took care of me and my grandmother for our first two weeks here. He was there checking me out of my hotel, checking my grandmother in at the airport, helping me navigate the bus station for a weekend trip and showing me around my future workplace. He was there for breakfast when my grandma left, preventing me from crawling into a hole and disappearing there for the rest of the day. He was Comfort in physical form, and I appreciate the support he provided to me and to my grandmother. Until next time, Marcos El Viejo.
4. The teachers, students, and administration at my school
The personal welcome I got from Director Manuel “Manolo” as he picked us up from the airport, waving off his errors in English with the phrase, “It’s better to understand and be understanded.” The patience, enthusiasm, creativity, and endless encouragement from the teachers every single day. The “Hello Morgyn!” and “Good-bye Teacher!” from the students, all eager to learn. The tiny hand belonging to little Dani that grabbed mine and took me for a walk at recess one Friday. All of these moments are imprinted on my heart, and I have already fallen in love with this small school in this small town that is making a big impact on the lives of nearly 300 students. Thank you for opening up your school to me. I will try my best to make it worth your while.
Why? Because Now Is Our Only Guarantee. Make the best of it.