One of the most satisfying, though not necessarily exciting things, for me is traveling to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs and food (always the food) and creating a routine for myself.
As I type this, my host is having her daily siesta and I hear conversation flowing from the windows of nearby apartments. My afternoon meal is on the stove and I’ve just made plans to go out for drinks at 10:45 tonight. I’m on my second work project for the day and the blazing sun normally coming through the living room windows has been somewhat tamed by the half lowered window shutters. All this is slowly become familiar and deliciously normal.
Sometimes I sit back and ask myself why, if I crave normalcy so much, do I run half way across the world to find it? Yet another question I haven’t found an answer to.
Work has been steady here. I have book deadlines that keep me nice and busy (read, “frantic”) plus a ghostwriting client who has been sending me constant work so far. With this work, it’s hard to go full on tourist and, backpack firmly strapped to my shoulders, leap into the exploration of this beautiful country; but the work/exploration has been a nice balance that helps to pay my rent and other expenses while still valuing the time I have to see people, places, and things*.
As for my writing, already new things are taking shape. Beautiful things as well as not so beautiful. Last night, I left the city center a little later than I’m used to. I headed back home around thirty after midnight, ready to catch the last-ish train back to the cheaper working class neighborhood where I live. All along my walk down Gran Villa, I couldn’t help but notice the tableau of posed women. Many women. They were obviously all working the street, and they were most obviously Black.
The last time I was in Spain was maybe ten years ago. I spent two weeks in Barcelona, mostly at a shared flat near Las Ramblas. When I explored that neighborhood and the ones nearby during the day, I didn’t see many Black women. Maybe one or two biracial looking women going about their business but that was it. During the night, however, suddenly the main street was flooded with dark skinned women walking up and down the avenue. They were mostly alone but some moved in pairs. A few even propositioned me. It was so strange.
Then I heard about the sex-trafficking and enslavement of women from Nigeria and other parts of the world. It shocked me, made me angry, made me so very sad. The methods through these women came to be here are varied and shocking, and it’s a crime against humanity that Spain has only just made illegal in the last couple of years.
What’s happening here, and in other places around the world (including Atlanta), is nothing I can speak on with any degree of authority. I’m simply re-noticing it, feeling frightened for these women and children, and very aware of the privileged position I have to simply come here with my American passport, cook, and learn, and move about relatively freely, even as I’m approached as a prostitute again and again simply because of my skin color.
As wonderful as traveling is, it can be also a complicated thing. Immersing yourself in the heart of a place or culture can show the good as well as the bad that live there. It’s up to us how we react to them.
*Also a film with Jessica Williams and some other people.