Tag Archives: home


I love my city.

I love walking it. I love the neighborhoods. I love pedestrian sidewalks almost anywhere I care to go, though they may rise and buckle like a study in plate tectonics.

I love riding through it on my bike, flying across the city on the power of my own two legs. I love the graceful ease of pavement under my wheels, and the near-frictionless glide of the machine, despite its weight and whatever load I may be carrying.

I love the view of it from an elevated train track, rushing past little patches of people’s lives, laid out alongside fences and swingsets and patios. I love the snippets of conversations, teasers for stories I will never hear. (Three young men, all British: “Should we get a map? Or do you think we can iPhone it across the country?” “A map would be a good idea.”) I love the silence-over-modulating-hum when they turn off the engine and we ride forward on nothing but that barely-audible song and the force of what came before.

I love the tall trees and the broad streets, the little yards and the variety of people that live in them. I love the range of people and style and color, the diversity grown on the bones of rowhouses that once all looked the same.

I love the excitement.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Zambia, too. I found it fascinating. I learned new things all the time. But for all its newness and difference, it cannot compete with this city that is my home, my stomping-ground, my familiar streets and well-known routes hiding something rich and strange around any corner.

The gritty roughness of the city gives me energy in a way that the wide-open spaces, endless blue sky, scrubby plants in red dust, and quiet community of the village cannot compete with.

When I traveled in Zambia, I looked out the window all the time, never knowing what I might see. Kids with kites made of a few sticks and a bit of string and plastic bags. Five people riding one bicycle. A woman carrying a live goat on her head. A girl, five or six years old, with a chitenge tied to her back and the flop-ears of a stuffed rabbit peeking out over her shoulder, in imitation of the older women in her life.

I found it endlessly fascinating. I saw all sorts of things in Zambia.

But I have realized that in Philadelphia, I might see ANYTHING. I cannot, at this moment in time, think of anything of which I can confidently say, “I would not see that in Philadelphia.”* And that, more than anything, is what I love about this city.

Before I left a year ago, someone who grew up in Macha, talking about the range of languages, said to me, “I know people who would need to speak five languages other than English in order to talk to all of the people within one day’s walk of where they lived.” At the time, I found that pretty impressive. I still do, in fact. But you know what? I am willing to bet that I would need at least twice that many to speak all the native languages of the people who use my train stop, or live in the catchment district of the local public elementary school.

This is the city. Keep your eyes open. You’ll see sparrows in 30th Street Station, Catulpa trees growing in drainspouts, drama worthy of soap operas acted out on the street, graffiti on abandoned warehouses and under bridges,** world-class musicians in the subway, farmer’s markets and community gardens, London Plane trees with diameters larger than their little patches of dirt, shih-tzus riding regional rail, and maybe, if you look at just the right time, a gal in a skirt with a chitenge handkerchief under her helmet riding an extra-long bicycle.

Samantha hangs out while waiting for her train.

Samantha hangs out while waiting for her train.

I don’t always see it. Sometimes the city is sticky and tiresome and crowded and it smells bad. But I think it’s always there, and I just need to remember what I’m looking for and how to notice.


*I was going to say a banana tree. But then I started thinking of situations under which I might encounter one, and now I’m not even sure about that.

**LAOS–> What does it mean? Is it a tag? A statement of geographic identity? A helpful navigational direction?


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Jiggity jog

Nobody calls you “sunshine” in grocery stores in Spain. They might call you “guapa (handsome woman, beautiful), but not “sunshine.” I’m not even sure that I know how to say sunshine in Spanish. I know how to say sunlight. Perhaps brilla del sol is sunshine. Or perhaps not. It certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it, and you would never use it as a way to refer to a person.
It’s little things like this that really make me aware that I’m home.

Also, no one in Córdoba leaves notes on the table for you saying that the weather will probably get nasty later today, and that you might want to stay home. In Córdoba, nasty weather is a lot of rain, or cold down to 3C, and you’ll get wet or cold or both, but nobody worries about ice on the streets.
I do like winter, though. Not as much as autumn, but I would miss the snows and the crisp chill and the pointy blue of a winter sky through bare branches if I lived in a place where there was never any winter. (However, if I lived in such a place, I think that I could probably do without days of freezing rain and week-old piles of gray-black snow that the snowplows dumped on your front lawn.)

I’m not aware of experiencing culture shock coming back, but it’s only been three days, so I should probably wait another few months before making gleeful pronouncements.

I had a good time with Kona in Bilbao, and bopping around Córdoba and Granada with mom and Isaac was wonderful. I’m glad that I stayed for that, despite my desire, while riding the bus to Madrid with the rest of the group on December 18th, that I too was going to Madrid to get on a plane so that I would be home in time for Christmas. Even if I did spend the next two weeks being sick, I had a good time.
I took lots of pictures, and will post them at some point, although depending on how mom’s internet cooperates, that point may not be until after I get back to school.

I hope you guys all had fabulous winter holidays.

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Home again!

I’m back in the states again, and very glad to be home. I just got in last night.

I’ll post a longer update later, but for now I’ll say that I had a good time in Spain and arrived home safely.


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Things I will and will not miss about Spain and things I will be glad to come home to.

It occurred to me today – in 21 days I will get on a plane and go home. Twenty-one days. Three weeks. That sounds like a long time, yeah? Too soon to start thinking about, really. But the group flight leaves Madrid on Thursday December 18, and the group bus goes to Madrid on Wednesday, and I will go with it. And then Kona and I will wander around Asturias (a province in northern Spain) for close to a week, and then I’ll get myself back down here to meet family on the 24th, and then we’ll be in Córdoba for four-five days, and then we’ll go to Granada for a few days, and back to Madrid for an overnight and then we’ll leave. And when I put it that way, it seems like very little time, especially since most of the rest of the people on the program are looking at leaving on the 18th or something like that, and therefore all in just-about-to-leave-Spain mode.

So it seems like an appropriate time to do a post of this sort. This list is in no particular order.

A very long list

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I am perhaps homesick. I’m not unhappy, but I feel that I am ready to go home.
I didn’t realize that Spain would be so . . . far. I figured, I go to school for months and months, or I go to Spain for months and months – there isn’t that much difference, right? But I hadn’t counted on the foreignness. I miss home food, and home assumptions and worldview, and home methods of interpersonal relations (which is to say, quieter ones). I miss church that isn’t mass and classes that have more discussion than lecture, and I miss the ability to be able to say whatever comes into my head (for while these things arrive in Spanish, or at least turn into Spanish, rather more frequently these days, I still haven’t a clue how one says “lime green hedgehog” in Spanish, and am not liable to learn, short of looking it up in a dictionary).

I miss home more than I ever did my first year of college. I’m not sure why that is; I certainly came here with more acquaintances than I had at Smith. Perhaps it’s the culture I miss, as much as any specific people, or perhaps I got lucky at Smith, or maybe I was just too busy, between schoolwork and an entirely new social situation, to miss home. But the fact remains that, so far as I can tell, having carved myself a niche at Smith doesn’t make it any easier to carve one in Spain; it just gives me more people and more places to miss. Which is not to say that I haven’t carved a perfectly respectable niche in Spain. But it’s still kind of rough around the edges.

This was the first year I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving. Similarly, I’ve always come home for Christmas, and I won’t be doing that, either. It’s odd to watch Christmas decorations going up, lights being lit, holiday celebrations being held, and to know that by the time I get home, it will almost be time for Christmas decorations to be coming down again (at least, if you pay proper attention to such things; I have no doubt that that awful inflatable reindeer on the neighbors’ roof will remain there long after I’m back at Smith). I know that family are coming to see me, which makes things better – but I still won’t be home. I can’t even really pinpoint what home is; it’s not a house, or even a place; it might be a conglomeration of people, and there’s something to do with food, although food can’t be a terribly important part of it, because dining hall food would be acceptable . . . I guess that it’s this whole batch of things that I miss, that are different, that are something or other.

I’m sure that my Spanish would benefit from more time in Spain. But I’m really glad that I won’t be here until June.


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