Saying Goodbye: Last Day in Chilinza

Day 14- Last Day at Chilinza

What can I say, my hand is tired from writing, so I’m going to finish up this journal by typing the rest of my notes. I’m a 21st century storyteller after all.

Anyway, today was our last day in Chilinza village and our last full day in Africa altogether. Our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon so we spent today saying goodbye to our students and spending time simply “being” in the village, like we did in Chimpampa last week. We went to the market, where I got more earrings from my main man Alex, a bowl created by the vendor’s brother, whose name is Moses, and a bracelet for Aubrey since he got me one too. After I spent the rest of my kwacha, aka balled out at the market, we headed to Chilinza.

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When we arrived, the kids were just finishing up their school day, so we were able to catch most of them before they went home. Rachel gathered them all together and explained that today was our last day with them and that we had come to say bye. They didn’t know we were going to be there as they thought their last day with us was Tuesday, after the performance. I thought so too, but thank goodness we got another day with them because by the end of that light show, things were so chaotic with everyone trying to grab lanterns that it was impossible to find any of the kid’s little faces in the dark to hug and say bye to. So being able to actually say my goodbyes was a relief.

I gathered my 4th grade students who were still around and took group pictures with them, which is their favorite as they love to look at themselves since they don’t have mirrors or cameras of their own. I also had Mwai, my main translator, tell them all how much I loved them and how sad I was to be leaving them. Even as I write this I’m tearing up because I’m missing them all so much already, just one day later as I reflect on this day. I adore these kids. All I want is to stay with them and protect them and continue to show them how valuable and loved they are. So leaving is not easy.

We spent some time reading together- which meant I had a crowd of 20 plus kids gathered around me as I read from one of their school books. The stories in their books were quite grim, so reading them out loud in my animated, silly way was well.... Interesting. All the stories were cautionary tales about what would happen if a child missed school or misbehaved, so yeah, not the most uplifting of reading materials, but they couldn’t understand what I was saying anyway since it was in English. But being able to hangout with them made up for the unfortunate stories I was belting at full volume for the cuties to hear.

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After that, we all just walked around the village, hand in hand with whatever child grabbed onto us first. I went with one of my students to her home and met her sister, a 20 year old girl who already has two kids. Then I found myself aggressively claimed by a little girl who was probably no older than 3. She would not let go of my hand to save her life and if another child tried to steal me away, she’d rip their hand off of mine and push them away. It was both adorable and hilariously intense. What was even funnier though, was that people kept bringing random babies to me and shoving them in my face while saying “this one, this one.” No clue why they wanted me to hold or be around those babies so much, I felt like they wanted my azungu blessing or something. Azungu, by the way, means “white person” in Chichewa and it’s what all the kids call us. In fact, they chant the word over and over whenever we arrive too. It essentially is the same thing as calling someone a gringo- a rich, white foreigner, but they mean it in the most enduring way possible so we accept it.

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The best part of the day was when the chief took us over to the 2 acres of land that they donated to Mosaic so we could see it and pray over it. We walked around the perimeters of the acreage with all the kids and village members following us and it was a truly special moment. Martionne prayed over the land and if you know Martionne, you know God has gifted him with an incredible ability to pray like no other. When he speaks, it’s as if God is speaking directly to you. It’s always powerful. So hearing Martionne pray in this moving way over a piece of land that’s been gifted to us by a tribe that we’re working to help and change, was core shattering. I couldn’t contain my tears as I thanked Jesus for the blessing He’s giving us and for the work He’s prepping us to do in that place and on that land.

So many amazing things are coming and I could feel that in my bones as the sun shined down on us all while we prayed. It was an emotional, transformative and omnipotent time. I could feel the 4th grade girl whose hand I was holding look up at me as the tears ran down my face and there’s no doubt she was a bit confused, but by the end of my time with her, I could feel we had formed a strong attachment. I believe she was one of my students, but I don’t remember spending much time with her in the classroom, so I’m glad I was able to show her love on our last day. As I was saying bye to her, she told me how much she’d miss me, and I kept putting my hand over my heart to gesture to her how much I loved her.

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Saying goodbye was just as hard with all the other kids as it was with that brave girl whose hand I clutched as I prayed for God to move through the land we’d been given. I hugged them all so tightly and kept rubbing their backs or squeezing their arms, both forms of endearment I had started using throughout the two weeks I was with them to motion to them that they were loved, since I couldn’t use words to verbally express how I felt. My goal was to make every child who I laid eyes on feel special. So every time we’d stand with them as Rachel taught them a song or as our translators went over our plans with them before we broke up into the classrooms, I’d make sure to acknowledge, lovingly touch or joke around with every single little one that I noticed looking at me. I’d fist bump them or rub their arms or poke their noses- anything at all to show them I saw them and I loved them and that they were beyond worth my time and attention.

So, that’s why saying bye was so devastating. All those kids that I spent the last two weeks forming bonds with were now standing around me, hugging me one by one to say goodbye. They knew I was sad and I could tell they were too. Some girls teared up and I had to continually look away so they wouldn’t see me cry. I’m breaking down and sobbing as I right this. Perhaps it’s just now hitting me how much I’ll miss them and how much they impacted me. Plus I’m incredibly jet lagged and sleep deprived so my emotions are going haywire.

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But in all seriousness, these kids transformed me. It shattered my heart every day to watch them dust off the floor so they could set their papers down and color on it since they have no desks. Watching them frantically grab for the lunches we brought them daily was devastating. And teaching them that they are light and that they can always let their light shine was monumental. So much happened in these past two weeks that shook me at my core. So much changed my perspective. So much crept its way into my heart and affected me. I pray that I can go back next year, but if not, I already know that those tiny faces looking up at me will forever be in my heart. I love them with every fiber of my being and am so grateful God allowed me to be a part of their story, and them mine.

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Sleepover With the Hippos: Safari

Day 12 & 13 - Safari

Making history with the first ever light show in Chilinza village called for a celebration. So today, we piled 38 people into a tiny yellow bus and drove 5 hours to Mvuu Safari Camp. Five hours ended up being more like eight after the bus broke down, but we still made it eventually.

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The camp was spectacular. We each stayed in these beautiful huts lining a river filled with wildlife. As I slept I could literally hear hippos calling outside my door. We were maybe only 50 feet from them. My adrenaline was pumping all night with a mix of fear and excitement. Yet, it was still one of the most peaceful sleeps of my life, being fully immersed in the sounds of nature like that.

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We went on two safaris- one on land and the other in the river. We saw a plethora of hipps, some elephants, crocodiles, gazelle, etc. I never thought I’d get to go on a safari so even though I didn’t see a lion attack a zebra or something drastic of that sort, it was still incredible.

 

Lights, Camera, Action! Changing Lives & Making History in Chilinza

Day 11 - The Big Show

Before I write about this magical, moving day, I have to first explain something to anyone reading this.

At our last meeting back in L.A., Martionne had the brilliantly bright idea to bring all of the kids at Chilinza school a solar light- see what I did with the pun there?! We’d get lights, like the ones you’d see on stakes, lining a driveway and turn them into lanterns with some wire and a cup. These lanterns would be used in our final performance, which is exciting in itself (light show anyone?).

But, what’s even more impactful is that these handmade, makeshift lanterns would be the first and only lights these kids ever possessed. They have no electricity in the village and have to walk home in a sky darker than black. It’s heartbreaking, not to mention unsafe.

That’s why today, when I announced to my 80 plus 4th graders that they were each leaving with their very own illuminated object, they cheered and screamed so loud that I’m positive it shook the earth.

Their overwhelming excitement brought me to tears. For young kids to be that happy to be receiving something most of us consider an expected luxury was both heart-wrenching and painfully beautiful. We helped these overjoyed kids decorate their cups with glitter as they curiously looked at their odd new belongings.

The rest of this very long day, as we got there around 8:20 AM as opposed to our usual noon or later time, was spent rehearsing and setting up the stage. In just a few short hours, the entire village, Chiefs included, would be coming to the school to see what the kids created.

Now, let me break down why this is such a big deal to you my friends. First, these kids aren’t like normal American kids, or kids in any first world for that matter. They don’t have dance recitals or musical theatre. Their parents don’t spend thousands of dollars on their leotards or private gymnastic lessons. For anyone who grew up with those privileges, they know just how empowering they are for a young mind. So, for these kids to be able to have this form of empowerment too, for one of the first times, is big.

Second, for a Chief to watch the future of his village rise up, come together and make something is powerful too. Slowly, this can play into changing the culture and outdated mindsets of these villages. Girls will learn they have it in themselves to do more than just have kids. Boys will see there is more to life than tending to livestock or getting married, sometimes over and over again. Chiefs will understand that their people can do and be more. We are opening their eyes to a whole new, great big world of possibilities. Never underestimate that power. God made us all creative for a reason and this is one.

Ok, rant over. After a dress rehearsal that was cut short, it was show time. Lights, camera, action! A ton of parents, the Chief, the Chief’s counsel and the church pastor all sat front and center as they watched each grade proudly display their work. First grade hopped around in two circles as they adorably recited our memory verse and sang “This Little Light of Mine.” The best part, is that when their teachers first taught these tiny people the memory verse, they thought it said, “A city on a hill that cannot be CHICKEN.” Rather than “A City on a hill that cannot be HIDDEN.” I die. But, watching them bump into one another as they sang in very broken, very high pitched English melted the crowd’s heart.

Eventually, we got to 4th grade’s turn. Our kids held the canvas they had painted last week over their heads as they sang a song in Chichewa that they’d created all on their own. They made it the day I wasn’t there thanks to strep throat temporarily ruining my life. Then the next day when I was healed, they surprised me with it. Again, heart melted. The words to their musical masterpiece say, “Stars are heaven’s flowers.” How ingenious are they! Their performance went great, with little blue leading the whole thing.

The highlight of the night though, and maybe of the entire trip, came at the end of the show.

Remember those solar lanterns we made? Well, for the finale, we gave each of the kids in the entire school one for them to hold as they closed the show. By now it was dark out so just close your eyes and picture 800 plus children waving those lights in the air. It. Was. Glorious. Or “ulemerero,” in Chichewa. The kids all gathered in the center of our grass stage and performed the song and dance to “Wavin Flag” that the 4th grade came up with on Monday. I somehow found myself in the middle, surrounded by all of their smiling faces as they sang.

For the rest of my life, I will never forget how i screamed those lyrics, as loud as I possibly could, and danced with reckless abandon until I was gasping for air. It was absolute chaos, but in the most majestic of ways. I felt free and alive and tohse kids felt strong and important.

As we drove home on the bus, we looked out the back window and saw a line of bobbing lights. Those kids were walking home with light for the first time ever. No longer in the darkness. That is God at work. That is why we’re here. Day 11 made history. Day 11 changed lives.

Little Blue Steals the Show: Dress Rehearsal in Chilinza Village

Day 10, Dress Rehearsal in Chilinza

With the big show rapidly approaching, today was spent going over last minute details with Standard 4. By now, these kids not only know me, but I know them. I know Collins was held back and he never goes anywhere without his one friend. So naturally, I nicknamed them Bill and Bob, which they got a kick out of. I know little blue, which is what I call this tiny kid in our class who’s always wearing blue because I don’t know his real name, is smart as a whip, way more so than he should be for such a little pip squeak. Hence why he fittingly became our ring leader or conductor, if you will, for our performance. I know Gloria has the biggest, silliest smile I’ve ever seen. And I know one little girl memorized the words to “Oh You Shine” perfectly and is so proud every time we sing it. Her face, as she shyly looks up at me to see if I’m noticing how well she does it, will forever warm my heart.

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With these bonds forming, it’s made it possible for me to command these kid’s attention and get them to grasp what I’m telling them through simple hand motions and facial expressions. This shows me that love can be conveyed more through actions than it can through words.

Today we pulled some fabric out for them to use for costumes and I jokingly whirled the colorful materials around my neck like a scarf and did a catwalk complete with dramatic poses, which caused the kids to double over in laughter. Aside from my crazy antics, we also spent a lot of time today teaching them a dance and the lyrics to “Wavin Flag” by K’Naan. We decided this piece would be the finale to our full show tomorrow with the entire school and Standard 4 was in charge of choreographing it.

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Now, the lyrics to this song say, “When I get older, I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom, just like a waving flag.” Our team felt that this message of encouragement, paired with the fact that it was South Africa’s World Cup song made it the perfect encore choice.

I sang the lyrics to the kids and had them repeat after me until they (kind of) got it. Then, we went outside and moved onto the dance to go with their little voices. The kids chose each move and then we taught the finished product to the rest of the classes. It was exhausting, but it was also clear that the kids were pleased with their creation. So, screaming my lungs out while dancing in the dust was very worth it.

Queen of the Market: Church at Chilinza & Bargaining for Earrings

Day 9, Church and Market

To fully immerse ourselves in the village experience, today we attended church at Chilinza. The one room building at the edge of the village could hardly fit us and it’s regular attendees, but luckily that’s what floors and peering through windows is for. The pastor welcomed us and we sang before Pastor Kim took over and ran the show.

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As you may know, Kim is my favorite human of all time. She’s goofy, crazy and always prepped with a sassy remark. So as you can imagine, her message was quite similar. She started out by having Martionne, a very large black man, arm wrestle with Tiger, a very frail Asian man. From there, the rest of the talk lasted upwards of two hours and was filled with Kim making random noises and laughing at the top of her lungs. My goodness, I adore her.

Aside from church we also went to a market today to spend our Kwacha (Malawian currency). I did my dad proud and bargained like a pro. At one point I said to a man named Joab, who was selling me a bottle opener made from cow bone, and I quote, “That’s my final offer or I’m walking” My flair for dramatics holds up even in Malawi. The entire negotiation process was quite the show and attracted a healthy audience. I also made friends with a man selling earrings, named Alex, so clearly I’m the queen of the market.

Learning to Play Again in Chimpampa Village

Day 8 - Chimpampa Village

Since today is Saturday, our normal routine of breakfast and then chapel was changed. Instead, we had a quick meeting, then Rachel decided we’d have a ‘slow’ morning before heading to Chimpampa village for the rest of the day. So, we headed to Shop Rite, the huge (and probably only) store by ABC’s campus to get coffee and relax. We all got our treats and sat at tables outside the store and just took a breather while chatting. The kids had exhausted us from the week!

I had the chance to sit by Rachel and ask her some deep questions about faith. She explained to me what it’s like for her to hear God speak, which is something, along with prayer, that I’ve really been working on. The chat over ice cream and a latte filled me up spiritually. Now all I want is to learn more and dive deeper into my faith. Also side note, the ice cream in Malawi is strangely so delicious, I’m not sure what on earth they put in it but I can’t stop eating it. I mean, I can’t stop eating ice cream when I’m at home either, but that’s besides the point.

A few more french fries later and we were off to Chimpampa village. Today would be no ordinary day in the village spent teaching 80 plus kids. Instead, we were spending the day simply “being” with everyone. There was a huge soccer tournament going on so in-between cheering on the ABC students, like Henry or Aubrey who were playing, we milled around the village. 

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I also spent time playing netball with the girls, which is essentially basketball without dribbling and that I actually think I have some talent in. I say that pretty loosely because like my dancing skills, my athleticism is pretty low. Watching all of us American girls attempt (key word attempt) to play the girls from the village who quite possibly play this every day of their lives was, well... entertaining, to say the least. I’m pretty sure I accidentally fouled a teenage girl more times than I’d care to admit. In my defense, I was wearing an overstuffed backpack and Chitenje, which is the traditional skirt that all women in villages wear, not quite so optimal for running around and trying to catch a ball.Aside from showing off how clumsy I am via sports, I also tried goat for the first time. Yes, goat. Good news, it tastes like any other meat.

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On top of all this excitement, Kiri and I also round ourselves claimed by a little toddler who held our hands and proudly walked us around that village all day. He walked us so far that eventually we ended up at his house, where we met his big sister. She told Kiri to “draw a picture,” so Kiri, being as sweet as ever, started confusedly looking around for a stick to use as a pencil in the dirt before we realized that she was asking for us to TAKE a picture with her. I laugh even now as I write this days later.

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The whole day was just incredible. It felt so freeing to not have an agenda and to just be able to be present and not worried about finishing a task. This day also went down as one of my favorites because for the first time in years I got to act like a child and play. I danced around like a fool, threw that netball with no regard to how unskilled I was and let myself just be myself. I’m so grateful for that time.

Jackson Pollock or 80 4th Graders? : Painting With the Kids in Chilinza Village

Day 6 - 3rd day in Chilinza

I woke up today feeling miraculously better and ready to re-join in the work. Z-Packs work wonders, let me tell you people.

We had a short chapel and headed to Chilinza to start working on our mural. As I got off the bus the kids all started chanting out my name. They remembered me! And they missed me! My formerly sick heart was overjoyed. We sang with them again and then went into our separate classrooms per usual. I started the class by telling them all how much I missed them while I was sick and they screamed back that they missed me too. My heart be still!

We then dove in again to the concepts of light and dark and really got to the tough questions finally. Our discussion lead to us talking about everything from death to whether you get to heaven just by being a good person or not. Now that’s what we’re talking about! This is the juicy stuff we were reaching for.

After some deep talks we broke the class into two and had half paint while the other half made fun little extra props. It was not an easy day. At one point it was just me and 50 or so kids. I luckily remained calm, but if you were to just judge based on my appearance, you would have thought I lost it. I had papers stuck all over me and my hair was a frazzled mess. It was great to see my reflection once I finally looked at myself on the bus.

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The kids ended up creating a lovely, colorful, abstract background and they all loved getting to paint. They also found the garbage bags we made them wear as smocks to protect their clothes to be hilarious. It was a great day that left me feeling encouraged and on fire- albeit dead tired too.

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Africa: 1000, Teach Kah-Tay: 0, Strep Throat Strikes Abroad

Day 5

Sadly, at the end of the day yesterday I started feeling immensely sick. Like, couldn’t stand up sick. So today after making a gallant effort of getting out of bed, I went back to my hurt after chapel per our leader, Rachel’s orders and went to bed. I was bummed, because I felt like I let the kids down, but whatever I had (my bet is on strep throat) completely knocked me off my feet. I slept for 22 hours, only waking up when my amazingly thoughtful teammates came to check on me and later for dinner. Africa clearly got the best of me.

Showing Love Through Light: Day 2 in Chilinza Village

Day 4, 2nd Day in Chilinza

After our normal chapel today we did a sort of Q&A with leaders of Live, Love (the organization here in Malawi that we partner with.) We were able to ask them questions about Chiefs, family life, work and how women are treated in the tribes. Here’s some of what I learned:

  • You become a Chief through lineage/inheritance, family line

  • If a husband dies, the widow has to return to her home tribe and leave her kids behind

  • There’s a cult called Gule Wamkulu that everyone lives in fear of

  • One woman’s child is considered every woman’s child, they all look after each other’s kids

Learning about the Malawian culture was enlightening. Their ways of thinking have actually come a long way. For example, in the past, a woman was often married off at 13, or other very young ages. Now, there’s a law that says they must be 18 or older to be wed. And, the issues with the cult have subsided substantially too, especially in the villages where Christianity is now dominant. Still though, there is a long way to go.

Once we finished the Q&A we made our way to Chilinza for our first full day of teaching as yesterday was only a couple hours. Today was different than the first day. From the moment I stepped off the bus, I felt connections form between the kids and I. Martionne and Rachel taught the kids MSC’s song, “You Sine,” and I stood in the crowd with my arms around the youngers as they attempted to sing in English. This was special to me because the kids kept looking up at me and when I’d catch their eye they’d smile and get all bashful. So, I paid special attention to every little one around me by rubbing their backs, winking at them or tickling them- just anything to make them feel seen and loved.

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After teaching them the song, we broke up into our classrooms again. Today we worked hard to try to draw out real, honest answers from them about things in their lives that have made them feel both light and darkness. Then, we passed out paper and colored pencils and told them to draw what makes them feel light. At first they drew a lot of literal things like the sun or a candle. That’s all correct, but again, we’re trying to peel back layers here. So, we re-explained to them that while yes, all those things are light, we also want to know what other things or gifts allow them to feel light and spread their light- more so in terms of love or Jesus. So, once we went over that again, they started drawing things like their friends, or men selling food to the needy. They also got a kick out of drawing Kendal and I, which was just too sweet. They called Kendal, Kendo too, which was the best. They’d draw us and then call out our names so we’d come look and the moment we’d tell them how much we loved their art, their eyes would light up like the sun- it was special.

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I really bonded with the kids through this exercise because I’d go way overboard in my reaction of how great I thought their drawings were, because I saw how impactful that simple affirmation was. They’d yell out, “Kah-Tay” ( which is how they say my name) and I’d come running, put on a huge show displaying my amazement over their work and then take a picture of them with it. They ate it up. They also would dissolve into hysterics over my crazy facial expressions, so I made sure to really play those up.

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This showed me that words aren’t the only way you can show someone you love them. Those kids and I can’t understand a word each other is saying, but I know without a doubt that by the end of the day, we both felt light and love.

Try Teaching a Class of Over 80 Kids Who Don't Speak English: Chilinza Village

Day 3, First Day in Chilinza Village

At chapel today we broke up into pairs and got to know each other. I paired with Blessing’s wife Fales and found out all about her. Then we quickly headed to Day 1 of teaching at Chilinza village. Chilinza is the tribe that Mosaic has “adopted.” So, each year, we come back to work with them. This is our 4th year there. Again, we were greeted by hundreds of huge smiles and little hands reaching for ours. Before the day could start, we had a meeting and assembly with Chief Chilinza, which was quite interesting. He welcomed us warmly, but quickly switched tunes and essentially reprimanded us for not providing their school with desks we’d previously promised- it was so blunt and intense. But, don’t worry, because as blatant as the Chief was, so was our leader, Pastor Kim. She got up there in front of a council of all men and essentially told them we will get them desks, but they also need to step up and do their part too. Kim is a warrior and diplomat and I am so grateful to be learning from her.

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After that, we broke up into our grades and went into our classrooms to start the day. I’m teaching 4th Grade with Kendal and our goal is to get the kids to create the backdrop for a play that the rest of the students will be performing. We started by introducing ourselves and playing a name game. Then, we read our verse, Matthew 5:14-16 and started discussing our theme of light. It wasn’t easy. We’re in a classroom of 85 children who speak Chichewa, a language we can’t even remotely understand. We had two translators with us, both named Mwai (why with an M in front, don’t worry I struggled with saying it too), who helped a lot. But even with them, trying to get these kids- who come from a culture that’s very private- to open up and answer questions like, “How do you let your light shine,” and “When have you felt darkness,” was challenging. They gave beautiful answers, don’t get me wrong, they are so intelligent, but the goal is to dig deeper and truly know their hearts.

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Halfway through the day, the girls were taken to a separate room so a team from a company called AfriPads could give them each a reusable pad and teach them how to use it. This was a project that I was very passionate about so I spearheaded finding this company. You see, this is huge, because without the pads, these girls do not have anything for handling their periods. When they reach puberty, they are kicked out of their family’s hut and made to live in a small, separate hut all alone, where they sit and bleed monthly. If that’s not already awful enough, it’s their culture that men can go around and “amte” with whoever they want. So, these young, 13-year-old girls  will be in a cold, dark hut all alone and men will come in and have sex with them. In our culture that’s called rape. In their culture, it’s just the normal. So yes, these pads cold prevent all this from happening.

After getting back from the village we all went to get pizza with the ABC students. I bought some of them ice cream and it was touching to see how excited they were. I feel them, ice cream is a necessity for me too.

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Attempting to Keep Up With the Malawians Dance Moves, and Failing Miserably: Girls Shine Academy

Day 2, Girls Shine

Today we woke up and grabbed breakfast, then headed to chapel, which will be our schedule daily. The chapel is so fun. The ABC students all get on stage and sing and dance for us. It’s amazing because they can actually move, unlike us white Americans. And Tiger, who’s not white, but still can’t dance. Then, ABC’s main Pastor, Blessings preached and seriously, he is the Malawian version of Pastor Erwin. He has a little baby girl and wife, Fales- they moved to Arizona for two years so Blessings could go to ministry school. They’re incredible and brave souls. I asked Fales how she liked America, and she told me that we have too many options. She said she’d go to a grocery store and panic because there were dozens of the same type of product to choose from! Ah, good old America!

After chapel we bussed to Girls Shine, a high school for girls in the area that’s always growing. Last year, there were 120 girls and now there’s over 200. We arrived again to a flood of young girls running alongside our bus. They greeted us with signs and then we wasted no time in joining the chiefs for an assembly, much like the one we saw at Mkanda yesterday. Apparently this is a thing. The girls sang, danced and told us all about what their daily lives are like. At one point they were showing us the food they eat and obviously, Americans can’t eat all the food here because of health reasons, just different bacterias than we’re used to, but it’s considered very offensive to not eat the food when it’s offered so when the girls invited us to try it, we of course obliged. Won’t lie, I was rather skeptical so I didn’t eat a ton, but I did have some sema, which is ground up maize and clearly it didn’t kill me.

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Then, the girls started a dance circle and wow, like the ABC students, they can MOVE. I was shy at first, but eventually joined in and am so happy I got out of my own way, because it was a blast. The girls kept trying to teach me how to shake my hips like them, which was hilarious because... I just can’t. I may have the spiciest personality ever, but my dance moves are seriously lacking in any such flavor. The whole thing was so much fun. We also presented the girls with a skit of our own to teach them about America. We broke up into groups based on the different regions of America and did a little rap to explain what each area is like. Ours was (and yes it pains me to write this because it’s so white and so lame), “We’re from the middle of the USA, we have 4 seasons and grow lots of maize. We play American football, it’s kind of a craze!” Again, super white. But also hilarious in the most embarrassing way possible.

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Once the assembly, which was a solid 2 hours long, was over, we broke up into groups to teach the girls different lessons we prepared. My lesson was storytelling and Courtney was my co-leader. I adore Court and am just so lucky she was with me this first day. When I first met her I thought to myself, “I am not going to get along with this girl.” She’s very type A and that can come off as bossy or know-it-all. But now that I actually know her, I see it’s because she’s so intelligent and because she cares so much about this mission that she wants it all to go as smoothly as possible. She led the show during the lesson, which was great because I was weirdly nervous and jittery. I think the language barrier is what’s throwing me off. I keep forgetting to pause and let the translator help. So, having Court, who’s been here before, helped me break through all that.

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We read the girls our verse for the trip, Matthew 5:14-16 and had them write a poem/song/story etc about how they share their light. The highlight was when a group of little girls found out I was a journalist and got all excited because that’s what they want to grow up to be. They asked me how they too could become journalists and I told them to start interviewing everyone they could in their village. So, one little girl named Miracle apparently went up to Pastor Kim after and interviewed her. I didn't’ see it, but Court told me about it later and I was in tears. THIS is why we’re here- to show these girls, who are taught that all they’re meant to do is get married and have kids- that they can actually do and be ANYTHING they want. They are powerful! It was an emotional day that only made me fall more in love with Christ and Malawi.

'I Bless the Rains Down in Africa' (Africa by Toto on Repeat), To Malawi I Go

Day 1 L.A. ---> Dublin --> Ethiopia --> Malawi

Well, it’s really happening. After 3 months of weekly meetings and endless preparation, we are finally boarding a plane to make the trek to Malawi, Africa. A 30 plus hour trek, to be clear.

I still don’t think it’s fully hit me, I still don’t think it’s real. I also keep randomly crying- mainly tears of joy as I’m overwhelmed by the love and support people have shown me leading up to our departure. So many people gave to me so abundantly to help me afford this trip. Some were family and close friends, others were practically strangers. I even had people donate without me asking. Like truly, people just kept giving me money! I’ve been blown away by their generosity. If that’s not proof that God’s got your back, then I don’t know what is. If I get nothing out of this trip, then that alone will have made this all worth it.

David Bokov so kindly drove me to the airport and helped me carry my huge box of supplies. I arrived at LAX to find Noah and Fran waiting outside to help me. We loaded my luggage on a cart and went inside to the rest of the team. Shortly after, Pastor Kim arrived with Pastor Erwin by her side to help her. I get so nervous around them because to me, they’re practically celebrities. They’re warriors who created a community of Christ that both saved and forever changed my life. No wonder I’m at a loss for words around them.

Once we made it to the gate, we hung out and walked around until boarding. My “travel group” consists of Noah, Tiger and Kiri- all who I love dearly. So, it was fun joking around with them as we waited. Noah is half the reason I even got so involved at Mosaic. Tiger’s name was spoken to me by God and now he’ll always be someone I cherish. And Kiri, who I’m only starting to get to know is so sweet and surprisingly adventurous.

The first flight- 9 hours to Dublin- was easy. I slept the entire time, praise the Lord for real. Martionne took his ZzzQuil too early and was half asleep as we were boarding, it was the highlight of the flight. I miraculously slept on the other two flights also, so all my anxiety over the excruciatingly long travel time was for nothing. I was so out of it that I’d start a movie and fall asleep halfway through it. Couldn’t even tell you what I attempted to watch.

After we landed in Lilongwe, we were greeted by a man named Blessings, who’s one of our main points of contact here. And yes, his real name is Blessings. That’s evidently a common name here. Along with names like Wisdom or Miracle. So, that’s just beautiful. We loaded into buses and headed to African Bible College- where we’ll be staying for the next two weeks. All of the students were waiting to greet us with Fanta Soda- which is a favorite in Malawi. Immediately after dropping our stuff at our dorms we headed to our first greeting ceremony at a tribe called Mkanda. (Yes, we’ve all been doing the Marvel ‘Wakanda’ symbol all day, even if the tribe’s name is a few letters off).

I loved the bus ride over because I sat in the very back next to four ABC students. Their English is amazing so I chatted with them about their lives, school and what they want to do after graduating. One student, Henry, who’s 27, told me all about an organization him and his friend started where they help young kids who’ve been forced to leave home because they were being abused. Henry has such a passion for these kids, you could see his heart swelling as he told me all about it.

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We then got to the village and were greeted by hundreds of kids running along our bus with huge smiles on their faces. Their joy was overwhelming. When we got off the bus we were flooded by kids grabbing our hands and hanging all over us. It was madness. I was immediately engulfed in a sea of little Malawians. One older girl kept telling me about how she wanted to be a teacher. They also kept asking if California was white or black- to which I explained that we’re a bit of everything. The women and kids sang and danced for us and the chiefs welcomed us with warm speeches. All around me were wide smiles and tiny hands. It brought tears to my eyes! The bus ride home was filled with chants, games and songs and wow, it was a party!

Tips for Iceland: AKA Read This If You Don't Want to Die

Ok so after somehow making it out alive beyond the wall and surviving the attacks of the White Walkers, I have plenty of tips for anyone traveling to Iceland. You can expect these tidbits of advice to be riddled with an undertone of dramatics and sarcasm, so read them as such. But really, all jokes aside, if you choose to travel to Iceland in the winter like I did, you need to be adequately prepared so here we go.

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  • We booked our flights through WOW Air, which sounds like a fake, sketch airline, but really it was decent enough for a nine-hour flight. There were no TVs or plugs so bring a laptop/iPad whatever for movies and buy a portable charger ahead of time. 
  • If you do choose WOW Air, be sure to pay for bags before getting to the airport or they’ll cost so much it’ll be like giving up your first-born son.
  • We stayed at the Loft Hi Hostel and while it’s pricier than your average hostel, it was great. Very clean, beds didn’t make me feel like there were bed bugs all over me and there’s a bar on the roof you can start your night in. Also male only and female only dorms are an option if you don’t want to get frisky.
  • Iceland’s alcohol is government regulated so buy alcohol at the duty free shops in the airport before venturing into the cities. Otherwise it’s like upwards of $40 for a beer and I ain’t got time for that.
  • Food in Iceland is also rather pricey, so maybe try to eat granola bars and stuff to save money. I did not do this and spent around $75 a day for food, because apparently I think I’m Oprah or something, but be smarter than me.
  • Don’t buy bottled water. A nice Icelandic man informed me this is a huge tourist trap because Iceland’s tap water is super pure (makes sense bc all they have there is snow), so just bring a water bottle and fill it up from the sink. It’s not like Asia where you’ll suddenly grow a tape worm from swallowing their ice, you’ll be fine.
  • Book your Blue Lagoon tickets far in advance. We waited too long and the only times left were at night so it was like being in the ocean with no lights to guide you through the waves, again, be smarter than us.
  • Ladies- LATHER YOUR HAIR WITH CONDITIONER before going into the lagoon. The silica or whatever it’s called in the lagoon will fry your pretty little locks for a bit if you don’t protect them. But if you do, don’t worry, I just covered my head in the conditioner provided and left the lagoon with a shiny mane.
  • Remember to pack outlet converters.
  • Ok, so you can either choose to rent a car, or book a bus for tours to the different attractions around Iceland. We chose to rent a car… a very tiny car at that. And while I LOVED the freedom of being able to drive ourselves around, the weather outside of Reykjavik is no joke and honestly, it was super dangerous for us. So, if you do rent a car, I’d suggest getting a 4x4 instead of the Prius sized car we had. We got stuck in the snow twice and driving conditions were so sketch that I think years were taken off of my life from the stress I experienced. If you go solo, I’d suggest booking tours because driving alone in that would be a no go.
  • SERRRRRIOUUUUS PRO TIP: rent a wifi box when renting your car, or find one if you don’t rent a car. The box provides unlimited wifi and you can take it with you anywhere you go and have great service. It was a true lifesaver when it came to mapping out directions and of course, posting Instagrams- only the necessities.
  • Since we went during winter, the attractions we saw were mainly just really pretty snow formations. But either way, definitely checkout the Golden Circle. We saw the crater, Geysir and then Gulfoss Falls. They’re all about 2 hours from Reykjavik and are worth the (terrifying) drive.
  • Make sure your car has spikes on the tires. These make it better to drive through the freakin arctic tundra that Iceland is. Most cars are required to have them but just check.
  • Bars I suggest: Lebowski Bar, definitely a tourist bar but there’s a fun drink menu, creative theme and packed dance area; Pablo Discobar- the name alone should entice you, but this spot has numerous dance floors, strobe lights and well, it was a good time; Loft Hi Hostel has a pretty popular rooftop bar, which is convenient if you stay there, and they have fun nights like Karaoke and Drag Queen competitions so can’t go wrong there. Then apparently American Bar and Kex Hostel are both good too. But we went to Kex too late and the bar was closed and American Bar was just too touristy for us, but according to others, they’re fun.
  • Food- like I said food is expensive, but it’s still pretty good. Their lamb soup was amazing (but, I LOVE lamb so others might disagree), and believe it or not, their hot dogs are what they’re famous for. They put this weird brown mustard and dried onions on their hot dogs and omg I think I had two a day I loved them so much. You can get them at stands along the street or at the convenience stores… both are equally as fabulous.
  • The temperature in Iceland is warmer than Chicago, for reference, so when walking around the city you just need a good coat and gloves, but when you journey to the Golden Circle etc, chances are it’ll be a lot windier so bring some layers and a warm hat. If you really want to be prepared, you can get snow tracks for your shoes from Amazon which are just spikes of metal that you strap onto the bottom of your boots and help you avoid slipping as you walk. We bought them and didn’t use them once, but they’re an option anyway.
  • Bars don’t get going until midnight or later so pace yourself and don’t leave early.
  • You can see Reykjavik in like half a day so don’t expect to have a ton to do in the city – see things like the church, the Harpa orchestra and then go around the different bars or museums and that’s about it. Also walk around Old Harbor, just a harbor by the water but it’s pretty with all the boats in the frozen water.
  • Don’t go to the Ion Adventure Hotel. Just don’t. It was a waste of money and the only “adventure” it offered was the drive to get there. Stay in hostels and save yourself some dollars.
  • Alright so yeah, Iceland is known for it’s Northern Lights, right? Wrong. Apparently, the Northern Lights are really hard to see in Iceland thanks to weather conditions in the winter and winter is the best time to see them, so clearly it’s a hoax. We “saw” them our last night there and it was pretty much just a streak of clouds that looked greenish. If you want to see Northern Lights, consider Switzerland instead. We booked a tour to see them and the tour cancelled on us last minute, but if you want to see that white streak, then a tour is the way to do it since you won’t know where to drive to look for them yourself.
  • I suggest splurging and going Ice caving or something, I didn’t because I’m poor, but woulda been a fun activity to tack on.

(Czech)ing Off Another Country From My List: Prague, Czech Republic

Day 20 – 22

Cordoba --> Madrid --> Prague

With my host family gone for the weekend for Sonia’s graduation, I decided to make the most of my free time and jetted off to Prague. Jack Lyon, Jay Robinson and Peter Willis are there for a few days and told me I could tag along. I was going to do Madrid or Sevilla, but the chance to scratch off another country from my map was too good to resist.

I left Cordoba early and then flew out of Madrid. Once I landed, after 8 hours of traveling, I had a taxi take me to the guy’s Air BNB. The Czech language is impossibly hard and even guessing at words is unmanageable. So, luckily, pointing to a phone screen at the long address sufficed.

I got to the place right as the boys were coming back from the city center- thank God too because I would have never found it on my own after the taxi driver dropped me off in the middle of the street mumbling something about a bus. The Air BNB was huge and right as we went upstairs there was a double rainbow spanning across the otherwise gray sky, welcoming me to the gloomy city.

We had dinner then went back to pregame and meet up with two Australian kids the guys had befriended the day before. Of course, taking shots of absinthe was only the obvious choice since we were in Prague, after all. The Listerine colored, 70 proof alcohol is truly disgusting. If I ever smell black licorice again, I’m certain I’ll vomit on cue.

That night we went to 5 or 6 different bars and clubs. The first bar, Double Trouble, was underground and packed to the brim. It was my favorite of the night, but that might be because it’s the only one I fully remember. Absinthe seriously is not my friend.

Ruby’s and James Dean were our next stops and then we ended at a 5 story club, boasting a different theme per floor, near the river. Going out in Prague is great because the cobble stone streets prevent girls from even thinking about wearing heels, so going to clubs in pants and sneakers is completely acceptable. Score!

We ended the night around 6 am and thanks to my curse of always, without fail, waking up super early after a night out, I did not sleep at all and was awake for hours waiting for the boys to come out of hibernation. Thank God for Jack though, because he woke up a few hours later and kept me company.

Later that day, after attempting to nap, I met up with the guys in Old Town, went to the Lennon Wall and watched the Czech soccer game at a pub. The Old Town area of Prague is beautiful, especially when the morning rain and fog decide to fade away. I loved the Lennon Wall, which everyone does. But, when Jack came to find me there and asked if I felt inspired from it, I realized that that’s the best word to use to describe it: inspiring. Something about looking at the hundreds of words written by millions of people is just too cool to explain.

That night, still exhausted from zero hours of sleep, I played piccolo with the boys at the apartment while they pregamed to go out, then went straight for an Advil PM and bed once they left.

A full night of comatose sleep was all I needed and I woke up early the next day to do some solo exploring of Prague before catching my flight. With my eyes glued to Google Maps, I attempted to go see the Prague Castle, but found it closed when I got there. So, back to the wall I went.

This time, I found a couple with a box full of spray paint and asked them if I could use some to add my own words among the thousands. Spray paint in hand, I realized I didn’t know exactly what to write. What word, phrase or picture could possibly be important enough to be painted on next to Lennon’s face and words like “Pray for Orlando?” It took me only a second before using the yellow spray to add Jenna’s initials, JAF and “Beauty from Pain” to leave my mark.

I’ve spent a lot of this trip wishing Jenna was alive to join me in these amazing adventures, so permanently leaving a piece of her on that wall only made sense. The second phrase stems from a song Jenna introduced me to 5 years ago. I can’t even remember off the top of my head who the artist is or what the rest of the lyrics are anymore, but those 3 words have been a sort of mantra for me over the years. On the wall they went.

After a few sentimental moments, I wandered around the city, talking with the locals and taking pictures of the beautiful, gothic architecture. I then treated myself to a huge breakfast before spending a solid hour trying to flag down a taxi. Years of using Uber must have made me soft and unassertive because every time I threw out my hand and yelled for one, I was promptly ignored.

Finally, I found a parked driver who couldn’t speed past me and took me to the airport. I continued to treat myself and ordered soup and chocolate cake while I waited to board.

I can’t honestly say that Prague stole my heart the way the other European cities have so far, but it was definitely very interesting to see. Also, if nothing else, the trip was beyond worth it when Jack, Jay, Peter and I found zorbing on the river. I didn’t know it was called sorbing until my friend Gillian texted me about it later, but what it is, is these giant, inflatable balls that a person stands in as it’s blown up around them. They’re then zipped up and pushed into the water, allowing the person inside to throw himself or herself around the ball like a caged animal.

All 4 of us doing this on the Vltava River drew in a huge audience and was insanely fun. So, thank you boys for the hilarious, crazy Prague experience, I’ll Czech you later!

Infatuated With Cordoba: Week 2 in Cordoba, Spain

Week 2 in Cordoba

I’ve developed a bit of a routine. Every day I wake up (blow my nose for 20 minutes #allergies), eat breakfast out on the porch and then either read, write or practice Spanish.

The routine continues at 2:00 when Eugenio comes home from work and we all have lunch, which is always something new prepared by Pillar, their housekeeper. So far, my favorite has been salmorejo. It’s a typical dish in Cordoba and is similar to gazpacho, but thicker.

After lunch Sonia and I usually sit by the pool, across from each other at the table and work, chat and sunbathe. Dinner is served at 9:00 or later; we didn’t eat until 11:30 one night! How different it is here.  

Blake asked me if I was getting bored with such laid-back days, but really I’m not. It’s a vacation and is also allowing me the time I need to write, which is very welcomed. If only life in America was this relaxed, I’m sure everyone would be much happier and healthier because of it.

I’m currently sitting outside in my usual spot while Floppy, their pet rabbit who they treat like a dog, is trying to nibble at my feet. Silly rabbit, feet are for kids! (Terrible joke, my apologies).

Some days we go shopping or to get these giant milkshakes that leave us all feeling sick. Tonight, Sonia wants to take me out with her friends. So, really, each day is new and I’m loving it. I’m not homesick at all and Cordoba is so amazing that I’m already feeling sad that I only have 10 days or so left here. The trip has flown by.

The city is truly the best one I’ve ever been in. LA included, and we all know how much I adore the city of Angels. The city center consists of cobble stone streets and white buildings with long tan cloths draped between them, shadowing the people below. Aesthetically wise, it’s my heaven. But Cordoba isn’t just great for how pretty it is.

There are dozens of shops and endless restaurants to choose from. It’s described as being a small city, yet when we go out the bars are packed with people looking for a good time. When it comes time for tapas, the sidewalks are covered with kids my age, all socializing, smoking and getting ready for a night out. This is what my future holds tonight too! I thought nothing could ever beat Barcelona, but Cordoba is just too incredible for words.

I’m having a great time with the family too, especially Sonia. We have a lot in common. I just wish we spoke the same language so we could bond even more. But, she’s always making sure I’m comfortable and it’s so sweet.

With the help of Sonia and Ana’s translating, I’ve talked to Eugenio about heavy topics, like the differences in gun laws in the U.S. and Spain. Sadly, these topics have come up because the Orlando nightclub shooting took place on my second Monday here. Having to ask Sonia how to say words like murder, blood and gun in Spanish is so sad.

Javi is pretty shy around me and refuses to talk in English, but we did bond over ice cream and popcorn. Food really is the way to a person’s heart. Eugenio is also picking up some English from me and I can tell he tries hard at it too. I'm so grateful that I was placed in such a loving, close knit family, I couldn't have asked for a better situation. It hardly feels like I’m away from home and in a foreign country at all.

Tomorrow the family leaves to go to Malaga for Sonia’s graduation, so I’m following suit and going to Prague.

Ibiza I Love You, But I'm Never Coming Back: Ibiza, Spain

Day 16-18
Ibiza

Maybe writing a post on Ibiza isn’t the best idea. So, I’ll keep this one short because, well, the words alcohol, all-nighters and techno are pretty much all it takes to sum up my weekend trip in Ibiza.

I left Friday afternoon to take the train to Madrid and then hopped on a plane to Ibiza. I was super nervous because the airports in Europe are the most confusing things on earth. Why there can’t be signs telling me which terminal and airline to go to is beyond me. Praise god for the Irish couple who saw the sheer panic in my newbie traveler eyes and walked me to my gate.

In Ibiza, I stayed with a girl named Rachel who I had met on a travel Facebook page that I’m a part of. Mom, if you’re reading this, yes I lied to you and told you she was from USC, there was no way you’d sleep all weekend if you knew I had never actually met her. But, now that I’m back and alive in Cordoba, there’s no reason to send a search party out for me.

Rachel is living in Ibiza this summer for what they call “season.” It’s where a bunch of 20/30 something year olds go to the island to work during the summer and live together in overly crowded apartments, while partying the days away. Not sure if I give them mad props for having the ability to kill their livers every single day and night or if I want to take them all home and make them do a juice cleanse. But, I’m definitely happy these crazy party people exist or I would have been a loner at the clubs and day parties on the island.

I got there late Friday night and Rachel picked me up, along with her roommate, Sam, and friend Braiden. Braiden rented a car for the summer for 300 euros and offers it as a taxi service for cheaper than a regular taxi. Genius, if you ask me.

That night, we went out to the dive bars near Rachel’s apartment, an area known as San Antonio. We met up with a group of Chicago guys that Rachel knew and hopped around the different bars until 6 in the morning. Yes, every single time I’ve gone out in Spain I’ve stayed out till 6 am, that’s just how they roll. If you can't beat em, join em.... or something like that.

Then, the next day, Rachel had work so her roommate Sam and I headed to a day party called Ants at an open air club, Ushuaia. Picture Vegas and Cabo on steroids and you’ve got Ibiza. The island exists pretty much solely for partying. Ants had five different DJs perform throughout the day while people swallowed drink after drink in the pool and bopped their heads up and down for hours on end by the stage. It was insane. About half way through the party, my texts to Blake went from coherent to just the word “Ibizaaaaaa” over and over again.

My flight the next day was at 8 am. Yes, I’m a full on idiot for booking such an early flight, but I made the most of it and just stayed out all night and went to the airport an hour before my flight to sleep. YOLO. Sleeping in airports is no easy task, but after a full day of screaming my lungs off and taking more tequila shots than even a giant could handle, it was easy to fall asleep on the floor of the terminal. Plus, there were 20 or more people doing the same thing. We understood each other’s pain.

So, since staying out all night was my only option, I stayed at Ants until around midnight, meeting some amazing new friends who let my poor, overheated self charge my phone in their hotel room and then met up with Rachel to go to a few of the famous clubs that Ibiza is known for.

We ended the night at Poncha, which, if you’re a true raver, you’ve heard of. Even my host PARENTS have been there, that’s how epic it is. I can’t fully describe the club because it was a mixed blur of bright lights and the same techno beat for 6 hours straight, but needless to say, my wild side was satisfied.

Now, after sleeping all day, leaving my host family rather concerned for me, I’m ready to go back to bed to make up for the two nonstop days I had in Ibiza. One uncomfortable nap in the airport, a freezing cold flight back to Madrid and a very real struggle of getting on an earlier train to Cordoba so I could get as far away from Ibiza as possible and I’m ready to sleep for the rest of my life.  

Ibiza, I love you, but I’m never coming back.

Living Like A Spaniard: First Week in Cordoba

Day 12- 15
Cordoba

In order to spare you all from three weeks worth of daily blog posts, I’m now going to write them on a week by week basis, with some extra posts for the weekend trips I plan on taking. This weekend I’m going to Ibiza and staying with a girl I met through a Facebook group. Next, when the family goes to Malaga for Sonia’s birthday, I am going to go to Prague with Jack Lyon and some other USC guys. 

So, with that said, here is my first weekly post on my new life in Cordoba.

After the first day, I started getting more and more comfortable with the family. They told me to act as if I was in my house and get whatever food or anything else I needed anytime. They are so welcoming and are always checking to see if I’m ok.

I love hanging out with Sonia and Christina too. We taught each other different swear words in English and Spanish, which was quite entertaining. So, while I may not be able to even introduce myself properly in Spanish, I can easily cuss someone out and order gin and tonics at a bar. Real world knowledge, right?

We put that knowledge to use and went out one night for tapas and then Sonia took us to a popular Irish Pub in the city center. We ordered gin and tonics because, like I said, they’re just that good here. They also come in the largest glasses possible. Double win. The pub was local and fun and we got there while everyone was finishing up dinner, which was paella being served out of a ginormous bowl in the center of the bar. Everything about Spain is better than America so far.

The night out was a lot of fun and it helped me get even closer to the girls. We met some guys who lived in Cordoba  and headed back to their place for a bit. It was great actually getting a taste of real Spanish night life, without being seen as a tourist. They called me American Princess all night and my inner diva was thrilled.

I paid for that fun though as we didn’t get home till 6 in the morning and were struggling a bit (a LOT) the next day. Luckily, both of the girls were as exhausted as I was so the day was spent lounging by the pool and watching the Bachelorette. Some must needed recharging.

On another day, Sonia took Christina and I into the city center to show us the sights of Cordoba. Cordoba is known for a preserved mosque and cathedral and both are incredibly beautiful. I know all cities in Spain boast tons of arcs, cathedrals and palaces, but I haven’t gotten sick of them yet.

Cordoba is truly amazing. Do I dare say that I like it more than Madrid and Barcelona? I do. The people are so friendly and the city is small enough that it feels like a home without being too small like my dreadful hometown is. I told Sonia I liked it so much as she was so excited, saying “I have to tell Jorge,” which is her boyfriend who lives in Madrid.

Most days, we wake up around 10 (or that’s when I wake up, they might be up for hours earlier for all I know), then either go to the city center or hang out around the house until lunch at 2. Each day, Eugenio comes home from work for lunch and Ana is usually back in time too. Then, we do more relaxing, watch some American TV with Spanish voiceover (Modern Family just isn’t the same with subtitles) and then have dinner late at night. The meals are one of my favorite parts because I get to spend a lot of time with the family and talk to them. They ask me how to say different things in Spanish and I do the same, slowly memorizing the endless vocabulary words.

I have to admit that I was quite nervous before I came to Cordoba. I even told Blake I didn’t want to go anymore because I was so scared that I’d spend the next month of my life feeling lonely and bored. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While sometimes it does get a tad lonely considering I can’t have full conversations with them in English, the rest of the time is enriching, enlightening and educational. I may just end up as one of those people who quits their job to travel the world thanks to this trip and thanks to Cordoba.

Squishy & Allergic in Madrid: Back to Madrid

Day 10
Paris --> Madrid

Sadly, my fairy tale vacation is coming to an end and today is my last day with Blake. Whenever I start to act sad over it he calls it my squishy feeling, which instantly cheers me up, but I pretend it doesn’t so he’ll keep babying me. We took a flight from the world’s most confusing airport- Paris Orly International- to Madrid.

In Madrid, we navigated the metro to our last Air BNB which was almost as adorable as the one in Nice, but much bigger. Our host, Consuelo, was very helpful in her broken English. Then, officially now hangry, we left immediately to get food. We went to El Corte Ingles, the rooftop bar we had failed to eat at on our first night in Madrid. My strawberry mojito revived my half sleeping self a bit.

In Spain, the people have an unexpected love for Gin and Tonics. Or, Ginebra y Tonica, which I learned to say in Spanish after a few failed attempts of ordering the drink. Everywhere you go you see advertisements for it and everyone told us to get them while we were here. So, that’s what we did. We went to a nice restaurant with all wood interior and ordered gin and tonics, a drink I usually am not a fan of in America. But, the obsession with them in Spain is for good reason. They come in huge glasses and I’m not sure why they’re so much better, but they are.

The combo of alcohol and allergy medicine had me falling asleep face first on the restaurant’s community table so Blake took me home for a siesta. Guess I’m becoming a true Spaniard. Once I came back to life we set out to find paella and had a late dinner near our place before falling asleep.

May the Force Be With You: Paris Continues

Day 9
Paris

Being the good little travelers that we are, we woke up with not much left on our tourist list to see. So, we went to Champ Elysee (which I can’t pronounce to save my life) and looked at the lavish stores. Ambercrombie and Fitch looked like an actual mansion with towering, perfectly trimmed hedges lining the lng entrance to the store and gold framed doors. Then, we checked out the Arc De Triumph at the end of the street, of course. A city in Europe isn’t complete until there’s some type of triumphant arc in it.

We also found the coolest antique/art collectors shop with things like life-sized Darth Vaders and pin ball machines in it. Blake, of course, got pictures with the Star Wars memorabilia, which he later exclaimed one of his arms looked to small in, so he wouldn’t post it. Lord help me. To also keep Blake happy, we had pho earlier in the day. What is with us wanting Asian food when we’re in Europe? Thanks to the pho in Paris and pad thai in Nice, I was determined to make sure we had a typical French meal for our last dinner in Paris.

We found a super trendy, popular spot called Chez Justine, where we ordered steak, tartar and ratatouille. It was, and still is, the best meal I had in Europe. And, with the large cushioned chairs we sat in overlooking the old fashioned restaurant, it was the cutest too. Still hungry we grabbed a sugar crepe from the street vendor- mouth watering- and headed home. 

Playing Esmeralda & Pretending to Party Gatsby Style: Paris

Day 8
Paris

We woke up and headed straight to Notre Dame. My dreams of being Esmeralda were coming true! Thanks to the rain, the Seine river was flooding and the French were in a bit of a panic over it, closing the Louvre and moving the art to dryer ground. Luckily, neither Blake nor I are very into art, so this wasn’t a huge loss for us. Notre Dame was very cool, but unlike La Sagrada Familia, its’ outside is the best part while its’ inside is dark and similar to many lesser Cathedrals.

After walking silently through the Hunchback’s home, we walked to the Louvre and sat in the Jardin Des Tuileries. Despite the chilly weather and rain, Paris was growing on me. There’s so much to do and see that it’s impossible not to at least fall momentarily in love with the city. After some more walking- thank God I had broken in my flats by now- we made our way to the Eiffel tower. Now, let me just explain that as a girl from a very small, boring town in Midwestern America, seeing he tower was incredible.

When I first spotted it as we were leaving the Jardin, I acted like a schoolgirl who was flirting with her crush for the first time. I jumped up and down while making Blake take pictures of me pointing to it in the background. I honestly never really imagined myself making it to the Eiffel Tower. My dream of moving to the home of the Hollywood sign seemed grand enough for a girl from a town that no one leaves. Yet, I had turned that dream into a reality 5 years ago and now was standing next to something even less imaginable, the Eiffel Tower.

We took our fair share of touristy pictures then got in line to take the elevator to the top. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights because shit is that tower tall. Its’ builder, Gustave Eiffel, had an apartment at the top of it, our guide told us, where he threw huge parties Gatsby style. Talk about a baller. Since the apartment is now gone and there’s no way to party the night away in the coolest spot ever, I attempted to get as close to that epicness as I could and ordered a glass of champagne.

The whole experience was magical. Blake and I kissed as any couple in Paris should on top of the Eiffel tower. Our thing, since we didn’t know how to say “kiss me” in French was to instead say “Besame in French,” which we proceeded to do in every city saying things like “Besame in Madrid.” How cute. If that’s not enough to make you vom over a gushy overload, then nothing is.

After the tower we decided to continue the French experience and went to a restaurant to order escargot. Snails. On the count of three we shoved the mushy things into our mouths, which I promptly spit back out. I did force myself to swallow a couple after that while Blake watched me in disgusted disbelief, but hey, we tried. No clue why snails are a delicacy here.

After choking back the snails we decided to go out and check out whether the Parisians could party or not. I found an underground bar/speakeasy that we headed to first. The bar, Moonshiners, was definitely a local spot. And, while making friends with fellow travelers in bathrooms is easy, finding party buddies with people who you can’t understand is not. We also found out that it’s especially hard for couples to make friends. Not only does being a couple mean that there is a lack of people hitting on you, the quickest and most sure fire way for a girl to find people to talk to at a bar, but it also makes fellow girls less likely to talk to you. I mean, I wouldn’t go up to a girl and her boyfriend at a bar A) don’t want to 3rd wheel B) don’t want her to think I’m hitting on her man. So, alone we stood admiring the hipster bartender’s impressive mixing skills and drinking their equally as impressive whiskey cocktails.

Then, after realizing I hate whiskey and finding party friends was too daunting, we wandered to find a new bar. Luckily, we stumbled across a street lined with traveler bars. A few shots at bars filled with backpackers and American rap music later and our party selves were content.