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My Second Family
“¡Hola Señorita!, ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo fue tu viaje?” said a Spanish man with a huge grin on his face.
“Umm... I'm sorry, but I don't really understand you. I am not very good at Spanish. No hablo Español. That's all I know...”
“Oh! Inglés? No problemo. How are you? Your journey was good?”
“Yes, but it was very long! I am glad to finally be here.”
“Let us go home now and you sleep.”
“Great! Thank you”
I left the Bologna airport with a middle aged man and a teenage girl. They had agreed to let me stay in their home for the next couple of days before I went to camp and they didn't even know my name or who I was. I was so scared to be staying at a strangers house, but I never even thought about how it must have felt for them letting a stranger stay in their house. I was very cautious not to make them feel uncomfortable from the moment I met them and I could tell that they were doing the same.
When I walked outside, it was beautiful. It was warm and sunny and the landscaping blew me away. It did not look like an airport, but like a beautiful botanical garden. These incredible views continued the whole way home. We passed everything from construction to wide open land. We went by vineyards, farmland, and many open fields. The vineyards smelled so fresh and clean that I almost stuck my head out of the window like a dog. The farmland looked amazing from far away, but as soon as we passed by it, I wanted to stuff my head under a pillow. The smell was awful. It smelled like cow manure and spoiled milk. I tried to close my window, but the smell would not go away.
Inside the car, the air was filled with silence even though I knew everyone, including me, had a million questions. I wanted to just blurt them all out, but I held them in for fear of sounding silly or rude. For about an hour we all stayed inside ourselves because we did not know how, or even if, we could communicate with one another. The only noise was the radio playing softly. I didn't know any of the songs playing, but then a familiar song came on.
“...You got me begging you for mercy... Why won't you release me?...”
It was Mercy by the singer Duffy. It had come out about a year before in America and was not very popular anymore. However, in Spain, it was on the top of the charts and everyone loved it. I was shocked when I heard this song because I thought that all the songs they listened to were in Spanish and only played in Spanish speaking countries, and I thought that English songs were only played in America. I really liked this song, so when it came on I started humming the parts I knew. Elena, the teenage girl, heard me humming.
“You know the song?” she said.
“Yes. It was very popular in America last year.” I told her.
“Really? It come out just a month ago here. My favorite singer is her. You like her?”
“Yeah. She is good. I don't know many of her songs though.”
We continued to talk and compare singers. Her dad, Eugenio, spoke very little English, but he had Elena translate for him. He asked me if I knew any Spanish singers and he named a few, but I did not know any of them. Elena laughed at him and they spoke in Spanish for a while. I did not understand what they were saying, but their tone of voice and their expressions were very playful. Then Elena turned to me and explained that the singers her dad had named were all artists for older people. It made me smile because I realized we had a lot in common, such as family and music.
The rest of the car ride was very fun. We had figured out how to communicate and we were getting to know each other.
“Here is our house. You like it?” Eugenio said.
“Yes. It is very nice.” I said very generously.
It was not a house, but an apartment. I learned later that a lot of people in that area had apartments and not many people had houses. Houses were in private neighborhoods and were a lot nicer than the apartments. We parked down in the basement and then took a rickety elevator up to the fifth floor. The whole apartment building had a very distinct smell, in the same way that a nursing home does. We walked into the apartment and Elena showed me to my room. I unpacked my luggage and took a very long nap.
“Anna? Dinner is ready! My mami make a traditional Spanish meal for you”, Elena whispered to me as I slowly awoke.
I walked to the dinner table and saw what looked like a feast for 20 people, but only four people were home. We started eating at about ten o'clock and I quickly realized that I was out of place. I figured that dinner would be an easy event, but it was actually very complex. They had a method for eating which involved many parts.
They first served a soup or salad and a pizza pie or something of the sort. That was the appetizer. Next they brought out the main course. It was usually ham, or some kind of meat, and then other foods such as tortillas, beans and rice. Then they would clean off the table and serve dessert. Dessert was split into two parts. First we ate some kind of fruit or healthy snack. Usually cantaloupe or watermelon. They ate the cantaloupe with ham on it, but I did not want to try that. Finally came the sweet, usually unhealthy dessert. That was some kind of pie, chocolate cake, or other sweet food. And of course, there was always a loaf of bread on the table at every meal. I learned that meals are very important to the Spanish. The average dinner lasted 2 or 3 hours. When we went out to eat, it lasted even longer. Yes they ate a lot, but they talked even more. That is why the meals last so long.
At dinner, Elena's mom, Camila, translated everything so everyone would understand. She was an English teacher at a university near by, so she was very good at English. She would help Eugenio and Elena translate and she would translate for me too. It was a little bit of a nuisance to have to translate everything and they told me to slow down a lot, but I liked talking to them.
The next morning we woke up at about eleven in the morning and went to the pool. Then at about three in the afternoon we came back for fiesta. After fiesta, which is a midday nap that Spanish have every day, we went sightseeing. Eugenio took us to a cart ride that went over the whole city. His English was getting a lot better and my Spanish was some what improving too. Eugenio had been teaching me about the history of Spain and he told me he was going to test me to see if I was listening.
“What was the name of the man who invented the building?” Eugenio said playfully pointing to the building in front of us.
“Umm.. Fernando... something. Right? I don't remember his last name.”
“No! Ferdinando Piscoso. Remember I say you remember the bull on the building and you remember Ferdinando the Bull?” He said tauntingly.
“Oh yes! That makes sense. I promise I will remember that!” I said jokingly.
“You get the next one correct and I get you and Elena ice cream. OK?”
“OK! I am ready. I can get this one!”
I got the answer wrong of course, but Eugenio still bought us ice cream from a vender on the street. Even though we had a language barrier, we still found a way to talk and develop a relationship. Eugenio was almost like a second father to me. He made me feel comfortable being in another country where I was the only one in the group that spoke English.
I spent a few more days with what I now referred to as my second family, and then I went off to camp to meet many more new people. Staying at this family's house was a great way to begin my trip because I got the experience of another culture and I got a preview of what I would be doing at camp. I knew that I would make many great friends at camp because I was not afraid anymore. I was not afraid because of Eugenio. He helped me loosen up and just have fun. All those questions that were in my head about what the house would look like, when I would get to sleep, eat, or see my friends; they were all out of my head and I was just enjoying the ride. I had already experienced so much and I had only been in Spain for about a week. I could only imagine what the next month would be like. And I wouldn't let the language barrier come between me and the kids at my camp. I realized that no matter where they come from, teenagers are teenagers and we all have something in common. Whether it was electronics, television shows, family, or music, we always found something to talk about. It just goes to show that you don't have to speak the same language to communicate.