So I went on Spring Break last week and it was awesome and much needed. Being back in the developed world was a great and much needed mental break, with the hot water, heat in rooms, a variety of food everywhere, laws for drivers, English being everywhere, and generally the lack of constant brain stimulation and adaption to new things was great. Even during the constant running around and seeing tourist stuff while not speaking the language of Spain/Italy and lack of sleep was tiring, it was a great mental break being in countries that felt just like being in an ethnic neighborhood in the US (i.e. Dearborn. Michigan for Arabs or Washington DC for Ethiopians). I started off my trip flying to Barcelona with two of my friends who were stopping there on their way to Senegal, cancelled a trip to Valencia for the Fallas festival because of some bad paella and ended up in Rome with a huge amount of friends from AmidEast and my home institution CUA back in DC. This was only my 2nd time in Europe ever (except my 45 minute layover in Paris before arriving in Rabat) and a random trip to Madrid abut two weeks before. The unemployment in Spain is about 25% give or take a percent or two, and for youth between 20-30 that number rises up to 50%. Barcelona is the economic heart of Spain, even though much of the population wants to split on the basis of their Catalan ethnicity, and there was much more noticeable economic activity there than in Madrid. Spain to me felt like the Catholic version of Morocco. The country mostly spends its time outside cafes smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee/tea for hours, with the addition of sangria and other forms of alcohol. Family is very important too, with men not moving out of the house until they have a job and get married, just like Morocco. Meals are a huge deal too, taking over an hour to usually finish, except a main staple in Spain is pork which is forbidden in Morocco. On Sundays, church bells echo throughout the city in place of the call to prayer. Madrid was great. Its a very Spanish city: tapas, sangria, pork, huge palaces and churches and pictures of the Blessed Mother and Jesus everywhere much like you see Arabic signs saying “Allah” or “Muhammad” in Arabic. Highlight of Madrid was definitely the unlimited tapas and 6 Euro mojitos we got at El Tigre.
The AmidEast crew at El Tigre awaiting our mojitos and tapas.
Just a casual church in Madrid
Barcelona was crazy. Its an international city flowing with different cultures and languages on every corner and the crazy Gaudi architecture. It did have the Madrid feel, but people were clearly walking around much more and working, the whole sitting at cafes for hours isn’t a thing like it was in Madrd. I also met a few Moroccans on the street and was able to surprise them with my Darija. Highlight of Barcelona was without a doubt seeing the Sagrada Familia and tearing up at its beauty. It was a true testament to the saying that the Catholic Church is “Ever ancient, ever new” with its modern architectural design of the garden of Eden in mind and the fact that it was dedicated to the Holy Family was Gaudi’s way of communicating the strength and importance of a traditional family even during our ever-changing world. Even though it was uncompleted and under construction, it was still by far the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and going up in the tower to be able to see the city from that view was unreal.
Rome was pretty unreal too. Having studied Latin for 2 years in highschool and having read about the city since I was a little first grader at St. Hilary of Poitiers, I honestly couldn’t believe I was there. The whole city looked exactly like I imagined, with rustic buildings, old churches everywhere, and random important Roman ruins on every corner. Not many people spoke English in Rome as they did in Spain but that didn’t take away from my experience at all. Everything in Rome was much more spaced out than Spain or Morocco, and it was funny seeing the people speaking their beautiful language (gratzi/prego are my new favorite words ever) while looking exactly like South Philadelphians. In general though, Rome was VERY touristy and the cafe scene was not like I expected it to be, being pretty much non-existent. I did really enjoy the Caprese salad though (my favorite food comprised of tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese) which was much more fresh than in the US and the expected pasta and wine found everywhere. I found it hilarious that my visit to the Trevi fountain to throw in a coin and wish for good luck and love ended up with me almost throwing my credit card in hoping God would shoot some unlimited luck my way and then realizing that the fountain was dry, which I’m taking as a sign that I need to really reanalyze my life. I also liked meeting random Libyans (their Arabic was a much needed break from Darija) who were found everywhere escaping the violence in their country to return to the country that once colonized them. Pictures of Papa Francesco adorn every street and shop. The gelato was beautiful (go to Frigidarium if you end up in Rome) and it was kinda surreal meeting up with a lot of architecture students from my school studying abroad in Rome on St. Patrick’s day. The Vatican was amazing by the way. It was probably the biggest church I’ll ever get to see in my life and it was unreal being able to stand in the building that had held such importance to me ever since I was a kid. I got to pray in it for a few minutes but spent the rest of the time with my jaw to the floor seeing all kinds of beautiful art and getting to see confessionals for every order was cool, but seeing the Jesuits have their own one was a great highschool throw back. The Vatican also has a line in the center of it with a list of Basilica’s around the world and the general shape they take, so it did cause me to freak out seeing the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception found next to my school’s campus named. The highlight of Rome was for sure Vatican City, including St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum.The museum was astounding. It contained more history than I ever thought I’d see. From Ancient Egypt to modern Christian art and hundreds of Roman statues, I couldn’t believe how much the museum contained. I had a headache by the end because of over-stimulation but it was numbingly beautiful to get to see the Sistine Chapel and marvel at its wonders. I almost had a heart attack seeing the Assyrian ruins from Iraq the Vatican had too. In my entire life, I’ve never walked into a museum, looked at the artifacts and be able to say “my people did that,” so it was the best feeling to be able to look at those artifacts and say with pride “hey, my people did that over 5,000 years ago.” It was a great feeling of wonder tied with a sad pain knowing that a few days earlier, ISIS had destroyed city of Nimrud that the Vatican attained these artifacts from.
BAE=Caprese Salad Pizza
Frigidariun…best ice cream/gelato ever. 4 Euros for a large 3 schools of the best flavors I’ve ever had
Vatican City by day
Vatican city by night
Jesuits: we’re everywhere
Surreal seeing artifacts from my people thousands of years ago
I’m thankful for everybody who made it possible for me to be able to travel to these wonderful places this break, and know that I got you guys some awesome souvenirs.Thanks for reading, and next time I promise I’ll get back to Morocco and my adventures there!