obstinate othering.

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Somewhere in-between all the hey day, thousands of adjustments, millions of failures and just plain trying to figure shit out, five months have passed since the green light flashed and I said a resounding, “Yes!” to living my life as an expatriate.

I’ve changed addresses twice. I’ve made fast friends with people only to realize the people I befriended I couldn’t stand. I’ve quit teaching jobs (and of course, been fired, heh)  and re-embraced the philosophy central behind the reason I left my life behind in the States–my comfy lifestyle with my expensive car and driving to a job everyday that I hated–slowing down enough to be present to enjoy the gifts life offers. I’ve started writing more, or should I say consistently, versus going days, weeks and months without trying to make sense of life as it unfolds with my words. I’ve cooked the most amazing meals of my life in a kitchen the size of a pantry and an oven the size of a shoebox. I’ve slept in twin sized beds so little and compact my feet dangle off the edge if I don’t sleep in the fetal position.

While so many things have changed, while various components of life as I know it, my Madrid experience as I refer to it when I’m all by my lonesome, other things have remained static, unchanging and rather, things I’ve not wanted to consciously deal with or think about so most of the time I (try to) ignore them.

The ill-fated r word: race. And it’s dear friend, the ill-fated cousin: racism.

When I was home for Christmas, many people asked me if there were many “Black people” in Madrid. So many people looked at me, doe-eyed, wanting to know if there was an inkling of people of color, people who looked like me or them. Most of them were shocked or confused (or both) when I declared there weren’t and that because I was one of the few and I was quite tall, it made me a spectacle. I found (and still find everyday) stares lingering far past the typical “Spanish stare.”

But the way Spaniards deal with race in particular is quite…interesting. They won’t come out and say really prejudiced and racist things that would shed light on the way they view other races and other people in general that are different from them.  Instead they box those “other people” into these neat little categories. I suppose categories which make it more comfortable to wrap their minds diversity and enable them to distance themselves of the concept of being open to the concept of diversity altogether.

Here’s a relevant example I’ve received from Spaniards as well as fellow expats quite a bit:

There’s this neighborhood in Madrid, which, although I don’t go there often is easily my favorite. It’s called Lavapiés, also known as a vibrant, thriving melting pot of culture.

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Buildings lining the street in Lavapiés on a sunny, sultry Sunday evening.

The first few times I ventured to the barrio I was in search of delicious food because the bland and greasy Spanish dishes weren’t quite hitting the spot. I’ve had delicious Indian food on a table lining the streets while languages whooshed past my ears that certainly wasn’t Spanish and enjoyed the tastiest tacos with equally invigorating margaritas in the same barrio as well.

Africans, Jamaicans, Indians and numerous other ethnicities call this barrio home. I love being in that neighborhood because there I feel less like an alien. I can look onto to the faces of people who look like me, who are clearly different, whose heritage is closely aligned like mine and for once, I don’t feel shame. I don’t feel inclined to try to ignore the racist rubs and inclinations I’m faced with almost daily.

When the subject of the neighborhood has arisen naturally in conversation with either my students or others of Spanish descent or fellow expats or even other immigrants here who aren’t those of color, they say the same sort of things. They frown up at the neighborhood. They immediately say the neighborhood is composed of immigrants, as if it is bad thing. They’ll say the area is notorious for crime and to “watch your purse and belongings” if you venture there. They’ll also mention the alleged bed bug infestation and how the buildings look dirty and the area is dirty in general. There’s never a positive nod to the abundance of rich culture there.

And it reminds me of the same notions from back in the States. As an Atlanta native, these are the exact same sentiments I’d hear about people not going to “that part” of Decatur or Stone Mountain or Lithonia on the Eastside or anywhere on the Southside past a certain time because of course “thugs” abound. Because of course, any area where there are a lot of people of color there’s sure to be crime and it’s not safe and it’s not anywhere anyone would want to be. Right?

I used to live in Tetuán, a surburb roughly 20 minutes north of Madrid. I only lived there for three months and moving from there had much more to do with me not liking being compadres with the three cats and dogs (along with three human roommates). I got sick of cat hair being on all my belongings and also being so far from the city center. The commute drained and depleted me. But again, if you ask many people their opinion of this barrio, all negative. They’ll mention, immediately, the number of immigrants. And how the area isn’t pretty to look at. And how there’s nothing to do there. Same things said about Lavapiés.

But these notions, these reactions, these thoughts I’m continually bombarded with has me thinking: is this how I am viewed when I’m just innocently walking around, commuting on the Metro, eating in a restaurant? Are people in Madrid automatically thinking negative things when they see my face or are they already internalizing the type of person they think I am because of the media and other negative interpretations of what it means to be a person of color, to be Black, to be African?

As I’ve stated before, I’m not interested in changing any aspect of me just to fit in or be desirable and to not get the rampant amount of lingering stares. But at one point or another, one has to wonder whether or not it’s truly worth calling yourself a temporary resident of a country, despite its beauty and slower pace of life and many, many, many enjoyable things, that in one way or another is committed to misunderstanding you, to othering you and plain out making you feel like you don’t belong.

spirit in sevilla.

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After a (quick) six-hour flight back from Atlanta to Madrid and a nearly hour trek from the airport back to my flat, I was locked out.

I called my landlord and struggled in a conversation to convey my frustration. I called two other numbers my flatmate had given me in case of instances like these, people who supposedly had extra keys, but neither people could help me. And my flatmate, was still on holiday for Christmas.

Finally two hours later, I managed to get into my flat. I threw my suitcase, carry on bag and purse on the living floor and stared around at the place I had desperately missed those past three weeks.

And cried. I cried for the place I used to call home not feeling the same. I cried for the man I loved who had abandoned me. I cried about it all.

LIttle did I know that feeling, that emotional response, would be the precursor for a month filled with other losses, both big and small, and the grief that often accompanies losing things.

Losing friends wounded me the deepest, I found. Although somewhere in my subconscious I knew my friendships with people back home would change because I was going to change, nothing can quite prepare you for when it happens. These were people who I had seen over the Christmas break, people who noted the distance and how different I had become and instead of acknowledging it and using it as a bridge to deepen our friendship on another level, used it as a beginning point of saying I was being “different” or “brand new” or “haughty.”

But these were also people who sold me before I left on how they would keep in touch and come visit me and be along for the ride for what was sure to be a difficult transition…and left me high and dry. These were people who I didn’t hear from for months after I’ve moved and didn’t understand how hurtful that can be and how you don’t do that to someone you call a friend.

And even in knowing this, I still beat myself up about it. I still blamed myself for basically being a victim of circumstance, of life shifting in different directions, of growing pains that make our heart, souls and spirits ache intensely.

It didn’t stop there though.

The icing on the shit cake the month of January was getting fired from a new full-time teaching job last Wednesday–after only starting the job three weeks prior. The reasons offered for my termination were shifty, shady and unsubstantial. I determined almost immediately when people have determined they don’t like some aspect of you, whether it be your personality, countenance or your appearance, they’ll create false platitudes to get rid of you. This, unfortunately, had been the case with me.

As much as I wanted to unfurl my aggression and my anger, I used the steam to book a trip to Sevilla, the south of Spain, that same evening—only two days before I would leave. I opted to travel by bus since taking a plane or train would be too expensive, given this was a last minute trip.

Within 24 hours, I’d found a central, yet affordable hotel and made a terse list of the sites I wanted to see while there. I mapped out everything on Google Maps to determine whether or not these sights were all within walking distance from everything (and from my hotel). Rather important because I didn’t want to spend money on using taxis as a means to get around.

The downside of bus travel, other than the obvious discomfort, is the length of travel time. I left Madrid early afternoon and didn’t get to Sevilla until 9 p.m. Because of this, I was so exhausted and could only muster up the strength to grab a quick dinner, drink some Cava and fall fast asleep.

The next morning, I mapped out my day to include visits to the Catedral de Sevilla, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla and La Giralda, all a ten-minute walk from my hotel in the bustling, trendy and hip Santa Cruz neighborhood, teeming with cute tapas bars.

streetside

After paying my admission fee, I passed through the main area of the cathedral and almost instantaneously, my breathing slowed.

I peered up at this above me and could only muster “Wow” in a whisper to myself.

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cathedral 2

This quickly became a spiritual epiphany for me, which might be cliche given that I was in a massive church, but hear me out on why this in particular was such a powerful moment.

I stand at almost six feet tall, at 5’10,” so there’s very little I find in my everyday life that is bigger than me. Most of time in my everyday life, I tower over everyone and everything. But being in that massive church where I was so small, a mere speck in the cathedral’s vast being, reminded me of God, his omnipotent nature, how He is so vast and widespread and how none of us mere humans can even begin to encapsulate him into a tiny, neat container that suits us.

This was quite a convoluted realization to stumble upon, being that in the given moment, religion and spirituality are a murky mess in my life. I was raised Christian, converted to Catholicism five years ago, but despite that, stopped self-identifying as a Christian mid-last year because I didn’t think it was an accurate depiction of where I was in terms of my spiritual life.

My spiritual life has been hanging on by a thread since last September. I felt abandoned and forgotten by almost everyone when I moved and I especially felt abandoned and forgotten by God. In my mind, there was no point in spending concentrated time praying to a God or attending mass when I didn’t even feel His presence.

It was so clear I was supposed to move here and living abroad was apart of my destiny, but why had I uprooted my life to navigate such difficulty? It didn’t make sense to me. I stopped praying. I stopped meditating. I was angered whenever people threw unhelpful platitudes about “trusting God” or “just pray about it” when doing both of those things hadn’t yielded me anything but the palpable feeling that I was indeed alone and dealing with everything alone.

But this weekend, I was reminded in spite of all the loss I experienced the first month of the year and how difficult it has been, that God has surrounded me by love. He has strategically allowed me cross paths with people and form genuine connections, because it was needed. It was needed for me to survive and thrive here. That is His gift to me. That is His mercy in action. By token, I know I’m a strong and brave woman, but there are sometimes where I feel like none of that and need the reassurance, encouragement and support of people who believe in me and love me.

There are some amazing new people, people I never expected to be in my corner, who are now by my side. But when you focus so much on the negative, it’s hard to see the joy, the positives, how despite deep suffering there are people rooting for you. People who need your suffering to have purpose and meaning more than you because their hope and faith hinges on it as well.

The love encircling me is what I will try to meditate on and pray about in the many, many moments of weakness and difficulty that will continually arise in this expat journey. Love is what I hope will keep me grounded, instead of defaulting to being negative and feeling defeated and depleted. And love, rather remembering the abundance of it I have in my life and where the source of it derides from, is the greatest gift of all the beautiful city of Sevilla could’ve given me in just two short days.

Give love. It always comes back to you.

spanish building

home and hearts.

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My hair fluttered in the wind behind as I walked, the leather jacket I’d purchased at Zara on a street minutes away from my flat in Madrid briskly brushing past my hips and tailing my body. I rolled my suitcase with my right hand and clung to my black carry-on bag as I exited the Marta train station, where my mother waited for me in the family car–the car I  had driven many a time when my car was in the shop or decided it was having an off day. 

I had arrived home, in Atlanta, for an almost three-week stay. Coming home had been a loaded gun and for the most part, I was exuberant and giddy with enthusiasm. The last week before I left Madrid had been one filled with bouts of sorrow and the resolve I would most likely not return to Spain after the Christmas break. In fact, somewhere deep in my mind, I fathomed I would only return, as my roundtrip ticket I had purchased months before was non-refundable, to gather my belongings and shed my woeful attempt to living abroad and starting a life full of travel and adventure. 

Maybe I had not been fit to make it here, I thought over and over again before boarding that 10-hour flight to Atlanta. I looked around at the sights, the long Metro ride to the airport, the nearly two-mile trek to the gate to board my flight and imagined how life would be if I just gave up, if I just said goodbye to a long held dream of mine. 

And so I pondered these possibilities, how giving up must feel and knew it had to be like this, as I rode home and half-way listened to my mother gab about the goings on in the neighborhood, my mind elsewhere. Giving up sometimes doesn’t follow a lack of attempt, but instead a good fight which withers into situations, people and leaps that just don’t work. What I didn’t have the answer to is just how life would feel back in my hometown after having such an intense three-months away from the comfort and sameness which had characterized my entire existence. 

But twenty minutes later, after almost running into the gray stucco home I had grown up in, the house where life as an adult strangely mirrored my growth and development as a child, I stared into the room previously known as mine, my mouth agape. My mother thought my speechlessness equated to my gratitude for what was a complete remodel of my room, but it was the finality of how much had changed, how life had continued to zoom ahead without my presence there felt real, tangible. And it was horrifying. And isolating. And strange. 

Over the next few days, I visited with friends, people who I felt like I used to know but instead only felt an eerie amount of distance from. They talked to me about their jobs, complained about gas prices and the latest drama in Atlanta. They laughed and smiled at me, asked me questions here and there about Madrid, but only, it felt different. I felt like I was just a visiting friend, someone who didn’t belong and an outsider to even the people I knew the most. 

These sights were familiar. The smells were familiar. The people, the faces were familiar. 

But the only difference was I wasn’t the same. Only three months had passed since I was no longer in the United States living my day-to-day, drab, monotonous, predictable and lackluster life. In that short time, I had shifted. I had become more conscious. I had become more in-tune with my spirit, my soul, my emotions, my conscience, what made my inner-being smile. 

My life was no longer about grasping to make ends meet between rising gas prices, the bills that never seemed to end and overpriced nights out in the city, but instead about rushing to the Metro to catch the train before I had to wait another three or four minutes. Or rushing to the bank to deposit my money before they stopped accepting deposits at 2:30. Or shopping for one at the grocery store and separating meals into tupperware containers so I didn’t have to cook during the jam-packed weeks. Or staying up (and out) too late on the weekends and sleeping until three or four in the afternoon, the taste of alcohol lingering on my tongue when I awoke and memories of a fun night out reverberating in my brain along with the slight throb of my head from a hangover. Or lesson planning for all my classes, laughing at my students when they laughed at my shoddy Spanish. 

Life had become about me, about marching to the beat of my drum and doing what felt best, in every moment. Authenticity. My life had authenticity, something I no longer felt the need to prove to anyone, even myself. And reflection. Slowing down. Basking in the moments of silence. Pausing to have a cafe con leche in that extra five minutes versus being glued to status updates on Facebook, new videos or pictures on Instagram or my Twitter timeline during my lunch break. 

In that time, I remembered why I began writing in the first place, why it had become so important to me and I knew leaving behind Journalism was never the answer. The answer was pursuing writing that always meant something. To be true to myself and to remember my words had a higher purpose than scoring me validation, admiration. 

So, I knew, almost instantly that leaving Madrid behind wasn’t the answer. There was still so much to uncover about myself left. Because home isn’t necessarily a geographic location. Home can be within the warm embrace of a person. Home can be a temporary setting away from the norm. Home can be anywhere your mind feels free, where you feel you can best breathe, whether it be a spare closet you escape to in stolen moments or the high rise condo overlooking a metropolis.  

So here I remain, here I will be, here I will live until I know, without a doubt, what makes sense for me, for Nneka and no one else. 

I am home. 

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Sunrise in Conde Casal from my morning commute to work.

levels to love.

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There are some people who refer to themselves as undercover lovers, those people who shy away from openly professing their adulation of a star-crossed lover, but there are whole ‘nother category of folks, like me, who are undercover emos.

The people who shy away from openly showing their many shades of emotions and just how many times they plunge into a deep blue sea of feels.

I’m a hopeless romantic. I chronically wear my rose-colored glasses when I should toss them carelessly over my shoulder and see people for who and what they really are, but in my hearts of hearts, I love love.

And so, this year, especially, I silently vowed I would find the love I so desired, the love I had been yearning for and relentlessly searching for. The real love. The ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love Carrie Bradshaw mused about on Sex and the City.

Instead I was met with tumultuous bouts of heartbreak. Over and over and over again. I never knew my heart could take such a pounding as it did this year. And around late June, early July, I told myself enough was enough. The search was off. I stopped hoping for companionship, stopped expecting it even. I tuned in all my frustration with my lackluster results from such a deep desire into preparing for moving across the Atlantic to the beautiful country of Spain.

Because I was so hyper-focused on my impending new expat journey, I spurned many attempts from potential suitors, men who looked at me googly-eyed with lust lingering in their longing glances. What was the point anyway? In a mere amount of weeks, I’d be far, far, far away, with a six-hour time difference to boot.

But somewhere in the crosshairs, somewhere whilst I wasn’t paying attention, I tripped into adoration. It happened so fast, as blithely as a blink of an eye. He swept in while I wasn’t looking. Sprinkled joy, admiration, attention and beautiful prose into my life. We conversed about life’s philosophies for hours on end, delicately discussed classic literature like Walden as date activities and laughed about silly YouTube humor.

As just as quickly as I’d become comfortable in his arms, he swept away, sneakily backing away from me and this forbidden romance, disappearing into the mist, carried away with dust in the wind.

He was gone.

And I was devastated.

Or should I say, I have been miserably devastated for the past five days. The past three days especially, it’s been a battle to convince myself to untangle my woes from my bed sheets dripping with whispers of regret and despair.

My tears haven’t dried yet. And I’m sure they won’t dry for some time. You don’t easily stop grieving for someone who became part of your everyday routine. At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself. I’m impatient. I’d much rather be able to say I was over it in a day’s time.

The heart doesn’t heal that easily though.

Last night before I fell asleep, I stared at the ceiling fan whooshing cold air over my body and realized this year, I had gone searching for something and I had found it, but it wasn’t what I naively thought I would be seeking this year.

I crashed, collided, somersaulted, back-flipped and smashed right into myself. I needed love this year—I needed to radically love myself. I needed to stop judging and hating myself for my actions, my thoughts, my feelings. I discarded the notions, the conditions. Stopped believing the lie that if I were skinnier, had better clothes, a cushy job, a flashy car or more money, I’d think more of myself. That then, and only then, love would come rushing in. I just freely loved. I loved myself. Without ceasing. Desperately. Like my life indeed depended on it and I’d perish if I didn’t.

And now, when I’m still, when I sit still, when I’m one with myself, I feel that love coursing through my veins.

Because I love her. Intensely. She’s a weepy person in general. She cries too much. She knows that, too, but she’s accepted her emotions as beauty instead of a defect. She laughs too loud when something’s really funny (like, reaaaaally funny). She curses like a sailor in everyday conversation because she’s passionate about her words and expressing how she feels. She loves food and cooking, especially if she can share them with people she loves. She’s extremely giving and always gives from the heart, never expecting anything in return. And she’s courageous, always has been, but it took a while for her to see what everyone else around her saw.

She’s an amazing woman, through and through, and I’m so glad, that this year, I found her and loved her.

Loving her has made all the difference.

solo in spain: part II

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Roughly a year ago, I wrote this post for Clutch Magazine about what I, at the time, deemed a courageous action: traveling solo dolo to Europe for the first time. I talked about the stares prolonging past a typical glance at someone who might look different. I spoke about how despite my confusion with the winding Spanish streets, i was at peace and found my way. And most triumphantly, I touted traveling alone, thousands of miles alone to a country where I didn’t speak the main language, gave me a renewed sense of self, confidence and self-trust. 

Funny how a year changes things, rather how a year can change your perspective on things. 

I do think traveling to Spain last September was monumental and needed to happen, but perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned since (temporarily) relocating my life here and something I wouldn’t have the foresight to realize is that with the big leaps, there are often small, more unsuspecting leaps to follow. Leaps taken to continuously fulfill the jump in a different direction. Because life changes are often not completed in one, sweeping action. They are a pendulum swing of one consequential action after another, a ripple effect, a small snowball that morphs into a mountain. A molehill that becomes a mountain. 

About three weeks ago, I dragged myself out of my too little twin bed, the twin bed covered in plastic which crinkled whenever I tossed and turned throughout the night (which these days is often and expected); the twin bed, depending on what position I was in, left my long, lanky legs dangling over the edge, like a languid, lifeless hiker, staring blankly far off into the distance at the cliff that looms ahead.  

I went to an outdoor yoga class at Templo de Debod despite the frigid temperature and despite my half-assed attempts at layering 

But as my body shivered and I intently (and desperately) tried to remain in my center, there was one sentence, one thing that kept echoing over and over again in my mind, 

You are alone. It is just you, you alone, here in this moment.” 

This realization is sobering and hits me in both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of what has now become my everyday routine here in Madrid. 

It hits me when my students shuffle out of my classes after wishing a great rest of the day or a wonderful weekend and instead of having someone to turn to, anyone, a colleague, a friend, I’m left to reassure myself in solitude that, “Yes, I think that class went well. They laughed a lot. I think they’re learning. Maybe I’m not totally fucking this teaching thing up all the way.” 

It hits me when I’m walking around the streets, whether in the city center or the side alleys near one of the two academies I work for or the private classes I have, and something funny happens and it dawns on me there’s no one who would really appreciate that really funny thing that happened. Yeah…that thing. 

It hits me when I blank out while trying to think of a certain phrase or word in Spanish and instead of speaking I stare straight ahead, my mouth taking the shape of a big O but nothing escaping but thin, shallow gasps of air. 

It hits me when I collapse in a sea of sobs after a tiring day, those days where I’m so exhausted I want to scream or break things or drink until the room is reduced to nothing but blurs and spinning. 

It hit me especially hard today when I spent over an hour fiddling with the lock of the door in the new flat I moved into last week, the lock which is extremely temperamental and decides when it wants to open. I knocked on one neighbor’s door and pressed my ear to their door, not hearing any movement and walked away. I knocked on another and stuttered incoherently in Spanish to the two girls who opened the door. They tried to help me, but minutes later after becoming frustrated, shuffled away, gingerly telling me not to cry just because the door wouldn’t open. 

When their backs were to me a sat Indian style on the ground in front of the door, my peacoat resting on my lap. I hit my head against the wall in a somewhat violent rocking motion as tears jaggedly fell from my cheeks. 

Five minutes later, I jiggled the key and the door swung open with enthusiasm. I had less than ten minutes to use the restroom, attempt to eat lunch, grab a folder and be off to my next class. 

I tried to reach out to my roommate and there was no answer. Calling a friend or family member was out of the question because they were busy at work, just got to work or were on the way to work. And in reality, there was really little they could do from all the way in the States. 

I was left figure it out on my own, what has become the the usual the past three months.

Those moments are the ones where I question how radical and courageous and brave this move really was. I think about how everyone thinks I’m just in Spain living a beautiful life when each day is rife with frustration, confusion, isolation and loneliness. 

Did I really uproot my life, the life where the comfort and convenience of having family and friends nearby, where having support for the crises, big and small, became a distant memory? Did I willingly select this lifestyle for myself? 

And am I really as radical and strong and courageous and brave as people think I am if I struggle with wrapping my mind around the idea that living this expat life is full of these moments? And adjustment requires me accepting and being okay with it? 

But what if I don’t want to accept it and be okay with it? 

Because I really don’t want to. 

I really, really don’t want. 

I really don’t. 

I don’t. 

morning mantra.

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I learned eons ago, during my early years raised in the suburbs of Atlanta in various churches, that seven was a special number. A number of completion.  A number meaning things had been made whole and rang true. After all, our Creator (or whatever deity you may profess to have faith in), completed his work of creating this world, the universe we now call home, in seven days.

Week seven of life in Madrid was far from one of completion, of peace, of consolation. Instead it was a week ravaged with the most wretched case of homesickness, the feeling that plagued me hardest during my first month here. In each moment, I found myself cataloguing the things I swore I’d never miss about Atlanta the things I missed the most: driving on I-285 while blasting loud music, shopping or walking around Atlanta Station (or anywhere in Midtown period), singing along to trap music at any time of day, Saturday nights in the city where I drank toooo much among friends, Chipotle burrito bowls, Bojangles fried chicken (especially the biscuits), the smell of the house I grew up in, the slowness of suburbia, driveways and garage doors, Southern hospitality, my mother’s hugs, the voices of my Dad and sisters on a regular basis (and the petty arguments), the other half of my wardrobe that I gave away because a lack of suitcase space…

Just everything. Everything plus a million other things, which was perplexing for me to wrap my head around, because I was so unhappy with my life in Atlanta–the prime reason why I jetsetted thousands of miles away from decades of familiarity.

There were several moments rife with defeat, moments where I was seconds away from Skyping my mother, tears streaming down my face and admitting that I couldn’t do this, that I’d been crazy to move to another country, and that coming “home” was the only answer, the only route to ending this battle of adjusting. Most notably was last Thursday after misunderstanding documentation I needed to obtain paperwork here in Spain, leaving to go home empty-handed and going the wrong way on the Metro three times. After the third time of getting turned around, I slumped on a bench, recklessly threw my glasses in my purse and covered my eyes with both of my hands, forbidding anyone who was rushing to and fro to see my sorrow gathering in a pool on my lap.

But then, last Saturday evening, I trekked to see one of Spain’s renowned sights, Palacio de Cibeles, an attempt to pull myself from the depths of doom and gloom. This was what I saw:

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As I stood and looked from side to side, the wind whistling through my hair and whipping the Spanish flag in a rolling motion, I sighed and stuffed down more tears, this time tears of consolation, peace and reassurance.

It was foolish of me to expect such a drastic change and pace of life would go seamlessly, without difficulties, without periods where I doubted my decision to begin with and without missing the place I once called “home,” although I wanted nothing to do with there before I left.

It was foolish of me to not think that there would be rough days or rough weeks and that those days or weeks don’t make the entire totality of my experience.

Before I moved, for a year, I worked closely with a spiritual director. Once a month for a couple hours, I went to speak with this woman and she helped me to discern and make more sense of my spiritual life, especially during this “coming of age,” period. One thing she emphasized was the need for me to rely on forming affirmations or mantras for use during meditation and for everyday life, period.

And while I stood on the Observation Deck of the Palacio de Cibeles, staring off into the distance, unable to speak because the beauty of what I was seeing had completely enraptured me, I asked myself, “Why am I here? Why are you here?

Here being Madrid. Here being at this new stage in my life. Here being a place where the noise in my head has quieted. Here being the place where I finally have the space and distance to form my own opinions about the woman I am without the daggers being thrown at me about who I am from others. Here being a place of increased self-reliance. Here being a place where I know that this next chapter of my life is contingent in making a difference in the lives of others, on a regular, everyday basis.

And well, I know why I’m here. And every morning, while the crust still lingers in the corners of my eyes and my yawns flutter in an endless pattern and the sun peaks through my window, I’ll ask myself, “Why am I here? Why are you here?” and it’ll come back like forgotten whispers of yesterdays and I’ll know. I’ll know. I’ll know that the adjustment and the struggle has all been worth it.

I’ll know.

teaching and tears.

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Three weeks ago, this was my view. I sat crouched over on a bench on Calle Jose Ortega y Gasset, staring blankly through at the glass, the moving bodies, the sounds of blowdryers and water running at each sink station.

I was blithely trying to pretend that with each glance I was fighting back the sea of tears I had unleashed just minutes before. Spain or not, crying in public was not something I wanted to do.

But I lost that battle mere seconds later. And as Spaniards passed me on their way to the market, the Metro some blocks down the road or just a leisure stroll, they saw a girl, staring into space at a hair salon, crying.

And no, I wasn’t embittered at an endless love gone sour. I wasn’t homesick.

I was crushed.

Mortified, shamed, engulfed with trepidation because I genuinely felt that I was a horrible teacher and would never amount to becoming a great one. All at the hands of my third teaching practice gone horribly, horribly wrong. Imagine teaching suffixes to non-native English speakers. And imagine their confusion as you poorly explained how to form them as well as offering instructions on the exercises which weren’t clear and confused them further. Can you imagine receiving blank stares and dancing with an awkward silence while you figured out what the hell to do salvage a failing lesson?

I digress.

My TEFL (Teaching English as a First Language) course began on September 9, and I brashly and naively assumed nothing could be any harder than what I had endured at the hands of a Masters degree in a writing program, especially after working on (and completing) a 150-page thesis within a six-month period, all while continuing to work a full-time job. Add in my continued unhappiness with said job, my coworkers, dissatisfaction with my hometown and my life there and two thesis committee members who suggested I needed to hold off on graduating two months before graduation and to me, there was no way, no Earthly way this course could be harder.

But it was. And then some.

Within a four-week period, I watched, as if I was having an out of body experience, my sleep dwindle along with my self-confidence. I’d attend classes everyday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., work late at the school and come home, eat dinner and continue working until 1:30 a.m. There was constantly something to do, items to be checked off, corners to turn and not nearly enough time or hours in a day to complete them. Along with individual assignments and preparing for six teaching practices (that were observed and graded), we had to collaborate on an extensive group project, involving meeting and coordinating with a non-native English speaker (and actual student) on three occasions.

The most overwhelming aspect of my entire TEFL experience was the aforementioned aspect of self-confidence. A small crumb that was slowly chided away, step-by-step.

Going from having an extensive career where you are sure of yourself, confident in your talents and passionate about your work (at least as I was with getting to freelance and write pieces for myself), it was incredibly daunting and intimidating to think about teaching on a professional level, because it was completely new. Uncharted territory. There was absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that I’d even be a competent teacher, which scared me the most.

I suffered from addiction to comparison and methodically, my own way of pacing myself or checking the time, measured my progress to my peers, many of whom were really young and seemed to be thriving in the course and their progression through the teaching practices.

There was never a question of whether or not I was smart. Most of my peers assumed as much after a short conversation, but it never felt like I was. I felt like I was on the bottom rung of the ladder. Barely scraping by, doing a miserable job, especially after that third teaching practice which landed in the school’s bathroom sobbing, before I escaped from the school to stare at the hair salon and cry in solace.

That was indeed the lowest point of this move for me, even below my first week in Madrid which was the hardest. But after medicating myself with wine, a sob fest cuddled in my sheets in bed and everything from Burger King’s menu, I decided I had to learn from this. I had to take this blunder and improve. And do better.

I decided to go in that classroom for my next practice and to not focus on getting everything right, but to be authentic. To be myself. To be an inspiration. To be the woman who makes people comfortable and at ease, like I had done so many times before as a journalist interviewing subjects who were uneasy at the overall idea of conversing with someone from the media. Because, isn’t that the same way any student feels when they’re learning a new language? They may not be confident. They may second guess every syllable that falls from their lips. And each lesson they sit through may be a trial to their level of self-patience.

I’m now in my second week of teaching in Madrid. I teach children, teens, young adults and adults who work within huge businesses in Madrid and although I still have to quell the insecurity that pops up because this is still something new, I know lessons are to be learned and mistakes are inevitable, I know that just like writing, once I decided to let my heart bleed onto the pages I wrote, once I decided to teach from the heart, to teach and treat each of my students as a fellow spirit in need of compassion and love, embarking on this new journey became a hell of a lot easier.

awake and anti-assimilation.

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I don’t think I’ve ever really known how to blend in, how to not to stick out from the masses, how to not be less unidentifiable from the next person.

My first mark of differing identify, my name, prevented me from ever really being just like many of my other classmates, neighbors, church members or friends. And when I hit my grow spurt at the tail end of my sixth grade school year and shot up as tall as the oak trees that lined my family’s house and shrouded the sleepy house from the strong, unrelenting summer rays in Georgia during the scorching months of June, July and August, there was yet another reminder that I wasn’t made to blend into the crowd.

I became the tall, lanky, socially awkward girl with the weird, African name. And I hated everything about myself, too. I rejected each of those sentiments that made me a constant source of crazy questions, condescending looks and stares and an overall sense of discomfort. I would’ve much rather been average height with a “normal” name like Ashley, Brittany or Nicole.

These are thoughts that I had nearly two decades ago, and I never expected to feel even a tinge of those thoughts, to feel in some childish, silly way wishing I didn’t have to stand out, that I didn’t have to get the more than usual amount of stares.

But isn’t thinking like this, in a way, a bit natural, especially when I walk around in this city that inspires me and takes my breath away in both big and small ways each day and there are no faces that don’t look like mine?

Perhaps, and perhaps the months leading up to moving to Madrid, a period when I slowly began to realize that I was rejecting every notion that told me that it was wrong for me to revel in being both a Black American and African, served a greater purpose than even I considered.

Because the racial affronts I’ve faced here in just my past three weeks have blown my mind, partly because I’ve never had to take into account how Blacks (and Africans) are viewed outside of the States. And to be honest, living in Atlanta can have one thinking one way about how race and race relations are.

In my 27 years in Atlanta, there weren’t many moments where I had to consciously confront the pain, isolation and feeling of being othered that being Black and/or African brings because I was constantly interacting with those who were just like me and looked just like me. I wasn’t one of a few within a sea of a majority.

I’ve had people ask me bluntly to my face if I’m African or Latino, and yes, in that, “What are you?” tone of voice accompanied by a quizzical expression. I’ve been asked hair questions and had unwarranted hands mingling in my hair. I’ve been called “morena” which is supposedly a term of endearment for women of color. I’ve been referred to as “my sister” by other Africans as I pass them by on the street. This makes me smile.

Went I went out on a Friday night two weeks ago, an older Venezuelan man who was drinking solo in the corner a young, hip bar in the city center, approaches me, after noticing me dance as I waited for my food and asked where I was from. After I told him I was from the States, he matter of factly states that I have “skin like Obama.” I nodded and smiled unsure of how else to respond. I shared the story with many people who thought it was hilarious. I just thought the entire interaction was weird.

Last week I was asked if I spoke Nigerian. I responded kindly, with a smile, that Nigerians speak English and ended it there. When I got back to my flat later that day, my feet planted firmly on the floor as I sat on the edge of my unmade twin bed, I sobbed because it was yet another stark reminder how many people here and period just don’t “get it” and how I don’t feel like it’s my role or responsibility to forge that bridge of understanding and lack of ignorance.

Being outrightly othered can wear you down.

I’ve had several conversations with people about racism and race relations in Spain because I needed an outlet to vent my frustration. One person told me that it wasn’t really an issue, and that if I was confronted with being called “negrita,” supposedly the slang word used to refer to Black people that I should shrug it off and not take it personally.

But wait.

Shouldn’t I be able to determine what or what shouldn’t offend me as a woman of color? How is it anyone else’s role outside of people of color what or what shouldn’t offend us in these cases?

And that’s when I knew that it “not being an issue” was code language for covert notions  lurking in the shadows or—If it doesn’t affect you personally in your day-to-day life then of course it’s not a big deal and can surely be ignored.

Especially when already, in terms of other minorities here I’ve seen small shreds of oppression that bother me. For instance, there is a huge Chinese population in Madrid, many of whom are business owners of shops in the barrios throughout the city.  These shops offer everything you could imagine in one place for an affordable price. Many Spaniards refer to their businesses as the, “Chino,” which literally translates to The Chinese in English.

Does anyone else see the glaring issue with this?

But I hear it often: in casual mentions of where people will pick up items they need on the weekend or after a long day at work. And although, once again, I was told that the term was not offensive and was okay to say, I can’t help but put myself in those shoes.

What if there were shops with everything imaginable under one roof called the “Africano” which literally translates to “The African” in English? How is that not offensive? On what universe is it not offensive to refer to a store solely as the nationality that owns it and not what is actually sold there?

I digress.

Before I moved to Spain, I made a silent vow to each day, be proud of who I am, my heritage, where I came from. One way I’ve consciously done this is insisting that people refer to me with the true, proper Nigerian pronunciation of my name, versus the Amercanized pronounciation I have gone with for years, to coax myself out of my previous heritage insecurity. Often I slip up and default back to the latter pronunciation because it’s comfortable and familiar, for others, but not me. In those instances, I feel silly, because people wonder why I say my own name differently. No one knows how much of a personal struggle that has been for me all my life though, so I can’t become too fixated on what others think.

Although being “me” here, being one of the few brown faces, is down right uncomfortable, unnerving and clearly establishes me as different, I won’t tone it down or adjust or code-switch or attempt to blend in solely for the sake of not having to bother with answering the many questions that continue to flood in.

I’d much rather deal with the anguish of being authentic versus the anguish of being a fraud.

the expat existential crisis.

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The Metro stop nearest my flat that I’ll walk to every morning for the next four weeks (or more) to get to my TEFL certification course.

“Calle General Yague, por favor,” I mumbled, barely above a whisper to my cab driver, the man I hastily selected as I exited Barajas Madrid International Airport and filed into the cab line, behind many others who lugged their suitcase or suitcases behind them.

The cab driver drove a beat up Mercedes Benz, the color of pearls gathered from a deep sea diving expedition, with black skid marks to and fro, a sure sign that he either he or other Spaniards weren’t the best drivers.

As he struggled to lift my two suitcases into the small trunk, making a dramatic grunting noise for the biggest of the two, I rolled my eyes and walked over to the right door of the backseat. By the time I had fastened my seatbelt and told him where I needed to go, he had already revved the engine and pulled forward.

My ride to the flat I’m staying in was no more than 15 minutes, just as Google Maps had stated when I checked the night before my 16-hour journey to Madrid, a journey that took me through three airports and ended in me leaving my passport in the slip in front of my seat, causing a momentary second of panic when I went to exchange my last savings, $2,000 U.S. dollars for what amounted to $500 dollars less in Euros.

Nothing is the same anymore.

It’s only been five days and already, I’m not the same person. I no longer wake up each morning with dread rolling around in my stomach, not ready to tackle another workday at a workplace and profession I have fallen out of love with. Each day holds a sense of mystery; I don’t know what I’ll be faced with or what to prepare myself for. This is both exciting and terrifying.

Confusion and frustration steadily trade off on becoming my middle name, and I suppose it’ll be this way for quite some time, until I fully adjust. I realize I had some lofty and unrealistic expectations that it’d be easy as pie (because I had been yearning to move here and start my life in a new direction). Or at least, I didn’t take the time to think about what difficulties and challenges would be mounted up against me.

And believe me, there are plenty.

I don’t feel confident speaking Spanish, although I know the bare minimum to order a meal, ask for a drink or engage in a conversation if I get lost. Before any words fumble from my lips, I’m second guessing myself. I’m running a quick Google translation on my phone to see if what I’m thinking is in the ballpark of what a Spaniard would say. Will I be found out if I say something stupid? Will they look back at me and know that I’m a pathetic American struggling to take on a language that she didn’t grow up speaking? Even things I used to enjoy like grocery shopping are now difficult, as labels I don’t understand stare back at me.

Owning the title of being an adult is daunting as well. I paid rent for the first time five days ago. I folded up several Euro bills and handed them over to the sweet, older Spanish woman who I’m renting a room from. She smiled and took the bills between watching a show on television. She didn’t realize how huge of a step, a moment, that was for me. For her, I was yet another tenant that she has graciously, kindly and warmly taken in, but still, just another person that is helping her meet her own cost of rent to her landlord.

I’ve had to create a budget and determine what I will and will not spend the little money I do have until I finish my TEFL course, find work and start earning money. Each time I Skype or Facetime my mama she tells me, almost in a patronizing tone, to let her know if I end up in a financial bind. I hear her, and I know she worries. I’m her oldest daughter and her only daughter that has ever dared to move to another continent, but I’m determined to make this work, even if that means I’m eating crackers, meat and cheese for a few weeks to say that I remained within budget and took care of myself.

The hardest part, the most disheartening part of all, is that I can see, almost a mile away, that things have already changed with the people who I called close and dear to me before I left the States. I can already see that no matter how many Skype convos, Facetime sessions, stray iMessages or Google Hangouts, that eventually, they’ll stop wondering about my life on the other side of the world. Our conversations and the way we relate will change and fade away in unexpected ways, and I’ll no longer feel home with them in the way I used to. I’ll become a stranger, despite my best intentions to keep in touch and find common ground.

And I hate to admit it, but right now, in this moment, I feel very alone. Because none of the loved ones I’ve left behind truly know how this feels, to be stuck in a weird, awkward  way between two worlds and trying to figure out where you’ll fit in–on one side over the other.

I’m happy.

I love it here.

This move was the right decision, but it has dawned on me, and I realize with such finality that nothing will ever be the same. But, see, no one tells you that. No one tells you that when you decide to become an expat, when you decide to leave everything and everyone you’ve ever known behind, that nothing will ever be the same, in an almost palpable, sobering and earth-shattering way.

fearful courage.

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A brilliant blue sky, untouched by clouds and rain and instead buffered by a glittering sun bursting with light held me in a trance, a I stood on a balcony in Segovia, Spain, in September of last year.

I saw snow-capped mountains far-off in the distance and the roofs of terra cotta homes. I heard birds chirping a melody, and for once, I wasn’t annoyed at the sound.

Journeying to Spain fell onto my lap, as taking my first trip to Europe was nowhere on my radar, until Sucheta, the founder of Go Eat Give, sent out an email about a free trip to Spain. The “free” trip didn’t mean all I had to do was place my name on a list and be whisked on a private charter jet nearly 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Atlanta.

The catch was a noble one. In exchange for five nights in a fine hotel as well as meals and wine galore, I was asked to volunteer as apart of a program called VaughanTown. VaughanTown, the extension of Spanish telecommunications company VaughanSystems, plucks native English speakers and pairs them with Spanish business executives who are looking to better their English speaking skills.

I was under the impression from the description of how the program works before getting there that I’d be teaching, but in reality, the full extent of my teaching was having multiple conversations with the Spaniards throughout the day. Each conversation was guided by either specific subject matter or colloquiums we had to explain, which almost always were hilarious and rendered spirited conversation.

This experience was so fascinating to me, but as the days wore on, I craved solitude and ample time to reflect to how this country, these experiences and the trip was affecting me. Because of the rigorous, packed schedule, that only left spare moments, such as my balcony time, as the stolen seconds where I was lost in my thoughts.

I came to grips with what was happening, a slow but assured realization the two days I spent frolicking in Madrid before VaughanTown and the sole evening after before I flew back to Atlanta: this wouldn’t be my last go-round in Madrid but the first of many. I’d be back, and sooner than I’d thought and for longer than I’d ever dreamed.

I talked with Sucheta’s dear friend the night before leaving for VaughanTown over grilled vegetables, chicken wings and glasses of vino about her own journey to Madrid and how life had been since she packed up her life and moved to Madrid to teach English for the past two years.

As I listened to her talk, something stirred within me. I prodded and continued asking her questions and listening carefully and closely to her responses. When we went our separate ways that night, she added, an an aside, to look her up on Facebook once I was home to chat more about the program she went through.

I sat on her call to action for a month.

I went back to my old life, pretending that that trip, my first trip to Europe, the first time I’d traveled solo didn’t change me or rattle me or force me to seek a different pace of life.

But now I know why there was a hesitation. I was scared, frightened, terrified. I thought it was crazy that I was even considering picking up my life and relocating to the other side of the world knowing no one and inserting myself in an unfamiliar culture with a language I didn’t speak.

When I finally sent out the email, I was still consumed by fear. And the fear didn’t go away even as I went through a series of interviews and received my welcome letter to teach in the program.

The screams of inferiority, the constant taunting from my spirit and my conscience telling me I was out of my mind to be going through with his, only intensified with each progression, especially as I was stressed to the brim navigating the daunting visa process, with numerous dead-ends, confusion on requirements and hold-ups with delayed documents received in the mail.

On July 7, with almost no money in my bank account, I drove 10 hours for my visa appointment, scheduled for July 8, with the nearest consulate in Miami. I spent a grueling two hours, my body shaking and writhing with stress, as I waited to turn in sheets of paper that represented five months of struggle, stress and trepidation.

Eleven days later, I hurriedly opened the self-addressed priority USPS envelope I’d provided the consulate with, and my passport fell out, with a small piece of paper shoved inside of the pages. I stared in awe at my approved visa, completely stunned that I’d done it, that I’d made this happen and that I was indeed moving to Madrid.

You see, moving to Spain had long been a dream of mine, but I’d pushed it away and traded it in exchange for other more practical ones. For instance, when I graduated from undergrad, my dream was to get a full-time newspaper reporter job.Then my dream became getting a graduate degree to become a better writer and to explore what path writing would take me on in the future.

But these dreams, these goals that once seemed so important and the key to my happiness were no longer fruitful. They were just plain tired and unfulfilling. I had grown to hate my newspaper reporter job over the past few years, a job that was boring, routine, monotonous, consumed with micromanaging bosses, and to top it all off, I was only paid $10 per hour for all my hard work.

I was also tired of not being the woman who stood on her own, as I had never lived on my own after moving back home after college. I lived in the same room I spent cooped up in most of my childhood, getting by with only enough money to pay my car note, exorbitant amounts for gas since I lived so far away from said job and little extra for hair appointments, happy hours with friends and other outings for which money was required.

I was broke, unhappy and felt stuck. I’d tried to apply and search for other jobs, thinking more money was the change I needed, but after many applications and several interviews that never went anywhere, I knew this was much bigger than my bout with financial poverty—but more along the lines of emotional, mental, and spiritual poverty. I was poor in spirit all around.

Deciding to take this leap of faith and follow my heart was much more than traveling to to Spain and falling in love with every aspect of it. It was about taking a brave step in a new direction, standing on my own two feet and living my own separate adult existence, something I’d been needing to do since I finished college.

Along with the fear that has accompanied me along each step of this transition to the next phase of adulthood has been a silent, strong and assured sense that moving to Spain was something I was supposed to do. In each moment, this sense, this knowledge that this was apart of what the universe wanted me to experience, has helped me to override the fear and remove myself from a pattern of dysfunction and not reaching for more. This was made clear by the numerous people that were placed along my journey to help me and the obstacles that at first glance seemed impossible, but once I was closer upon them, they dismantled and disappeared before my eyes with a resolution.

I’ve never been more sure something has been meant for me, more than this move, in my short 27 years of life.

I’m one week away from starting this new chapter and often, quite often, I think back to the many emotions and thoughts that flooded my consciousness while standing out on that balcony, staring at the sky, enamored and in a daze. In a way, an innocent decision to volunteer and give of myself ended up pouring back into me and igniting a light that had long been extinguished.