Days 3 and 4 In Spain

Yesterday was my last day in Sevilla, and was definitely a day well spent. I woke up and made sure to check out el Museo de Flamenco Baile, which is a popular tourist attraction being that it’s the city’s most well known Flamenco museum and school. My friend and I walked around the museum, learning about the origin of the incredible dance, as well as the various types of flamenco dances there are, each based off emotions. We got to see videos of the different dances and techniques and learned about great dancers of the past and present. After the museum, we grabbed lunch by La Giralda (the tower I mentioned in my previous post), and took in the city’s beauty before it was time for us to leave. When we returned to the hotel, our suitcases had finally arrived, and we took a cab to the train station, and then a train to Madrid. Upon arriving in Madrid, we boarded the metro to go to our hostel for the night. When we got off at our stop and exited the metro, we had to ask numerous people to point us in the direction of our hostel. After walking through the city with our luggage (for what seemed like forever), we finally made it to the hostel.

Upon arriving at our new destination, we pushed the buzzer on the door and were let into the building. When we walked in, we noticed the huge spiral staircase that seemed like my worst nightmare. Just like the movies portray, we walked up two and a half flights of stairs, just to check in and be told that our room was on the next floor up. For those of you who, like me have never stayed in a hostel, well, don’t. (I’m kidding… kind of). There was no air conditioning, which normally wouldn’t be too bad, but considering that the only thing saving us from the 100+ degree weather was a small fan made the hostel quite an experience. And a tip for anyone planning on staying in a hostel anytime soon: when showering, make sure to hold your toiletries firmly or else you may end up dropping them in the toilet. (True story).

My friend and I made sure to leave the room before we had time to suffocate, and we headed over to eat dinner, and then to a pub in the middle of the city to watch the Spain vs. Portugal Euro Cup game. The game was incredible, seeing as everyone around us was full of spirit and energy as they cheered on their team the whole time. In the end, Spain was victorious and won during penalty kicks after overtime. The streets were filled with happy locals and the celebrations had begun since Spain was now going to compete in the Euro Cup finals. We headed back to the hostel to try and get some sleep before an early start this morning, but when the room was too hot for us to handle, we walked around the city to hang out with the locals, as they celebrated their victory.

This morning we made our way to the Madrid Airport and met up with our group, because today was the first official day of our study abroad program. Once everyone had arrived, we all hopped on a bus to Álcala de Henares, where we met up with our host families. My host mom greeted me as I got off the bus, and graciously welcomed me into her apartment with her eight year-old son. My host mom speaks Spanish and German, and nowhere in between those two languages is English, so whatever Spanish I know will definitely come into use, and if I don’t learn fluent or almost fluent Spanish by the time I leave here, well, for the sake of my study abroad funds, I won’t have to worry about that. But the biggest culture shock so far (well, at least for today) had to be learning that most of the houses and apartments in Spain don’t have air conditioning, which is something I’m going to have to get used to. And quickly).

I recently received a comment on my previous blog post asking me what the weather here is like, so if you still can’t tell (as I sit here sweating while writing this), it’s in the mid nineties at night and low one hundreds during the day. Hopefully the weather will cool down soon, but one can only hope so much.

In the morning, we’re going to have a group orientation where we will purchase our school books, take a tour of the campus, do whatever else the orientation entails, and take a trip to Madrid (which is only 25 minutes away from us) to check out some of the big tourist attractions. That’s it for now, but I will leave you with this; a new addition to my posts here in Spain.

Spanish lesson number one: When in Spain, you’ll notice that the people use a “th” lisp. In a book I recently purchased here, it explains that there is a popular legend in which Ferdinand I (also known as Felipe IV), a Spanish king, had a lisp when it came to pronouncing the “s” sound. A while later, all of Spain ended up mimicking his lisp, which apparently is how the Spanish lisp began. However, this story is just a myth, but the real “th” sound is only pronounced with the letters c and z (whenever preceded by an i or e), while the letter s remains the same as in English- all of which is a selectiveness due to the way Spanish evolved from Latin. The book hits the “don’t judge top soon” point right on by stating, “So when you hear someone say gracias (gra-thyas), they are no more lisping than when you say ‘thank you’ in English.”

Day Two In Spain

Last night, my friend and I decided to walk around the city, and decided to eat dinner at a local pescaderia, a fish and seafood restaurant. Of course I made sure to order Paella, a dish traditional to Spain (Valencia in particular) consisting of rice and various meats and/or seafoods.After dinner, we continued to walk around and came across a bar with free flamenco singing and dancing. We stayed for the show, which was awesome, and after a long day of traveling, went back to the hotel.

Having spent all of today traveling around Sevilla, I realized that there’s a lot more that the city has to offer than one may think. First off, we walked around to check out all of the local shops and restaurants. We then entered the Catedral de Sevilla which is the largest Gothic Church in the world and the third largest church in Europe (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul in London). The cathedral claims to contain the remains of Columbus, and the golden centerpiece is the world’s largest, containing 2,000 statues, illustrating 45 scenes from the Bible. Next to the cathedral is La Giralda bell tower, the city’s most recognizable monument. The lower two thirds of La Giralda are from the late twelfth center, and are the “minaret of the city’s old mosque.” The top part, or the upper third was added later on to house the bells, and at the very top stands the Giraldillo, not only a weather vane, but the largest bronze sculpture of Renaissance Europe. Upon leaving the Cathedral and Giralda Tower, we exited through a patio of orange trees, seeing as Sevilla is home to over 20,000 bitter orange trees, whose fruits are often exported to England to make marmalade.

The next stop on our list was the Plaza de Torros de la Real Maestranza, the bullfighting stadium here in Sevilla. Bullfighting takes place from the months of April to October and with only 12,000 seats in the stadium, Sevilla is known as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. We walked around outside, saw the four main entrances and exits for the main bullfighter and for the bulls. One entrance is for el torero, the main bullfighter, should he win the fight. Only one or two toreros actually win a bullfight each year, sometimes none, but there is a special exit for them in which they get carried out by the crowd in celebration. A second entrance is for the bull to enter, another for the bulls to exit if they’re dead, and the last one is an exit for the main bullfighter to be taken to the hospital, should he need immediate transportation. After seeing the plaza de torros (bull-ring), we  were then shown a museum with interesting artifacts dating back to the seventeenth century, a room serving as a cathedral for the toreros to pray before the fight, as well as where the horses and mules are held (Picadores, or lancers, ride horses alongside the toreros and acts as aids, should it be necessary. Mules on the other hand are brought in at the end of fights to help carry dead bulls out of the ring). After learning the history of bullfighting and seeing how interesting it looks, you can bet that I’m going to try to go to one before my trip ends!

After spending the remainder of the day walking around and taking in the sights, dinner was definitely something I was looking forward to. I made sure to order Gaspacho, a traditional tomato based soup with cucumber ice cream, and tapas de solomillo y patates, steak and potatoes. The dishes were incredible, and the idea of tapas, finger foods, originating in Spain, is pretty cool, considering you get small bites of delicious foods, which still fill you up.

Day One In Spain

No trip would be complete without annoying traveling stories, and although it’s only my first day here, I have plenty. Yes, I try to keep my posts inspirational to help others, but sometimes we need to vent, and if the airlines won’t listen to my complaints, I figured someone here would, so thanks in advance. Even though I’m from South Florida and go to school in Orlando, the Tampa International Airport offered the most inexpensive ticket prices, so I decided to start off there. My flight was delayed a while not because of the torrential downpour taking place due to Tropical Storm Debbie, but because the airline’s generator wasn’t working, so they had to wait for a mechanical engineer to take a look at it. We finally left three hours later (in the tropical storm bands), and were on our way to the Dulles Airport, where we would then take a connecting flight to Madrid. My friend who is traveling with me and I were told that we would be missing our connecting flight and would have to spend the night in a hotel by the airport, complements of our airline. As we landed, however, the stewardess made an announcement for us to go speak with her when we got off the plane, and when we did, she told us that our connecting flight was delayed due to potential gas leakage problems, so we took off to the gate. Of course it was one of the furthest gates away from us, but we made it in time, and were told by the crew that we were extremely lucky to have made the flight. Once we sat down, the already two-hour delayed flight was further delayed an hour and a half. We took off and upon arriving to Spain, we found out that our luggage hadn’t made it, and wasn’t yet traced to any particular airport. There’s no need to further complain, so I’ll stop it at that and change the subject.

Since my friend and I have plans to spend the next to nights in Sevilla, we boarded a bus which took us to the Atocha Train Station in Madrid, and we hopped on a two and a half hour train to where we will be spending the next few days. We plan on walking around a little later, so upcoming posts will be much more interesting, but the culture shock has already begun to kick in. You can clearly tell that the people here in Spain have their own unique accent with the infamous lisp that Spain is associated with. The crowds and crowds of people in the train station, the overwhelming amount of people on the busses, and only fragments of English being spoken by passerby tourists makes it somewhat uneasy to be away from home, but somewhat exciting as well. The two definitely balance each other out and all I can hope is that I pick up more the language and fast (and get my suitcase too). That’s about it for now, but there will be plenty more to come soon, and lots of pictures as well.

Until next time,

Daniel. Or as they say in Spain, Daniel

The Beginning of a Great Adventure

As I mentioned a while back, today is the day I am going to study abroad for six weeks in Spain. Since I was younger, traveling to Spain seemed to make it on my to-do list each year, so I guess I’m finally getting around to crossing that off the list! I’ll be staying with a host family in Alcala, forty five minutes outside Madrid and traveling as much as possible on the weekends. I think it’s fair for me to speak on behalf of us “Word-pressers” when I say that we love looking at pictures from other trips and hearing about amazing excursions from fellow bloggers, so I’ll be trying to best to blog about my experiences in a new country, a new school, speaking a different language, and of course the exciting travels which will be taking place as much as possible. Here we are on Day One as I head off to Spain! Let’s begin the journey, shall we?

Overcoming Our Fears

Let’s talk about those infamous fears that tend to obstruct our every day lives. Such fears include that of meeting new people, the fear of being alone in the later years of your life, or even the fear of not being able to accomplish your goals. Sometime or another, we have all found or will find ourselves facing at least one of these fears, or maybe something else along these lines. In no way is having these fears a terrible thing because let’s face it, if you didn’t have these fears, well, I would probably fear for you.

When it comes to thinking about one’s future, who’s to say what will or won’t happen? No one really knows, so a bit of uneasiness or anxiousness is perfectly okay. But when you fear something to the point of it getting in the way of your every day life, that’s when we find ourselves with a bit of a problem. Some people are afraid of making new friends, some fear for never meeting that special someone, and other may be afraid of not accomplishing their life-long goals. Well, to overcome such fears so that you can ultimately make new friends and meet a partner to get romantically involved with, you’re going to have to put yourself out there and give it a shot. There is nothing to lose, except your shyness and your fear. We all need to be around people every so often, because seclusion can eventually lead to depression, which then leads to needing a psychologist, and we all know how pricy that route tends to be.

In a recent post of mine, I mentioned that we should all love unconditionally. A fellow blogger commented saying that he used to love unconditionally, but it’s difficult to do so because love is a two way street. When it comes to meeting new people or new prospects to become romantically involved with, regardless of the circumstances, think of yourself as a magnet, if you will, and imagine that wherever you go, people will be attracted to you. If you are meant to be friends with someone or be with that person on a more intimate level, then you will magnetize that person. On the other hand, if you are not meant to be friends with someone, you will simply repel one another, and that will be the end of it. In order to see the process of magnetism in action, you have to make some kind of an effort when it comes to introducing yourself to others around you. Don’t count on others to come over and introduce themselves to you, because if you keep waiting for that to happen and it never does, you’ll end up spending the rest of your life just waiting. Making friends is a work in progress, and if you don’t make friends right away, keep in mind that the time will come when you will eventually meet someone with whom there will be mutual attraction or magnetism.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself overcoming a situation in which you fear meeting new people; you fear of talking to someone whom you hope to become romantically involved with; or you fear accomplishing certain objectives and goals that you set out for yourself. See the success of you conquering your fear. Feel yourself achieving great things in life. These fears that you hold on to are doing nothing but keeping you down, so why not break through the glass ceiling which has been hovering over you for so long? You can accomplish anything that you set your mind to so open your eyes and overcome these fears.

A To-Do List To Strive For

A while back, a friend of mine gave me a to do list that I hung up in my room, which is a constant reminder of various important lessons that we should work to incorporate into our lives on a daily basis. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I do!

My To Do List:

Today… I Choose to Live at Peace: No matter what happens around me

Today… I Choose Forgiveness: Of myself and others to set Myself Free

Today… I Choose Happiness: And spread it to the universe

Today… I Choose to Love: Unconditionally

A Little Appreciation Goes A Long Way

First off, Happy Father’s Day to any and all fathers out there! I figured that today would be ideal to post about being appreciative for all that we have, while tying it into my most recent trip to Guatemala. In the city of Sumpango, the women bring their laundry and dirty clothing to the central washing area. Imagine sharing a centralized watering area with all the people in your city, thus leading to scabies, rashes, and other such bacterial problems. What about shoes? Not everyone in this city is fortunate enough to have shoes, so imagine having to walk to and from work everyday barefoot. Not to mention one of our basic needs in life: food. Many of the parents here give their kids milk with sugar because it’s the most inexpensive meal they can afford on a daily basis. With dental hygiene not playing a huge role in the lives of so many, imagine what this does to the teeth of these people after years and years of constant sugar and no dental hygiene.

Instead of dwelling on how badly others may have it, or how lucky we are compared to others, let’s think of how lucky we are. Period. A little appreciation each day goes a long way, so when we can truly be thankful for all that we have, we’ll understand the importance of giving back to those in need.

The Change We Want To See… It Starts With Us

As explained in a prior post, last week during the medical missionary trip I attended in Guatemala, I worked in the triage team, where we took down the names, ages, and information of each person who walked into our makeshift clinic. We then took their blood pressure as well as their blood sugar levels. The people of Guatemala, especially those from Sumpango, Sacatepéquez are some of the kindest, most humble people you’ll ever meet, so it was a pleasure being able to meet as many of them and their family members as possible. A few of the cases from various patients that we saw included ones with TB (tuberculosis), one kid had partial liver failure and a kidney dialysis tube which had been inserted into his stomach seven years prior, people with masses on various body parts, lots of patients with scabies, urinary tract infections, worms, and/or h pylori bacterial infection, people with blood sugar levels over 500 (one woman’s blood sugar level was so high that both times I took it, the machine couldn’t even provide a number since the number was beyond recognition), and other such illnesses as well; not to mention, the line for our one dentist was filled with people needed teeth removed due to the lack of dental hygiene.

One woman in her early twenties sat down at my table with a black eye and explained to me that she had been trying to reach something in her cupboard, but it fell and hit her in the eye. As I have learned on previous missions, spousal abuse is quite prevalent in Guatemala, and when numerous husbands get their hands on alcohol, they turn to physical abuse on those closest to them, which are usually their wife and kids. We tried to help this girl as best we could by offering her medicine to soothe the pain, but more importantly by telling her to stay strong and to try her husband, should this ever happen again. As unfortunate as it is, this tip of advice is much easier said than done, and there are some things we just aren’t able to fully help in the course of a few days. However, on a more positive note, a grandma and her grandson who lived with her walked in, and upon explaining that I would need to take the grandma’s blood sugar level, the grandson immediately held her hand. I couldn’t wrap my head around how much love these people had for one another, and even though he heard firsthand accounts of terrible stories involving abuse (which are difficult for us to work with when there are no mental health counselors on the trip), the love that family members shared for one another was far more powerful than any type of abuse could ever be. After two full days of seeing well over a thousand patients and providing medical attention to those in need, even though people were waiting in line for hours upon hours, they were still kind and beyond gracious for us being there to serve them.

I have been receiving comments recently saying that the work I have been doing in Guatemala is amazing and I have really impacted the lives of those we treated. However, in my opinion, it is the complete opposite. From attending these medical missions and getting involved with the orphanage we stay at during the trips, the people of Guatemala have taught me so much about the world and about myself that I feel as though I am forever indebted to them for leaving such a positive impact on my life. We are often so closed off to the world around us and to those in need who are right beside us, as we tend to become easily engulfed in our own personal problems. Who can blame us though? Life happens and  unexpected occurrences take place, which usually catch us off guard, so it’s difficult to find time to worry about anyone but ourselves.

What I love about these missions though is that twice a year, I am given a reality check and shown what is truly important in life, and that the world doesn’t solely revolve around me. There is much more out there than we realize, and there are so many people in need of our help, but when we all come together to help those around us, our collective efforts really do make a difference- just like on these medical missionary trips. We each have our own talents and skills that we can use to help those in need, and while I wasn’t able to provide medicine to the people we treated (seeing as this is a skill and talent that the doctors have worked hard to achieve), here I am writing about my experiences to try and spread the word and raise awareness. So you see, we each bring something valuable and unique to the table, and we can all be the change we want to see, but it starts with us.

Not Just an Orphanage, But a Sanctuary and a Home

For those of you who have been keeping up with my blog recently, you know that I just returned from a medical missionary trip to Guatemala. And for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with my blog, well, I just returned from a medical missionary trip to Guatemala. Having traveled with some of the most well-respected doctors in the country and a great group of volunteers, we brought medical attention to those in need in Sumpango, Sacatepéquez (Guatemala). During this incredible four-night, five-day trip, we stayed in an orphanage called Misioneros Del Camino. The story is as follows:

Leonor Portela was widowed with a six month old son in 1961, when her husband, Captain Jose A. Crespo’s military airplane crashed into the ocean. Three days after the devastating earthquake in Guatemala on February 4, 1976 which left 23,000 dead and 100,000 injured, Leonor traveled to Guatemala to care for the victims of the earthquake.

While in Guatemala, she felt a calling from God to help the poor children of that country, so in 1986, with the $2,700 she had raised with her prayer group, she moved to Guatemala to open a Home for the children.

Since then, Leonor, also known as Mami Leo has saved hundreds of kids from the garbage, sides of streets, and those who have been dropped off at the orphanage. Misioneros Del Camino is home to orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children of Guatemala. The Home offers them a healthy environment to grow in, where they receive love and an education. This prepares them to become productive citizens of the society thus breaking the cycle of ignorance, poverty, and abuse.

Misioneros Del Camino also homes a neurological clinic on site, which helps treat children with various neurological disorders including autism, down syndrome, learning disabilities, attention defect disorders, and many more. Considered the best clinic of its kind in Guatemala, parents from America even send their children here for treatment! The clinic offers seven different therapies per child including speech, vocational, occupational, and others as well. There are currently one hundred and fifty kids being treated in the clinic, with a waiting list of over a hundred more. Treatments, medication, and transportation are all provided, free of charge, thanks to donations.

Misioneros Del Camino provides children with love and kindness, something they have never been accustomed to before. Because of all Mami Leo’s hard work and dedication, these children will grow up and make a difference in the world, because someone was kind enough to make a difference in theirs. Feel free to visit the website and check it out for yourself, but I wanted to devote a whole blog post about this home and sanctuary because it has made such a difference in the lives of our future generations, and is definitely a cause worth fighting for.

Papucho came to the orphanage and his only means of getting around was crawling on his arms. With the necessary therapies, he can now walk and is beginning to work on speaking as well!

Some of the most amazing kids you’ll ever meet in your life!

Mami Leo and some of her incredible children!

Alfonso and his twin brother Sergio came to the orphanage as kids, unable to walk or speak due to the severity of their mental retardation. However, after lots of various therapies, they can now walk, run, dance, speak, and sing!

A Memorable Experience of Disfuncionado

I recently came back from a medical mission trip to Guatemala, and let me say, it definitely didn’t disappoint! This was my fourth time going back since 2009, and it was a blast! Medical missionary trips provide some of life’s best experiences, and I am fortunate enough to have been able to attend this past mission, which will forever leave an imprint in my mind. We worked in a poverty and disease stricken city called Sumpango, and turned a church into a makeshift clinic, providing medical care to people who either haven’t received medical care in years, or haven’t received medical care at all throughout their lives. I was assigned to work in Triage, which was the first place the people came upon signing in outside and waiting in line. The rest of the triage team and I took people’s blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and wrote down their basic information as well as what was wrong with them. We then assigned them to a doctor and escorted them to that part of the clinic. If there is one thing that I have realized from spending time in Guatemala these past few years, it is that Guatemalans, especially from Sumpango, are some of the most humble, kindest people you will ever meet. So as the day progressed, I met incredible people who constantly thanked me, even though I was merely taking down their information. “Muchas gracias doctor” was a common phrase I got used to even though I wasn’t a doctor; but hey, I wasn’t going to correct them. This was the one time I could let me ego boost up a little bit, so I gladly accepted being called doctor.

After having taken down the information of quite a few people, the next man in line came in our tented area and sat down next to me. I began conversing with him, wrote down his name and age, and asked him what brought him in; what was wrong with him. “Tengo disfuncionado,” he said, meaning “I have dysfunction.” Since people had been waiting in line outside for hours to see us, I had set up my own table to see extra people so we could hurry things along, before this man walked in. By no means am I fluent in Spanish, but I was doing pretty well working alone and whenever I needed something translated, I would just ask fellow volunteers around me. I thought maybe dysfunction was a type of disease or illness specific to this town, so I called over someone from my trip to find out what was wrong with this man. “Qué paso,” she asked. “Como estás?” “Tengo disfuncionado,” he replied again, in a low voice. She took a few seconds to think about it and responded with “Tienes una esposa? He answered this question of whether he has a wife with “Si.” She then asked, “Quieres tener divertido con tu esposa?” meaning, do you want to have fun with your wife? The man’s face lit up as if it were Christmas morning and he let out a happy “SI!” It turns out that this whole time he was talking about erectile disfunction, and seeing the look on his face upon giving him the medication he requested was beyond priceless, showing us not to take things in life for granted. Of course this was one of the most minor cases we saw, but it was definitely a memorable one.

A while later, in walked an 82-year-old lady who had been having troubles with her eyesight. She mentioned that is was beyond difficult for her to see, as things had been blurry to her for quite some time. We handed her a pair of prescribed glasses that had been in one of the duffel bags next to us, and when she put them on, she shed a tear. Being able to see clearly was such an amazing feeling for this woman, and seeing the joy that we were able to bring to her was one of the most rewarding feelings one could have.

By the end of the trip, we saw over one thousand patients, with various illnesses, and truly made a difference in the city of Sumpango. More stories from this trip are yet to come, but for now, I’d like everyone to take away one thing from this post. Don’t take what you have in life for granted. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, so truly cherish what you have and those around you. Some of life’s simplest items such as glasses and sight are overlooked each and every day, but if we learn to appreciate all that we have, you’ll notice that the quality of your life will improve immensely.

The elderly lady in the middle is the one who received prescription glasses, thus improving her vision for plenty of time to come.