As my semester in Sevilla is winding down, I can’t help but think about all the things I’m going to miss about Sevilla. I’ll miss being able to tomar un café (have a coffee) with a friend on a lazy weekend afternoon, watching the consistently well-dressed Spaniards strolling through the sunny plazas. I’ll miss the olive oil, fresh bread, seafood, and tapas (I love food), and I’ll miss the fact that it stays light out until 10:00 p.m. I’ll miss passing by the world’s 3rd largest cathedral on my way home from a night out. Above all, though, I’m going to miss the close family unit of which I’ve become a part these past five months.
From the very beginning, my host-mother has been incredibly welcoming to my roommate and me. After a brief tour of the apartment, I remember standing in the narrow hallway and feeling an uncomfortable mix of anxiety and nervousness. My host-mother immediately set me at ease when she assured us, “Now you have a home here.” Within hours she began affectionately referring to us as “mis niñas” (my girls), or individually as “mi hija” (my daughter), and she quickly became mi madre española (my Spanish mother).
It’s not too far off from the truth when I say that my family life here in Andalucía is somewhat akin to the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”; it’s loud, loving, and in your face. My 60-something year-old host-mother is the most popular woman I know, so her home phone and cell phone ring almost literally every five minutes. On one average Monday, I walked out of my building at 8:00 p.m. to see my host-mother, two of her daughters (out of five children) and their husbands, one baby granddaughter, one teenage granddaughter plus boyfriend, as well as three or four close friends and their children all hanging out on the patio out front. My roommate and I taught one of the granddaughters how to make chocolate chip cookies – we made 50 – and they were all gone within 24 hours, what with everyone stopping by to visit (and eat). Occasionally a certain eight year old granddaughter barges in my room to bounce on the bed while rambling in Spanish, pretending she can’t understand me (although I happen to think she’s lying most of the time, just for fun). A huge group of the family (plus my roommate and I) went to see another granddaughter’s futbol (soccer) game, and we took over the bleachers cheering her name and generally being that obnoxious family.
There is always food in the kitchen, and lots of it. Remember that scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the boyfriend says he’s not hungry but the mother insists on preparing more food anyway? We go through a similar exchange with every meal. “¡Come todo! ¡Come todo!,” (Eat it all!) my host-mother will insist, wagging her finger at my roommate and I, urging us to eat more and more until our stomachs can’t bear any more filling with her delicious food (such a hardship, I know). One time she went to the beach for a short vacation and left several full meals in the refrigerator for us. Upon her return, she was horrified to discover that we had eaten maybe half of the food she left for us (because she left portions appropriate for two growing 14-year old boys). After giving us a brief, incredulous look, she simply shook her head and walked away muttering, “I can’t leave you girls alone!”
I have loved getting to become a temporary part of this family; it’s incredibly social, full of laughter, and never, ever dull. At times, in fact, it has been a little too much. When two young granddaughters start fighting and yelling at 8:00 a.m. while I’m trying to sleep, or when I’m studying for exams and half the family decides to have a party in the kitchen (we have a very small apartment)…it can be a little frustrating. I miss my quiet time.
Other times, I have felt the uncomfortable sensation that my roommate and I are intruding on the family’s space, since after five solid months some of the daughters still treat us with a certain distance and disregard. They have rapid-fire conversations full of private jokes and colloquialisms we couldn’t possibly understand, and or they pointedly ignore our presence in the room. They’ll let us play with their small children, but barely give us a greeting when we walk in the door. I don’t think I’m imagining it when I sense that they think we are monopolizing their mother and family matriarch, when she already has more than enough family to take care of.
I understand their point of view: in their minds, we appear to be just a couple more rich American girls who have crash landed in their lives for a blip of time – just five months – and we theoretically might never come back. Why should they bother make an effort to get to know us when we’re just going to leave, anyway?
Such is the conflict inherent in the housing system I signed up for. I became part of this family and this Spanish life for five months, and now I will be leaving it behind as I return to the States. I’ve gotten to witness the incredible closeness of an extended family where everyone lives within five blocks of each other and sharing a meal with the grandmother/aunts/uncles/cousins is no big deal. While my time here in this family has been, at times, a strange mix of awkward, hilarious, comfortable, and confusing, it has also been one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of my life thus far.
Now with only four days left here in Spain, my host-mother has informed me that I will forever have a home waiting here for me when I return to Sevilla. And I plan to come back.