Zaragoza had a lot of energy, and this got ignited even further with the visit of the circuit overseer. On my third week in the congregation, Brother Rafa and his wife Aracely came to visit. However, this week we had another bonus: their visit was coupled with a visit from Brother Pedro, from the Spanish Branch Committee, and his wife, Pili. Since district overseers are no more, every so often CO’s have a Branch Committee member join them on a visit to a hall to give the CO and his wife encouragement and assistance.
Their visit was really well received. It was a week of great support for service from the whole congregation. What really impressed me was their level of English. The circuit overseer for example, had only taken a few English classes as a kid and had forgotten the language for the most part. He was surprised when the branch told him, after years of being a Spanish congregation CO in Spain, that he would be transferring to English. He was given only three months before his first assignment, meaning he had only that amount of time to basically learn English from scratch. Crazy! He and his wife are fully fluent. It’s just insane to think of how much effort had to go into his visits to English congregations.
Thursday of that week, Lindsay and Junilo had the two visiting couples, along with Bernard, Veronica and me over for lunch. Lindsay could throw down! The food was so good, and even the table setup was amazing. Lunch with the CO in Spain is quite a bit different than it is in the States. Back in the States, that lunch often starts at noon, quickly ends at 1, and there’s usually a 1:15 meeting for service in the afternoon.
Here, it’s much more relaxed.. Spanish style. The lunch starts later, closer to 2. And there’s no real time constraint. And there’s wine and beer! I couldn’t imagine kickin back a frosty one with the CO back in the States in between meetings for service. But that’s how it is here. We spent plenty of time getting to know the two couples even better and enjoying good company. The afternoon meeting for service, as opposed to being at 1:15, is at 5:15. It’s just really nice to be able to enjoy a nice lunch without feeling rushed at all.
The Sunday of their visit, I stopped by Nicholas’ home in the morning to have our third study (makin’ it official) and it went well. It was nice have Bernard there, so occasionally they could speak in their native Twi language to get a little deeper into certain points. As we concluded, I decided to ask him the big question.
“Do you want to come to the meeting today?”
I explained to him what the Kingdom Hall was like, what happened at the meetings, and to my surprise, he said yes. I wasn’t expecting such a ready reply, considering his past occasions of flakiness. I told him I’d stop by before the meeting to pick him up and walk with him there.
And when I came back, he was ready to go. He had a nice shirt on, slacks and dress shoes, which was great to see. I gave some people in the congregation an early heads up that he would be coming and they were sure to warmly welcome him when he walked into the Kingdom Hall for the first time. He was able to enjoy Brother Rafa and Brother Pedro’s talks with the rest of us. It was definitely a great first meeting to experience for him. It felt really encouraging to have someone so new to studying the Bible already going to a meeting, definitely a change from what I was used to seeing in California.
His poker face left much to my imagination as to his opinion on the meeting itself. “I really enjoyed it,” he admitted after the session ended. I mentally breathed a sigh of relief. This was a great first step to see in his potential to make progress.
It had been a busy week. After a big week of service and the CO visit, I felt I was due for some down time. So the next day, I hopped on a plane and flew to Paris. The flight was 20-something bucks and less than two hours. Why not?
I had an interesting, pretty eye-opening experience as I traveled there. On the plane I noticed a woman with a loud baby. Typical. However, when we landed, I had to take a bus from the small airport in Beauvais, France to the hub of Paris. I was one of the first people on the bus and went straight for the back middle seat. Seclusion? Legroom? Yes please.
As the bus continued to fill up, no one was sitting by me. Let’s keep this going, I thought, completely content to be along back there with my room and my headphones.
However, of COURSE, the last people get on the bus. Who are they? Yeah, that lady. And her loud baby. And her other daughter. And of COURSE, whom does the bus driver seat them by? YES! You’re a GREAT guesser. Right by me.
The baby was chunky, had bright red cheeks, and looked at me with that challenging glare of I’m gonna make this bus ride miserable for you.
And she did.
Cry, cry, cry, scream, scream, scream. Wonderful way to start my little vacation. The mom stood out to me for some reason. She had a head covering on, and was wearing blue jeans. For some reason these things stood out to me.
A little over an hour later the bus ride ended and I was in Paris! Awesome. I get on the subway (which, better yet, was free that day to combat pollution) and start heading toward my hostel. Crowded and sweaty, I was anxious for the ride to end so I could put my backpack down, settle in, and grab some lunch.
Then later walked by a gyspy lady. Throughout my time in Europe I’d gotten pretty accustomed to just ignoring them ad they begged for coins, still slightly curious as to whether I’d get to see a blowup with one like Sadie and I saw in Madrid. But something seemed familiar about this lady. She was wearing dirty looking clothes… and carrying a baby… with rosy red cheeks.
It was that lady from earlier. The one who had money to afford a flight for three. A bus ride for three. And a subway ticket for three. But she had changed out of her jeans and put on a rattier looking head covering to put on even more of a show. And then she had the nerve to shake her cup at me too.
I gave her that look of, You know who I am, I know who you are, let’s not do this. Her glance darted away as she carried on. What a punk! It made me realize how much those ladies can be con artists. People have talked about them even having mafia-style connections, and that they aren’t really poor. It was just interesting seeing it for myself in person.
Well after that annoying encounter I found myself in sunny Paris, back above ground and ready to enjoy my day. I dropped off my things at the hostel, had an incredible French roasted duck lunch and walked to the Eiffel Tower. I headed the Louvre from there and spent it’s last hour and a half of opening getting a glimpse of some classic pieces. I’m not much of an art guy, but I really like the old paintings that are in there, Renaissance-style.
But that evening got better when David finally arrived. He’d been in Europe for a couple days before and, despite some delayed flights, finally was able to meet up with me. It was late, probably around 12:30am, when he got there, but we just sat in the hostel’s bar, had some beers and just caught up until after 2. It was really cool to have a nice throwback to being at home.
We spent a busy week rolling through Europe. So after he arrived in Paris late that Monday night, we woke up the next morning and took the train to London. The highlight there was a jazz bar called Ronnie Scott’s that had an amazing open mic night. My phone was almost dead so I couldn’t take many pictures or videos. But the signing and bands were incredible. One song, one guy would be on bass, the next he’d be on drums. One song, a lead singer would head over and sing backup instead. Everyone was so talented and the R&B songs these little British white girls were belting out were money!
The next day we went BACK to Paris on the train, after just a 24 hour stay in London. We came back and went to a concert. That was super fun! It was a pretty memorable way to ring in my first day of being 26. I made sure not to let the stinky, grumpy French girls around my ruin my night. It was on point, and David and I had an awesome time.
Thursday, it was back to traveling yet again. This time, we were heading to my favorite city in the world, San Sebastian. My friends Caleb and Austin had linked us up with some of the Witness kids in San Sebastian, and we spent the next couple of days hanging out with them. We went to a sidrería the night we arrived. At a sidrería, you sit at a table to eat food (typically, cod omelettes and grilled steak are the heart of the meal), but as you choose, you can get up to these massive barrels and drink different types sidra (an alcoholic cider) to your heart’s content. It’s a San Sebastián staple that everyone’s gotta try if they go. The scenic hikes that gave views of the entire town, illuminated by the evening lights, and the sunny Saturday morning along the coast did nothing but reaffirm my adoration for this incredible little beach town.
It was great spending that week with David. Having that time was such a great boost that re-energized me for my upcoming months back in Zaragoza. It made me even more excited for the other three friends who’d already confirmed their arrangements to come and visit me too.
I took another train back to Zaragoza from San Sebastian and got home on Saturday night. It was nice to feel like I was “home” after my vacation. I missed my friends in Zaragoza and looked forward to just getting back to my routine.
On the note of “routines”, Nicholas showed up again at the meeting the next day, this time with a suit jacket on. He’d really stepped it up and was lookin’ fresh!
The next week really was center around Memorial prep. The congregation was focused on getting out those last few invitations to the African community of Zaragoza. It was always exciting when we’d offer an invitation to someone on the street and they said they already had one and were planning to be there.
Our Memorial was very well done. Alex gave a fantastic talk and I was able to pass emblems for the first time ever, which was a nice privilege. The attendance of the hall was almost 100, which over double the number of publishers in our congregation. We would’ve had even more if the local African churches hadn’t purposely planned an extra service that evening to compete with us.
The one downside of the night (and the night preceding) was dealing with the beating drums throughout town of the participants of Semana Santa, who riddled the streets outside. Thousands of Catholics ominously marched in processions around town in commemoration of Easter. The catch? Their costumes look just like KKK uniforms. It wasn’t my favorite sight to see, for obvious reasons.
It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write, so quite a bit has happened over these last few weeks. That was the “catch up” version, hah. Next up, to finish getting ready for my first international public talk this afternoon. Let’s hope that goes well.