Yep, this is it. Today I die!
This thought raced through my head as my entire body jolted forward, as the bus driver narrowly avoided colliding with an oncoming bus from the adjoining intersection.
The driver shot up and darted around. “¿Estáis bien, todos?”
NO I’m not ok! I just stared death in the eye and I haven’t even met Beyoncé yet!!
“Sí,” I lied with a grumble, amongst a caravan of shaken passengers.
I was just trying to go to Puerto Venecia (apparently the largest mall in Europe) and get some lunch. And I definitely thought I deserved this after nearly being killed on a bus in Spain (ok, maybe I’m being a little excessive, but it was at least sort of inconvenient).
It was good to have a day like this. One to just take off and kinda kick it around town. No service. No meeting. No big plans. These kinds of days were rare, and sometimes it was good to just hang out and be mellow.
I was on my way to get all-you-can-eat Argentinian grill with the Canadian couple, Lindsay and Junilo, and one of my main service buddies, Bernard. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Argentinian all-you-can-eat (they have places like this in the States, even in Irvine), but it’s insane. They just KEPT BRINGING FOOD. And the more they brought, the more I KEPT SAYING YES. I had kinda starved myself that morning in preparation to do battle with this restaurant. The four of us put away a ton of Argentinian meat, as the servers consistently brought hot, fresh meat options by on a skewer and sliced off a taste, before another option followed 2 minutes later. This trend was sickening… Like the bus driver, I was convinced these people were trying to kill me. We all felt like we were near the point of explosion as full as we were. Soft-voiced, blonde haired, blue eyed Lindsay especially impressed me by how much she could eat! We had our work cut out for us, and we handled it like bosses.
All-you-can eat is not rare here. And it’s pretty cheap too. I went to an Italian style one with even self-serve beer right there in the buffet line (#hollaatchaboy). I even went to, and I know it sounds lame, Domino’s Pizza for all you can eat haha. It was just cool to actually have American style pepperoni pizza… it’s weird how much you can miss the littlest things. That was one of them.
* * *
Nicholas had some not-so-great news for me as we had our next study.
I was pretty taken aback. We’d been studying regularly for over a month at this point, he’d been going to every Sunday meeting, and I was really starting to visualize him making spiritual progress here in Zaragoza. So the fact that he’d be uprooted was a big shock.
“Really? Where are you going?” I replied.
He explained his situation, which made sense to me. Zaragoza has a notoriously high unemployment rate, which makes it a big struggle for many of the residents, especially Ghanaian immigrants like Nicholas, to find work. However, he explained to me that he had a friend in Seville who had promised to help him get settled in with a job in strawberry harvesting. However, he told me he would be back in just a couple short months.
He went to one more Sunday meeting, we had one more study, and that was it. He left a few days later. That was probably the last time I would see him for quite a long time. It was nice to have started my first study abroad, but a bummer to see him leave. I contacted the brothers in his new area to make sure that he would be well taken care of.
This further incited my motivation to focus on getting some other studies going. As I’d mentioned before with Nicholas, the African community here really requires a lot of patience. They can be flaky with appointments and committing to studying with any sense of regularity. But with some real persistence it can happen.
And it did. I got to the point of studying regularly with Fifi, Nicholas’s neighbor. I also started studying with a 13-year-old African boy named Oyosa. Like many of the other return visits/studies in the English territory of Zaragoza, he’d been in contact with Witnesses before and had gone to the Kingdom Hall. But after a period of time, I heard that his father had forbid him to study. A few weeks ago, when I was out with our coordinator’s wife, Julie, she went to call on Oyosa’s mother, Rachel When I noticed an interactive, polite kid with a solid level of English there at Rachel’s home, my mind immediately went toward starting a study with him. I visited him again days later, offered him a study, and he told me he’d ask his mother and let me know the next time I came (which I respected him even more for saying). Sure enough, she obliged and I was able to get a study going with Oyosa, too.
I’d also contacted a man named Simon. He was the magazine route of Julie’s that I’d mentioned before. He was another example of a flaky African. Multiple missed appointments, plenty of times sitting and waiting. But we were finally able to have our first study, and I hope that it can continue regularly.
However, the ministry that has proved to be especially beneficial to me has been preaching in the villages of Zaragoza. Congregations in the city make an effort to head out to the outskirts of Zaragoza and preach in small villages to those who can’t be reached as easily or as often. I was able to do this two weekends in a row.
The first I spent by going to a village called La Paúl with Aitor’s girlfriend Bea’s congregation. Aitor went with Bea and her family for the 45 minute car ride there, so I was faced with the potentially awkward car ride with a group of people I’d never met before. But fortunately it went fine. It was a really good opportunity to force myself to speak all Spanish, which goes well for me once I get some time to get warmed up. I sometimes can get a bit shy about using it. Growing up my parents would make me speak Spanish like a performance monkey whenever someone Hispanic walked into the hall, just to hear me. I really didn’t like speaking Spanish like that (I know you two are reading this, and you know I never liked that ha!), but times like this where it’s natural to start using it are enjoyable for me, By the time we arrived in the village, my brain was in Spanish mode and I was ready to go.
The village was really unique. It was much different than the main city, with a really rustic, rural, country feel to it. We preached form house to house, hut to hut, tractor to tractor… it was really a different experience. I got some opportunities to preach in Spanish and place some literature, which was good practice toward my serious thoughts on joining a Spanish congregation back in California.
My second village experience proved to be even more memorable. Two car groups from my congregation went to two separate villages on a rainy Sunday morning to preach to African communities, whose population peaked at villages during this time due to seasonal farm work. My congregation here makes monthly efforts to reach these villages. The Spanish congregations in these villages are small, and do make efforts to study with the Africans. However, although many of the Africans have a degree of proficiency in Spanish, English is a far more dominant language for most of them. For that reason, our hall likes to head out there to support the Spanish halls, as we are more familiar with the African culture and process of studying.
I rode out there with Aitor, Lindsay, another young pioneer sister named Raquel (who kindly drove us), and Gloria, a Ghanaian sister (who spent time teaching us the really funny sounding Twi language). I teamed up with Lindsay and Aitor and we were able to conduct three studies with African men in the community. The first student “only had five minutes”, but got so wrapped up in our visit that it became a nearly 45 minute study.
As we finished his study, we realized how much it was pouring rain. But he happily offered to walk with us and show us where our next return, Gideon, visit was. As a side note, the Africans have such cool names like this; many of them are Biblical characters or qualities (such as Mercy, Fidelity, Pious, Samson, Meshach, Rejoice, Wisdom, and even this infant named WILBURFORCE, whose name is so intense I feel the need to capitalize it every time I write it).
Anyway, this was the kind of village where you have to make great notes and use a lot of description to find the house you want to go to. So it was good that this man knew where we were heading next. He walked us about 5 minutes in the rain until getting to a street corner and literally mapping out with his finger on the sidewalk the remaining directions, even to the point of “if you get to the big bush, you’ve gone too far.”
Lindsay, Aitor and I trekked through the gloomy rainshowers, a little bit confused at exactly which home we could locate Gideon. Aitor came across an elderly Spanish man who mentioned that an African lived in the home above him. The old man’s wife came out too. They had to be in their 80’s. As he helped us locate the home we were looking for, his wife made sure to inform us “No me gustan los testigos de Jehová!”
Ooook lady, don’t flatter yourself, we aren’t here to see you anyway. We paid her little regard as we walked up the stairs above their place and finally found Gideon. He was very clever and had much to say. He mentioned a tragic shooting that had happened in Ghana the day before, as an example of the things that will be fixed in the future.
After spending an excellent 45 minutes with him, we were greeted by sunny skies and decided to grab some coffee before our third study. This student’s name was Oyofi and he’s studied for about 3 years. Many of those in the African community take a very long time to study to the point of baptism, so this was no rare thing.
I was really pleased at seeing just how engaging and involved in the study Oyofi was. He would read Bible passages in Twi, the language of his heart, and answer questions in English. You could really tell how much learning the truth meant to him as we discussed the prophecies about the Last Days. I left that third study feeling super encouraged myself. It just showed me how important is for EVERYone to hear the truth, even if they live a bit out of the way.
The sisters had a great study as well. They went and studied with a woman who’d had anything but an easy life. Four years ago, her immediate family was murdered with poisoned soup. But as if that weren’t enough, she’d gone through an extreme tragedy just the day before… it was the type of horrific story that you hear on the news, and hope never happens to you.
She had a nephew who was unstable. He went on a violent rampage in Ghana. He shot his father (this woman’s brother), two of his uncles, and other family members before turning the gun on himself. He was 13.
Even rewriting this story gives me goosebumps. Tragedy like that is beyond words. For most of us, that’s nothing more than a sad headline. But for people like this woman, that’s her FAMILY. That means everything to her. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain this poor woman must’ve been experiencing. The story had obviously spread throughout the community of this village, as it was the same horrific tale that Gideon had referred to earlier in the day. Her wound was so fresh, so numb, that the sisters didn’t think the gravity of what had happened had sunk in yet. But what better day for them to be there to comfort this woman in her time of need. The woman felt so strengthened and encouraged after they left. The timing could not have been any more perfect. I really felt how profound an impact that trip to preach in the villages had that day. I hope I have one more opportunity to go again before I leave.
I gotta admit was a bit of a struggle to post my last blog post, because between the few days that I’d finished writing it and posted it, my opinion had changed on a few things. One, I have to bite my tongue for hating on that “annoying” guy who was nearby at Fifi’s study. While I had thought it was Nicholas’s grumpy roommate, it was actually his OTHER roommate… who’s a pretty nice guy and is a return visit of Bernard’s… oops.. haha.
I also have given more thought to the idea of returning to Zaragoza since my last post. I’d say in the last two weeks or so, being here has really started to sink in. At first I liked it, then I really liked it, and now I’m about to the point of saying that I love it here. It has a real home-y feel to it. I know how to get around, I know everyone in my congregation, I’m busy helping out with taking out the group and giving plenty of parts, I’ve made some great friends. People have told me that it takes three months to get used to living somewhere fully. But I feel like I’m basically there. As much as I’m looking forward to seeing my people when I get home, I definitely feel like having to return home in a month will be way too soon.