“Are you coming back to Zaragoza?”
The text message caught me by surprise. I was busy on my romantic stroll with myself in Barcelona, not expecting to get a text like that at all. How would he know? I mused, thinking I had been a pro at keeping that information surprise.
“What in the world makes you think that?” I replied.
However, Aitor was persistent. And observant. He and I became good friends during my time in Zaragoza two years ago, so he could tell something was up.
He explained that a group was “randomly” getting together at “El Tubo”, a downtown tapas/bar spot in Zaragoza that I liked to frequent while I was living there. Apparently that place was immediately associated with me, because when he heard that our friend Guillermo was getting a group to go there on a Tuesday night out of the blue, his senses went off.
He’s good, I thought, but I can get around that.
“That would be so cool! I miss you guys! Hopefully I can actually make it there soon!”
Ok, I was pretty proud of that text. Completely lie-free and helped to maintain the surprise.
The three iMessage dots immediately began to dance across the screen. “I thought it was a surprise of you coming!” he replied, letting me know that he probably wouldn’t go in that case, so he could finish his service time.
Deflected (insert sunglasses emoji). That was close.
I thought it would be cool to roll through my old city as a surprise to the hall. Just show up unannounced and visit for a few days. I was so excited to get back there; my time in Zaragoza proved to be 3 of the best months of my life, no joke. Reliving it for a few more days would be awesome.
I’d only told two people that I’d be in town, mainly so I could find a place to stay. I ended up staying with Guillermo, who’d since moved out of his parents’ place into MY old apartment there. So not only did I find myself staying in my old apartment, but in my old room!
It was pretty surreal arriving in Zaragoza. It really felt like being back at home. The streets looked the same. The bus routes hadn’t changed. My barber Godwin was still there (I stopped by his shop immediately…he edged me up better than anyone!) and he still let me leave a few magazines on the table.
I was just rolling through the city (literally with my suitcase rumbling across the gridded sidewalk) with a big grin and great attitude. I was home! I couldn’t wait to see everyone that night.
Guillermo and I headed downtown that evening where I got to meet up with everyone. As we walked up I saw Aitor with his fiancée Bea, Alex and Maria (who’d just returned from serving in Paraguay), as well as Daniel Manuel (DaniMan as we all called him). It was a perfect case of nostalgia these were the exact people that greeted me on my very first night in Zaragoza when I arrived two years ago, nervous and unaware of my surroundings. It made me really happy to see the expressions on their faces as I walked up. The hugs were long, the excitement was palpable. It felt so good to be reunited with family. We went inside to a new dining hall called Puerta Cinegia (Anaheim Packing House style) and got a table, and new waves of excitement came as more brothers and sisters from the hall showed up. And showed up. And showed up. Probably 20 or so were there; that’s nearly half the hall. My favorite reaction was that of Vanessa’s, the wife of an incredible elder in the congregation named Ruben. She was SO excited to see me, and the feelings were mutual. She was shocked! It made me feel so good to get such warm greetings from everyone. I know I’ve said it plenty of times already, but I really felt so at home.
I got a good laugh that night as I went to pay for a tapa. I was about 10 “cents” (is that what Euro coins are called? I don’t know, but they are for MY blog) short for the one I wanted to buy, so I offered to just use my credit card. The lady behind the counter wasn’t too thrilled at that idea, so I said “Oh well!” with a big smile and walked away.
“Wait!” she called out, in her broken English, “I give you discount. I show you why.”
It took her some time as she went through her phone, trying to find a picture. I waited patiently.
“You!” She held the phone toward me and showed me a picture of a black man. “I loooove black man!”
I was cracking up! She was definitely older, probably in her 40’s and very sweet, and knew how to win me over with her comical flirting. I promised her a selfie and took me 90 “cent” tapa with pleasure.
My next few days quickly got booked up that evening, and I was really looking forward to spending more time with everyone. I was able to go to their meeting that following evening. It was there that I was able to see more people that hadn’t made it the night before. Again, everyone was so welcoming and excited. It was interesting to see how the congregation had changed. I was often asked why I wasn’t coming back to serve in Zaragoza again on this visit, but my time at the meeting made it abundantly clear why. They didn’t need me!
The letter the branch sent back to me about my inquiry on going to Spain didn’t include Zaragoza. The hall had really grown. Some had come and some had gone in the last two years. But they had double the number of elders they’d previously had, and the pioneer ranks had increased notably too. Their congregation was in a much better place than it was before and that made me really happy to see, as bittersweet as it was, since I wouldn’t be staying there.
The following days were filled with quality time with my friends…really I should say my family in Zaragoza. I spent time having lunch with Aitor’s family at their home, which felt nice and cyclical, as they were the first ones to show me hospitality when I first arrived last time; that had meant so much to me then and it did now. I got to see Miguel and (the now pregnant) Ashlee, the then-engaged now-married couple who I’d had so much fun with on my last stay. I met up with Lydia, another great friend who’s done well with keeping in touch over these years. I also got to do service with Eva and Dory (found her, yep), two of my fellow pioneers there. And there were even more I got to see. Catching up with old companions, and briefly forging friendships with new ones made that a more than worthwhile detour. Only in the truth.
I got to the train station, fortunately in much less of a rush than last time, and said goodbye to Guillermo, so appreciative of the time I got to spend. I walked into the station and had another bonus. There was Aitor yet again, my Spanish brothers from another mother, there to give me a final sendoff. I wasn’t sure when I’d be back to Zaragoza. But I left with nothing but prime memories.
I left on the train to head to Bilbao. But I wouldn’t be there long. I had to brace myself for another night of no sleep and charging.
But I was ready.