SamanthaParedesSamantha ParedesTuesday, Aug. 16

I hope you’re doing well! I just wanted to say “hi” from Madrid, Spain!!!

We arrived here last night after three days in Loyola and a week in our individual experience trips. I know you wanted some thoughts on my experience, so here’s a quick low-down on what my group has done:

We spent the past week in Roquetas de Mar/Almeria area on the Southern coast of Spain. I stayed with 30 other Americans, Mauritians and Spaniards for the week. We slept on the floor of a gym, shared communal showers, washed clothes outside and hung them on a clothesline to dry, and all our meals were prepared by two nuns with only two burners for heat. As minimal as this experience may sound, I only found joy in this time. Though we didn’t have a wide selection of provisions, we definitely weren’t at want for anything. (I should also add that the food was both healthy and incredibly delicious). Within a week, our group has become incredibly close despite some of the language barriers and differences in culture, and we feel much more like a family than citizens of separate countries.

Our mission in serving Roquetas was to help the immigrants and play with the children. Unfortunately, the Red Cross had programs all week, so we weren’t able to find any children, but the immigrant situation is difficult and complicated. Immigrants tend to be from Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa, and they come here in the hopes of obtaining a better job and, therefore, a better life. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the immigrant in Spain and many of them don’t dare to tell their families about how they’re really living because they don’t want to crush their loved ones’ hopes for a better future.

We were blessed to meet a few immigrants in our time here. One fled from Africa altogether after moving from country to country because of the war. Another one came to provide for his seven brothers and sisters. More than one was rescued by water by the Spanish. But when they arrive in Spain, immigrants end up doing the work that the Spaniards don’t want (if they’re lucky), such as cultivating plants in greenhouses. They need their papers to legally work. The problem is that you can’t get papers without a work contract, and you can’t get a work contract without papers. Problematic. So instead, many become day laborers and get hired for eight or nine hours a day, not guaranteed to be hired after their shift is done, and even then only the strongest typically get chosen to work.
The situation for women is no better. Many come here pregnant in the hopes that their child will be born on Spanish soil and therefore become Spanish citizens. Others may get trapped within the confines of prostitution or local mafias. Either way, the outlook is dim.

I personally didn’t get to work with the immigrants because they needed Spanish classes, so the Spaniards were the ones teaching them and truly making a difference in their lives, but I feel blessed regardless to have had my eyes open to the situation at hand. It changes my perspective on the status quo and makes me think about how much of life is dependent on having the right opportunities. Plus, I tend to be one to be neutral on politics, but I’m beginning to realize that you just can’t be indifferent to political matters – even if they don’t directly change your situation, they matter to those who are marginalized, the ones who need change the most. And that’s all the reason to start caring.

In place of the children, the rest of us worked with the other end of the life spectrum: The elderly. We visited a nursing home and got to interact with many of the residents. One day we took them to the beach to help them exercise, a couple other days we got to play games with them since they were having their Resident Olympics. I personally befriended a man named Faco – despite my struggling Spanish, we were able to communicate and I was able to discover who he is. It turns out we have lots in common, especially in our love of music. And even if I couldn’t always understand his words or express what I wanted to say, I know I made a difference in his life simply by being present to him. I could see it in the joy that radiated in his smile and the affection he placed in a kiss on the cheek (Spaniards are very much affectionate). And to be that person kind of person to him meant the world to me – I found God in the close relationship that flourished over the next couple days.

This is the end of my Magis experience, which brings me back to Madrid. The opening Mass is tonight, and we’re already meeting even more people outside of our groups from the Magis program. I’m excited to realize the ways in which God has brought me closer to people from other countries (I even found a friend from Spain who is almost like a mirror of my personality in several ways). I can’t wait to continue to see what surprises he (God) has in store for us the next week, and I can only hope that it’ll bring us all closer to each other and to him.

Sending peace to the United States šŸ™‚