Aye, mi hija, cariÃ±o, tesoro…” my host mother, Susana, crooned. This was my first day with my host family in Estepona, and my brain was already in Spanish overload (Spanish immersion program) I took a deep breath as I carefully translated each word into English: my daughter, sweetheart, and another word which I failed to comprehend. While my first few days in Spain were filled with misunderstanding, I kept smiling. I often think that my smile alone is what carried me through.
While most travelers in Spain experience culture shock when they take their first bite of gazpachuelo, or adjust their day around a siesta, I had to grapple with insignificance of time (The food of AndalucÃa). Where were the clocks that I lived by in America? I searched high and low around my host family’s flat, but I came up empty. Where an oversized clock would hang prominently at my New Jersey house, a painting by my host brother took its place in Spain. When I finally did find a clock, tucked away an obscure corner, it clearly displayed the wrong time. Asking my host sister what time it was, she shrugged. “El tiempo en el reloj es nada,” the time on the clock is nothing, she said, it is meaningless. This confused me at first. However, as I spent the next few weeks living as a Spaniard, I came to understand what she meant.
Coming in from a last night on the promenade with my host siblings, I walked past the living room, and noticed Susana, sitting quietly on the couch. She was going through a lupus flare up, and it seemed as though she was losing her battle. Her voice, surprisingly hoarse, called me just as it had the morning of my arrival: “Mi hija, cariÃ±o, tesoro,” (which I now knew, meant gem). Her eyes seemed different that night and they seemed to be telling me that she had something important to say. She talked about her childhood and how she had been a determined student; I began to realize that we had a lot more in common than I’d originally thought. Despite Susana’s desire to learn, money was tight, and a university education was not a possibility. There were tears in her eyes as she told me this, and a plea in her voice for me to listen. Susana spoke about her sickness and her lack of time; suddenly everything that she had been trying to teach me clicked into place. There was still time for me to take advantage of what Susana had not been fortunate enough to have, a proper education. Susana wanted me to embrace the time that I had, because in her eyes, I had all the time in the world.
Nothing I wrote in my journal that night could have matched the eloquence of Susana’s words, or the beauty in what I had learned. The time on the clock does not matter; it is what I do with my time that counts. Many people have told me this before, but I never heard it as clearly as I did that night in Spain, alone in a foreign country, in a language I was just beginning to understand.
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