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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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Bilbao BBK Live

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an awesome music festival called BBK Live. Among the headliners were a couple of my favorite bands: Mumford & Sons and Radiohead. The venue was phenomenal: 3 stages on a huge green space nestled up in the mountains overlooking Bilbao.

I’ve never been to such a big music festival (there were almost 110,000 total attendees at BBK Live this year) but from what I do know about music festivals, I know that this one has a few characteristics that make it quite unique, or namely, quite Spanish.

Even though there was ample camping available on the festival site, many attendees stay in Bilbao city center, so there was a free shuttle bus service running every 5 minutes, day and night, from the center of Bilbao up to the festival site on the mountain. The line for the bus wound around San Mamés, Bilbao Athletic Club’s fútbol stadium, and almost everyone in line seemed to have gotten the “botellón” memo. Spanish, British, French, American or otherwise– a vast majority had with them a bit of kalimotxo or San Miguel to uh…quench their thirst during the wait for the bus ride. Upon arrival at the festival, there was another large botellón gathering just outside the entrance (no outside beverages allowed, per usual). Some call it recklessness, some call it an economically sound reason to take advantage of Spain’s extremely laid back public drinking culture.

pre-bus botellón beer art

Another very Spanish characteristic of the festival was the schedule. The music kicked off around 6pm and didn’t stop until after sunrise the next morning–around 8am. It’s not uncommon to see both the sunset and sunrise on a night out in Spain, and the festival attendees seemed to, at least for the weekend, adopt the Spanish tendency to keep the party going in order to watch one day close and another begin. On that note, after almost a whole year here I still haven’t figured out when/if most Spanish people actually get a full night’s sleep.

8:00am – looking towards the Bay of Biscay from the campsite

It was a fantastic experience- well worth the 3-day pass price of just 105€. I’ve thrown together a few clips I took at the concert. They’re not fantastic, as bringing my expensive camera into a rowdy crowd of 100,000+ seemed unwise, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless:

If you’re a Mumford fan like me, check out this vid someone (with a much nicer camera than mine) got of “Little Lion Man.”

If you want to read more about this year’s BBK Live event, check out this great article.

Thanks for reading!

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a self defense story

A couple months ago, I encountered a really scary situation that has forever changed me. But it could have ended up a lot worse. Since it didn’t, I want to share this story in hopes that it may help someone who may one day find themselves in a similar circumstance.

It was early May: a typical night out on the town. My friends and I ended the night at one of our favorite places, the popular Kafe Antzokia (Theater Cafe), jamming to retro tunes with our fellow 20-somethings. At closing time, everyone headed for the metro, per usual. I said goodbye to my friends, got off at my stop and headed out into the street with the throngs of other young people coming home at the same time.

About a block from my house, two men up the block from me turned around and started cat-calling at me a bit. Cat-calling isn’t so abundant here as compared with other places in Spain, but occurs from time to time nonetheless, and one can assume at this hour they were likely in a more uninhibited state than usual. I mostly ignored them but started to walk a bit slower. They turned left up ahead, just in front of my apartment. The throngs of people all seemed to be veering to the right. I slowed down a bit more. They started walking again, past my apartment . I crossed the street and prepared to enter my apartment as quickly as possible.

Key in the door. Turn, open, step inside. As I started up the staircase in the entryway, I heard a voice behind me say, “Hola.” Startled, I turned halfway around and said hi back while continuing quickly up the stairs. “That’s weird,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t notice anyone coming in behind me.” It made me nervous, but when the man turned to wait for the elevator, my nerves were momentarily calmed. I always took the stairs since we lived on the first floor. He was waiting for the elevator. Clearly he’s just another tenant in my apartment. Everything is fine.

As I headed up the stairs, I watched out of the corner of my eye as the man turned away from the elevator and started up the stairs right behind me. It was then I knew I might be in some serious  trouble. Suddenly, the few key points I learned about self defense years ago came to me at all once:

“Tell him to pass in front of you…Look him directly in the eye and ask him a question…kick and scream like hell if he gets within two feet of you…”

“Tell him to pass in front of you”

I stopped at the the top of the stairs and snapped on the hallway light. I turned to face him and told him, “Pasa, pasa,” motioning for him to pass in front of me. He stepped back and said “No, tu primero [you first].” Step one didn’t work.

“Look him directly in the eye and ask him a question”

I was told long ago that if ever someone is following you on the street, you should assert your confidence by making eye contact and asking them something as simple as whether they had the time. Since we were now just steps away from my front door, I felt it was time to be more direct. I asked him if he lives in the building, to which he responded that he did. When I asked him where exactly, he named a unit that doesn’t exist. Now I was certain. Panicking inside, but certain that I needed to do something. I didn’t want to enter my apartment door, which we were now standing directly in front of. He could attack me as I open the door. Plus he would know exactly where I live. What do I do now?

“Kick and scream like hell if he gets within two feet of you”

He acted like he had just decided to wait for the elevator on the second floor rather than the first, so I started up to the third floor. When I was halfway up the stairs, the time had run out on the hallway light’s 20-second timer, and we were in pitch darkness. I heard his footsteps on the staircase directly behind me, running this time. I scrambled for the third floor hallway light switch and saw him coming right at me with cold, mean eyes. I started screaming, yelling at him to get out, calling out for help. I pounded on the doors of the third floor apartments and rang every buzzer I could get my hands on. As he pulled and grabbed at me, I managed to hit him in the nose, knee him in the groin and kick him. Lucky for me, he wasn’t particularly big or strong, and he didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons.

After what seemed like and eternity of hitting and kicking for my life, he scampered back down the staircase. Charged by adrenaline, I had won the fight. I stood in the hallway, shaking, waiting for someone to come out and see if I was ok. No one came. Had no one heard? How is that possible? I thought about calling the police. I didn’t even know what to tell them. And trying to think of how to recount, in Spanish, what had just happened to me to police was beyond my mental capacity in that moment. I couldn’t even remember what he looked like. What was he wearing? I don’t even know. Other than him being a few inches taller than me, the only thing I could remember about him was the look in his eyes. It’s the most cliche thing ever, but it’s true. You hear that over and over in assault and rape accounts, and I can now attest to its truth. The cold, hateful look in their eyes is so distinct you don’t really remember anything else.

A few minutes passed and I tip-toed back down the stairs to my apartment. I remember very specifically wanting to pretend it hadn’t happened at all. I got ready for bed, fixed a snack, watched some Comedy Central, and went to sleep. It was only the next day, when I saw the bruises and cuts on my arms and legs from the fight, that I knew I would have to deal with what had happened.

The feelings I had in the days that followed ranged from homesickness to hopelessness to anger and even shame. I mourned the fact that my claim to Bilbao’s fame as being really safe for a city of its size was forever tainted. I mourned the alteration, however slight, in my belief that people are generally good and trustworthy.

Today, two months and thankfully zero incidents later, I can tell you that I still (or again) believe that Bilbao is a safe city, and also that people are generally good and trustworthy. There are bad people everywhere, and you should always be cautious, smart, and aware of your surroundings, especially when you’re alone. But even then, you may find yourself in a situation like I did. And you should think now about what you can do in such a situation to assure your own safety. But after that, you can’t live your life in fear of something like this. There is no way to assure your complete safety 100% of the time. Be ready and be smart, but don’t be too distrusting of others. There is much to be gained in life in believing in the goodness of people.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” -Mahatma Gahndi


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el tiempo vuela!

Hola gente!!! It has been MUCH too long since I’ve written an update, and for that I apologize. I have 4 or 5 half-written posts on various topics, but  just couldn’t seem to seal the deal on any of them lately :-p…so look for smörgåsbord of upcoming posts in the near future.

So…I’ll give you all the (very) short version of what has been happening over the past several weeks:

I finished my job in Amorebieta as an English auxiliar for the Basque Government. It was sad to say “agur!” to everyone there, but I’ll always have lots of good memories!

My last day with one of my 4 ESO (high school sophomores) classes

I visited Valencia and Alicante with my good friend Bryce during his month long trip through Europe. This is a part of Spain I hadn’t visited yet, and I absolutlely LOVED it. It is now second only to my beloved Pais Vasco. 😉

Valencia in a nutshell: a charming city with an eclectic mix of both festivals/events and people, science museums and futuristic architecture galore. Oh, and did I mention it is the birthplace of one of my favorite dishes on earth: paella? Eating paella at a beachside restaurant in the city of its birth was truly mmm-mmm-magical!

jumping for science geek joy in the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

Alicante totally exceeded my expectations. I knew it was going to be nice, but WOW! A city built around a huge castle fortress on a mountain that overlooks a Mediterranean beach!?? Few places are that perfect. You can (and we did) spend the day on the beach, swimming in the sparkling blue ocean waters and then head up to the castle fortress for a 360° view of the sunset. Unforgettable.

is this for real? yes, really. for real.

I landed a dream volunteering job for the month of June, assisting with social media strategy and photography for the TEDxDeusto conference at the University of Deusto in Bilbao. If you’re unfamiliar with TED, do yourself a favor and rectify that right now.

the TEDxDeusto Team and speakers

I moved in with a Spanish family to work as an au pair! This is something I was pretty sure I would never do, but two days into it I am absolutely thrilled that I did. There kids are twin 4-year-olds (a boy and a girl) and a 7-year-old boy. I spend most of the day with just the twins, as the older boy goes to German school until just before their mom comes home. The family really couldn’t be any nicer…I’m so lucky!  They live in a small village in the country outside of Bilbao, so I’ve gone from waking to the bustling sounds of city traffic out my window to waking to the sound of a rooster crowing up the road from our house. I’m loving the change of pace–it’s so peaceful and beautiful out here. Definitely more on all of that later!

And, last but certainly not least, I’ve decided to stay in Spain for another year! I applied for the same program I was in this year, but to work at a different school. I was accepted to the school of my choice, so next year I’ll be working at a language school in Getxo, Bilbao’s seaside suburb.

I’ll be coming back to the States in about a month to visit friends and family, and since my program doesn’t start until October, I’ll be staying for almost two whole months!

I hope all of you back State-side have a fantastic 4th of July holiday…grill some goodness for me!

Hasta la proxima!