Solo in Spain


One small hunter green suitcase with leather trim, a black, white and pink duffel bag, black and gold chrome purse and Chevron multi-colored neck pillow.

These were the four things I was clutching onto for dear life as I strolled the streets of Madrid, Spain last month shortly after descending from my eight-hour flight.

I had weathered what seemed like a 10-mile walk through Barajas International Airport, mistakenly asked for two roundtrip tickets on the Metro and struggled to translate conversations in Spanish around me, what I identified as an incessant buzzing noise comparable only to the wrath of blood hungry mosquitos.

Traveling to Spain had been a longtime dream of mine since I was in college and minoring in the language, but the timing was never quite right, so I opted to graduate within four years instead of traveling abroad.

When a friend mentioned an opportunity to journey to Spain to volunteer for an organization called Vaughantown which pairs native English speakers with Spanish business executives, without hesitation I said yes and booked my flight. I planned to spend two days exploring Madrid proper before departing to volunteer in the city of Segovia.

That was how I had arrived, nearly 5,000 miles away from my home in Atlanta, my first European trip, and I was lost, so miserably lost.

And scared.

My back was aching because of what felt like a 50-pound duffel slung onto my shoulder, my legs throbbed from stiffness after having to sit still on a moving plane and my feet were as swollen as overcooked Ballpark franks.

I was also alone, much to the dismay of a host of family and friends who thought I was crazy for traveling that far to spend two days alone in an unfamiliar, foreign city where I wasn’t exactly proficient at the language.

But traveling alone was something I needed to do, as both a single and Black woman. Months earlier I ended what I heralded as my most dysfunctional relationship to date and swore to myself not only that it would be the last time I endured needless heartache but I would spend as much time as needed to become whole again.

I wanted and needed to trust myself again and this was one huge, revolutionary, brave yet radical step in the right direction.

For those days before volunteering, I leisurely strolled the cobblestone streets of the Malasana neighborhood I stayed in, mastered the Metro which was fairly easy to navigate and went with the flow.

I genuinely felt like I belonged there and dilemmas in my personal life I had been grappling with, such as shifting friendships, defining my self-worth and developing an armor of resiliency in my budding writing career, suddenly made more sense. I had gained this sense of perspective, and I knew with this incredibly calming reassurance everything would be okay.

My instantaneous infatuation with Madrid, intensified with each discovery of a quaint pasteleria with tartas de manzanas (apple tarts), sandwich shop with bocadillo jamon or corner boutique with studded peplum dresses and Spanish leather messenger bags, shrouded my fear.

I was energized and exhilarated with myself for taking a step out in faith despite my fear which accompanied me in my back pocket, but I couldn’t ignore the many stares I received or the lack of people who looked like me.

I originally chalked up the stares to my tall height but knew they were of a different origin when the stares only increased and were prolonged. It was almost if Spanish people weren’t used to seeing Black women at all.

I didn’t fit in there. I was different. There were very few people, male or female, who looked like me.

I’ll admit, this made me feel a tinge of sadness. I had formed this brilliant connection with this beautiful city but in some wretched sense the connection was one-sided. Despite my sadness and my deflated sense of expectation, it was an invitation to assert my selfhood for myself without worry about outward acceptance.

I mattered.

Yes, me, just one Black girl all the way from the States, aimlessly sauntering the streets with a crumpled map in her sweaty hands, mattered. I mattered to me.

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