At Peace

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Our week started off pretty interestingly. My roommate, Margaret, had her phone stolen on the same day my phone decided to stop responding to touch. Needless to say, we’ve been adjusting to the (nearly) tech-free life.

I’ve been reflecting a lot more since. My free time after school is filled up with trying new things and listening to the sounds of the city. Who knew something could be so routine.

If anything, Saturday was the opposite of routine. Margaret and I woke up early so we could say bye to all of our friends who were leaving for Madrid. These people we only met a month ago became our family and it was super tough seeing them go. Our group shrank from twenty-something people to nine. I still don’t know how I feel about this.

The next thing we knew, we were off to Gernika. A bit of a history refresher: Spain had a dictator from the mid-1930’s to 1975. Francisco Franco forced all people to speak Spanish, which was a problem for the Basques and the Catalonians. Because the Basques shortly had their independence before Franco became ruler, it was harder to subdue them. As a result, Franco allowed Gernika–the de facto cultural capital of the Basque Country–to be used as a testing ground for German and Italian bombs before the Second World War. What’s worst is that the Spanish government has never formally apologized or declared the official death toll. To this day, people still wonder where their family is and what has happened to them.

“They wanted to bury us, but they forgot we are seeds.”

Side note: this is the subject of Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. (It’s spelled differently because Gernika is Basque while Guernica is Spanish). Guernica was showcased during the World’s Fair for Spain’s pavilion and it was a big shock to everyone. Not just because cubism was relatively new, but because no one was willing to discuss what happened to the tiny town of Gernika. As long as Franco was dictator, Picasso forbid the painting to be showcased in Spain. It didn’t return until after his death. Now it resides in the Reina Sofia in Madrid. I saw it a few weeks ago and took a photo of it when I wasn’t supposed to. As my journalism teacher always said, “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

So our new group of nine went to the Museo de La Paz and it emotionally destroyed us. We saw a temporary exhibition of the pictures of surviving family members protesting for justice. Also, there was this presentation that wrecked me. We were in a room, listening to a monologue about life before Franco and life during. If you’ve ever been to Disney World and ridden the Tower of Terror, it’s like that. The room darkens and becomes brighter with the passing of the days. The woman explains how something as innocent as church bells and factory sirens become ways of alerting people if a bomb threat has passed. We hear the bells and the birds and the children. She jokes how she can’t live her life in fear anymore because that’s not life. Then bam! The room darkens and shakes. The mirror in front of us reveals the destruction from the bombing as a child sings a song in Euskara for a good minute and a half. The muffled tears of my classmates ring in and all I could do is think about the terror we live in right now with the attacks in Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge, Turkey, all over the world. How corrupt we must be to be so desensitized to the everyday invasion of human rights. It left me exhausted and questioning how we can possibly move on from here.

“How can a democracy be constructed on top of thousands of mass graves?”

After, we visited the Arbol de Gernika, the symbol of the Basque Country. The current tree is the descendant of the tree that survived the bombing. Although the new one is small, you can’t help but feel at peace.

For lunch, Margaret, Kailey and I stopped by a local restaurant. It was super delicious and interesting. I had melon with ham as my appetizer and baby pig for my meal. Another thing I love about Spain: you can get a drink, bread, an appetizer, a meal and a dessert for 11-20€ depending on where you go.

Later that day, we went to this small town and hiked up a mountain to see this mosque. They say that if you ring the bell and make a wish, it’ll come true. The views were breathtaking, literally. I was having an asthma attack on the way down, but it was worth it. Plus, Margaret and I just stayed in and watched Kung Fu Panda 3 when we got home. It was a good time.

This Sunday was the first I actually did something. Usually, I stay home. I’d do homework, FaceTime my friends or catch up on the news. Instead, I hung out with Emilia, this Swedish girl from my class. I took her to the local crepe place because she’s never had them before. Glad to say she enjoyed the experience. We then hit the beach for a few hours. The water was refreshingly cool. But not as refreshing as the ice cream we had after. The ice cream here is the best. Despite having a sugar crash that could last a century, I felt at peace. Infinite.

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