Nelson Mandela Through the Eyes of a 7-year-old:

Before my trip to South Africa I really wanted to read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom so I bought the book. I brought the book to South Africa and it sat on my night table for five months, unopened. Then I decided to jet set off to Europe and I didn’t bring the book with me which is good because I managed to accumulate an entire suitcase full of books while living in Sweden. When I went home for Christmas at the end of that year I got a Kindle. I figured this was going to help a lot with my packing issues so when I was packing for Spain I decided that Long Walk to Freedom would be the one real book I would bring to Spain. Again, Nelson Mandela found a nice cozy place on my night table where he sat for another five months.

In those five months he became a novelty for my six-year-old that I au pair for. He would come in, look at the book, look at me and ask me why I still hadn’t finished this book. I would read ten pages or so and put it down. One day he came in and asked me:

“Liz, when are you going to finish this book on Obama?” I looked at him.

“Fernando, this isn’t Obama this is Nelson Mandela.”

“Who’s that?”

Who is Nelson Mandela? How do you put Nelson Mandela into words so that a six-year-old who thinks that the only famous man with black skin is Obama will understand? I don’t remember how I responded but he probably looked at me like I had six heads and asked to play something else.

After this I was determined to find a kid-friendly book on Nelson Mandela that would do a better job of explaining this amazing man than I ever could. (Aside: I finally finished Long Walk to Freedom while bouncing around Germany, Austria and Italy this past summer. Once I got into I couldn’t put it down.) I found Who Was Nelson Mandela? A kid friendly biography that is a part of the “big head” biography series that has the picture of the books’ subjects on the covers with, you guessed it, a big head.

This all brings me to the other day when I finally started reading Who Was Nelson Mandela? with my now seven-year-old. We snuggled under some blankets and began to delve into the life of Nelson Mandela. We made it through the first few pages with pictures depicting Mandela in his village in traditional clothing without too many questions. The questions started when there was a picture of young Mandela and Oliver Thambo opening their law firm wearing western styled suits.

“Liz, what are they wearing?”

“Bathing suits, what does it look like they’re wearing?” (if my kids learn nothing more from me at least they will learn the art of sarcasm)

“They wear the same clothes as us?”

Oh boy, I thought. This was going to be mind blowing for this little one. I began to explain that yes, people in South Africa wear the same clothes as us. To prove this I took him to my computer and showed him some pictures from my trip. He couldn’t believe it. I showed him pictures of kids about his age wearing the same type of clothes he wore to school. He couldn’t believe it. Then he saw some cars in one of my pictures.

“Liz, they drive the same cars as us?”

I then explained that yes they do drive the same cars as us in Spain but they drive on the opposite side of the road like those crazy people in England.

“Liz, show me a picture of him.”

“Of who?”

“Of Nelson Mandela.” He said with as if it was obvious whom he was speaking about.

We then started to Google pictures of Mandela. It became a bit of a game as he tried to find a picture of Mandela wearing the same shirt he was wearing on the cover of the book. Then we came across a picture of Mandela mid dance move. So, I showed him a video of Mandela doing his famous dance moves. This made him laugh like crazy. (He now goes around the house moving his arms back and forth much like Mandela did when he danced.)

As we continued to Google and look at pictures from my trip more questions came.

“So people in all of Africa dress like this? What do people in Egypt look like? What do they dress like? What type of cars do they drive?” (He’s recently been learning about Ancient Egypt in school and has a new obsession with sphinxes and the Nile River.) As we continued to Google he saw pictures of women wearing scarves and asked why they dressed like that. I explained that that was a part of their religion.

The questions continued. “Why are there trees in these pictures? Isn’t Africa a desert? What do you mean Africa isn’t a desert? What do you mean Africa isn’t a country?”

I then pulled up a topographical map of Africa and explained where there were deserts and where there weren’t and how Africa was a continent and not a country. He didn’t quite understand so we spent a little bit more time on how many countries make up Africa.

As we got back to the book I could see his head was doing flips, he couldn’t get his head around everything that he had just learned. The next part was going to blow his mind too. I had to explain what an apartheid is. To bring this down to his level and emphasis the absurdity of what had happened in South Africa (and in the United States too) I explained that they tried to separate people based on their skin color. This really didn’t hit home for him. I asked him:

“What if I could only use that door to get into my room because I have green eyes and you could only use that door to get into my room because you have brown eyes?”

This sounded crazy to him, as it should have. We continued to read about the different levels of segregation from living locations to benches and everything in between. Every time I brought this back to eye color to emphasize how we wouldn’t have been able to do the same things because we don’t have the same eye color.

We’ve been reading a little bit each day and he’s slowly starting to understand more and more. The first day after we started reading he wanted to draw me a picture of something I like to do. Since reading was too boring for him to draw he choose traveling. To depict this he decided to draw a map. In drawing Africa he once again realized how many countries make up Africa and how The Sahara is not actually a country but a desert that spans over many countries.

For the past few summers my host family’s cousins have hosted a girl from “The Sahara” that comes and lives with them for the summer. I asked them where she was from and they just answered “The Sahara.” It never occurred to them that she had a country. To them she just lives in a small village in The Sahara.

As Fernando and I continue to journey through Nelson Mandela’s life my eyes are opened. Once upon a time, not too long ago, I too was ignorant to many race issues. I am still ignorant in many ways but I am continuously trying to learn more and share what I do know. Like Fernando, I try and put it into terms I can understand, for example to him apartheid is:

“When people are separated by the color of their skin; like if you had black skin, Liz,

and I had blue skin.”

“Blue skin Fernando?”

“Liz, I just like the color blue.”

He’s my future Avatar Rights Activist. This is one of my contributions to breaking the danger of a single story, may there be many more to come.

P.S. We found a picture of Mandela wearing the shirt depicted on the cover of the book:

Mandelawho was mandela

For more on The Danger of a Single Story:

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When life gives you grapes, make wine!

The rain has stopped, the jet lag has passed and this week I have reacquainted myself with Vigo.

The first few days I slept all “morning” (until 2pm) and earned myself the nickname Sleeping Beauty, personally, I was okay with that. Then I decided to venture out into the city and make friends. I spent Saturday watching Harry Potter (in Spanish) then Sunday the rain stopped and it was time to get back into the swing of things. While the kids went to their surf lesson I went for a nice long run along the beaches and then we headed to Paradise (my host mom’s parent’s summer house) in Parada.

After a spectacular lunch of Fabada and some time hanging out in the sun we were ready to head home. As we were leaving, they asked if I would like to come back tomorrow to help “smash the grapes.” I looked at them a little strangely and asked them to repeat that. I heard them correctly they wanted my help in mashing up this year’s batch of grapes to make this year’s wine. I said sure, excited for something new and followed the sunset home to Vigo.

The next day after a surprisingly successful encounter with the Spanish government (those who have ever experienced the Spanish government understand why this would be surprising) I headed home to spend the afternoon with the kids. Again, they asked me if I would like to smash the grapes. At this point I had to show them what I was picturing in my head every time they asked me if I wanted to smash grapes.

At which point I introduced them to I Love Lucy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzFFRAh7Y-U

(I stopped the video after the first half to prevent any ideas brewing about starting a grape fight)

They told me that was it, that’s what I was about to do. Well okay then, what does one wear to smash grapes? I put on shorts and a t-shirt and was ready to go. We drove to “Paradise” and got ready to smash some grapes. My 9 year old and I walked around practicing how we were going to smash the grapes. Then I saw the size of our barrel we would be smashing it, it was about a tenth of the size of Lucy’s.

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Two at a time we starting smashing the grapes, starting with the top of the barrel and slowing working our way down as the grapes became juice and we dropped further and further into the barrel.

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And so we smashed, and smashed, and smashed some more until we were waist deep in juice. Things got pretty cozy.

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I was not prepared for that. I didn’t have a change of clothes or a bathing suit to jump in the pool, but my 13 year old didn’t seem to see that as a problem as he pushed me right into the pool – fully clothed glasses and all. After I was dry again I helped finish up the wine process.

We gathered all the grapes and juice from the barrel

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and put them into the press.

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Then all the juice from the press went into this 300 liter tub where the juice will boil for two weeks at a very specific temperature.

They said it was the best batch of juice they’ve ever had and they are willing to hire me back for next fall. 300 liters of juice, and by March we’ll have some delicious tasting wine! I can’t wait!

P.S. Did I mention that my Sunday run was meant to break in my new sneakers? I ran for an hour and a half and got some nice blisters. Good thing they boil that juice 😉

Strangers on a Plane to Porto

Today I took off to Vigo, Spain for the second time.

This trip was much easier than the last one considering I was able to bypass the Swedish detour and head directly to Spain (of course by directly to Spain I mean I flew into Porto and took a bus to Vigo where I met up with my host family). This was an extremely easy trip considering the drive to Newark airport was such a breeze it allowed me to check in, jump to the next terminal to get my last Pumpkin Spice Latte from the only Starbucks in the airport, jump back to my terminal and hang out with my parents at Chili’s over Pomegranate Margaritas and bottomless tortilla chips before boarding my flight. In case this travel experience couldn’t get any better I boarded my flight to land myself in my very own personal 4-seat row all to myself. Now for those who know me and are aware of my vertical challenged-ness you will understand how epic this was. I could not only lie down but I could lie down comfortably! This was definitely a Snapchat worthy moment! I attempted to angle my camera to get my beautiful four seats without getting the strange ladies across the aisle from me on the other side in the shot when the guy sitting across the aisle closest to me asked if I wanted him to take a picture for me. Mortified that I had officially become that ridiculous looking person trying to get the right photo angle I explained I was simply just trying to show off my seats.I never did get that picture.

And thus began my THREE hour conversation with the guy sitting across the aisle from me. We started talking about times we’ve flown before and gotten lucky to times we’ve gotten not so lucky to then discuss where we were headed. I said Vigo and whether it was because I was finally on my flight to Porto (aprx. Two hour bus ride from Vigo) or this man was just well traveled he actually knew where Vigo was. Amazing! This then lead us to discuss our perspective trips. I talked about how I was going back to Vigo to teach English and how he was going to visit family.

We continued this conversation and jumped from current events to recent life experiences through travel and other experimental learning. Turns out though he lives in Michigan half of his family lives in Connecticut (the half that doesn’t live in Portugal) at which point I mentioned I am a UCONN graduate. Thus began the Huskies conversation spanning from sports to the effect the NCAA has on athletes and schools and whether the way athletes are pushed through university is really acceptable, also mentioning my personal experience with athletic stereotypes as I was a UCONN athlete my four years there.

The conversation wound itself back to current events somehow and continued to discuss the trouble brewing between Scotland and England and the impact this will have on the trouble brewing in the Middle East. Of course we were referring to the recent ISIS video and proceeded to debate whether someone who had grown up living and breathing the ISIS mentally is more of less of a threat than someone that has chosen to adopt the ISIS mentality. (Luckily, while the flight was boarding, I had been able to read a few key articles in my free International New York Times paper on these very events.)

This somehow brought us about to Putin and Eastern Europe comparing what is happening now to what was happening many moons ago with Hitler and the beginning of WWII. Discussing the persecution of Jews, that is still present today not only in Germany but also in the United States. This of course led to institutionalized racism and Spain and Portugal’s blind eye to racism compared to the United States’ and Brazil’s racism levels (he had spent some time living in Brazil). We were talking about how the United States does still seem racist, and is still racist, but how our melting-pot background is going to give us key advantages in the future.

This then led me to discuss South Africa and my internship at an HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention focused nonprofit that allowed me to point out key failures within the organization from a ground level all the way up without fear of stepping on people’s toes nor worrying about overstepping my bounds. He then proceeded to tell me this is an American trait that is being actively recruited by companies these days because up and coming companies do not want the European one-track-mindset nor the Chinese or Latin American do-not-question-mindset but rather the American question-everything-mindset.

We found ourselves discussing issues a little closer to home at this point when he divulged two key doses of perspective: 1) You don’t know what you don’t know and 2) you MUST live in the now.

The first key point was referring to how I saw things as an easy fix in the company I was working for in South Africa but ultimately did not know all the key factors such as funding restricts, though this was the first time this came up he mentioned this line a few more times over the three hours.

The next was because his younger brother had recently been diagnosed with a rare frontal lobe brain disorder that has taken away his personality along with his ability to spell his name and recognize those he had had strong relationships with.

Though this conversation escalated quickly we were able to keep up for quit some more time discussing linguistics of languages since he’s fluent in English and Portuguese and I had spent some time studying Spanish over my previous time in Vigo. Which of course brought us back to the Spain v. Portugal conversation and the institutionalized racism issues that are embedded in their languages.

This continued until we were halfway through our flight he decided to try and nap and I decided sleep was not nearly as important as finally being able to watch HBO’s The Normal Heart since I had been trying to watch it since I had finished the play over a month earlier. I don’t know why I did this because time after time I tell myself that since I have read the book/play I will be immune to the typical emotional turmoil of said heavy book/play such as The Normal Heart. (Side note: The Normal Heart was originally written as a play by Larry Kramer spanning the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1981 to 1985 from a gay activist’s perspective in NY. It was recently adapted by HBO and made into a movie starring Matt Bomer, Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts just to name a few. Amazing play and movie, I highly recommend both!)

So, as I should have well known, the movie made me cry like a baby only moments before the entire plane lit up like a Christmas tree telling everyone to wake up breakfast was about to be served. I was in no shape to be seen, as tears were still streaming down my face, so I hid under my sweatshirt and blanket and curdled up in my row of seats. I placed my tray table down to receive the breakfast of which I only ate the mini Twix bar and continued to hide under my sweatshirt. Finally, I was able to pull myself together and pretended the redness in my eyes was just a testament to the aptly named red-eye flight I was on. My talkative friend next to me tapped me on the shoulder to see if I had slept well and thankfully ignored the redness in my eyes. We bantered for a bit before I actually fell asleep for the first time on the flight. As we disembarked we stayed close to each other and he decided to use his American passport to go through customs rather than his Portuguese passport. (Must’ve been because of my brights and shining personality.)

We both made it through customs and he asked if I would watch his bags while he went to the bathroom and he returned the favor upon returning from the restroom. Once I received my bag (for once I wasn’t the last bag out of the plane!) we shook hands and said our goodbyes.

I walked out into the Portuguese sun to wait for my bus to Vigo. We never saw each other again.

***

He was 68. He is an international business professor at a university in Michigan and was flying to Portugal to meet up with his wife and half of his family. Before heading out on his flight to Portugal to meet up with his wife he had stopped by to take care of his 61 year old brother with extensive frontal lobe damage and bring his 6 year old granddaughter to see the Connecticut beaches. He had hopped his son would have attended Norte Dame but unfortunately he was diagnosed Bi Polar and was unable to do so due to medical issues. He had lived in Brazil for 19 years and had faced numerous ups and downs in his life. He shared all of this with me, a complete stranger, over a 3-hour conversation on a plane. He told me about how his and his sister’s lives had changed after their younger brother was diagnosed with this frontal lobe disorder at 61 years old, for it could happen to either of them or both of them too, at any time.

And with that I embark on my next adventure: teaching and au pairing in Vigo, Spain. Remember to live in the now everyone and you don’t know what you don’t know!

Thanks for reading!

Let me tell you a little something about Galicia:

Now that I’ve been living in Galicia for over four months I decided to share a bit about this fine area and the fine people, preempting it with this article:

http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/piss-someone-galicia/

We’re just going to go through this one by one for entertainment purposes…

Number one: Ask about the Galician language, and refer to it as “your dialect.”

Galician is, in fact it’s own language, (don’t worry I didn’t know about Galicia, Vigo, or Galician before last November so it’s all good.) Spain in fact has five official languages Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Occitan, it sure does make things interesting. And if anyone asks it’s better than protugeuse. Just say yes. Do NOT argue with a Galician.

Number two: Assume we like flamenco and bullfighting, eat paella all day, and are outgoing.

Just like the north and south of the United States are DRASTICALLY different from ways of life to people, with some exceptions i.e. Ally Vitale, the north and south of Spain are drastically different as well. Weather tends to do that to people, as does distance. While we do eat a lot of seafood here paella has not happened yet though I have eaten pulpo (octopus). No not calamari that has been deep fried and disguised I’m talking about tentacles that have been slices up into nice big chucks with their little suckers still attached that have only been cooked in oil and dashed with paprika. Also the people here touch a lot less, yes they give two kisses but the constant need for touching and hugging aren’t really present. Works for me!

Pulpo

Pulpo. I ate that.

Number three: Say it always rains in Galicia.

Okay so yes, they are in fact right it does not ALWAYS rain in Galicia but yes the majority of the time it is raining. In fact, this winter they had a record-breaking amount of rainfall. The most rainfall in 40 years! Lucky me! Also, there was a lot of excitement this past week when it started raining again after a beautiful week of sunshine because it wasn’t just raining in Galicia but all over Spain! Yay!

View from my house

Beautiful sunset from my house, because it was sunny!

Number four: Doubt the quality of Estrella Galicia.

I don’t drink beer, but I do have an affinity for Porto wine – don’t tell the Galicians!

Number five: Do an impression of our accent by adding -iño onto every word. And then say we sing when we speak.

I still trying to figure out Spanish so I don’t really attempt the Galician thing except Que fas!? (What are you doing?) Just because it’s so short and sweet and in a German sort of way you can’t really say it without sounding angry.

Number six: Get offered a shot of coffee liquor or some other homemade spirit, and don’t drink it.

I learned this the hard way. My first few weekends here were a bit interesting and since I was in Say-Yes-To-Everything-Mode because I was in a new place I ended up at in a lot of places that I would have otherwise never found myself. One of those places being a hole in the wall pub with delicious food, a lot of alcohol, and my host mom’s younger sister. I ate more than I should have, drank two beers (not that I enjoyed them), and decided I had played my extrovert part well while pretending I wasn’t dying of second hand smoke inhalation. And then the coffee liquor came out. There were two bottles; one dark and one that looked liked Baileys. Neither of them had labels. I knew nothing. And then the shot glasses came out and next thing I knew everyone was looking at the now full shot glass that sat in front of me and waited. I had to do it! I had no choice! No way out! There were too many of them against little old me. So I drank it and, and you know what it was damn good. So another! But this time I wasn’t allowed to pick it up with my hands I hand to grab the shot glass with my mouth and throw my head back to take the shot. This continued and the next time I found myself in this exact same situation there was a creepy toothless fat guy sitting in the corner of the pub that got WAY too much pleasure out of watching me and my host mom’s sister sit there and take shots with our mouths. Gross. Side note: The creamy colored one tastes better than Baileys the dark one will kill you. Just take a whiff and you’ll understand what I mean so if you get a choice go with creamy colored, if you don’t I’m sorry but you’re still going to have to drink it.

Number seven: Claim table football was invented by the Germans.

We have a foosball table in my house. I’m better than my host kids. We haven’t discussed it’s origin.

Number eight: Say you prefer Mediterranean beaches because the water is warmer.

Woah woah woah! Now coming from Long Island I know a thing or two about beaches and claiming that the Mediterranean beaches in Spain are better than the Galician beaches is comparable to saying that the North Shore or Connecticut has better beaches than the South Shore of Long Island. I went to Valencia this past summer and while it was a beautiful old city the beaches freakeded me out, you’re supposed to be able to go into the water to cool off not go into the water and feel like you’re in a bathtub with the immense amount of other people that are in the water AND no waves! It just felt like a breading ground for diseases.

A Caruña Beach

 

Playa Samil, Vigo

Amazing people

Bairona with amazing people (Ally and Leni)

A Caruña

A Caruña (north of Vigo)

I know none of these pictures really show waves, but at least there are tides, and there are waves, I swear.

Number nine: After hearing where Galicia is, say, “Oh, so in the Basque Country.”

It’s like saying New York is in New England, New York is too big for New England and Vigo is too cool for Basque Country.

Number ten: Lose interest when you realize we are neither Basque nor close to the French border.

Vigo/Galicia is awesome! And yes they do play the bagpipes and wear skirts sometimes, don’t worry I’m still confused about that whole thing too.

Ode to My Friends Near and Far:

Before I go delve into entertaining stories of Lost In Translation moments, adventures, crazy things my kids say, and other perks of being an au pair I decided to give my friends in Vigo, and all over, a much-deserved shout out.

For those who travel you know it’s not always the easiest thing to maintain friendships while bouncing around abroad. Also, for those who know me I’m not really your warm and fuzzy person, I tend to be a bit introverted and I am more than comfortable going anywhere with me, myself, and my kindle (I’ve recently been converted, but my kindle is pretty much a limb now – books are still better). That being said, from much needed pep talks and friendly postcards to consoling loses from 3000+ miles away and taking me in when I need a vacation or a place to crash or joining me on my past and future adventures, and those who have taken me under their wings when I feel completely out of place my friends are there, even if I can’t always see them.

This past year has been no different from making new friends in South Africa and then traveling with them in Europe, to crashing at a friend’s when my first Swedish family ditched me, to schlepping my stuff down the block when I decided to leave my second Swedish family, to moving in with another friend before leaving Sweden, to meeting new friends and going on adventures, surprising friends back home for the holiday, and taking many needed holidays to CPH, amongst other cities, I don’t know where I would have ended up without my ever growing family of friends. The group of ladies I’ve met in Vigo is no different.

Upon arriving in Vigo after a much-needed trip home for the holidays I was once again reminded how important my friends are to me, for I wouldn’t have made it through Sweden without some of them. That being said I was also reminded how awesome they were and how difficult they would be to substitute while abroad, once again. The prospect of friends was bleak as I was introduced to the au pairs of Vigo that were obstinately divided into two groups; the Germans and “The Partiers” with few “Floaters,” as they were referred to by the other au pairs, that went between the two groups. I pretended to be a partier for about two seconds but that just further confirmed the fact that “I’m too old for this stuff” after spending a full day in bed recovering. Also, having graduated from High School 5 years ago this June (AH!), I was pretty adverse to the whole clique mentality with the side note being I’m, obviously, not a huge partier and oh yeah I can’t speak German! It was looking like I was going to be able to get a lot of reading done while in Vigo.

Fast forward three months: I’m not really sure how it happened or when it happened but somehow I have a group of friends here that are more than just substitutes but people that will remain important in my life for many years to come.

From meeting friends through best friend’s grandma’s friend’s to hopping on a random trip with strangers and finding a partner in crime through mutual frustrations with a couple of, surprisingly, not so annoying North Americans with similar appreciate for TV and accents that make me feel at home and a fabulous Brit in between that grants us solace when we need out of our homes we have woven a beautifully international group of well rounded, equally awesome young women. I have no words to describe these ladies; from porker nights to countless hours at Sésamo (pretty much our Central Perk or MacLaren’s Pub) we’re always smiling and laughing together and somehow that seems to make it sunny, even on the rainiest days, weeks, or, unfortunately, months here in Vigo.

These girls, along with the season final of How I Met Your Mother, have taught me, once again, that you do not need to change who you are for the sake of relationships. The people that are meant to be in your life will be and those who aren’t won’t. Everything happens for a reason.

Words aren’t enough, but to all my friends near and far, though I may not say it often enough: my adventures, both small and grand, home and abroad,  would not be the same without you.

 

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“Appreciate good people, they are hard to come by.” – KushandWizdom

xx Liz

P.S. You should check out some of their blogs because they do a far better job of updating than I do.

Ally’s: http://allyvitale.wordpress.com/

Leni’s: http://www.herevigo.blogspot.com.es/

Heidi and Kelsey’s: http://heidikelsey.wordpress.com/

Nevermore

To say I am an absent blogger is an understatement. Since my last post I have had some drastic changes, once again. I am no longer an au pair in little old Göteborg, but rather a little ‘ole au pair in Vigo, Spain. How you may ask? Remember when I said that my host family swapped me for a drastically different host family? Yeah, well that didn’t even begin to cover how drastically different the two families really were.

By mid-November 2013 I finally acknowledged that I could no longer look past my host father’s misogynist antics, my host parents’ lack of love for their middle child, the lack of appreciation, and, ultimately, the extreme boredom that this experience had bestowed upon me. This, of course, only occurred to me after a close friend told me it was time to leave. I had been in such a deep dark place that I hadn’t even realized just how depressed and miserable I had become. I refused to accept that things were actually as bad as they were because I presumed these sentiments were simply the bi-products of comparing my situation to the fairy tale situation that had been ripped right out from under my feet, as I was looking the other way. But it was true. This was not a horrible situation because I was comparing it to a fictional perfect situation I was, in fact, in a horrific situation and I needed out.

My previous host family handled my decision well, and by well I mean they said nothing except “okay” when I told them I was leaving in less than two weeks (I know bad on my part but there were some extenuating circumstances). Walking away from that conversation feeling more than dissatisfied I carried on with my friends-giving weekend plans. Upon my return to the house on Monday though things were different. Little things were out of place and routines altered. I felt a shift in the house and I knew something was coming. That something came while I was halfway through making frosting with my 5 year old. My host father came in and sat down and decided to have a conversation with me about my decision to leave. I took a step back found a comfortable position between the wall and the counter, took a deep breath, and braced for battle.

Needless to say less than an hour later from that exact moment all of my belongings were packed and I was out the door and moved in to my friends’ house (another au pair) down the block. Less than an hour. That’s all it took. I didn’t get to finish making my icing, I didn’t get to give them their Christmas presents or even say goodbye to any of my kids. That was the end of my Swedish au pair experience.

Now, knowing the definition of insanity according to Albert Einstein (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result) I decided to hop back on the au pair ban wagon and demand a better experience. I had heard too many amazing experiences of what being an au pair was like that I needed that too, maybe it was my competitiveness or maybe it was that accepting defeat was not an option but either way it has been dubbed one of my all-time best decisions somewhere amongst deciding to go to UConn and deciding to study abroad in Cape Town.

And that’s how I ended up in Vigo, Spain where it rains more days than not, with an amazing host family and friends that are definitely not just temporary. My friends like to call my host mom “My Fairy Host Mother” and my host mom refers to me as her “hija adoptiva” (adopted daughter). That doesn’t even begin to describe this amazing family. I have three niños (children) Manu, 13, Candella, 9 and Fernando, 6 that have welcomed me into their family life a big sister; words really can’t describe them but I’m going to try to in future posts. My friends here have definitely inspired me to get back into blogging and because of that they deserve their own post, stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you find yourself unhappy with where you are let me help you the same way a friend helped me. Leave. Change. Demand more. Do not let yourself stand idle in the face of despair.

Only because I’m reading a book that has a character that can quote Shakespeare in French and he made me feel inferior:

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”- Shakespeare

xx Liz

“Change of Plans”

Four months ago I embarked on an adventure like none I’d taken before. It was one with no end and lots of questions.

After recovering from my Roskilde flu I took off to Amsterdam to do something a little strange, as per typical Amsterdam fashion. While I was backpacking in South Africa I met a guy that was similarly wandering. He had recently up and quit his job, sold his apartment, and ditched his girlfriend he took off to Africa with the intention of starting in Cape Town and making his way up to Tanzania to meet up with a friend. We crossed paths on the Darwin to Johannesburg portion of our trips with a brief pit stop in the Drakensberg Mountains.

During one of our many conversations we talked about cities on our respective continents and which ones are worth seeing and which ones are not. He told me Barcelona would be well suited for me and suggested I take a road trip through France to Barcelona and that, in fact, he would be willing to go with me if I decided to do it.

Having just decided to be an au pair and changing my dates and plans for my original post graduation Euro-trip I was open for options and thus I decided to take him up on his offer. A little over three months ago was the moment of truth. He met me at the airport with his new car he bought specifically for the trip, so far so good. I must admit part of me was shocked, not many people who meet a stranger on a trip buy a car to continue the adventures on a different continent.

And so our adventure continued. We bummed around Amsterdam for a few days in true Dutch style. We biked around the canals and only ventured into the tourist parts when absolutely necessary and kept track of how many tourists almost walked right into us while we were riding.

We hit up the Rijksmuseum and rode through it, which is now open again after many years. My favorite part of the city was seeing the parts outside of the tourist spot, that’s my favorite way to see any city.

After Amsterdam we kept things in traditional Dutch fashion and checked out Marken and then headed to his hometown. The next day we spent some time watching the tour de France and then feeling inspired we took off to Utrecht with me chilling on the bike rack while he chugged up the hill to the train station, as per typical Dutch fashion. While in Utrecht we grabbed some grub, picked up another bike, and headed back towards Amersfoort weaving our way through forests and cities and past castles and military training centers all the way to a well deserved beer in Amersfoort, and then another, and maybe another allowing me to experience yet another typical Dutch tradition; drunk biking.

The next day we set off for Champaign. We drove all the way there in a day and then the next day we wandered around the entire region tasting Champaign as we went and alternating driving of course. We did a tour of Epernay to really get a feel for the process that allowed us to enjoy the beautiful city of so very much. It was crazy to see how much was under the city, almost as much as what was going on on the flip side.

While in Champaign I got some shocking news. The perfect beautiful family with the two in love parents and two adorable little girls that all spoke English and had names beginning with A’s had dumped me. Cold and hard they dropped me like a rock. I sat there in the middle of a campsite in the middle of Champaign in the middle of France staring at my phone that only had Internet connections because of the modern marvels that the technology gods have bestowed upon us reading the email entitled “Change of Plans” in udder shock.

All that went through my head was that everyone was right, and by all that went through my head I mean that only one thought that was able to form completely as ten thousands things flashed through my brain by the thousands per a millisecond was the fact that everyone was right. I had taken off to Europe to work for a family that I thought I knew and I thought it was too good to be true and apparently it was. On the up side they set me up with another family that had three boys, three boys that didn’t speak English and that was only the start of the drastic differences between my original family and my now current host family.

After three more weeks of gallivanting around Western Europe hitting up Chamonix, viewing the Mont Blanc, hiking in the Italian Alps, gambling in Monaco, drinking sangria in Valencia, tanning and sailing in Barcelona, eating waffles and fritas in Belgium, doing a double take on Amsterdam and Copenhagen I required some quality downtime in Odense with friends. One week later I showed up to meet my new family. And that’s when the real adventure began.

Stay tuned for the chronicles of a 22 year old American girl’s adventures with three angelic boy monsters in the suburbs of little old Göteborg.