As I write this, an image of Mary and baby Jesus is keeping me company in a room full of desks and internet cables. A year ago I never thought that I would be spending my birthday in a monastery.
A monastery? This novel situation is a poster child for the unexpected twists I’ve had during my year abroad. It’s amazing to flash back and review all of the events that I never thought would happen during my twenty-third year of life. One year ago, I had a suitcase spilling out across the floor and a ticket that read LIT–MAD. Then came anticipation, orientation, meeting new people, starting school, finding four walls, and bracing for bank lines. There were holidays spent away from family and birthdays spent with a growing circle of Madrid acquaintances. There were coffee dates and “just one more caña” nights. There were fragile days and sick days and oh-man-I’m-such-a-guiri days. There were scheming and dreaming. There were epic travel adventures. There were goodbyes.
There was a bit of everything, but overall I had an excellent year. As my mom put it in an e-mail to me: “I’m very happy that you are enjoying your life and living your dream of being in Europe!” She’s spot-on.
So, what’s this about a monastery, you ask? Well, I have temporarily relocated to the tiny town of Uclés, which is roughly between Madrid and Valencia. I’m blogging for the same English program which brought me to Palma. You can visit the snazzy camp blog here and see another birthday shot here.
The well in the central courtyard
There are loads of scary stories about the monastery: a priest who hangs himself, a girl who dies mysteriously, ghostly children who appear at night. The building itself is deliciously scary in the dark. The lights flicker on and off, and bats fly in from the wide-open courtyard (pictured above). The wind throws open the shutters on our windows just as quickly as it shuts them again, which causes a great deal of fright when you have previously been slumbering. There are catacombs under the ground floor and religious paraphernalia peeping out from every corner. Creaking floors and howling wind also add to the ambiance.
The main staircase connecting the ground floor to the first floor
This is the environment in which I celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday. As a Friday, it was still a work day. I couldn’t help but smile when I walked into the staff room and saw item number eight on the notice board:
Also, have I mentioned that we have all of our meals with the students in the cafeteria?
Birthday dinner: deviled eggs in mystery sauce, salad, and rice with tomato sauce
Interesting combination, yeah? After the meal, the staff surprised me with a birthday cake! Some of them also taught their students the words to “Happy Birthday” and serenaded me when I came to photograph their classes. I was surprised and very appreciative; it’s not easy to be away from close friends and family on days such as this.
I’ll leave you with a different view of the monastery, as seen from behind the town’s sunflower field. From here, twenty-four doesn’t look too bad.