My first solo trip out of England was when I was 18 years old. I had taken a gap year between highschool and medical school and worked for 6 months at the local private hospital as an appointments clerk in order to fund a stint with a missions organisation in the south of Spain. So sometime in the spring of 1991 I boarded a bus in London Victoria and set off on the 36 hour road trip to Algeciras in Spain. All I recall is that it was long and I was nervous!
The four months I spent in San Roque were life changing, character forming ones. I shared a room with Ali McDowel from Northern Ireland, we became the best of friends. In doing life with Ali, my faith took shape and became a very ordinary, practical, every day thing. I learnt to pray with Ali.
It was during this period of time that I started to sing. Ali was teaching herself the guitar and I had my flute and a couple of times a week we would walk down to a square in “La Barriada” and start playing simple tunes, all the kids would then come out to join us and we would run a little kids club right there in the middle of the high-rise flats; parents and grandparents watching from their front-door steps and verandas.
Learning to sing for me was significant, I had been practically “tone deaf” up until that point but it was as if I found my voice as I spread my wings away from home and things deep inside of me clicked into place.
There were usually between 10 and 25 people staying at our house and we would take it in turns to cook the midday meal (which was the main one, before the siesta). When I returned home to the UK it was hard for me to cook for just three or four people again, and to shop for more than one day at a time was almost impossible!!!
I loved the Mediterranean lifestyle. I even grew to enjoy eating olives! The daily trip to the bakers and fruit & veg store, first thing in the morning for supplies for the day. Afternoon siestas; sunbathing on the flat roof, looking out across the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. Evening promenades in the town square when everyone came out for a coffee. Milkshakes from the local gelato shop (I fell in love with Baileys flavoured shakes!). Breakfast team meetings at the bakers – with fresh peach juice. Oh, yes!!!
Spain was good!!
I returned the next summer to help out with the organisation’s programs around the Barcelona Olympics and then again to Barcelona for a holiday with my friend Jenny. It was there I first experienced street artists, Gaudi’s architecture and La Familia Sagradia… Beautiful!