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.
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.
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.