Sunday, May 30, 2010

68 hours in Madrid

Me in an interview at the US Embassy in Madrid.

I returned to Spain on Wednesday the 12th of May, nostalgically leaving behind Morocco for only 68 hours. I had coordinated the trip so that I could travel with Carlos back to Madrid, go to a few meetings, give a few presentations, pick up some papers needed for Bachir and Hakim’s Spanish visas, and then return to Morocco with Margarita. The entire trip in Spain lasted less than 68 hours, from Wednesday morning to Saturday morning, but was just enough time to do what needed to be done and return to Mirleft without feeling like I had been gone for too long.

Madrid. La Gran Via

Mirleft. La Mosquee

I’ve been working with the Cultural Affairs Department of the United States Embassy in Madrid, who is funding part of the costs associated with the Gibraltar swim planned for the 26th /27th of June. They gave me the opportunity to give presentations at public bilingual schools around Madrid, and between Thursday and Friday (13th/14th) I gave three presentations to three classes of about 50 6th graders at two different schools. I organized a of my Watson year to date, talking about training to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar, arriving in Mirleft, the Junior Lifeguard program in Peru, and what I called The Big Project: 5 swimmers from 3 countries, swimming from Europe to Africa. I used a lot of pictures, and because my project is about swimming, many of the images included men and women in swim suits, which made the presentation a bit more interesting to 12 year olds.

Ice-breaker activity with the kids.

The boys loved this picture of Marga. I like it also.

When talking about The Big Project, I asked for two volunteers and did an interactive demonstration where I put a “border” on the ground (which was a long rope), then blindfolded the kids and picked them up and placed them on either side of the border and asked them to guess which country they were in: A or B. Subsequently, I took off their blindfolds and placed a sheet over the border, which was supposed to symbolize a body of water, and then asked them to do the same thing as before: determine which country they were in.

Picking the kids up and taking them traveling

The kids laughed as I picked-up their friends and spun them around before placing them down on either side of a border, and definitely understood the questions I was trying to raise about the significance and often times arbitrary nature of political borders, especially when looked at from the perspective of physical geography. The final part of the presentation was to take the ocean (the sheet) and roll it into a river that crossed the border (the rope). I then took a plastic bag and threw it in the river on country A’s side of the border and let it flow downstream to country B, and asked the kids “Whose trash is this?”. There were a number of intelligent responses, but our only definitive answer was country A and country B would have to work together if they didn’t want trash in the river.

Describing the Big Project

The US Embassy provided transportation to the schools. A chauffeur and a really nice employee in the Cultural Affairs Department picked me up at Marga’s pad on both mornings. On Thursday, after presentation, I went to the US Embassy and met with Alan Solomont, the US Ambassador to Spain, who was also a Watson Fellow in the early 70’s. He was very nice and it would have been great to spend more time talking with him, but I understand that the life of an Ambassador is busy. In any case, I’d like for Hakim, Bachir, Marga and Carlos to be able to meet him and Laura Gould, who is the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy and the women who has been helping me significantly with this project. I was thinking that we could cook a Moroccan dinner for them at the Ambassador’s residence, but that may be too much to ask. What I liked most about the experience, was that I got to check out life at the Embassy, which was very interesting to me because I have considered working in international diplomacy. Medical school, however, is first.

Back in Mirelft at the weekly Monday market...the souk.

I spent Thursday and Friday afternoons getting papers together for medical school apps and the Strait of Gibraltar crossing to mail from Madrid. The more pressing paperwork was the visa application for Hakim and Bachir, which involved going to a notary, twice, and getting letters of support from the US Embassy and from Marga. I brought this paperwork back to Morocco, and while Marga was here, we all went to drop it off at the Spanish Consulate in Agadir.

Back in Mirleft...working on the visas.

On Saturday, at the wee hour of 4:30am, Marga’s mom Azucena took us to the airport for our 6:25am flight to Marrakesh, ending my 68 hour voyage to Madrid.

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