Small Town Life
Getting to Know Badajoz By Myself
There’s something curious about exploring a place you never knew existed. Badajoz was not a place I knew anything of until I got my placement here. Although it is by no means considered a town in Spain, the ambience here is certainly very different for me coming from a more densely-populated region. What fundamentally distinguishes Badajoz from cities like Madrid and Barcelona is the lack of exposure and cultural diversity; Madrid and Barcelona boast wide international schemes with people from all over the world coming to visit and live in these cities. That being said, this city unintentionally allows all who live here to completely immerse in the Spanish way of life with very little international influence.
One of the most unique things about Badajoz is its crucial placement on the border between Spain and Portugal. Citizens of Badajoz can quite literally walk back in time and find themselves in Portugal in a very short amount of time. In fact, most schools here offer Portuguese as a second language for students.
Given Badajoz receives few foreigners in general, most people are instantly fascinated by people who come from other places. I remember walking through the city during Carnaval with my friend Sara chatting away in English, and there was more than one shocked face that turned around to see where that strange American accent was coming from. Most people do not speak English, and frankly, most are embarrassed to speak in English. Something I always comment to Laura (my host mother) is the general irony where people try to speak to me in Spanish until they see that I have a rudimentary level in the language; they then completely forego any efforts to practice English and switch over to Spanish.
The town is rooted in very Spanish customs, which evidently display the lack of foreign influence. People here are always shocked to discover that I am vegetarian, and there are very few restaurants that even offer vegetarian meals. I’ve been to more than one restaurant with absolutely no vegetarian dishes on their menu, and it’s usually the waiters who are more annoyed to know that I eat neither meat nor fish. What’s more, almost all stores are closed on Sunday, and stores are closed during the hours of the siesta.
Most people I’ve encountered here have generally stuck to the general sentiment that this city certainly does not enjoy a very high standard of living. The cost of living is much lower (than Madrid obviously), and most people enjoy a modest quality of life. There exists such a difference between living in a rich bubble where you are told you are privileged and actually experiencing a different standard of life where you observe your own privilege through a different lens. Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve (along with almost all of my friends) been told many a times growing up that I am so incredibly blessed to have almost everything I want at the tip of my fingers. You obviously acknowledge this as true, but it’s not until you leave the comfort of such a surrounding that you realize there are many different people and ways of living in this world. Coming to Badajoz, I never expected to learn as much about the United States as I have about Spain. The profound effect of this change in perspective has really made me rethink many things I took for granted. Although the town in small, there is still a general following of American culture (at least amongst people my age). People sport hoodies that say “Harvard” or “Yale”, and most people heavily listen to music by American artists.
Because the city is quite small in area, most people prefer walking everywhere; this was such a change for me because distances are much further in the Bay Area (which is why we drive almost everywhere). The beautiful Alcazaba sits in the middle of the city on higher grounds, overlooking and protecting all the citizens. I’ve enjoyed many beautiful evenings walking the trail to the Badajoz and then the outer wall of the fortress itself. Inside the Alcazaba exists a beautiful park; in fact, Catalina and Carmen took me to this very park to distract me while Laura baked my birthday cake as a surprise.
Walking the beautiful trails of this city and exploring history through its architecture and Arabic influence have been two of my favorite pastimes.
I’ve really grown to like living in Badajoz. People in general are very friendly, and so many people have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Obviously, this sentiment is still accompanied by feelings of wanting to be back home in my bubble of comfort. I remember telling one of my classmates a few days ago in PE that I was wanted to go back home and I was ready to leave Spain. As we returned to the classroom from the gym after PE, a group of seven or eight girls all invited me over to talk to them and demanded to know why I wanted to return. These are the small things that warm my heart to Badajoz even more. They told me they would miss me so much and that they were going to do everything they could to make my last month and a half in the classroom extra special. All of these people have been so willing to collaborate with me on all my personal projects (such as making videos and having a birthday party), and I have to admit that I’m sad to leave them too. Every day reminds me to live life to the fullest because this one shall pass too. And quicker than it should.