I had very mixed feelings as I set foot in Granada for the first time in nearly nine years. I felt sadness: in the four years after my previous trip I lost both my parents and both my grandfathers. I felt excitement too, as I began to embark on a two-week course in Spanish followed by my twenty-third international volunteer project at the Parapanda Folk Festival in nearby Íllora. Now living in a part of the world where summer temperatures reach fifty degrees Celsius, I also felt strangely at home in the blistering heat of an Andalucían summer.
I was joined at the project by three Spanish volunteers: the coordinator, Ena, Almudena and Aly; two Ukrainian volunteers both called Maria; Virginia from Italy; and Rhu (pronounced ‘You’; he became known as ‘Mr You’ to avoid any confusion!) from South Korea. We were guided in our work and helped during our stay by Daniel and his team from the local volunteer organisation. Our work included setting up and taking down the equipment for the festival, constructing fences, arranging chairs, watering plants, looking after the needs of the performers, sweeping, cleaning, laying the table, washing up, and playing with the local children. We also enjoyed a varied free time programme including games, flamenco lessons, a dance class, watching performances and a day off hiking in the nearby mountains. During the project I tried to revise the Spanish I had learnt while studying in Granada, and want to say muchas gracias from the bottom of my heart to the Spanish volunteers who helped me and showed me great kindness and endless patience.
As a student in Granada, I had learnt a lot from watching fellow teachers do their job and was able to empathise more with my own students in my French classes. Another benefit, both of the course and of my project in Íllora, was meeting people from different walks of life: not only fellow teachers but people from many other fields too. When not studying, I took the opportunity to see what I could of the local area: at the weekend in the middle of the course, I went to Fuente Vaqueros and to the ski station at Sierra Nevada, where, as I stepped off the bus, I felt cold for the first time in many weeks. I soon warmed up hiking in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings on and around the deserted ski slopes.
The festival over for another year, after a day with the other volunteers in Granada, I began my journey north to my UK-bound coach in Barcelona, with stops on the way in Cazorla, Úbeda, Jaén, Baeza, Madrid and Manzanares el Real. I found nothing but friendliness from local people who often went out of their way to help me. In Úbeda, for example, having got nowhere in the local tourist office in my quest to find the nearest campsite, and by now exhausted and demoralised after a fruitless search with heavy luggage, I asked a passer-by, who not only went to the trouble of showing me on his phone how to get there but even offered to drive me.
I often think back to my adventures in Spain last summer, as I go about my daily life in Kuwait. When I see the Spanish and Latin American students in my classes, I think of the Spanish children we met at the festival, and how I wrote their names in Arabic on their arms and made wristbands for them. As I watch Spanish series on my laptop, I think back to our accommodation in Íllora, where I watched the first episode of Desaparecida. When I listen to Spanish music on my MP3 player and proudly wear my Parapanda Folk Festival t-shirt, I often get goose-bumps as I remember moments of great emotion. As I reflect on those memories, I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness at what I experienced and at the people I met, and an overwhelming sense of longing both for my twenty-fourth international volunteer project and for my next visit to Spain.