Thursday, June 9, 2011

Last post from the Principality... How does that make you feel??? ;-)

Dear all,
Well, it feels like yesterday that I was writing with excitement and nervousness as I first arrived in Andorra. Those first days are firmly entrenched in my memory and I will never forget arriving fresh from Barcelona and going directly out to eat (at 9:30 pm) and then dancing, my first meeting with the head of the department, the highly memorable conference in Madrid, selling myself as someone in the upper 20s. I remember when the gorgeous drive from Barcelona to Andorra was still a novelty, when I used to look up at the mountains and be blown away from their gorgeousness (yesterday), discovering the tiny almost invisible alleyways hidden behind boring, new apartments. I remember being afraid when it first snowed in September (it just snowed last week again...), I remember my first tutoring family (Ian), I remember my first football practice (in Spain), I remember the first Catalan classes. I remember lots of wonderful things.... I love first times, I love exploring new things and discovering more about myself.

There are less new things now for me here, but there are still new things, and some things still feel new, like the beauty of the Pyrenees. Just over one year ago, I had just said goodbye to so many wonderful people at Wake Forest knowing that some I would not see for a long time and surely some never. Such is life, and now, I find myself in a similar emotional place if not a physical. My dear roommates are all going to disparate places in the US of A, none of them close to my destination of North Carolina. Will I see them, probably... or as so many say, nch'allah. but, life changes, and I've had a lot of good days with them right here in the grand capital of the Pyrenees.

The teachers at my school who I've eaten with, whined with, laughed with, drunk with... many of them probably I will not see again. A few of them, I certainly hope life will throw some curves so we see each other again. My teammate Dany from football, one of the most generous people I've ever met, a guy so full of life, you can't help but feel better around him. I hope someday to visit him at his house in Portugal and have him show me the vineyards where his father worked to pay the bills, the little house that didn't have hot water, and the little village he grew up playing in. That will be awesome... but who knows when. My friend Clare, a number of years older in age and many decades wiser in the ways of the world. The coffees, conversations, and her generosity have never ceased to amaze me. Jordi, from school who invited me to his house, who gave me rides, who went skiing with me, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Laura, whom I met too late to fully comprehend and absorb knowledge, but who taught me and showed me so much about her Catalonia, about what it means to be a medical student and why the world really can, and SHOULD be a better place even without the belief in God. Laura, thanks for reassuring me that despite all the surface differences, the way our cultures form us, and the way the world teaches us we should be, some souls are just meant to connect and nothing can keep them from connecting... nothing. I don't find soul connections just anytime but when they come, they are unmistakable. These people as well as my friends the crazy irishman, the first cuban I've every known and one of the best dancers I've ever seen, an hilarious Catalana who confuses me with her ability to dance so long without sleeping, and a one-in-a-million Arkansas native turned ? I will miss but... hopefully will see again.

What about things I've learned? I've lived in Andorra for a year, and have confirmed that at least in the near future, I want to stay away from small places far from airports...! I have learned that customer service in general in Europe is at an all-time low and it must be only to the hundreds of years of history and the cultural pull of Europe that they manage to keep people coming! I've confirmed that milkshakes REALLY can't be reproduced anywhere outside of the USA. I've learned that girls are just as, and even more really, confusing in Europe as in the USA and that it would certainly take a very, very special non cultural American for me to consider marrying them (and by that I mean her, monogamy still seems cool to me). I've learned that to many Europeans-at least Spanish/Andorrans: God is an object in a church, a tradition of by-gone times, that religion is a curse which restricts the joys of men and creates bitterness and conflict. I've learned that if we, as Christians, really do believe in what we say we had better start being really honest with people because right now. It seems that our hundreds of years of misbehavior in the name of God, our authoritarian way of forcing people to adapt to our beliefs, and our scorn for and fear of others' ideas has resulted in a culture of disbelief and anger. And really, who can blame them??! As long as men act in our human selfish ways but yet claim God's blessing... how CAN people know the God I have seen who is Love, who is Patience, who is Forgiveness, who is a million shades of black and white but never one at a time? Let's be honest and maybe when my kids go to Europe they will find people who are not shocked at intelligent people who are religious, at people who seem to really care about others and are religious, at people who would have others choose their own way yet not yearn for the same things. God, I hope so, cause otherwise this island is going to grow.....

I have also learned how wonderful it feels to hear trees creaking on the abandoned slopes of an early morning ski-run,  how a sunrise can almost compare to sunsets when there is none of the latter, how a cup of tea on a Wednesday morning in your living room looking out to the mountains with John Mayer (or Creed Allison hehe) can make you smile, how you can bond with people whose lives look nothing like yours (everyone I've met here), how the taste of a snowflake on the tip of your tongue in November feels, how watching the late-afternoon sun's rays bend and manipulate the surrounding mountains in a way that makes you feel truly humble in the face of creation, how a chilly late night run with a full moon on the path above Andorra la Vella makes running almost fun, how being so far from people who share the same Passion can help you be more open to questions yet emboldened on its role in your life, how pancakes and bacon and Frieda french toast make a Sunday brunch so amazing, how much I crave for companionship, how much I have to learn about who I am, how rewarding it is to work with a teenager and see them gain confidence in the knowledge you give them, how being a teacher is totally not worth it just for vacation time...!

I have learned that the guy who has taught me the most about generosity, the most about finding joy in life, the most about believing that life is a gift and that hard work is how you should live is a man whose formal education cost virtually nothing and although I could out-write him in style, out-debate him in intellectual points, out-score him on an exam, and out-boast him on the $$$ spent educating my mind, he continues to put me to shame with devotion to his family, his generosity, his wonder for life and joy to be in it, his refusal to complain, and his stead-fast belief in people. To know that through a personal friend when you never talk about it and only observe it, is one of the best lessons I've ever gotten. I've also confirmed that I like seeing new things, meeting new people, and learning to deal with the differences that I don't like, and that not everyone is cut out for that. I also know that I miss people, even if I don't tell them enough how much I think of them, I miss so many people, there are tons of little things that remind me of many of you who read this. How I will blend my love for travel and change with my love for my friends is yet to be seen but... I'm sure life will take care of itself.

I am so thankful to my Alma Mater, the people who poured themselves into me to help me get this Fulbright from age 0 to 21, for the people who made my stay in Andorra pleasant, for those who continue to pour themselves into me, and for the Love I feel in me which I continue to disappoint but continues to give me hope. To be able to live in this beautiful country and meet amazing people here as well as in my travels throughout europe and Morocco has been a huge blessing to me personally. As I have told so many people, I consider myself one of the luckiest humans in the world right now! I am so happy to be alive, and I pray that each day of my life I will love living even when it's not as easy as it is right now!

As I have met so many fabulous Fulbrighters, I remain flattered to the committee for having chosen me, and thankful to the American tax-payer for helping pay for this year. A virtually invisible gift from your taxes but I promise you that the conversations, the actions, our work, and the variety of backgrounds of virtually each fulbrighter that I have met is creating good images of America to many who have many false and negative impressions of what America is like. At a cost of $11,000 a year for an average fulbrighter we can fund 2,300 fulbrighters who will meet... oh let's put an average of 200 people in a year. If that's true, that means 2,300 fulbrighters make a direct person-to-person impact on 460,000 people a year (about the amount of people in Wyoming). If 150 of the people each of us has met has a good impression... just imagine how many people have the positive knowledge and impression of an American.... the glory of soft politics, and the glory of humanity. Or... we could buy 1 AH-64 Apache with its 1,200 rounds of 30 mm chain machine gun, 76 2.75" rockets. In theory, that has the potential of killing with an average of 2 people a rocket and 3 bullets for each person would be 552 before getting reloading.... Both of these options cost about $25 million. Guess whose budget got cut because it was seen as un-strategic spending? I'll let you decide which one you think does the most good and which one deserves to be continued and expanded.... I bet you know what I think! ;-)

Sorry for those who think that's too political but... in my mind our decisions on what to do with our time and our money are also life and death decisions. I've attached photos of all my classes and one of my friend Laura and I at Sitges near where she grew up. To end on a more personal, less heavy note thanks so much everyone for reading this blog, I hope you have enjoyed seeing my thoughts and seeing what I have learned along this journey. I look forward to my life next year in Winston-Salem but I hold no illusion that it is blog-worthy. Therefore, this is my last blog... I will return to doing my once-in-a-while email thoughts and I welcome you to check them out. If you care to get them and did not get them as of May 2010, shoot me a message and I'll add you on. Sorry this post is so long....

Thanks to all who read from: Singapore, US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, DR Congo, Kenya, India, UK, France, Spain, Andorra, Croatia, Czech Republic, Russia, Lichtenstein, Greece, Japan, Slovenia, Russia, Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, Malaysia, Romania, Ireland, Bulgaria, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Switzerland, Norway, Croatia, Uruguay, Israel, Slovakia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Italy, Vietnam. I know many of you... but I don't think all of you. If you read it cause you like me, come see me in America!!! :-) If you read it cause you are curious about Andorra, go visit Andorra, if you read it by accident... you're probably not reading this, and if you are one of those creepy robot things from servers, bugger off please. Thanks all and let me know what's going on in your lives!

Peace and Love from the Principality for the very late time,
Mark Titus Hoover