The fiery Spanish sun beat down on our backs as we all sat around the rocky table. The grass surrounded us, so unusual compared to my home back in California, where grass was yellowed and dry. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the shimmering colored glass pieces scattered across the garden. Ignacio had said that those were the pieces that we were going to make our mosaic out of. I groaned on the inside, thinking about all the elbow grease that would go into making a mosaic on a cement wall. “Do you guys have any ideas for the mosaic?” Ignacio addressed us. He was the founder of FES, la Fundación de la Escuela de Solidaridad (a small foundation that helps families in need through establishing a community where everyone helps each other out). Yesterday, I had helped make bread and marmalade, played futból with the little girls and boys staying at FES, and dug weeds out of the garden. Everything was hard work, not to mention the jet lag we still had after only a couple days in Spain.
“I have an idea,” I suddenly yelled out after a few moments of awkward silence. Father Cameron, the priest in our school church, would always say one specific phrase: the answer is always love. Using my lightning-fast Spanish skills, I translated it into la respuesta siempre es el amor. Not only was it a reminder that in a community, love is essential, but also brought an important piece of our school to the FES, so we could leave a lasting imprint. Making a mosaic of those words were perfect for this occasion. My friends Theo and Aryana immediately jumped in, convincing the rest of the students that this was the way to go. Everyone voted for my idea (probably because they just wanted to get this over with), and we began to plan. The final design that we agreed on was to make each letter a different color and add hearts around the words. Looking at the size of the wall, I realized it would take a lot more than just lying around to complete it before we left the FES. I wasn’t looking forward to the next few long days out in the hot sun with nothing but a hat and a pair of sunglasses to protect me. When they said we were going to Spain, I had expected to see the Alhambra, giant cathedrals, and quaint alleyways decorated with flowers and gypsies telling fortunes. Instead, I was stuck here doing work.
The next morning, our group ran around the community collecting glass shards from in the streets, buried under rocks, and hiding in the dark warehouse full of junk. Some others began mixing the cement from mud and water. It felt like an eternity searching for glass shards, but after we compiled all the colors into one big box, I could see that my patience (or lack thereof) had paid off. It was more than enough to complete our mosaic. By 3 in the afternoon, we were starving, sweaty, and tired. The community members invited us to join their lunch, and we gathered around the large table, like an abnormally large family, to eat some delicious pan con tomate and traditional tortilla de patata. Not to mention, the best seafood paella in all of Andalucía made by one of the moms. We talked to the local families and competed over who could chug the most sangria con hielo without feeling sick. I smiled genuinely for the first time that day since my stupid alarm had yanked me out of my peaceful slumber.
The clock chimed 4:30, reminding us to get back to work. I relented to the ticking of the minute hand and walked back to the giant wall. Although it wasn’t empty anymore, it still loomed over me, but didn’t seem to be as intimidating as before we had begun. The “la” and “respuesta” had already been filled in with blue glass shards, but there were still many letters to go before it would look complete. I sighed and picked up my phone, ready to blast some music. “Anna”, my teacher called. “Only Spanish music allowed!” I opened my mouth to protest, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to change her decision. I opened up Spotify on my phone and clicked on the Spanish playlist. I turned back around and began to crush the large glass pieces into smaller ones with a hammer in sync to the rhythm of “Despacito”.
My peals of laughter reverberated around us after Theo told me his 69th dad joke. This was actually so much more fun than I’d expected. It was easier and faster now that we had a system; Aryana would pass me the glass shards, I would put cement onto it and hand the glass to Theo, who would paste it onto the wall while on his ladder. We jumped seamlessly from topic to topic, got into an argument because Theo wouldn’t let anyone else go on the ladder even though he said he would after we finished the “a”, and turned the argument into a debate over the definition of a sometimes dishonest truth seeker (someone who seeks to tell the truth but can be dishonest at times) and sometimes honest lie seeker (someone who seeks to tell lies but can be honest at times). Time scattered every time I hammered down on a glass piece, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner, and we had completed half of the mosaic.
I stepped back and looked at the unfinished masterpiece, glad that I was able to do this with the amazing people surrounding me, yet not quite over the fact we were doing this instead of watching the world cup. “Anna, are you coming?”, Aryana shouted to me impatiently. I nodded my head, turned around, and ran to catch up with my friends. We had only been here for a few days, but I felt like I already knew the place and the people like the back of my hand. Through placing plates onto the large outdoor dining tables, asking around for sponges to clean our glass pieces, and plucking ripe strawberries from vines, I slowly became used to the mosquito-filled garden, muddy shoes, and sore muscles after a day of kneading bread. Everyone played a special role in the community. Isabel was the little girl who loved to make flower crowns, Julio was the boy who had a pet chicken that would run around the yard pecking at our feet, and I was a teenager who made their bread and played with them after school. Here, I wasn’t just some American girl who said soccer instead of football and ate dinner at the strange hour of 6:30 (people in Spain eat dinner at around 9 or 10). I had a place. Everyone would feel something missing if I was gone. I belonged.
In my hand was the final piece of the mosaic, a red shard of glass that belonged on the last heart. I looked up at the welcoming wall, knowing that I would miss this place forever. My hands dipped into the cement tub and calmly applied some to the glass, careful not to make it spill anywhere. I stepped up to the wall, climbed the ladder, and hovered the glass above the place it was supposed to go. I stood there, not wanting to leave behind the memories and smiles trapped in the mosaic. I looked back at all the faces that I now knew all the names of.
“Hey, can you just hurry up already? I’m hungry.”Laughing at Aryana’s annoyed face, my fingers quickly pressed the shard of glass into the wall. I stepped off the ladder, almost missing the last step from my excitement. The mosaic was finally complete. I stared in awe, wondering if I had actually made this myself with nothing but glass, cement, and a supportive community. I adored the mess we had created on a once whitewashed wall; the mess that formed into words, six loving words. My heart pounded as I stepped onto the waiting bus, ready to take us away from the place we had all called home. I turned around in my seat, not willing to let go. The village and its waving people faded into the distance and we disappeared into the rolling green hills and brilliant blue skies of Spain. Through smiling tears, the single phrase, which had been repeated to me so many times in the past week, still lingered in my head.
La respuesta siempre es el amor.
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