Every one who has traveled in another country knows the pain of the Traveler’s Luck- maybe better, the lack there of. I used to believe that this was preventable, that perhaps adequate planning or dropping my untimely habits would fix this, but I’ve found there is no real escape. It is better to embrace these moments for all that they are. However, there is some good news. No matter how dire of a situation I have found myself in, there is always (always!) someone right behind me setting me back on the right track. Sometimes a complete stranger, sometimes a friend – whoever it is they sweep in right at the perfect second and all is right again (at least for now). Here is a story of a day I got by With A Little Help From Strangers.
Upon arriving to Spain, I quickly realized that 1) there are not as nearly as many Americans here as I believed would be and 2) the European Union is a beautiful thing. They have uniform cell reception all across Europe, they don’t have to apply for a Visa, AND they are incredibly good looking. How is it fair? Anyways, I have been in the process of applying for my pertinent residence card. I had to apply for a Visa before leaving the U.S., and this is the follow up once you are in-country. I just received a paper from the General Consulate of Spain before leaving saying that I needed to go to the National Police within one month of arriving to Spain. Cool. No problem. Not so fast, Heath.
As you may know, I spent two weeks at an intensive language course in Gandía (about an hour outside of Valencia) before arriving to Valencia. In Gandía, we only knew how to practice three things. These three things were simply: beach, party, eat (+sleep?). Therefore, there was no “confirming your Visa blah, blah” happening these first two weeks. When I arrived in Valencia, another two weeks quickly went by setting up my apartment and confirming my courses. So here I was, in the last week of my “first month” in Spain and thought it would be a good time to visit the National Police. Exciting!
I spent one morning taking the bus/walking to what I believed to be the office I needed to go to, but this was not the case and is not quite the story I am wanting to tell – so we will skip this part. Just know it was hot and sweaty and ultimately a waste of beach time (never a good thing).
Yesterday, was the day I had scheduled an appointment to get my pertinent residence card (TIE number). My roommate, Pilar, had helped me by calling to set up an appointment over the phone (Spanish is hard). I knew the time and location and what I needed to bring. I went to my first class of the day, and finished at 12:15. Then, a few friends of mine told me about an interesting course they were taking, and I decided to sit in on the lecture. I left early in an attempt to be avoid the disaster that was inevitably waiting me. Cute
I checked on Maps and I needed about an hour to get where I was going. I had an hour and 15 minutes. There is a kiosk next to my apartment where you can take and print ID pictures for official documents. I went to this first, but I was missing one euro. My credit card has not been working the past week or so because someone hijacked my other card, so I haven’t been able to take out cash lately. I was fairly sure I had some spare change upstairs, so I decided to go up, grab my things, and then try again. After grabbing my passport, asking my lovely roommate for a euro, and grabbing some things to make a sandwich on the bus – I was back to try for the photos again. I inserted 4 euro and then I realized that I cannot count and 2 + 1 + 1 is, in fact, not five. It is four. I wish you could see my face in this moment.
Sweaty, four euros stuck in the machine, running out of time, not sure what to do. I peaked out of the curtain and saw a nice couple walking by. This was my best/only option. I nicely told them my difficulties and asked for a euro. The man did not believe me, but luckily his wife was a little more compassionate. Once I won her over, I could see he felt a little bad for his initial resentment. He said he thought American girls were rich. Glad we could clear that up. Thank you, Stranger #2!
I got my pictures and was on my way to the bus. A little nervous that I would miss it, I walked quickly and arrived with a few minutes to spare. 48 minutes left to get there. 45 minutes ETA. Once the line approached, I boarded and scanned my card. Surprise! Out of bus rides. Out of cash. This stranger was potentially the most important helper of the day. We negotiated and he let me stay on the bus. Thank you, Stranger #3!
I took my seat and decided it was time to eat some lunch. I was the kind of hungry where you start to feel a little nauseous, so it was good that I had grabbed something before leaving my apartment. I prepared my sandwich in my lap, and right before that glorious first bite my sandwich had other plans and decided to crumble to the floor of the bus. I pathetically looked up at the passenger across from me and she was not amused. She resentfully handed me some napkins, but nevertheless, she handed me some napkins. Thank you, Stranger #4!
I got off at my stop and started to head towards the office. 5 minutes in the wrong direction. That’s okay, back on track now. 5 minutes until my appointment and about a 9 minute walk ahead of me. A ran a little bit. I got to the office, and when I walked inside I was greeted with the great news that it was impossible for me to have an appointment at 2:15 because they close at 2:15. My appointment was actually at 12:15, not 2:15. If you do not know, in Spanish, this sounds fairly similar (doce and dos) so that must have been where the confusion was. However, I had come all this way, and I really did not want to have to do so again. I did my best to communicate how desperate I was in Spanish and she asked future Stranger #5 if she could help me. She could and Stranger #4 sent me on my way. Thank you!! Finally, I had the papers I needed and could move on from this mess. Let me not forget the prequel of the Strangers that came before this day. The woman who helped me pay at the bank, a friend who helped me fill out the forms, Pilar for setting the appointment, and the list goes on.
On the way home, I decided to just take a bike home and not worry about finding an ATM to pay for the bus back. It was a beautiful bike ride through Turia Park and I felt thankful for all the experiences of the day. It reminded me how much humans need each other, even those we do not know. Even just to feel the heat of other humans around you, to see the eyes of a passerby, to hear conversations floating around you – it all reminds you of how small you are and how common your problems are. We are all just living each day the best we can, separate yet together. I find that to be a beautiful fact of life. The sun felt extra warm on my skin and the bike glided extra smooth down the paved roads. Isn’t it true that we all get by With A Little Help From Strangers? I think so.