Category Archives: Travel

Do I hate Bilbao now?

My psychologist asked me: “Are you happy to go to the places you know in Bilbao?”. I laughed. “I hate Bilbao” I said.

I often laugh and pretend like things don’t bother me. I use flippancy to cover how shit really, really gets under my skin.

I reflected on her question during the day, and I thought about standing under the puente de la salve (the big bridge near the Guggenheim) the day before, and telling someone who was visiting Bilbao the story of my friend who took her own life there. I can’t share that story here as I don’t want to  cause more pain where too much pain has been caused already.

Here’s the bridge where my friend killed herself.

Here’s the street where I last saw her alive.

Here’s the plaza where a man groped my bum and pretended like it was an accident.

Here are the steps where someone who followed me to the bathroom and tried to force me lives with his parents.

There’s the dance academy that offered me a job, which I turned down as I found out about sexual harassment in their other dance classes.

Here is the street where someone big in the art world in Bilbao also groped my arse, tried to kiss me, asked me 4/5 times: “Why don’t we fuck every now and again?”.

Here is the bar where an old man started touching my hands in a weird way, and when I asked him politely not to, he started screaming at me, enraged.

Here’s the street where someone called sexual stuff to my friend with brown skin.

Those are the steps where a Moroccan dude sex attacked my friend. There’s the police station where she was shown photos of men who all had bruises on their faces already.

There’s the bar that refuses to serve black people.

 

I don’t think I really hate Bilbao, but I think I stayed here too long, became too frustrated with not being able to be a force for change here. Instead of becoming a force for change, I became an angry knob head, and probably had the exact opposite effect to the one I was after. I became embroiled in thinking I was trying to change things here, when really, what I was trying to do was resolve conflicts from my past, like sexism I experienced as a girl growing up in Wales in the 90s, or The Troubles in Northern Ireland and how they scarred my alcoholic mother, how she never really mentally left that tense, judgemental atmosphere.

I hate what I became in Bilbao. I did the best that I knew at the time. The surroundings affected me. I’ll do better next time.

The problem is, I assume that something else is “right” and I am “wrong” and so I try to chop pieces of myself off in order to fit in with the people/society around me. But I’m a big character, with a big heart and wild ideas, and I can only ever fit in a big, diverse, modern city, not a village.

To be honest, Bilbao is a great place to live, if you have the things that make people happy, like: a job you like, supportive friends, a great partner. I have always been too wild for many people, too “out there”. I shot out of my village in Wales as if I had been on starting blocks. I wanted to escape my mother’s alcoholism so badly, I took every drug around, I ran off to university, I ran to “Spain”, and then I was dragged back by the duty of taking care of my mum at the end of her illness. Then I was completely f*cked by complicated grief, lost the ability to speak Spanish, lost my identity.

I think I’m too outspoken, and I’ve always been too curious, too adventurous, too flirtatious, too imaginative, too loving, too free. Too willing to try new things, new ways of doing things. Too willing to stand up to bullies. To fight. I like safe cars and fast, honest men. On bad days, I imagine all my enemies all sitting round in a room, describing me as a conflictive, aggressive, psycho bitch, or just simply, “that toxic cunt”, as if they have nothing better to do with their lives than discuss moi.

At a festival at the weekend, I saw someone I used to hang out with a few years ago exchange a look with her friend upon seeing me, and they quickly walked the other way. I had tolerated this girl at first, thought she was ok, even nice, but then later found her to be basic, racist, and we had once had an argument about sexual harassment and her entrenched conservative views about how foreign women behave came to the fore. I felt relieved that she now avoided me, even amused, which surprised me. Despite my sometimes flippant, even cuntish behaviour, deep down I’m a little girl who wants everyone to like her. I asked myself what I had done to make her avoid crossing my path, which is what provided my amusement. Was it something I had said to her face while we had argued? Was it something I wrote on my blog about her narrow minded, suffocating views from her conservative culture? Was it someone I had sex with that she didn’t approve of?

Was it all of the above?

 

 

 

 

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First days

Adjusting to the UK feels absolutely bizarre, but then I realise that I’m in England, a place where I’ve only ever lived for 3 years of uni in Liverpool.

Here are some weird things:

  1. How English everyone looks – 9 out of 10 people are blonde, with pale skin and rosie cheeks.
  2. Overweight people – there are a few obese people, but generally people are about two clothes sizes bigger than in Bilbao.
  3. The price of alcohol – I had remembered that a drinkable bottle of wine would cost about £7, but trying to find cheap wine for cooking is basically impossible, so I bought vermouth instead.
  4. The money has changed – buying my first pint in a pub, the barmaid handed me back a pound coin, saying the old ones are no longer in circulation. When did that change?
  5. People don’t make eye contact, but if they do, they give a little smile.
  6. When I move out of someone’s way, they say thank you.
  7. Driving on the left again.
  8. Food trucks being in fashion.
  9. Socks and flip flops being in fashion.
  10. High definition eyebrows.
  11. People are polite and friendly on the phone.

 

Güiris Go Home

Teach me English. / Enseñame inglés

Look how badly they speak Spanish. / Mira que mal hablan castellano

Don’t you know anyone who can teach my kids English? / No conoces a nadie que pueda enseñar a mis niños inglés?

They’re not integrated at all. / No están integradas para nada

All you güiris know each other. / Todos estos güiris se conocen

A friend from here? / Un amigo de aquí?

 

I was sick so I wasn’t at the jam. I think that was fate. I might have said something ugly.

Estuve enferma entonces no fui al jam. Era destino. Es probable que habría dicho algo feo.

 

He said at the end that the jam needed more basque musicians, “güiris go home”. 

Dijo al final que el jam necesitaba más músicos bascos, güiris go home.

 

“But you’re not a güiri!” He told me.

“Pero tu no eres un guiri!” me dijo.

 

I’m a güiri every day. 

Soy un güiri todos los días.

 

I’m a güiri when people give me dirty looks for ruining a bar with my stinking presence. 

Soy güiri cuando la gente me miran mal por arruinar un bar con mi presencia apestosa.

 

I’m a güiri when I make an appointment on the phone and people hang up when they hear a foreign accent. 

Soy güiri cuando hago una cita por telefono y cuelgan el telefono cuando escuchan un acento extranjero.

 

I’m a güiri when I work and pay rent, instead of living with my family or in one of their properties. 

Soy güiri cuando trabajo y pago alquiler, en vez de vivir con mi familia o en una de sus propiedades.

 

I’m a güiri when creepy dudes hear a foreign accent and they try to talk to me as I’m “easy”. 

Soy güiri cuando babosos escuchan un acento extranjero y me intentan hablar porque me perciben como “fácil”.

 

I’m a güiri when some old dude touches my arse in a crowd as I’ve forgotten to stop smiling so I look foreign. 

Soy güiri cuando un viejo me toca el culo porque se me había olvidado no sonreírme y es obvio que soy extranjera.

 

I’m a güiri when my friend tells me that a doctor has given her an unnecessary breast examination because he felt like feeling her up. 

Soy güiri cuando mi amiga me dice que el médico le ha dado una revisión de los pechos porque tenía ganas de tocar sus tetas.

 

I’m a güiri when a “friend” follows me to the bathroom to sexually harass me and all my friends are “neutral” because he’s from here and I’m not and a friend from here is worth 10 foreign friends. 

Soy güiri cuando un “amigo” me persigue hasta el baño para acosarme sexualmente y todos mis amigos son “neutros” porque el es de aquí y yo no soy y un amigo de aquí vale 10 amigos de fuera.

 

7 years I’ve lived abroad for. 7 years of this catch 22. I’m sick of fighting. I have 3 months left. 3 months to sell all my shit, give away as much as possible, do everything to close this chapter. 

7 años llevo fuera. 7 años de este circulo vicioso. Estoy harta de discutir. Me quedan 3 meses. 3 meses de vender mis posesiones, regalar lo más posible, hacer todo antes de cerrar este capítulo.

 

I’m not going to go back to the jam.

No voy a volver al jam.

Old (Basque) Men

Last night I was reading and an old dude came up and started talking to me about the music in the bar, the book I was reading. When he started to touch me (on the hand) I asked him not to and returned to my book. He then started shouting at me and stormed off angrily.
 
My friends arrived. I was outside with them. He shouted at me again briefly.
 
Last week I saw a similar thing happening to another woman on the bus. She was from here.
 
The old man was short, thin. I could have easily knocked him out. He uses the fact that it would be shameful to physically accost someone so weak in order to try to humiliate young women he wants to harass.
When I walk home from the gym, old men make comments about my body, with their old men chums. My hair is plastered to my head with sweat.
When I’m at a bar, old men are shouting “NIÑA” so loudly at the woman who runs the bar I feel sick. She herself looks disgusted but says nothing.
I remember when I’d left my keys at home, and went to a bar across the road from my house. An old man started shouting about how they shouldn’t let women in the bar. I was tired and sad about my mothers death so I pretended I hadn’t heard and just read my book.
There’s a young man who sexually harassed me two years ago. I went sick and lost all my friends. Our friends in common gave excuses for him, said that he was sad about his mother’s illness. I took care of my mother and watched her die slowly, her face twisted in agony. Only men get free passes.
Whenever he sees me with another woman or alone, he calls my name. Whenever he sees me with a man, he says nothing.
There’s a lot of men here who could do with a good slap.
I am tired of patriarchy.

The first 20 hours — how to learn anything

  1. deconstruct the skill: Euskera- listening, reading, pronunciation. Decide what you want to be able to do.
  2. learn enough to self-correct: Get books. Don’t procrastinate. Learn just enough that you can self-correct/self-edit as you practice
  3. remove barriers to practice: television, internet
  4. Practice at least 20 hrs: feeling stupid is a barrier to us, causing frustration and stopping us practicing.

Another “Friend”

I first met him outside a bar in Bilbao La Vieja in 2016. He was an older dude, maybe late fifties. He was nice and said he could get me a gig teaching dance once a month in a social centre. I taught there for 6 months.

We messaged every now and again. I proofread a speech for him that he was giving in English at a university.

I asked him for help with getting into radio in Bilbao. Is this course worth the money? Are there any places I can apply to? Do you know anyone?

He suggested we go to the beach to talk about it. I was mildly apprehensive about going in the car with a guy I didn’t really know. I don’t like to depend on other people for transport, especially men. I feel trapped, as if it all goes tits up (like they make a sexual advance and you say no, you’ll be left high and dry). I thought that, maybe because of the age difference between us (around 25 years), he might feel a fatherly affection towards me.

The beach we went to was a nudist beach. I don’t tend to go to them so much as in my experience they tend to be full of naked men. After being masturbated at several times, I don’t feel comfortable around naked men.

I deliberately didn’t wear make up or nice clothes. Some people call this “uglification”, when women behave like this (like when I chopped off their hair and felt more “comfortable”) to try to ward off unwanted advances.

He stripped down as soon as we got there. I really didn’t feel 100%comfortable but I tried to be cool about it. I’m foreign, maybe that’s normal here? Maybe I’m just a big ole square.

Despite my apprehensions, the day went smoothly, without any sexual advances.

That was 6 months ago.

Then, this week, there was the big all day drinking fest of Santo Tomas. He was messaging me, asking where I was to go for a drink etc. I hadn’t been feeling well so I had been chilling at home all day, then went out for dinner with a female friend. We then met up with my best male friend, and the three of us went for a few drinks.

I bumped into my older friend other on Barrenkale, my little group and my older friend’s little group. He was visibly very drunk and the first thing he did was put his hand on my arse. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt (I was wearing a long coat, maybe he made a mistake?) and moved away.

-That guy I saw you with the other day is your boyfriend, isn’t he?

-No. I wanted him to be but he said no.

(One convenient thing about having a boyfriend is that you have an instant excuse to politely decline unwanted advances. I didn’t want to lie)

Dame un beso (Give me a kiss)

-No

Por qué? (“Why?” he asked me, over and over)

Porque no quiero. (Because I don’t want to)

Por qué no podemos follar de vez en cuando?”, “Why can’t we fuck every now and again?” he asked me over and over. I rejected him politely, over and over again. “Because I fall in love with people I have sex with”. His response was always: “But why?”.

My male friend, my wing man, my work husband, saw what was happening and called to me: “Sarah, we’re going now, come on”, giving me an excuse to leave the situation. He gives me faith in malekind.

At the time, I laughed it off, but the next day, I felt deeply saddened by what had happened. Why does “friendship” with women to many, many men, mean sex? Why can’t colleagues do favours for each other and there be professional boundaries without someone putting an unwanted hand on someone else’s butt?

This is basically why women find it so hard to advance in all fields. Grades are a small part of a successful career. It’s all about making contacts. Men hold the majority of the positions of power, and they form networks, they help each other out,  then they “help” women, but in return for future sexual contact… Women learn to keep men at arms length at all times, or else get accused of “inviting” the sexual advance, or using their “wiles” to manipulate.

I used to be “pretty”. I used to have long hair, do make up, heels, have lots of clothes. But I just got sick of it. Conforming to beauty standards, being “hot”, using my sexual power to manipulate men. Of course, at the time, I didn’t realise that that was what was happening. All I knew was that people were nicer to me when I dressed up, and I loved it. But it is a fleeting and precarious type of power, and leads to all sorts of (sexual) favours expected in return.

The next day, I received a message from my older friend, not of apology, but again propositioning me for sex. I didn’t reply.

I went out after work with my work husband, planning on having a few drinks and then meeting up with a guy I’ve just started getting to know who seems to be a total muffin. He just seems so honest and genuine, intelligent, interesting to talk to, makes me laugh a lot, tells dark stories, is better at me at darts but chill about it…

It turned out that this guy had missed his transport connection and wouldn’t be able to meet, seeing as a close friend of his was in town, and he had work the next day etc, but luckily (or unluckily for him?), we bumped into each other anyway. I was merry, chatted on a bit, didn’t leave him to hang out with his friends… Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I walked him to his door (it was on my way to get a taxi, and I always get taxis home if I’m too drunk to cycle as I can’t be arsed to get attacked on my walk home alone. Even if it’s just a grab grope, it ruins my mood for weeks).

Emboldened by alcohol, I kissed him goodnight, properly. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to want to kiss me back that much so I pulled away…  His body language wasn’t a “yes”, and if there’s no clear “yes”, then it’s a “no”.

I didn’t ask him “why” repeatedly. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone in for the kiss, but I think it’s important that women initiate stuff like that… Blurred lines, although an undoubtedly catchy song, is not something that applies to me. If I like you, if I want a physical relationship with you, you *will* know about it. And if you reject my proposition, I’ll wave you on your merry way, without any hurt feelings or resentment. I am aware that I am a strong flavour, and not everyone’s cup of tea.

The next day, I had to run some errands, and I saw my older friend walking down the street on the other side. I pretended like I hadn’t seen him. I was tired and had to do some last minute Christmas food shopping. This was the first year where I was doing my own Christmas dinner, the third Christmas after my mum’s death. I had bigger fish to fry.

It seems to me that maybe some men like to hang out with younger people in order to keep feeling young, and this logically overspills into the sexual, ya que el roce hace el cariño. I wonder if when we are “equal” (in the economic sense), will rich older women do this? Are some of them doing it right now? If I was in that type of situation, would I want that type of relationship?

I know several women my age who are in stable, loving relationships with guys that are 20 (or more) years older than them. They seem so happy. I don’t judge what works for other people.

I wonder if my older friend genuinely likes me, feels attracted to me, or just wants to use me to feel younger. But, seeing as I don’t get that sexual attraction chemical reaction with him, there’s no point in hypothesising. I am not the fountain of youth, my time is precious, and what I really yearn for is to invest my time in deep, loving, long term relationships, in my friendships and romantic relationships.