The pain from my foot woke me up a couple of times during the night until at 7am I gave up trying to sleep and started packing my things. After a lovely last breakfast with my host and his family, I was dropped off at the ferry port. Upon entering I was met with two long lines, which worried me because the last check-in was only minutes away and my large backpack was adding an extra 15 pounds on my throbbing foot. Since most of the pain was on the heel of my right foot, I could only use the tip of my foot to walk, so once I got my ticket, I tried to walk as fast as I could. I climbed up two escalators and bopped up and down a wide corridor until I reached security five minutes before closing time.
The officer scrutinized my passport for a while, touching every single page until finally asking “¿Te gusto Melillla?” “Well of course Mr. Border Police”, I said with a smile, since I feel this makes me seem less threatening at any security point. Then he told me he liked Yucatan better. I told him I’d never visited–I have actually only been to three states in Mexico, including the one I was born in.
After passing security, I waited with other passengers in a large lounge until we were allowed to board. When I saw the length of the passageway to the ferry, I seriously considered sitting on a luggage cart and asking someone to push me along. It was ridiculously long! And so my walk of shame began.
With full left foot steps and painful tip-toed right steps, I bopped very slowly down the corridor. It was all tolerable until the floor below started inclining, then the corridor narrowed and there was a long line of people and their bags behind me. Somehow I made it inside the door (I later realized we were made to climb up to the seventh floor of the ferry–why?!) and sat in the first open area I saw, a large self-service cafeteria with square tables and chairs.
I saw everyone heading upstairs but because I didn’t feel like losing my foot I told myself I would stay there. I began noticing the dirty windows, the limited view, and this along with the disappearing crowds above, soon increased my curiosity about the other areas in the ship. I asked an attendant nearby where were the seats for the passengers and with the wave a hand he said I could sit anywhere–upstairs, outside, even inside the pool. He pointed to the elevator and I was convinced. I’m glad I went in search for more because I discovered all sorts of lounges with tables, arrangements of solo chairs, recliner chairs in rows similar to an airplane, and finally the deck with tables and chairs dispersed around a bright blue pool.
I snagged a seat amidst other families already settled in. The ferry departed and automatically there was lots of sun, a great breeze, sprinkling of sea water, and entertainment. A crew of about six people in matching work-out clothes and sneakers began dancing on the side of the pool to bachata and cumbia. I really enjoyed it. This crew eventually held games and activities for the children during the entirety of the trip.
The majority of the people on the ferry were from Morocco. The children, speaking in a southern Spanish accent, introduced themselves upon request over the microphone, always saying they were from Morocco but lived in Spain. The Spanish entertainers joked around with them, acknowledging their own confusion over little Mohammed 1 and Mohammed 3, and made gibberish noises that sounded like arabic, which always made the entire crowd laugh.
It was fascinating to be in that space. In a way, I felt it allowed me to gain a little bit of an outsider’s perspective, making something I know so well foreign. I’ve always belonged inside an immigrant community myself. Fluid spaces where most adults speak Spanish to one another while their children talk in English to their friends. But Spanglish always roams in the air along with the mix of food and the weaving of old and new stories. It’s a third space we create, inhabit, and come to know so well. Seamlessly, it becomes home.
But as I sat on the ferry, I found it curious to listen to Moroccan children speak Spanish and hear the little ones say they were from Morocco and the older ones say they were from Spain. Or to see mothers pull out the bread I ate everyday while I was in Morocco along with homemade bocadillos stuffed with jamon serrano.
I suppose experiencing moments like this is what the Watson intends. To make the familiar strange, so that you can pull it apart and see what you know in completely different ways. Back in June, before departing, I had a conversation with a friend who told me he couldn’t imagine returning from a Watson year. “After seeing how vast the world is and how different one can live, I wouldn’t know what to do anymore.” Making the familiar strange is scary. What do we do when the pillars that hold us crack? Or worse, reveal themselves to have never been real but created by ourselves?
With each passing day I’m learning to love unveiling the seams. Maybe ignorance is bliss and being confronted with your own deceptions and misunderstandings is very discomforting, but feeling yourself growing out of your own skin is an indescribable feeling.