Four years and I am still pinching my arm

The other day we quietly passed our four-year anniversary of living in Andalucía. We didn’t celebrate it, because every day of living here is still, and hopefully will always be a treat to us.

Our simple and happy life in Ronda, this mountain town near the Southern tip of Spain, is something we never in our wildest dreams could have imagined when we were back in Canada. How we ended up here in the first place is a bit of a coincidence. We left North America to take an open-ended Sabbatical, planning to travel around until we eventually would find our home, sometime in the unwritten future. It just so happened that we took our first pit stop and started our search here. Whenever we went on a trip to check out new place, trying to find that elusive paradise on earth, we kept coming back ‘home’ to Ronda, feeling that we pretty much had it right here.

Had we started out our search some place else, our life might had ended up quite differently, but I still believe that Andalucía would have become our home turf. The Spanish south is full of amazing towns and villages, so one is hard pressed not to fall in love with at least one. I believe we could have lived just as happily in the charming historic part of Cádiz or in the narrow hilly streets of the Albayzín in Granada. There are so many jewels here, towns for all tastes, those who like surfing and beach life, city and cultural living, valley homesteading or like us, climbing mountains. We have become very fond of the Andalucian landscape, the rich and diverse culture and it’s passionate and generous people. In these days of global turmoil, I feel it is a huge privilege to be able to hang our straw hats in a small place where life moves at a slightly slower, but not less lively pace. It is not that Andalucíans live in the past, but that they live with the past.

Clearly, there are things about living in a Latin country that can drive expats, or certainly us Nordic types to distraction, if not to sheer madness. Every place has its drawbacks, even our little paradise. After spending most of my life in North America, it is only natural that I wants to tar and feather, or certainly sue anyone who doesn’t do the work they were contracted to do. At these moments I try to bring out my inner Latina and remind myself that it isn’t the end of the world if we wont get that job done by Christmas. There is always next year….

Truly, we do not have a single regret in coming to Andalucía. We live in a place that millions of people dream of visiting, let alone living in. Every day when walking over our town’s world-famous bridge I want to pinch my arm. Is this really our home? I still snap a photo almost every time I cross it to go to work. The undulating Mediterranean landscape with olive trees and vineyards, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have to admit that we do have lots of tourists. If we didn’t, our type of town would not survive. Yet hardly any of these groups of visitors take the time to walk down to our little neighbourhood, which is still like a traditional country village.

Of course, I will always be a bit of an outsider. I am an expat or a guiri as they call us and therefore will never be embraced as a true local. I will never look like them, nor completely sound like them. After decades in Canada I still had a Scandinavian accent. If I couldn’t get rid off my accent on my English, I certainly won’t manage to do so on my Spanish now. Yet, for all the differences, I feel as though we belong here. After four year of living in Ronda, this is our home. We have no other. We know more people here than most natives: street sweepers and politicians, surgeons, flamenco dancers, donkey herders, smiths, poets, archaeologists, police constables and surely an occasional out-law. Not being a native means that we can avoid some of the family feuds and neighbourly intrigues which others are forced to take sides in. We are equal friends with the poor and illiterate, as those who ‘run’ the town. We do not discriminate and are equally friends with gypsies and non-gypsies, Catholics and Muslims or anyone in between. We have many friends and so far no foes.

Today I went by our local Franciscan convent, as I am helping the nuns translate correspondence from French to Spanish, arranging for two novices to come from Madagascar. As I buzzed the gate and was let into the cloistered convent, kissing the nuns as if they were my sisters, I had to shake my head. Me? Here? Who could have guessed even five years ago that we would have found our little paradise here in rural Andalucía? But here we are, and here we will stay.

I hope we will never take this privilege for granted.

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