At the impressionable age of nineteen I spent a surreal week living with an olive farmer and his family in Campotéjar, Spain. Eternally I’ll reflect on my week there with such fondness and longing. Despite my hosts’ relative poverty, their rich family and communal bonds engendered such a feeling of true wealth. In fact I enjoyed myself more in those short seven days than I did in my entire three months studying abroad in Spain.
Studying Abroad in Spain: A Surreal Week Living in the Village of Campotéjar
The Background of My Week in Campotejar, Spain
For the fall semester of my sophomore year at Ithaca College, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain. This included three months living with a family in Granada, and one week staying with an olive farmer in the nearby village of Campotéjar. By far my time in the countryside was more memorable than the whole semester in the city.
Principally it was the quality of host family that made the difference. In Granda I never bonded with my surrogate clan. For example, my “mother” kept calling me a junkie. Although it did not offend me, it did perplex me. Several weeks passed before I realized she was actually saying yankee. Then I was not allowed to answer the phone. She did not want her ex-husband knowing she was receiving a stipend for having an exchange student live with her. And I just never connected with my three host brothers.
On the other hand, in Campotéjar my host father, Antonio, and his wife, Consuela, were friendly and welcoming. And their two young sons, David and Antonio, followed me around like two devoted mascots. In fact, it seemed whenever I walked the village streets a group of fledglings would tail me as if I was a celebrity. Being an American, I was a foreign entity to them, worthy of inspection and admiration. Similarly, their simple and happy life attracted me. After a few days, I didn’t want to return to Granada.
What my agrarian hosts lacked in monetary means, they counterbalanced with a rich optimism. Strong family ties and community connections engendered a jovial resilience. Despite their struggles, the people in Campotéjar seemed happy.
My Host Father, The Olive Farmer Named Antonio
Antonio was a slender man with a weathered face. But his warmth and crooked smile radiated affection. For hours on end in the Spanish heat he would run his tractor through his small plot of land. Primarily he grew and sold olives, but he also dabbled in almonds.
Never having seen an olive or almond tree up close, both fascinated me. The idea I could pick an almond, crack and eat it tickled me. Back home in Massachusetts, almonds were something served as a snack at Thanksgiving. They came in a bag, and did not hang from a tree.
Antonio treated me like a son. One day I went to work with him, helping him pick almonds. Then he let me drive his tractor. I quickly became part of his family.
My Home Life in Campotéjar
The six of us slept in a small two bedroom apartment. The boys got the couch, while I took their bed. However, it never felt cramped.
Bathing was an endeavor. In a white porcelain tub with no curtain, I sat holding the manual shower head overhead. The whole bathroom inundated with cold water every time. Hot water was a luxury left for other families.
My comfort zone certainly was challenged at dinner time with meals like wild rabbit. Or a whole leg of Jamón serrano that sat in the closet would find its way into most dishes. A finicky eater as a child, I learned to try new things rather than complain and starve.
The Synopsis of My Week in Campotéjar
When it came time to return to Granada, I didn’t want to leave. Although I didn’t protest, mentally I searched for ways to stay. However, besides abandoning my program, there was not another option.
In that wonderful week I learned that with a bit of love and a positive attitude, one can have a very rich life regardless of finances. For a family and village of limited means, they thrived in ways even those with PHDs fumbled.
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