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Journal 16 - Cultural and religious diversity

March 27, 2006

When I left the US, I was aware of how Spain sits between a number of different worlds: Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. While I hoped I would be able to learn about these other regions from the perspective of another country, I didn't know what I could really expect.

In Ceuta we had the opportunity to begin seeing something of Spanish history and culture, but I was especially intrigued with what I was learning about countries in West Africa. Mostly through the encounters with Sub-Saharan Africans I began to gain some basic understanding of West African geography, culture and current history. Since then, my contacts with people from outside of Spain have continued to be a surprisingly significant part of my time.

I had a wonderful visit during the last week of February with my former Bolivian host brothers who are currently living and working in Barcelona. I traveled in train across the country where I met them and one other Bolivian family with whom they now share an apartment. It was great to catch up with them and refreshing to be around a more familiar Spanish accent and culture. As far as studying immigration in Spain, it was also really interesting to see first hand some of the issues that immigrants face. The issues are often similar in the US: dealing with unfair employers, difficulty achieving residency or other political support, difficulty fitting in with the local community, and so on.

Here at the Cdiz University are a few hundred students who participate in Socrates-Erasmus program. The program, usually just called Erasmus, facilitates study abroad for students within the European Union. My course in grammar and language is made up of only 8 students, who come from France, Germany, Sweden, England, Czech Republic, Poland, and Im from the U.S. In addition, Ive had conversations with students from Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Norway, and Finland. I hope to keep learning more about world history and cultures as my time here continues.

A comment on religious diversity as well. In Ceuta and in my single trip into Morocco, I experienced more directly the worlds of Catholicism and Islam. In Andaluca, Islam and Judiasm both play an important historical roles too. In our visit to Crdoba, we toured the old Jewish quarter, which sits beside the famous Mesquita Catedral. This mosque began construction in 756, building on top of the site of a Christian basilica. Throughout the next centuries, the mosque was enlarged four more times, to support the growing city and to demonstrate the political power. When the city fell to the Christians, they chose not to destroy the great building, but instead to change the minaret into a bell tower, and build their cathedral in the middle of the mosque. The project finished in the early 1600's, bringing to an end a millenium of construction.

However, today Catholicism and secularized culture are the two relgious forces in Spain. I read a quote from a Spanish philosopher who said, Here in Spain, were all Catholics, even the atheists. From my experience, that saying does well in capturing the religious aspect of the culture. I saw part of the Carnaval celebrations (something like Mardi Gras) and the Ash Wednesday procession, and next month I will be especially interested in the events of the Holy Week before Easter, the Semana Santa.

Derrick