With the start of this new year, I feel compelled to gleefully reminisce on an international trip that I took last year. This past fall, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain. I had been planning this trip since the first day of my seventh-grade Spanish class. What had captured my obsession was not only learning the language, but also the Islamic history associated with the region.
My 12-day trip was definitely worth the wait and allure, and I was fortunate enough to not only have a good time but also extraordinary stories to share from the perspective of a Muslim.
My trip started in my residence state of Indiana as I took my 30-minute flight to good old Chicago O’Hare airport. Due to the limited halal and zabiha meal options, my husband and I ate our not-so Chicago-style cheese pizza slices while waiting at the gate for the international Iberia Airlines flight to Spain.
We neurotically checked to make sure we had our vaccination cards and QR codes. The QR code was a travel requirement set by Spain’s Ministry of Health, necessitating completion via the mobile application, SpTH. We had answered the COVID-related and travel plan questions as well as uploaded photos of our passport and vaccination cards to the application. We were all set and ready for this trip, but it would be amiss not to mention that the paranoia of traveling during the pandemic crept up intermittently during the trip.
During the flight, we were able to select “Halal Meal” for our dietary preferences. The food we received was mainly vegetarian or fish. I have had worse, so I was not complaining. When I reached Barcelona, I certainly was not complaining at all.
The Spanish immigration was a breeze. With a new stamp on my passport and a quick bus ride to the city center, I finally was welcomed to the real breeze. That is the cool breeze from the Mediterranean. This breeze, along with the heat on my face from the bright Catalonian sun, was a blessing indeed and I could not stop grinning. Before you judge me, I must remind you that I was coming from a very cold and rainy Midwestern state during that time of the year.
I was finally here! I had waited a decade for this trip. I was ready to use my rusty Spanish. I was confident that the Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish class I took in high school was going to come to some good use!
However, right from the get-go, I received my first surprise: in Barcelona, the language that actually was most helpful in knowing when communicating with shopkeepers and restaurant staff was by far Urdu!