A Year in Spain - Chapter 3: Los Voluntarios

FALL 2014

While I was in Germany, my computer broke.

Excuse me, that sentence is not as descriptive as it should be. I appropriated some Spanish phraseology, "mi ordenador se rompió," the kind that, while correctly describing the computer as broken, does not assign any agent to the breaking.

Because in Spain things just break and it's nobody's fault.

Well I must confess that broke my computer!


But first I broke my charger.

Here's what happened - using my knowledge of electricity (I mean Benjamin Franklin invented electricity so obviously, by Constitutional right, I must have some innate understanding of its workings), I deduced that reconnecting the frayed and totally separated cable of my MacBook's charger (while it was still plugged into the wall) would reenable the passage of electric current, thereby allowing my computer to charge again and NOT short out and fry the magnetic connector which would prevent it from ever charging ever. 

And that probably would've worked - IN AMERICA.

But lo, I was in Germany, and their sockets look funny.

So I arrived back in Dénia with a broken computer, a camera full of pictures, a bag of loco coffee, the Collected Works of C.S. Lewis (thanks, Mommer), two backpacks and a beard.

Regarding the beard - soon after I got back, Jonatan, Ruben and I agreed to just let our beards grow from mid-September all the way to Christmas.

We made it to October 10th.

In the end, we drew from a hat to see who would get which deconstructed facial hair style. Thankfully I drew the mustache. My friends were not so lucky.

By this time, we were three of the few who had remained over the Volunteer team’s reformation from Summer to Fall, a transition which really started drawing us closer together. Over the course of my remaining time abroad, these two became some of my most faithful friends and spiritual brothers.

Now all of this is not to say that I didn’t grow close to the rest of the “equipo del otoño.” The three of us would just always have el verano. On the contrary, a new cool cat was arriving almost every day!

From Spain -

and Germany - 

Hungary - 

Israel - 


Seemingly as a result of the renewed diversity of the Voluntarios, the church’s youth held an International Dinner where each nationality represented collaborated on a dish or two of food from the motherland.

Nicole, Caroline, Ben and I whipped up some mac and cheese and a peach cobbler. 'Murica would've been proud.

But Moritz and his dish were what stole the show.

Moritz steals shows. In my computer (which by the time of these photos had been repaired, thank you Ximo and associates!) I have several folders containing photos of all of us that inevitably end up with titles in the vein of "Moritz does this, Moritz climbs on that, Moritz here, Moritz there." The international dinner was no exception. Moritz's dish hailed from the land of Moritz and contained basically any and everything that could be found in the refrigerator all stir-fried and scrambled with an egg.

And it was good.

Thankfully the rest of the volunteers were left with enough to prepare dishes of their own, and we all had a fine time sharing a meal and a bit of ourselves with each other that night.

Not long after the International dinner, we all took a day trip out to the Cova Tallada at the end of Les Rotes.

I had been out there a few times before, but this was the first time I felt confident enough that I wouldn't drop my camera into the sea to bring it along with me. 

and boy am I glad I did.

As time passed and we got to know each other a bit better, I started to see that there's a subtle but significant difference between volunteers who come in the summer and volunteers who come in fall. While the summer crew is undoubtedly a fun crowd, once August rolls around and school starts up, they’re gone.

The fall people are committed. Many come with the expectation of staying 9 months or more. The way that detail manifested in our relationships is that we essentially became less fellow tourists and more like co-workers and neighbors.

We ate together...

we worked together... 

we went to town together...

we ruined pictures together...

we worshiped together...

we climbed the mountain (among other things) together...

we were just together.

And I got to know my fellow volunteers pretty well over time.

For instance, I learned that Moritz doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “shy” in english, and he has a tentative grasp on the spanish word “verguenza” at best. Do they have a word for “ham” in german? (also don’t teach him any curse words in your language).

Sprained ankle or no, Ann-Kristin had to have her arroz con leche. Period. End of story.

Whether he is singing or speaking, Jonatan just breathes out the gospel. 


If there is a point for Dollywood existing, it must be to have brought Nicole and Caroline together.

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Nobody can really understand a word that Dani says unless he's pretending to be Fernando, Pastor Calero or Yeney.

There must be something pretty special about Nazareth if it's the hometown of Jesus and Bana.

And no apple could ever hide Tanja’s smile.

For a photographer, the difference between “I just met you, can I take your photo?” and “We spend basically every moment of every day together, can I take your photo?” is pretty significant. The barriers between you and your subjects (read “friends”) are gone. That's when you really begin to capture some authentic moments with some truly lovely people.

But too soon the days come when we have to start saying goodbye again.


They really go all out for the Christmas programs at Alfa y Omega. I never considered how much I might love to see little Pablo dancing around in a reindeer outfit, but once it happened it could not be unseen or unloved.

Since the volunteer team customarily disbands for Christmas, at the time of this photo (Jorge Pastor's yearly Christmas dinner for the volunteers) we were all getting packed up and ready to leave. Many any of us were going to pass the holidays with family or friends and return in January. 

But a few of us were going home for good.

But this time, not all the goodbyes were said with hugs and kisses and tears. For Nicole, Marisa and myself, we capped off our time together with a trip to Madrid.

It was a fun, long, expensive weekend (Lunes is lunes is lunes, 100 Montaditos and I expect you to partir el euro!), but before we knew it we were back in Denia. 

The volunteers were trickling away one by one. Joni Esperanza had already slipped off at the end of October. Bana was the first to leave in December. I followed a couple of weeks after that.

I'll admit, it's a lot easier to leave than to be left. Even so, as I said my goodbyes, I knew that it would be a good deal longer than a few weeks before I would see some of these lovely faces again. But I was surprised at how sad I wasn't. I realized something.

We weren't friends.

 We were family.

And what I've found is that wherever you go, your family's there with you.

Whether they're in your heart...

Bana's Last Sunday-122.jpg

in a memory...

even in a matching sweater...

Or maybe, wherever it is that you're going...

your family's already there...

and they've been expecting you.

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