A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Thirty Four, read it Here
Hotel Villa Olimpica was a brand-new, twenty-five-story hotel being built in the Olympic Village. My group of English friends said that lots of tourists were being hired at the construction site, and most of the construction companies were from England and America. Therefore, they would prefer to hire English speakers—so I wouldn’t have much of a problem getting a job there. I was motivated by their encouragement and immediately headed to the construction site.
By the time I got there, the construction workers were returning from their lunch break. There must have been more than three thousand people working there, and in order to get to the site, one had to show a badge. Since I didn’t have one, I mingled with a group of workers and was able to sneak through. As soon as I got in, I asked some of the workers to show me who the supervisors were. Someone pointed to a gentleman from Ireland called Dave. I walked right up to him and asked for a job. Dave happened to be one of the supervisors in charge of the day-shift cleaning crew. Without much said, he asked for my name, which I gave him, and he immediately welcomed me aboard, asking me to start immediately. I thanked him, and he asked someone to take me to the office, process my badge, and take care of other requirements. I was to be a part of the day-shift crew, working twelve hours a day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
I was assigned to be part of a six-man team. There was Michael from Germany, Steve from the United States, Pedro from Mexico, and two other guys. Our job consisted of cleaning up debris on the floor. Even though we were working twelve-hour shifts, we really didn’t do much for the ten dollars per hour that we were being paid. All the guys on my team were tourists, and just like the other two thousand people who worked at the construction site, none of them had a good work ethic. It was no wonder that these facilities were behind schedule. People basically pretended to be working and got paid for it. But who was I to complain? As they say, when in Rome, act like the Romans, and as long as I was getting paid, it was all right with me.
In my work team we were pretty close. I became good friends with Michael. Steve was the default leader of my team. Since he was an American, everybody kind of looked up to him. I was sad to learn that he was HIV-positive. I later found out that Pedro was gay, and unless you were told, you would never know it. He came across as abrasive and hostile, but he was a very nice person when you got to know him better. I also learned that he was in love with Steve. Homosexual relationships were a bit too much for me, coming from my background, but since I was now living in a society that accepted it as a norm, I had no option but to keep my opinions and feelings to myself.
After a week working at the site, I received my first pay. It was a lot of money and I decided it was time to find my own place. I would have loved to keep staying with my African friend, but my relationship with him and his flatmates had become a little strained. He had become jealous of me because I had gotten a well-paying job just a few days after I arrived in Barcelona, whereas he had been living there for two years and could barely make ends meet. I tried to chip in for meals as well as rent. When it came to food, I never held back. I always bought the best food, irrespective of the price. My lavish taste didn’t quite sit well with my flatmates, and their resentment led to subtle attempts to get me out of their apartment. By this time I had started hanging out regularly with Michael, my teammate; we had become the best of friends. Sometimes he would invite me to sleep over at his apartment, which he shared with a guy from Argentina, and we would go to clubs and bars.
One of those nights, I met Jenny, a beautiful professional dancer who worked in the clubs. She was adopted from Equatorial Guinea when she was a baby, had grown up in Spain, and spoke fluent Spanish and English. She had never known her biological parents. She and her adopted family had lived in Madrid, and after her eighteenth birthday, she started searching for her biological family. She was able to trace them back in Equatorial Guinea. She now lived in Barcelona because her Aunty Petosa, from her biological mother’s side, had just migrated to Spain and was living in Barcelona. Jenny had come down to spend some time getting to know her.
When I met Jenny at the club that night, I danced with her for a long time, after which we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet the next day. After work, I hung out with her and we had a great time. We made each other laugh. It seemed like I had known her all my life. I had never met anyone like her—someone I could relate to on all levels. She was astonishingly beautiful and a very good dancer. That night I stayed at Jenny’s apartment with her Aunty Petosa. We spent most of the night talking, and I watched her practice her dance moves. Aunty Petosa also liked me and invited me to hang out with them anytime. That night Jenny and I slept in the same bed, but nothing happened. We were like brother and sister. I think what had drawn us together were our traumatic life experiences.
For the next few weeks I slept either at Jenny’s or Michael’s apartment. My life revolved around Jenny. I loved her so much, I couldn’t think clearly anymore. We kissed a lot, but we never had s*x. Jenny was a virgin, in spite of her active social life. She refused to have s*x with me, but that was okay by me. My feelings for her went deeper than that. She had become my confidant, and I wasn’t willing to jeopardize that for momentary sexual satisfaction.
Michael was from Germany, but did not consider himself German. He told me he was a proud Swabian—from southwestern Germany. His hometown was about fifteen miles from Stuttgart. He was visiting Barcelona for the summer when he landed the job at Hotel Villa Olimpica. He traveled a lot and had been to America. He told me he spent the last summer living on an Indian reservation. He was fascinated with Indian culture and tradition, and we ended up arguing about what he perceived as the United States government’s neglect of Native Americans. He also tried to perpetuate a debunked conspiracy theory that the U.S. government was deliberately trying to eliminate the Native Americans through the introduction of alcohol into their closely guarded society. Even though I had never been to America, I refused to accept his argument. Though Michael and I argued from time to time, our friendship remained solid. Our difference in race had never mattered to us. We were together most times, but sometimes he worried that I spent too much time with Jenny instead of hanging out with him.
After a few weeks, Jenny left Barcelona and went back to Madrid. I was devastated. We had grown very fond of each other and were practically inseparable. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that I would eventually see her again; she had given me her address in Madrid, which happened to be in my old barrio (neighborhood).
Two weeks before the Olympics, our work ended at Hotel Villa Olimpica. Though construction was not completed, some temporary measures were put in place to make the hotel usable for the Olympics, after which work would resume on the hotel. By this time, I had saved about ten thousand dollars. After staying idle for a few days, Michael and I decided to go to Saragossa, an hour and a half train ride from Barcelona, to work on the farms, picking apples and grapes. We arrived at a small farming village, but couldn’t find jobs or accommodation, so we ended up sleeping on a farm. That night we stole some pears from the trees and ate them for dinner. In the morning we walked around the village and bought fresh milk for breakfast. We roamed around the entire day looking for a job, but no one was interested in hiring us. We spent another night in the fields. The next morning we gave up and returned to Barcelona.
Since I had money saved, I decided to enjoy myself doing what I did best: traveling and adventure-seeking. I opted to travel to Spain’s Balearic Islands by ship. I went back to my African friend and got my belongings, which were contained in one small bag. I went down to the port and bought a ticket for the trans-Mediterranean cruise ship that went from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca, departing that evening.
It was my first experience on a passenger ship. As I went from floor to floor admiring the ship, I met a couple from Sweden. They were around my age. His name was Haas and hers was Viola. They both had very long hair and typical Scandinavian looks, with blue eyes and a weird sense of humor. Back in Sweden, they were part of a rock band; Haas was the drummer and Viola was the lead singer. They were going on vacation in Palma. I hung out with them the entire trip and we had a lot of fun together. Before we arrived in Palma, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and they said that they would come and spend the next summer in Barcelona with me. We got off the ship at Palma and said our goodbyes. I decided not to stay in Palma, but to go to a holiday resort instead, preferably a camping ground. I got on the bus to Ca’n Picafort. There, I met a few young people going in the same direction: two beautiful German girls, and one French girl, a real tomboy. By the time we got to our destination, we had all become good friends, and since I had no idea where I was going, I decided to join them at their campground.
I had tried my best to look like a tourist before going on the journey, and I brought all the stuff a typical tourist would need. I had bought a backpack and a sleeping bag, and I had my Walkman, which I brought with me from Africa, but I forgot to get a tent. At the camp, one could bring one’s own tent and just pay for the space to pitch it, or rent a tent, which was expensive. Luckily for me, the French girl invited me to stay in her tent. It was a small two-person tent, but a beggar had no choice. I accepted her offer, and all four of us pitched our tents close to each other. For the next few days, all we did was spend time at the beach, eat, and sleep. I was being careful with my money, though. Things were very expensive at Ca’n Picafort.
Ca’n Picafort was predominantly German. It was like a German city in the middle of Spain. Most of the businesses—including the resorts, restaurants, and hotels—were owned by Germans. Half of the tourists in the area were Germans as well. Our little foursome rented bikes and rode around town. Everything was lovely until the fifth day. I went to the beach and, after reading for a while, did my normal three-mile run along the beach, after which I jumped into the water for a swim. As I was swimming, my leg cramped and I felt myself going under. I stretched my hand to hang on to the person near me, but as I grabbed his shoulder, he pushed me off and I went under again. I thought to myself, Is this how I will die? My life flashed before my eyes and I started to shout, “The Blood of Jesus!” And somehow, I got to shallow waters where I could sit without drowning. I was relieved and furious at the same time—furious that all the people around me had just watched me struggle, but did not attempt to come to my rescue.
Before this incident I was never conscious of my color. All of a sudden, I was rudely awakened to the fact that I was the only black person at the beach and everyone else probably saw me as a nuisance that deserved to drown. As soon as I had fully recovered, I gathered my things and went back to the camp. The next morning I left Ca’n Picafort for Palma. I checked into a hotel there, and that night I went to a club and had a wonderful time. I mingled with other tourists from all over the world. Some of them talked about two other islands they had visited: Minorca and Ibiza. Minorca was predominantly English, and Ibiza was more like a party island, a “must visit” for young people. When I returned to my hotel, I thought hard about which island to visit first. The following morning, I went off to Minorca. It was a beautiful island, very laid-back. I was a bit disappointed, as I had expected it to be more lively and bustling with activities. There were not as many bars as in Ca’n Picafort and Palma, just a few English pubs. It felt like a retirement island, a place for those over fifty. I returned to Palma the next day. Since I was running low on cash and getting a bit tired of traveling, I decided to postpone my trip to Ibiza and head back to Barcelona.
Once in Barcelona, I went straight to Michael and asked if I could spend a couple of days at his apartment until I could find my own place. The next day, I went to the University of Barcelona to look at the announcements on their notice boards, hoping I would find students looking for roommates. I found a couple of numbers and made phone calls. Luckily, there was a room available in a six-bedroom apartment near Plaza Catalunya, so I went over there. It happened that all the residents were exchange students from different countries. There was Debra from Ireland, Giles from South Africa, Gomez from Colombia, and two British ladies. They accepted me and I paid for my room. I picked up my stuff from Michael and moved into the apartment. The next morning I roamed Barcelona searching for work, but couldn’t find anything. I gave up trying, since I still had a little money left.
I decided to enjoy the festivities in the city—the Olympics had just started. The city was packed and the mood was lively. I had never seen anything like it. I met people from all over the world. All the young people were bragging about different athletes they had met or seen. I had never been starstruck, but since everybody seemed happy with these star encounters, I decided to join the bandwagon. I went to all of the events to try to meet VIPs. I ran into Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson. I couldn’t be bothered to get their autographs, though; I was satisfied with just seeing them. I also met Bill Cosby’s sitcom wife, Phylicia Rashad, which pleased me since I was a fan of The Cosby Show.
As I roamed the streets of Barcelona, I noticed that some of the tourists would stop me to ask for directions. It occurred to me that I could become an unofficial tour guide. So for the next few weeks I took people around Barcelona without asking for any money, showing them where all the Olympic activities were going on. Personally, I had no strong desire to see the Olympic events; I couldn’t afford to anyway. But sometimes, when I had the urge to see an event, I would go to the stadium and climb up a nearby street lamp or peep through the cracks in one of the stadium’s entrances. I couldn’t see much this way, but it was good enough for me. Also, I found the activities inside the stadium were not as exciting as those outside. There were so many festivities and unofficial Olympic events, and I captured most of them with my camera.
One day, as I was playing tour guide, I went into McDonald’s to eat and met two beautiful African American girls. I spent the whole day with them, and we talked about all the celebrities we had met. Later that night I took them to a club and we had a fantastic night. The next day we all hung out again and talked about our live. When they learned about my situation and my desire to continue my education, they suggested I go to the United States. They told me that in America, there was a two-year college system, a community college system that made it easier for low-income earners to obtain a higher education. They suggested that I could easily get a job in a fast-food restaurant like McDonald’s or Burger King, and with the money I made, I could easily sustain myself and put myself through school.
I was immediately sold on the idea, even though I didn’t know anyone in America. My ambitions changed from that day on, thanks to these girls. I would be forever grateful to them. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, since they were returning to the United States the next day, and we promised to stay in touch. After my encounter with those girls, my plan became to find a way to get to the United States.
Meanwhile, life in my new apartment was very interesting. Apart from my brief encounter with the couple from Exeter, I had never lived with Westerners before, so I took my time to learn their behaviors and way of life. Except for one of the English ladies, who was over forty, the rest of us were under twenty-two. Every night we would have parties in the house and there was usually plenty of drinking. Gomez was a great cook and would whip up terrific Columbian dishes. And Debra, the Irish girl, would provide some Irish drinks. Everyone else would bring wine and beer, and we would all party. Usually, their other female friends would join us. There were always more women than men. We did the same thing every day, and sometimes I would try hard to excuse myself.
My first movie experience was with the girls. One evening, after we finished partying, the girls wanted to go to a movie. Basic Instinct, featuring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, had just come out and the girls desperately wanted to see it. Giles and Gomez were tired and didn’t want to go, so six girls and I ended up going. I couldn’t tell them that I had never been to a movie theater before. I marveled at the larger-than-life images on the screen. The girls were a bit of a handful, though. Some of them were drunk, and would pinch and touch me while we were watching the movie. I couldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it, though. The girls were wasted, and I could have slept with any one of them if I had wanted to. However, I considered myself highly principled when it came to girls and s*x. I simply couldn’t engage sexually with any girl who was under the influence. So, despite all the advances made by some of the girls that night, I behaved, in my opinion, like a gentleman.
I continued to provide unpaid services as a tour guide, and I made friends with many street performers. Las Ramblas, the famous promenade of Barcelona, was a beehive of activity, from street dancers to clowns. Lined with shops and bars, and ending at the waterfront, it was a major tourist destination. There was a popular myth that anyone who drank from the fountain of Las Ramblas would eventually return to Barcelona. There were many other attractions in the city, including the Barcelona Zoo, which had the world’s only albino gorilla. Sometimes I would take my tourists to the newly completed Barcelona port, where they could see a drawbridge and the famous Christopher Columbus statue nearby. From there, I would take them to the cable car station, where we would ride the cable car across the port of Barcelona to the beautiful Montserrat mountain. Then we would go to the famous uncompleted church, La Sagrada Família, and from there, we would visit some architectural marvels. My route also included Park Güell, where there was a fantastic array of avant-garde art. I would also bring them to the Picasso Museum, located at Barrio Gòtic, and at the end of my tour, to Plaza Real, one of the famous squares in Barcelona. There was a fountain in the center of the square, surrounded by bars and restaurants. There were also two discos; one of them was called Jamboree, and I spent most of my nights there.
Life was far from perfect, but as long as I was dancing, I could forget my troubles for a while.
To Be Continued…