How Deciding to Get A Doner Kebab Reminded Me of the Importance of Feeling Connected

I know I should have cooked tonight. I had all the intentions to. During my time here I’ve gone out for lunch and cooked dinner. Mostly cause the menu del dia’s are too good to pass up. Three to four course meals sometimes with included drink sometimes with dessert and coffee. Often with dessert or coffee. But coffee being only around 1 Euro here, I don’t understand why anyone would pick coffee over dessert. I also always go out to lunch because it helps the time go by and it forces to me to go outside. I probably would have cooked if Pil Je hadn’t treated me to lunch. Took him to a Chinese spot that has the best soups out of all the Chinese spots I’ve tried here. He’d never been and he loved it. Tho the whole staff looked new and they didn’t have the dish I usually get. But the mean lady who never smiles, who actually looks like she has an “I’m judging you and you are a disappointment to this family” look on her face at all times, the one who shook her head when she noticed how many napkins I ended up not using, wasn’t there today. I mentally prepare before I step into the place. Funny how I would miss her by not seeing her today.

I should have cooked. I even looked up recipes for lubina which is European seabass. You can get a whole one for like 4 Euros here. Will definitely miss that when I leave. But I opted not to. Didn’t want to go out and sit at a restaurant for dinner. Eating lunch by myself at a restaurant is less lonesome than a dinner at a restaurant by myself. I’ve eaten more meals by myself since I’ve been here than I did the last two years combined. Maybe even three years. So I was looking for a takeout place. Except most Spanish takeout places close after lunch, which is around 4–4:30pm. And it was only 7pm. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8 or even 8:30pm. Even the Korean spot nearby doesn’t even open until 9pm. My appetite has been a tear lately. That’s what happens when you swim a mile a day. I want to go for more but nobody here seems to pay attention to the rules. And the lifeguard doesn’t seem to want to enforce them either. So the calle rapida will have senior citizens slowly doing the backstroke. And they always end up hitting you with their hand even tho you’re in the other lane. It’s one of the most disgusting feelings. To be swimming in your lane, going at a good pace, and then you feel somebody’s hand hit your body. Mostly on your arms and shoulder. Sometimes on your leg. It all just seems so Spanish. So instead of going past a mile, I end it at a mile cause I just wanna get out the pool at that point.

My options for food were limited. Had burgers at The Good Burger last night which is a pretty good copy of Shake Shack. 5.90 value meals on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Thursdays it’s 2 burgers for 1. They used to have a deal on Sundays but I think they got rid of it. Maybe they never did. So didn’t want to do that again. Which pretty much left me with kebabs. There are all types of kebab shops here. And pretty much all run by South Asians. The other night I went to one run by Pakistanis and noticed they had Pakistani food on the menu and ordered that instead. Heard the microwave turn on a few more times I would have liked but it’s only two guys in there and I’m sure not that many people come in for Pakistani food. The name of the restaurant had Kashmir in it. Took a pic of it and sent it to my Kashmiri friend who laughed cause none of the food items listed on the sign are Kashmiri. I would have asked them about it but my Spanish isn’t good enough to engage in that level of a conversation. The lamb was delicious which is all that mattered.

On the way back I passed another kebab shop that had a long line. Most of them have the value meals that range from 5 Euros to 6 Euros which includes a kebab sandwich, fries, and a drink. And so I headed out to that spot. And yup they had that deal. For some reason all the kebab shops also offer pizza. Never had one. Don’t plan to. The guys working in there were South Asian. I guessed either Pakistani or Indian. They were watching cricket on TV. Noticed a halal sign with an Arabic word under it. Which is why I thought they were Pakistani. There was one guy waiting before me. After him, I placed my order. I moved to the side, sat on a stool, waited for my food. Another customer came in. Looked fashionable, slouchy jeans, European soccer player hair, white Spaniard, confident. Even tho my Spanish isn’t good I picked up on his tone. It wasn’t as warm, it was abrupt, more like a command than a request. The mood of the workers changed too. They spoke to each other less in their native language and if they did it was quieter than before. He stood right in front of the cashier, watching them make his food, pointing when he wanted something changed. Arrogantly. The whole energy of the place became tense. I even tried to watch the cricket match on TV which is the most boring sport I’ve ever watched live.

He got his kebab and left. They were still cooking my frozen fries and they hadn’t started on my kebab yet. The guy who I assumed was the owner asked if I wanted it picante. I said yes. But even when you ask here, it’s never spicy enough. I should have told him to make it mucho picante which probably would have been my normal spicy. I noticed a pot boiling something in the back. I’m always curious as to what the workers are cooking for themselves. It’s usually tastier than anything on the menu. Being too short, I couldn’t see into the pot. “Que es?” I asked while pointing. One of the guys responded, “Té.” “Que té?” I asked. And for some reason he responded in English, “Indian tea.” “Ah OK…chai con leché?” And all three of the guys made a collective “Ahhh” noise and smiled and their body language change. Their posture got better, they got taller.

“You know chai?” one of the guys asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“Chino?”

“No Chino.”

“Japones?”

“No. Coreano.”

“Ah, there are Indians in Korea?”

“No, I’m from New York.”

“Yes many Indians in New York.”

They cracked a joke about Trump of course. I thought about my Indian American friend I’d recently reconnected with and was texting right before I went out to get food. I thought about how lucky I was that I’d lived in New York for almost 20 years and the multicultural life I’d been blessed with and exposed to through my friends. I thought about how important it is to be seen and recognised. That even that little exchange about something as simple as chai tea can connect you to a group of people from a different land, culture, and language. How that little acknowledgment can give you a sense of pride. How comforting it is when you can say chai tea and not have to explain what it is. I thought about the Korean student here in Spain who asked me what racism was and after I explained it the best I could he understood why he was feeling down lately. He mentioned the club owner who introduced himself to all his white friends here but ignored him. He mentioned the cashier at his local grocery store not smiling or make eye contact with him when it’s his turn even tho he’s there at least once a week and she smiles and makes eye contact with all the other customers. I thought about how I’ve hung out with more Koreans from Korea here than Americans here. And I thought about what that means. And I thought about the Oscars which I read all about the next morning here. And why that type of joy and redemption and pride and emotional jambalaya that can’t be put into words but can be captured in one single image or body language or a look can be felt only if you’ve been marginalised, overlooked, dismissed, shut out, or talked down to at your own place of business in front of customers.

Yeah I really did think about all those things on my 3 minute walk back to my flat here in Valencia, Spain. Then I got excited that I was going to finally see “Moonlight” tomorrow. Told my friends back home that a movie with a Black gay storyline would never make it to the third largest city in Spain. I’m happy I was wrong. I’m happy that it will only cost me 3.90 Euros. Every Wednesday at the 1 of 2 movie theatres that shows movies in English. I’m happy that my sister and her family are coming to visit me for 10 days starting on Saturday and that she asked if “I Am Not Your Negro” is playing here. I told her no but that “Moonlight” and “Fences” were and she said she’d wanted to see those too.

I will cook lubina tomorrow after I watch “Moonlight” by myself. Probably bake it. The last time I fried it, it smelled like fish for a week in here. The kebab wasn’t spicy at all. The white sauce was too sweet. But none of that will I remember. I do wish they would’ve offered me the chai tea. Even tho I didn’t want it. Cause the milk in it would have made me squirt all night. But I still wish they would’ve offered it to me. Because a slight acknowledgement, a little connection is what we all need, each day, to keep us balanced, to keep us whole, especially when the world seems to want to see us all fall apart.