The smell of chestnuts

It is one year already! I have been a European Solidarity Corps volunteer for 12 months and my project is coming to an end. How was it? What happened during these months? Let me invite you to join me on this sentimental journey…

I remember coming to Barcelona 1 year ago. I came alone with the plane to El Prat, took a bus number 46 from the airport and went into direction of my future flat with a big luggage. I was excited and scared at the same time. I left behind my friends, family, flat, my beloved dog…but I was in a moment of a deep need for a change. I felt I need to discover not only another country or new people, I needed to discover myself.

The first person I met was Ivan, my flatmate. He was running from the city center to meet me, so he was a bit nervous, but very welcoming. He helped me to carry the heavy backpack to the 3rd floor (as we don’t have the elevator in our 19th century building). We had a dinner together and I met my other flatmate. The first conversation we had was full of curiosity, I could feel that they want to get to know me, and I wanted to get to know them.

Already the next day I met the team of fundacio – my future coworkers and my mentor, Marc. For the first few weeks I was discovering the city and getting to know people. It was an autumn time, it was a bit cold, with the smell of the chestnuts in the air, sunny and windy at the same time. Autumn in Barcelona is a charming season – it is a moment when all of the nature can rest from the hot and dry summer. And even though the day is getting shorter, one can feel that it is a moment of gaining the energy – by the nature, but also by the city and its inhabitants.

This first period of my project I would name ‘discovering’. I wanted to learn the most I can about the city, the language, the activities, my fundacio. I was highly motivated and very busy.

Later, when the winter time came, I was already settled in my flat and I established relationship with some of the local people. But it was pandemia. The bars were closing early, the gyms were closed almost all of the time, we couldn’t travel outside of Barcelona and every day there were more and more COVID cases. Now, when I think of it, it was a weird time. Time so similar to the autumn-winter season. It was forcing us to stay home, to spend time in a small groups of people, to be careful about our health, it was a time of fear and focus on the work.

I don’t really remember now when all the restrictions were starting to be reduced in Spain. But in my mind it was convergent with the spring. The spring brought not only the sun, the warmth, but also the start of another period – full of joy, new friendships, and later on summer fiestas, trips and travelling. Spring and summer were the definition of enjoying the project and having extraordinary experiences. I started to be friends with my colleagues from the language course – the Turkish-Greek group. We were meeting every two days, getting to know each other and planning activities. Almost every weekend we were going to the beach. Every few days, we were meeting for a beer or a dinner. We went for holiday together to Tenerife.

In May, two more volunteers came to FCV to do their volunteering projects – Ioanna from Greece and Anastasia from Russia. In one week, from being the only volunteer in the office, we started to be a team of volunteers. What a change of atmosphere!

The first autumn period with its slowness, space, time for reflection, coldness had its charm. However, the energy of spring and summer, the people and all the things we have done together is something incomparable.

Now, my project is finishing. The autumn is here again and the smell of chestnuts is filling the streets of Barcelona. I can’t say I am sad. It is another season starting. And every season needs to appear in our life and bring something different. I am ready for the melancholic autumn and I know that spring and summer will appear to produce and consume all of our energy again 😊 I am waiting full of curiosity what’s around the next corner.

Iwona Wierzbanowska