We sat in the bar with less than an hour to go before the presentation started and we were terrified. We looked at each other and wondered how in the world we had gotten ourselves into this. In just a few minutes we were expected to step onto stage and share our story, in front of an unknown number of people, IN SPANISH. We were both stepping WAY outside of our comfort zone and now fear was staring us in the face.
As we sat across from each other we worried about how many people would be there. We fretted about the reactions of the people in our village to our story. We were almost shaking at the thought of putting our burgeoning language skills to the test in front of an audience.
Seriously, what were we thinking in putting this event together?
Integrating into the Community
We’d been planning the launch party for two months. The goal was to promote the release of our newest book, Casados con Maletas: Un Viaje de Amor y Aventura, the Spanish translation of Married with Luggage. We’d arranged to host the event in our village theater, we booked a local caterer and hung paper flyers in the shops around town to invite everyone to come. It was an evening designed to give back a little to the people here who have been so welcoming to us from our first day here.
We’d been busy organizing the event, working with the caterer to fit our budget and needs, arranging for the emcee (the deputy mayor!), the photographers, and the wonderful women who sold books for us. Still, we worried no one would show up on a Saturday night to hear two gringos talk about their adventures and why they chose to settle in a small village in Spain most of them have lived in since birth.
While sitting in the bar sipping our red liquid courage we counted 10 people we knew would show up to support us. Ten people wasn’t a bad showing, though we’d optimistically estimated 100 people for the caterer, hoping for at least half that number to attend. We’d have a lot of food and wine to take home if no one came! We even special ordered two giant cheesecakes from a local baker.
But mostly we sat there shaking our heads wondering if this was merely a crazy idea. One year ago our Spanish was barely good enough to order a meal, and now we were stepping out in front of an audience of native speakers and expecting to talk about ourselves and our book. Neither of us felt anything resembling ready.
We arrived at the theater with four boxes of books, an estimate we were certain was over the top. How embarrassing will it be to carry this entire load back out to the car? We decided we could wait until everyone had left and sneak out to avoid the looks.
The area was a bustling scene of activity. Raoul the caterer and his team were arranging the food in the back, and 65 chairs were set up in the theater. The stage was set with a lectern and a table for our talk with the microphone ready. They even put out water bottles for us. They had everything set for a great evening, but as we stood there staring at the stage we both realized just how scared we were at what was about to happen. All we saw were the empty chairs sitting up on the stage to remind us that we were really going to do this.
The mayor and his wife came early and greeted us. Then people from the community trickled in, taking their seats from the front row. The tailor. The grocery store owner. Our electrician. Betsy’s flamenco teacher. The local painter. The owners of the olive oil processing plant. Our good friends showed up as well, patting us on the back and wishing us luck. Then more people came: the ladies from the weekly market, the men who hold court at the cafes, and many we didn’t even know. A few people even came from out of town due to word from family who live in our village. By the time we started, it was standing room only.
The great turn out merely increased our anxiety for the main event.
Stepping On Stage Despite the Fear
I wandered around the room greeting people personally and thanking them for coming. It was amazing to see so many of our neighbors interested to hear our story. Now we just had to find a way to share it in their language.
We slowly made our way through the crowd and onto the stage. We sat there looking out at the sea of expectant faces and the knots in our stomachs seemed to tighten. Vanessa, the Deputy Mayor, had agreed to introduce us and act as emcee of the event. I’m not sure if she saw the fear in our eyes, but she dove into the introductions quickly before we could sprint from the building.
Vanessa handed me the microphone and I started with what came first to mind – humor. I handed the microphone back and laughed saying we did not think we would need it. Betsy added on that we are Americans after all. The crowd laughed, the tension subsided, and the fear slowly ebbed from us both. When we saw the smiles from the crowd we knew it would be ok.
The audience laughed and clapped as we shared the story of the changes we’d made in our lives, the journey we’ve been on, and what brought us here to Spain. We talked about why we love the village and what the people here mean to us. We told a story we’ve shared many times in radio interviews, conversations in hostels, and while connecting with new friends around the world. The story itself had not changed, so we settled in and wrapped our new language skills around it to share it with our neighbors.
Before we knew it we were introducing our dear friend Pilar, who had agreed to read the first chapter. Despite a couple weeks of practice we realized it was too challenging to capture the emotions when reading out loud. We both ended up sounding like robot Spanish announcers and this just would not do. While Pilar read we sat and listened to our words shared out-loud, in any language, for the first time and we loved it. It was a surreal experience and one we’ll be cherishing for years to come.
A Night to Remember
At the end of the presentation the crowd cheered and I’m not sure we could have been more relieved. Holy shit…we’d done it. We’d sat on stage in front of over 100 people and shared our story in another language. I leaned down and kissed Betsy, taking a moment to privately celebrate, albeit in front of a crowd.
But the best part was the line to sign books afterward. We didn’t expect most people would buy a book, but we ended up selling over 60. In a tiny village in Spain where we didn’t know a soul one year ago. The conversations, photos, and laughs as these people came through were the most memorable part of the night. For the first time, we felt like a real part of the community. One one woman told us “you are part of the family now” and we could not want a better compliment.
It was a beautiful night, captured perfectly by Sara Palmer (the photos here in this post are all hers). We supported each other through it and had a great time with this new adventure together.
We feel like we’ve made it here. We’re a part of the community, recognized members instead of outsiders. As people who’ve moved around and then traveled for years with no permanent community, this is a gift we treasure because we know how hard it is to find.
It is moments like this that we realized why we push ourselves through the fear to face the unexpected. It’s a week later and we’re still basking in the afterglow and pleased that we did not let our worry keep us from stepping onto that stage and joining a fantastic community.