Anna Santos

MIIS Program: Public Administration & International Education Management, 2016
Traveling: Peru as a member of the Team Peru Program, January 2015

A look at an experiential learning experience…

What woke you up in the morning? I shared a street that with about 4 or 5 transvestite prostitutes.  In the morning they would bring out their coffee and laugh and joke on the street.

A daily task that you had to do differently? Dancing. Five hours a day, five days a week.  This meant that I had to constantly pop blisters to walk in regular shoes.

A surprising sight? I was surprised by how welcoming the Gitano community was to me.  Once you had an “in” they would introduce you to their family and friends, and for the most part I was embraced with open arms.

Most memorable experience? ‘El Caracol de Lebrija’ is a huge outdoor flamenco festival put on by gypsy brotherhoods.  Diana, a lady that took me under her wing, invited me to this exclusive festival.  I was blown away.  In the small town of Lebrija, the festival gets its name from the large barrels of snails that they pour out in plastic cups for all participants.  Deeply rooted in tradition, it is one of three similar events that happen every year, all based in different towns named by a traditional food that they dish out.  Gypsy clans travel from all over Andalucía and the rest of Spain in huge groups for these events.  Here is the real deal.  Flamenco legends perform for their family, peers and friends, and I have never seen or been a part of such a raw musical experience.

Challenges? I was on a very limited budget while in Sevilla, and that was a challenge.  Most of the money I did have went to dance classes and trips.  Luckily for me, Gitanos are very hospitable, so I knew if I was going to someone’s house I would get fed a delicious meal whether I wanted it or not.  This meant I could get by with a lot less.

Funny Moment? My tongue ring (I was in college) fell out at lunch onto my plate while I was interviewing a well-known guitarist in his studio.  I was mortified, but he pretended not to notice.  I took the ring out for good that night.

Epiphany/Insight? During one of our lunch meetings, my mentor Juan del Gastor, the patriarch of a clan of Gitano guitarists, told me a simple story that changed my view on flamenco.  When flamenco gained popularity with the bourgeois in Spain, flamencos would earn their money singing and performing in ‘café cantes’.  One night a singer, after the first night of sleep in several days, gave one of his best performances.  One patron, instead of congratulating him, scolded him for not singing “real flamenco” in his normally raspy voice.  The singer shrugged his shoulders, and sang it again the way the patron wanted, and collected his tip.  Every outsider has an idea of what flamenco is.  What is real and what is catered to the public are two different things.

Tweet of Advice? Prepare for snails and blisters. #oleconcole