The only cure for homesickness? Fanta Limón
How this bright yellow soda — that's impossible to find in North America — became my closest companion during a year that got harder before it got easier.
Hi, readers! Frank and I are hosting our first backyard (OK, and indoor) summer camp this week, so I won’t be at my computer much, but I wanted to share the written version of a story I performed on Saturday night at a super special event in East Austin.
Soon, I hope to share a video of the slate of performers, who, like me, wrote and shared pieces around the theme of “comfort food.” Until then, this will have to do. I hope you enjoy it.
The first time I had Fanta Limón, I was meeting my future roommate Sofia.
It was 2003, and I'd left my home state of Missouri to spend my junior year of college on the southern coast of Spain.
Having grown up in the Ozark mountains, I was a bit of a country mouse at the time, but because I’d traveled to New York and San Diego and that one fuzzy weekend in Mazatlán, I was sure I wouldn’t suffer even a little bit of homesickness during this year abroad.
For the first month, I was in heaven, enjoying Spanish tortillas and cafe con leche for breakfast and paella for lunch and sangria at dinner. I’d been living with a host mom those first few weeks, but when I saw Sofia’s flyer looking for roommates in a proper Spanish flat with people my own age, I reached out.
We met up at, coincidentally, at a place called Bar Austin, where Sofia ordered this bright yellow soda I’d never paid any attention to.
It was September, but the weather in Alicante was sweltering. When she poured the sunshine-colored soda over the thick round ice cubes, the intensely fizzy carbonation perked up my ears.
“Que es esto?” I asked. We were doing an intercambio — mixing Spanish and English to try to help each other learn — and she was incredulous that I didn’t already know about Spain’s most beloved bubbly beverage.
She offered me a sip, and the clouds parted. I forgot everything I knew about soda. This wasn’t a Sprite or Fresca or even a lemon lime Jarritos.
This, my friends, was the holy grail. A tart, tangy and sweeter-than-it should-be drink that soon became one of my closest companions as the year went on and got harder before it got easier.
Sofia and I became roommates and friends, then frenemies fighting over who left the dirty dishes in the sink.
There were seven of us living in that apartment, each of us with our own room but exactly one half of a shelf in the refrigerator. We laughed and cried and butted heads, especially when the American roommates were too loud playing rummy in the living room.
When I think about it now, that year feels like a dream, but I remember the days that felt like nightmares. It would take all day to go to the post office to file a form about my visa. Sometimes teachers just didn’t show up for class. I couldn’t figure out how to call home when my prepaid card ran out.
I started cursing in Spanish and flirting in Spanish and debating politics in Spanish, but those impassioned conversations in my second language never left me feeling completely heard. I remember crying in the middle of my Spanish-language film class because I couldn’t understand if the assignment was *due* on Tuesday or if there was test *about* the assignment on Tuesday.
I got emails from my friends back home about how much fun they were having. I missed tacos and sushi and maple syrup. I missed driving down the road with the windows down, listening to the radio.
Little Miss Independent here missed her parents.
My sister got engaged. It was almost like life was carrying on without me.
That’s when I got a true taste of homesickness.
But when the heartache about being away from home set in, a Fanta Limón could sweeten my mood.
It slowed me down long enough to look out my window at the little slice of the Mediterranean Sea that I could see from our fifth floor apartment and realize that I was getting exactly what I’d hoped for.
A mix of highs and lows and new friends and new experiences and pangs of what-ifs and what-have-I-dones. I missed my life in Missouri, but I knew I would have regretted not taking this leap to find a new home somewhere else, however temporary.
I thought: They say there’s no place like home, but who says there’s only one home?
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