A Trip to Europe

Pilar Mackey - Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan
Entered on March 19, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
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I believe the lessons learned aren’t always sought. When our family was planning our European vacation a few years ago, my parents kept telling me that the trip would change the way I look at the world. In three weeks of trekking across Spain, France, and Italy, I would see famous sights, eat new foods, drink some wine, and see how people in other cultures live differently, but how we are all really the same. I would see that my hometown is not the center of the world, and my way of life isn’t the only way.

So when we landed in Madrid after an all night flight, I was anxious to see all the sights. We checked into our tiny hotel room in the center of the old city. We figured out how to use the room key to turn on the lights, and why there was a mysterious second button on the toilet. By that time, we were very tired, so we all took a nap in the afternoon before dinner. When we woke up, my dad asked for directions to some restaurants, and we took off on foot to find some local cuisine. Walking through the tiny twisting medieval streets, we took a wrong turn somewhere and lost our way. The graffiti-filled cobblestone alley finally opened up into a small plaza with a few skateboard punks and other locals hanging around. Suddenly the place erupted with shouting and screaming. We turned around and there crumpled against a newsstand, was a young woman with her white dress turning bright red. And then we saw two African men run and tackle a man with a knife. As people were running all around me, yelling words in Spanish, I watched her bleed to death in the street only forty feet away. We read in the paper the next day that she was a prostitute from Romania, and had been stabbed fourteen times by her pimp.

To say that the experience really opened my eyes would be an understatement; even though it happened thousands of miles away in a foreign country, I realized that it could have and does happen in my own hometown. It’s a disturbing thought, and no matter how many times I had heard the phrase “life is too short,” it only sunk in after seeing a stranger lose her life, both of us in a strange land. I now truly appreciate each day, even the hard ones.

We moved on after that shaky start, and finished our vacation. Like I expected, I saw famous sights, ate new foods, and drank some wine. But that terrible moment in that unremarkable alley has stayed with me longer than the great cathedrals of Rome.