Vicente and I wandered the streets of Alfafar this evening, long after night’s shadows had overtaken the village. Past the cemetery, his parents had said, in the area with the warehouses… We passed large tin building after large tin building, but the Filadelfia Pentecostal church was not so simple to find. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as we sped past a group of three men loitering beside a car; as crazy as we must have looked to outsiders, two 20-something barely-adults talking fast in English and speed walking through the barren Spanish district, our current reality was far, far crazier.
We weren’t just walking and talking frantically, but we were in search of the Roma evangelical church — the Filadelfia Pentecostal Church has a presence in most Spanish towns and cities, and plays an important role here. According to Vicente, for most Roma communities this specifically Roma institution serves as glue to hold them together, and about 90% of Spanish Roma are Pentecostals. We were searching for the church because we had missed the lift from his parents, who had left for the church almost an hour earlier; we were too frantic with our list of things to do to go with them, but for whatever reason, an hour later we decided a trip to church was imperative the night before our departure. On the way, we talked about our plans, arguing about the tendencies one another might manifest on the trip like “an old married couple, minus the romance,” as Vicente says. Apparently, his defense strategy will comprise a stash of chocolate. I can’t say I’m complaining.
When we finally stumbled up to the white warehouse exterior that read “Iglesia Evangelica de Filadelfia: Cristo Vive,” the music urging us inwards provided welcomed solace from our busy minds. The pastor even welcomed us to the front of the church at one point, to pray for “Vicente, and his friend Rebekah — I think she is Christian, too — before their trip to India.” After the service I was told that I was very brave, but that what we were doing was something out of the ordinary, especially for a man and woman who aren’t married; a friend of Vicente’s mom said that I would learn how Roma culture “seems very open, but is actually very closed,” and that people are very protective of their families. Another woman asked me to bring a man back from India for her. I smiled, thinking we should start by making sure we get back ourselves!
In the end, we had made it to the church, through one more day of endless conversations about God and survival, and past most of the obstacles between the open road and the two of us. For today, my first day as a 24-year-old and my last day in Vicente’s legendary hometown Alfafar, the fact that our misguided wandering had led us to the right tin building was enough. Now, all the energy I have left will be spent hoping that our first day on the road tomorrow will go just as well.