The Harsh Reality of Being an Idiot Abroad

It has come to the point in my study abroad experience where finals are approaching, break-throughs are being made, and everything seems inspiring; The most bittersweet part is that the end of my program is less than a month away, nagging in the back of my mind. I’ve been trying to soak up every detail of the city that I can with my eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs, desperately clinging to what it feels like in the present moment. I don’t want to forget a single thing. Pictures help, but nothing will fully be able to recreate this experience the way I’m living it in this very second.

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The 2016 presidential election somehow managed to worm its way into my every thought, despite the fact that I was living on the other side of the world. I started to question my thinking, “metacognitioning” why exactly I was stuck thinking about a decision being made in what might as well have been an alternate reality at this point. I was living and studying in another country, but my mind snuck back home sometimes.

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Living in Chile has given me a dramatic new perspective on my role in this world. This is a time in which I have the unique opportunity to live and learn from another culture peacefully and with few diplomatic systems standing in the way of this cultural exchange. I applied for a student visa and in response, Chile granted me permission to learn from them in exchange for me abiding to their country’s rules. This is especially important in that the knowledge that I have acquired here is irreplaceable. In addition, the setting that allows me to study Spanish in all forms has awarded me many compliments. I feel myself making more and more connections every day that I reach out to someone in their native language. Communication is so important and this experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.

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Somehow Santiago de Chile has made me less American and more Chilean. I am not completely one or the other, but rather instead I feel like some other country-less entity looking desperately to share and learn with others. There are many ways to do this, but a great example of an experience related to making connections occurred today.

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It was a typical November day in Santiago which means that the sun was out, hinting at the beautiful summer that was only a matter of months away. The streets were hot and the grass was dry in reaction to the changing of the seasons. Spring.

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It was hot and nothing seemed more appetizing in the moment compared to a cup of chocolate ice cream. I roamed the streets for a while looking for somewhere promising and ended up walking into a store much like a supermarket I had seen back in Seattle. My eyes narrowed in on a cup of ice cream in an advertisement that promised multiple textures of the stupid candy. Being American, I walked straight up to the counter and inquired about the dessert. However, I tried to enunciate my Spanish clearly in order to figure out exactly: What did it taste like?

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Her response took me off guard. She completely turned away from me and said something to her coworker loudly enough for me to hear. It took me a while to piece together what she was saying, but in a few moments I roughly translated what she said to, “I hate when they just walk up here and start talking at me.” My heart felt like it skipped a beat. Without even realising it I had exercised a stereotype of American consumers that she held to be true and I was caught red-handed. I did indeed walk up and directly inquire about the dessert before saying hello or anything. This seemed typical to me, but that was coming from my experience living in Washington and California; it seemed harmless enough to get straight down to business.

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I remember saying something about the dessert again, really pining for what I had come for in the first place, but she returned my inquisitions with a hateful stare. I had dug myself into a deeper hole. Before I left I asked her if she had anything that she could sell to me and she just shrugged and shook her head no. I had really done it this time. I had successfully had a conversation, or rather an interaction, with a native-Spanish speaker, but it all might as well have been for nothing because I had broken the cultural norms that this young Chilean woman was accustomed to. I didn’t know any better, of course, but by cutting straight to the chase I avoided the opportunity to ask this woman how her day was going. It must have not been going well, given that she refused my service simply for being an idiot abroad.

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With the hindsight that I have now I am finally able to come to a logical conclusion. If I really want to meet people and have them accept me, then I have to change a part of my routine in order to invite them into my life. I need to be mindful and change my perspective from time to time because sometimes we just get caught in our own silent routine. I remember feeling quite depressed after this interaction, but now I feel like I have the tools to be a better student abroad.

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Later that same day the heat was just not letting up. I had to make the inevitable decision to interact with another Chilean after just being refused service by someone earlier. I was so scared that I would offend someone again, but alas I walked up to an older woman with her cart selling fruit and simply said “Hola, como estai?”

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The woman returned my greeting and seemed ready to start with the transaction. I went on about how hot it was and she agreed that she had noticed too. Her fruit stand was a handmade cart with an umbrella shading her and the cooler filled with fresh fruit that she had brought. I paid for a cup of fruit and then got ready to leave. She asked me if I wanted cream, but she ended her sentence with “o no?” insinuating that it was optional. I asked her in Spanish if it was yogurt or milk because the bottle said “yogurt” on it in English. She said no, that it was more like a sweet creamy topping that she can drizzle over the cup of fruit. I asked her if she liked it; to be honest, I was very curious about it. She laughed and said of course.

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Needless to say, I ended up leaving with a delicious snack before my next class feeling good about what I had said. I entered this woman’s life, made sure that she was doing well, and then I contributed to her business. She gave me an important cultural experience, practice with my Spanish, and also a new spin on a snack that I would have otherwise continued eating the same old way.

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Being a student abroad can be so rewarding, but only if you are willing to roll with the punches sometimes. It reminds me of how Americans are reacting to the election of Donald Trump with revolts in cities across the nation, but most disturbingly for me, in two cities that I hold dear: Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California. Some news articles tell me the worst stories like the tech industry’s plan to secede California in response to the election of a president, exposing the need for a “serious national dialogue” around “rampant sexism, racism and hate that Trump campaign has exposed.”

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Words matter a lot in this day and age and it’s about time we started using them wisely. We should spread thoughts of positive change and strive for unity, but that all starts with simple communication. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out after such a massive statement was made by the American people this election season. I can’t wait to return to my home country to express my opinions, but I am also having an amazing experience abroad that I couldn’t be more thankful for.

-Bailee

Travel, Art, and Death

I suppose I should start this by saying that my grandfather passed away the morning of August 26, 2016. I had been in Chile for no more than four days and I had already broke down. “Se murió mi abuelo,” I told my host mother as I began to cry.

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I live with my new host family in the neighborhood of Ñuñoa, located on the east side of Santiago. This is a good neighborhood for me because every morning I can look out of my four-story window and see children walking to school with their mothers. The white noise that I hear outside my window every night is soft and comforting. Conversations in Spanish and bars playing ugly American pop music lull me to sleep.

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I was lying in my new bed when my mom called me and told me the news. I knew that my grandfather had been sick for months, but the feeling of his loss hurt me immensely nonetheless. The walls are thin in my host family’s apartment building so I’m sure they heard me crying. But enough sadness, because I am not sad anymore.

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My host mother’s name, as it was first told to me, is Carlota, but in Chile everything ends in -ito or -ita so I call my host mother Tita. (Carlota, Carlotita, then Tita… get it?) Even though her nickname may directly mean “little Carlota” she is anything but. Sure, she only reaches my shoulders on her tippy toes, but she has the heart of someone at least twice her size. When she first met me she immediately told me that she was “muy fuerte,”meaning very strong. And boy was she right.

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The perspective that Tita gave me about my situation is what made it so I could continue my study abroad experience. I told her that my grandfather had been sick for so long that when I saw him last on August 22, he could barely acknowledge my good-bye kiss. I told Tita that in my grandfather’s last moments on earth were spent with my mother, my uncle, and my grandmother, all people that love him dearly. My mother held my grandfather’s hand and told him that it was ok, that he was safe. I told Tita that my mother held my grandfather’s hand as he took his last breath and then I cried even harder.

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So you see that there were a lot of people in pain, not just my grandfather. My mother was in pain watching my grandfather suffer, and I was suffering being so far away from him in his last moments. The pain took its toll on my whole family so when my grandfather finally passed peacefully, we were emotional, but we all knew that he was finally free from the body that had been working against him for so long. Tita knew this and she worked to make me understand it more. She told me that my grandfather was in a better place where he could live in peace knowing that I was finding myself in another country. And it’s true. I know that my grandfather is proud of me and the last thing that he’d want me to do is to be sad while I’m in such a beautiful and vibrant place.

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The day after my grandfather died I visited La Plaza de Armas for the first time in my life. I visited the Cathedral dating back to 1600 and when I stepped inside I felt a strange spirit run through my whole body. Tears fell down my face before I knew they were there. I was surrounded by art and I felt safe.

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I come from Santa Rosa, California. I already know that you don’t know where that is, but just know that it is a small, tight-knit city in Northern California. It’s one of the newest societies in the world, only dating back to the early 1800’s. The only history that I ever saw was photographs of the downtown area where one of the oldest buildings has now been converted into a Barnes & Noble bookstore. When I saw that Cathedral for the first time it was like being transported to a whole separate world frozen in time. The sculptures of religious figures I may never have the patience to learn about moved me immensely. They all looked like figures from an El Greco painting, but instead of being immortalized in paint, they were immortalized in three dimensions. They all stood on pedestals looking down on me, almost as if acknowledging my pain. I looked into the eyes of these sculptures and was moved.

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So now I bring it all together. Travel, art, and death. Although the news of my grandfather’s death was painful, it will only affect me as much as I allow it to. I can either shut myself in my room and weep in pain, or I can travel and see art and weep for joy. My choice is obvious.

 

Bailee Hiatt

She couldn’t get enough

This is Bailee Hiatt, again, signing into Hawks around the World for yet another psychological analysis of why I feel the need to travel. At first my desire to explore seemed natural, but my grandmother pointed out something very important to me this summer that made me think twice. She asked me why I felt the need to do community service abroad when so many people in the United States could use my help as well. In Santa Rosa, California, and Seattle, Washington, alike I have witnessed poverty and inequality. Why don’t I stay here and help the people closest to me? Why even travel when there is work to be done here?

"Self in Oil with Purple Hair" (2016)
“Self in Oil with Purple Hair” (2016)

This is a difficult question for many reasons. It addresses the universal problems that service has yet to solve in any one place. There is poverty in every country. There is slavery in some form in every country. There are confused children everywhere, not just in poor countries, but the rich ones too. When two Brazilian “Cannibals” arrived in France to meet the then thirteen year old king in 1563, renowned essayist Michel de Montaigne took note of the newcomers confusion regarding the controversies of a civilized culture. The Brazilians first asked why such a strong army listened to the whims of a young and inexperienced leader, but they also asked why there was such dramatic inequality between the rich and poor (Thank you to my HIST 17.1 professor, William Spires, at the Santa Rosa Junior College for this helpful anecdote). So we see that this has been a problem since the dawn of time. Either everyone gets some or a lot gets nothing. Civilized society today uses social Darwinism to defend the inequalities around us. I believe that people are not born into poverty, rather they were born into a system working against them. They were born into a system where only so few get to enjoy the luxuries of life without lifting a finger.

"Andy in Graphite" (2016)
“Andy in Graphite” (2016)

I saw this inequality in Tijuana, Mexico, when I went with my US-Mexico Border class to build dignified housing in impoverished communities. I saw children forced to walk across a one foot wide wooden beam over a fifteen foot drop to get into their home every day. I saw men deported to Tijuana from the United States having never been to that part of Mexico before. They looked scared.

"Self in Graphite" (2016)
“Self in Graphite” (2016)

That being said I am headed to Santiago, Chile for a college semester in only ten days. Of course I will find a way to volunteer, but I am also there to study. This is different than my last study abroad experience in many ways. First, I am going alone to Santiago. I did not plan to study abroad with friends because this is my journey that I need to take myself. Second, I am going for one hundred eight days total instead of only a week. This will give me time to see, hear, and possibly learn more than my last trip out of the country. I will be studying in a Chilean school full-time so that will have a huge impact on my perception of the country. Third, I will be living with a family in Chile whereas in Mexico I stayed at La Posada with my close-knit US-Mexico Border class. This is what I have been most excited for. Every fear that I had about leaving my family for a whole semester melted away when this option was presented to me. It was a no-brainer to chose a home cooked meal and a family to confide in over an apartment in solitude. I haven’t made contact with this mystery family yet, but I will take note of how my experience was affected by living with a family in Chile.

"Bridget in Oil" (July 2016 W.I.P.)
“Bridget in Oil” (July 2016 W.I.P.)

After this much rambling I should probably have an answer to my grandmother’s question by now. Alas I don’t. Perhaps it is because I am selfish. The feeling that I got while abroad in Mexico was irreplaceable, priceless. I suppose I chose to study abroad again in order to get that same feeling of importance that I got before. I probably won’t tell my grandmother that, though. She’d take that answer as a cop-out.

All of the images in this post are pieces of art that Bailee did this summer.

¡Vamos a Nicaragua!

Bienvenidos a Nicaragua

Hello. It’s me, Olivia, a rising senior at Seattle University. My major is Humanities for Teaching, with minors in Spanish (duh) and Psychology. I’ve made it safely to Managua, Nicaragua, where I will be studying Spanish for the next 6 weeks at the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana). For those of you who don’t know, Managua is the Capital of Nicaragua with a population just over 1 million people. It’s a beautiful place, filled with large plants, insects, colorful birds, heat and humidity. Fingers crossed I will become accustomed to the humidity.

Although I arrived early, early (1 a.m.) Saturday morning, I met my host mother, Marcia, today. The house is beautiful, complete with a hammock in the sunroom. Marcia has been wonderful and made us (there will be four of us staying here) a yummy dinner of soup, salad and the most delicious juice I’ve had. I can’t tell you what fruit it came from but I loved it. Even though I have only been here for a short two days, I have been enjoying my time and excited to see what else I will discover while here.

 

Week 14

Learn about Lisa’s experience in Bonaire with CIEE studying Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation. CIEE Bonaire is considered a Non-SU Program.

Bon Dia!

This week was my last week in Bonaire.

All we really had left to do was give our powerpoint presentations for our projects. We gave one in the morning to the teachers and class, and then the same presentation at night to the public. Other than staff and students, it was mostly retired people that showed up. I’m glad that all the presentations went well.

On Thursday I logged in my 40th dive! It was a fun-dive with friends down to 122ft at Yellow Sub. We saw a large cubera snapper (~5ft.), a barracuda, and lots of moon jellyfish! An anemone was even eating one of the moon jellies. I also received my (8) scuba certifications: AAUS Scientific Diver, Rescue Diver, DFA Pro (Diving First Aid), Advanced Diver: Advanced Adventure Diver– Advanced Buoyancy Control, Research Diver, and Shore & Beach Diver.

We ended the week by snorkeling at Lac Bay…

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Sea Fruit

Contrary to popular belief (or, perhaps, directly in support of popular belief–I don’t presume to have a solid grasp on the beliefs of everyone in the world, and should probably have chosen a more honest introductory phrase), being a vegetarian is not very hard. It’s not even hard to be a vegetarian in France, as long as you have the wherewithal to say “je suis végetarienne.” I do hear the occasional “so what do you eat?” from the bleakly unimaginative, and have twice received a bowl of uncooked radishes, offered with the same smile you see when someone gives a child a gift, knowing only their basic interests. I make it even easier on people because I will also eat fish. This allows me a sense of moral superiority over the meat-eaters, and makes me a point of ridicule in the vegetarian community. ‘Pescetarian’ however, requires an explanation, followed by a lot of unanswerable ethical questions that I’d rather not get into, so I just stick with vegetarian.

One evening, my host family brought me to dinner at the house of a family friend–a homeopath and her boyfriend. They would have felt right at home in Ashland, Oregon, what with their woodland elf figurines and their pellet stove. Needless to say, in this house I felt very comfortable with my dietary restrictions. I spent a good deal of time smiling at the marine life in their living room aquarium, watching the fish dance about each other in what I perceived to be joy. If only I had seen the terror in their unblinking eyes.

The appetizer was a charming offering of ginger cookies, tapenade, carrot slices, and a french kombucha-like drink made from fermented fungus. After a healthy chastising of the yellow fever vaccine I’d received that morning in preparation for my trip to Senegal, we dined.

When my host family told them I didn’t eat meat, only seafood, I believe they took it to mean seafood is the only thing I would eat. The entire table was laden with what looked like the supporting cast of the little mermaid. What I had first thought were capers were actually the shriveled grey eyes of of fully intact giant prawns, whose limp antennae rested on what looked like a bowl of their children. The french call these ‘grey shrimp’, which only adds to the appeal of the little creatures staring up at you from a glistening mound of corpses. There was also a plate of crab legs, a platter of oysters (gummy, grey insides gleaming in puddles of seawater), and two dishes of sea snails. These were not escargot, I was told firmly, although I don’t remember what they were actually called because I was too busy digesting the fact that I would have to digest what I’m sure were a tight-knit group of friends back when they were underwater.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seafood. In moderation. A plate of fish and chips, sushi, some batter-fried shrimp, crab with lemon and melted butter–that’s the kind of thing I can really get jazzed about. But I’ve never seen anything like this. The sheer amount of it all. And it was cold. I guess I don’t know how these little bottom-scuttlers are usually served up, but crab, lemon, and butter do not evoke the same pleasure when chewed below room temperature. I’m sure it was my fault for trying to mix solid butter into the mush, but what are we without dreams?

The feast was surreal. It was as if the table had been plunged into slow motion. Open mouths crackling fibers in the prawns; the mucousy slurp of of an oyster as a trickle of sea water descended a chin; throaty french laughter echoing from crab-filled maws framed by stubble and fragmented shell. The french talk with their mouths full. That’s not a judgment or even an observation. It’s a fact relayed to me by host father. They speak through their food so as not to limit the the natural flow of conversation, which I can by all means support in any other setting. Nevertheless, I find it impossible to listen to the curative powers of geraniums while the words are passed through the pulverized body of a snail. Watching the rubbery lump flatten under teeth, only to resume its twisted grey shape as they released it, over and over until it finally succumbs to the esophagus, battered, but still whole.

This, I knew, was my punishment. Witnessing the people I’d grown to love and understand, devouring the contents of a tide pool with a primal ferocity. This was my moment of retribution for devaluing the lives of sea creatures. They were taking their revenge. I knew it was either sink or swim–though I feared either would put me at risk for becoming dessert. I began steeling myself for the task at hand when, from my right, a crack wrought the air. My host mother had broken into a crab leg, and the resulting spurt of juices struck me in the face. We all shared a hearty chortle and I shredded the napkin in my lap. Ultimately though, I allowed my animal hunger to take me. There wasn’t a mirror, but I think my eyes rolled back in my head and I’m pretty sure my teeth sharpened. They howled in approval as I joined the fray of slippery crunching, snapping their jaws and stamping their hooves. Or something like that.

To start, I switched off the part of the brain that prevents you from eating erasers and then sucked down a snail. It wasn’t the sensation of chewing on hardened fat that got me, or the stiff, brittle sucker-piece, or even the squelching noise the thing made as it untwirled from its shell; it was the grains of sand. That is one aspect of seafood that I have never understood. How can one enjoy a scallop when small rocks chip away their teeth at every bite? Why not save a few bucks and roll a damp marshmallow in rock salt? The oysters fascinated me because after they scoop the sorry creature into their mouths with a knife, they tip the shell and drink the seawater. I was always taught not to let dogs drink water at the beach or they’d get diarrhea, so this really felt like tempting fate. I, personally, was content with politely tipping the water onto my plate that was slowly filling with carcass parts. That’t another facet of seafood that I find completely backwards. The more you eat, the more you’re left with, and by the end of the meal your plate is completely full. Eyes, shells, antennae, and exoskeletons stacked like a pyramid of trophies to show the other cavepeople who is the most fertile. They’re defense mechanisms against one another, but that armor gave them no protection as we tore into their weird little bodies.

The french call this massacre ‘fruits de mer‘ or ‘fruits of the sea’. It’s a sweet thought as you rip the tiny legs off of something with a face. Speaking of which, I really got the hang of prawn peeling, though my pride was tainted in part by the growing number of eyes glaring up at me from my plate. Every time I glanced their way, my small and large intestines would switch places, so I took to covering them up with bits of fibery husks from their disemboweled comrades. The concealment worked, but there was no escaping my sins. For the next two days my fingers smelled like I’d just stepped off an Olivia Cruise.

I could hardly believe that the next course they brought out was a salad, and not, as I had originally thought, a terrified manatee calf served in the skull of its mother. Whatever had awakened inside of me yearned for blood, but I pushed it back down and we resumed the airs of polite society. All of the brine had left me parched, and I wanted to clear my mouth of the PeTA-sanctioned hate crime, but they didn’t have any water–only white wine and a bottle of lemonade. I hate lemonade, but, for lack of a better alternative, asked for some anyway. They laughed gaily, saying it was just water in a lemonade bottle, but assured me not to worry, as they would fetch me some lemon drink in a flash. I tried pleading with her–water was fine, preferred actually; scrambling in vain to explain the horrible mistake. Unfortunately, my hurried, broken french fell on deaf ears as she, ever the hostess, told me it was no trouble, and zipped off to grab an unopened bottle of sugary lemon-water.

“All for you!” she stated proudly, her wide grin echoed around me by each guest. I returned their smiles, hoping to convey mirth instead of revulsion, and got started on the 1.5 liters I was now compelled to drink.

Hours later, crustacean and lemonade sloshing through me with every waddle toward the door, I whispered a quiet “desolée” to the fish in the tank.

So she went to Mexico…

I told everyone I knew about my first trip out of the United States. I felt like something changed in me after I had been living in Tijuana for a few days. The terrain was less menacing, the language less foreign, and the walks of life less strange. Of course the biggest shock was driving from the I-5, the same freeway I’ve taken in both Washington and California, into a dusty highway that in no way resembled the roads I grew up around.

A la Iglesia
A La Iglesia (2016)

The US-Mexico Border class that went with me on this journey stayed with me at Esperanza’s Posada, located in La Gloria. While there we ate at many local shops including a panaderia, a taqueria, and a dulceria. What was special about living here for a week was the quality of the meals we received. Everything was homemade from scratch. At the taqueria we ate at one night I watched tortillas being made hot and fresh by hand.

Una Noche en la Posada
Una Noche en la Posada (2016)

The mission of the trip involved our cooperation with Esperanza International. They gave us a place to live in La Gloria and in return we offered our strength and perseverance in building a more dignified home for a family living in one of Esperanza’s communities. We worked for a family in Cumbres for a total of five days. Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t be strong enough to help, but everyone on the team was flexible. We were told that “being” is more important than “doing.”

Self with Dana
Self with Dana (2016)

I really took that instruction to heart. When my muscles ached from shoveling dirt I spent my time with the children of the community. We would bond over drawing and taking photographs of one another. I came to Tijuana with almost five years of experience learning Spanish so everyone seemed to understand me, but no one as much as the kids. It felt like some cute girl was always asking for me to draw them una sirenita, like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I drew ponies, dragons, basically anything that they could imagine. But we also talked about their lives in Tijuana. We talked about their school and their families. They were all so excited that I knew Spanish as none of them knew any English.

Nuestro Trabajo (2016)
Nuestro Trabajo (2016)

Playing with the kids was the fun part. The real work came with shoveling dirt and transporting that dirt across the street and down a hill. We started our work by staring at a 15 foot wall of dirt wondering how so few of us would ever make this look like a foundation for someone’s home. However after five days of sweat and tears under el sol, our group managed to move enough dirt to create a trench and begin leveling the earth to begin the building process.

Fuertes (2016)
Fuertes (2016)

It was hard coming home and explaining to people that I hadn’t actually built any houses, per se. I’m sure my friends and family expected to see me covered in cement and/or bruises from mixing and applying said cement. However the work that we did was exceptional. The days were hot and long, but everyone found their place. It was even flexible enough that one day I was able to shovel dirt and bend metal into place with equipment that I had never seen before in the same day.

Miedo (2016)
Miedo (2016)

Talking to the kids also made the work worthwhile. I realized how different our childhoods were: my own and the children of Cumbres. Where they loved to get dirty and share things, I remember myself to be more of an indoor creature. I loved books and puzzles and clean hands, but these children loved to laugh loudly and run barefoot. My cheeks hurt at the end of each day from smiling so much.

Mamá y Bebé y Pollo (2016)
Mamá y Bebé y Pollo (2016)

My body was tired, but my mind was on fire. So many connections were made in such a short amount of time that I thought I couldn’t take it all. I got a bit anxious on the last few days in Tijuana, wondering how this trip would effect me in the future.

Veinte y cinco (2016)
Veinte y cinco (2016)

I’m still not sure how this trip will manifest itself in my future work. All I know is that I felt something very real and very strong in Tijuana. I felt it while holding a mother’s one-year-old baby. I felt it while I was playing soccer with the neighborhood boys. I felt it when I watched the children finally break open the Mickey Mouse piñata we got for them on our last day in Mexico. I may go on without knowing what this feeling is exactly, but I know that I have been inspired to action. Community service changed me as a child, but now world travel has changed me as a young adult. I see the two becoming more important to me every day.

El Solito (2016)
El Solito (2016)

 

-Bailee Hiatt