"I donated blood in the Netherlands and now I live here." With this sophisticated sentence, spoken in Spanish, I approached a big white bus parked in the middle of one of the main squares of Madrid (and one of my favourites), Puerta del Sol (or 'Sol' like most people call it). I don't know whether it was the catchphrase printed on the bus ("donate blood and save 3 lives" - who wouldn't want to save three lives on a Friday afternoon?) or the fact that the square stayed true to its name and the sun rays seemed to light up even its darkest corners, but instead of heading home as I planned, I decided to instead walk up to the Red Cross' big white bus.
Before I knew it, I was given a pen in the form of a syringe (which I immediately broke) and a clipboard with a list of medical questions (yes, all in Spanish). Armed with my phone dictionary, my memory of a similar questionnaire that I filled out countless times in Maastricht, and a pinch of self-confidence, the sun was staring down on me as I walked through all questions. Once this was filled out, a personal conversation with a doctor was my next hurdle to finally doing what I (accidentally) came for. Luckily, I was the only person in line to donate, which meant that the doctor took her time to sometimes ask a question twice, more slowly. Her on my side, I smoothly walked through my medical history in Spanish until finally I was given the green light.
In the back of the bus, four beds were installed, nicely padded and comfortable. Leaving the details of the actual donation out (so as not to upset any potential stomachs), I got to lie in the middle of Sol for 10-15 minutes, staring at the beautiful buildings, all the people coming from everywhere and going everywhere, and the ginormous ad of Tio Pepe ('Uncle Pepe'), a wine bottle in a small red jacket, crookedly wearing a red hat and carrying a Spanish guitar. And this (arguably) laziness was then rewarded with a Capri Sun (something that made me happier than it should) and a bag of crisps.
After 45 minutes, I stepped out of the white bus again, finally walking home. In a decision that was as spontaneous as life was pre-Corona, Puerta del Sol got a whole new association on this random Friday afternoon. And after all Bachelor Thesis stress, Masters application anxiety, Spanish language struggles - I finally felt free again.
Jesler van Houdt