i see colour

Last weekend, I found myself on a 30th birthday slash hensational long weekend in Marbella (Spain) for a good friend. Like most trips I go on, I usually go in pretty "blind" - if I've organised it then I'll research a bit about roughly where to go and what to see, but that's about the extent of it. This trip was no exception, I was going for a good pal's 30th birthday and that's all I really needed to know (other than where we were staying and what airport to arrive at) - so I left the rest to the natural leaders of the group: Ash's oldest friends from home - Redcar - and her mam). What unfolded, I couldn't have really prepared for - and I came away confused, angry, and having what I can only describe as some sort of mini-existential-crisis.

Before the trip, I remember mentioning to a few other pals that I was heading to Marbella at the end of May. The responses I got were pretty consistent and went one of three ways:
  • surprised / puzzled 😕 "Oh, really?"
  • sarcastic 😏 "Oh, really?"
  • in hysterics 😂 "Oh, really?"
If you know me, and you knew what Marbella was like, then I now understand why I had these reactions - because it genuinely just wasn't for me (but I was yet to find out why exactly).

Before the trip, all I knew about "Marbs" was a phrase that seemed to automatically spring into everyone's minds whenever it was mentioned: No carbs before Marbs! But this didn't exactly encourage me to stop eating copious amounts of pizza, pasta, and rice in the week up to the trip - I just thought it was a joke saying. I was told the phrase came from TOWIE (aka that TV show following the lives and loves of team generation New Money of the land of Essex - which I've obviously never watched as I had no vision of what this Marbs was). My main expectations of the trip were: sea, sand, and sun fun. So off I went.

Arriving in Spain generates mixed reactions for me: On one hand, I get very excited for the significant amounts of jamon and tinto de verano coming my way. On the other, it reminds me of the number of times I went to Spain for an ex - who's now, an ex. So, yes - mixed. I also don't speak Spanish so get easily frustrated when I don't understand or can't properly interact with the locals. That aside, I wasn't exactly going to Spain for a cultural tour of Marbella (oh, the irony). The warmth that hit me as I got off the plane though was glorious, and I was excited to see what the place had in store for me.

welcome to ● villa life

On arrival to our (huge) villa I remembered why I loved Spain: yes, the weather is great but there's something about the local architecture, the lemon trees (and palm trees!), and the promise of great tapas that wins me over every time. There were twelve of us staying at the rented villa - which had everything in it including a pool, an office (standard), a BBQ terrace, four living/lounge areas, a larder, and who knows what else. Ideal. It was set in a sleepy neighbourhood with views to the mountains - like, proper local. We spent our first evening having a chilled BBQ and opening birthday cards etc. The proper fun would begin the next day

The villa was a great base - and spacious for twelve people to not feel on top of each other. The girls who arrived first (I was part of group two) had decorated with pictures of Ash from all ages, there were drinks, snacks, pool floats (a mermaid tail!) for us and our drinks, and a master bedroom that had been decked out to look like a honeymoon suite. The amount of effort her home friends and mum had gone to was lovely and I think Ash was genuinely surprised.

Villa life mainly revolved around three things: 1) breakfast (we had some pancake queens with us), 2) pool (not many people swam as it was "cold" - I obviously did because why not - but the pool was the social spot for tanning, chatting, drinking, gossiping, and eating), and 3) getting ready to go out-out (which was a 1-3h window for everyone to shower, wash hair, get glammed up, etc - yours truly took about 30 minutes because I just run out of things to do LOL). Each day, we followed through the same successful pattern.

welcome to ● marbella

The first time we left the villa was to go on a Segway tour of Marbella. Before heading out, we were given matching bright pink fitted vest tops with Ash's face on them saying "Happy 30th Birthday. Marbs 2018" to surprise her with (and she definitely looked surprised). Imagine this: twelve girls in matching pink tops on Segways cruising the Marbella beach-front in an orderly line, occasionally stopping for the odd snap or two - or to console those who had crashed into each other and now on the floor while their Segway rolled into people and nearby walls.

Of course we looked like a hen-party. We certainly had everyone's attention even before the cat-calling, air-bum grabbing, and general giggles took over from some of the group. I'd say "hola" to passers-by (that's the extent of my Spanish), and surprisingly most responded (usually with a wry smile - some even opting to snap a photo of us crazy-cats). As far as I could tell, the Spanish we passed were bemused, and the Brits were too busy tanning to notice our colour-coordinated formation. Blending in was not on the cards for us Brits-on-tour, and this was going to be a memorable trip for sure. The best (and only) fact from our "tour of Marbella" was (as we were passing a huge beach-front house with a swimming pool) when the tour leader said "and this mansion on your left is worth €25 million, and is owned by a millionaire". Less than an hour later, we had "seen Marbella".

Naturally, we got peckish and decided to head into Puerto Banus nearby (an area some of the girls were familiar with). As soon as we entered the area, there was no denying that everyone was "rich". I say this word loosely because it was an odd mixture of genuinely rich folks (super-yachts, super-cars, and Designer bags hanging off every other person's arm) and folks clearly wanting to appear rich but may not have been. We walked past a car rental place which had a silver Bentley, a gold Rolls-Royce, and a Lamborghini parked up front - as well as a street just lined with Designer shops (Versace, Gucci, LV, you name it, it was there).

The desire to flaunt your wealth was clearly a characteristic of this particular part of Spain - to the extent where I noticed a gold Porsche (I think) cruising the same bit of road about three times in ten minutes before stopping (out of which stepped out a middle-aged gentleman with a blonde plaited pony-tail - classic). Wealth is status, and the brands you sport are the heroes of the show. So much so, there were guys selling knock-off designer goods everywhere we went - consistently approaching us in restaurants, and later I would properly meet at a "beach club" (more on this later). It was a lifestyle, and the majority of people around me wanted to buy into it. I was both fascinated and uncomfortable as we people-watched while eating great pizza on the main strip. Whatever floats your yacht I guess.

mirage ● aka home of the "inappropriate footwear"

On the second night, we went back to the Puerto Banus area as one of the girls had heard good reviews about a "chilled" bar called Sala. After a fairly frustrating dinner (though great views) the executive decision was made that we would be going "out-out" as it was our best chance for Ash's Big 3-0. On re-approach to the Puerto Banus strip, we were quickly flagged down by promoters trying to get us into their venues. I have zero experience in this so left it to the experts. The promoter the girls opted for gave us an armband which we could use across various bars, including a club night. This resulted in us bar hopping (the first had pretty decent music, the second had a bar "animator" who kept introducing random men he'd found around the bar to us, the third I lost track what happened in it) - eventually ending up outside 4.8/5 Google-rated nightclub Mirage.

Being the little sheep that I am, I followed the girls up to the club entrance (staying relatively near the back). After standing around for ten minutes, I realised that there was some sort of issue - murmurs between the girls in-front of me suggested that the club hostess wasn't happy about one of the group's attire - deemed it inappropriate. Immediately, the only boy in our group piped up asking if it was him. It wasn't. It was me. Apparently my shoes were "inappropriate". Ash's mum wouldn't have any of it, and I think the hostess wanted to just get us "making a scene" over and done with as she "got embarrassed" so rushed us in. I was last in the queue, and Ash had waited for me to "make sure everyone got in". In all honesty, the whole thing made me want to go back to the villa - why would I go into somewhere that I didn't "fit" into?

I was clearly not Mirage's typical clientèle, Paris Hilton is though according to their website video, or the image they wanted to uphold in their club (hypothesis solidified as soon as we walked into the place). It reminded me of my 21st birthday in Paris, when one of my friends Timi (a tall, handsome Nigerian man) was the excuse for us not getting into a club in the centre of Paris that a colleague of mine had recommended - because of his "scarf" (he was smartly dressed in chinos, boat shoes, a shirt, and blazer - but the scarf, just didn't cut it). The fact that I was "uncomfortable" is an understatement now that I look back. I just didn't want to be there - which only intensified as the night carried on.

a bit of context: I was wearing a dress from Monki (blue, fitted, with a fun print on it) and sliders (fluffy like you see on the runways but mine were from H&M cause I ain't loaded).

enter irony number one: as soon as we got through bag-check and down the stairs to enter the club, to our left I noticed a cabinet filled with designer goods including (hold your breath here) Versace sliders - just like these £200 pair to be exact, alongside other Versace goodies, for sale. They made the sliders I was sporting shudder around my feet.

enter irony number two: after buying a €15 euro single GnT (€5-7 per mixer) and watching a couple of the other girls getting charged €5 for water as the club "didn't serve tap water", I was nudged by one of Ash's work friends - "hey Cathia, look over there - that girl is in Converse trainers" followed by comments of anger and shock.

to summarise: it obviously wasn't about my shoes - I just wasn't their kind of clientèle. I would put it down to I just wasn't dressed in the "appropriate" way if it wasn't for another observation: aside from the group of black lads from London and beyond on what I assume was a stag, the only other ethnic people I encountered in Mirage were 1) the friendly African gentleman in the ladies' loo who handed me a paper-towel and 2) the Asian lady who stood in the corner of the room, hand firmly on a mop, waiting to mop up spilt drinks and sadly for us - the vomit of a woman who had thrown up all over (I again assume) her man's lap, top, herself, and the dance floor.

my solution: I decided to dance it all out into oblivion, throwing my biggest moves (arms flailing everywhere), and just not giving a sh*t - no one was properly dancing anyway so I may as well dance for everyone. As soon as the suggestion to grab a cab home was on the table, I jumped no-hesitation into the first car.

Funny thing is, although I think the group of girls I was with thought the whole thing was ridiculous - it didn't stop some of them trying to peer-pressure me to go out-out again the second night. To which I replied: well, if they don't like my shoes, they're the only pair I have to go out-out in - so probably: no

beach house ● aka home of the "€10 only scarf"

On the day of my flight (mine was at 10pm and Ash's was at 10am) I decided that all I wanted to do was have a chilled day by the beach, on a lounger reading my book in the sunshine, and eating a nice lunch. So I scoured Google and found a 4.5/5 Google-starred spot called Beach House which looked perfect - easy, I would go and spend the day there until it was time to go home. Suitcase in hand, I arrived at the spot just before midday - I was one of the first three people to arrive. A friendly lady said she could take my suitcase and put it behind the tiki-bar and told me to just find a spot. After about 45 minutes just sitting, the place started to fill up, so I signalled to one of the waiters and ordered a latte (which subsequently arrived in a wine glass - sure).

Sipping on my latte, and reading my book, I slowly started honing in on the conversations around me. Two lovely English ladies (who'd just landed that morning and had a place "just up the road") sat themselves across from me and ordered a bottle of rosé. This was clearly a regular spot for them and the waiters behaviour and demeanour completed changed around them (with me: pretty straight and short, with them: chatty, smiley, laughing). Over the course of an hour, I overheard how the women's children had got married on this very beach - "it was a really intimate affair and we partied for three days - it was great". I was also told that the beach house would completely transform by evening, I "wouldn't believe it was the same place" - apparently it had 300 covers that evening and "everyone would be dancing on the tables". Ideal.

I decided to hide back into my book, as friendly as the ladies were after realising I was on my own. Half an hour later, an African man with a rugged backpack and scarfs printed with LV hanging off of his arms approached the two women. "Would you like to buy a scarf?" - and the bartering-dance had begun. I listened as the back-and-forth went on - "Nooo, I don't need it." "It is only €30." "Nooo I won't pay more than €10 for that." etc etc etc.

A bit of context: I got the impression that this was quite an upmarket establishment - when I asked whether I could sit on the beach chairs, the response I got was: "I assume the beach loungers (while trying to move on from talking to me) - €8 - as the beach beds start from €200 with a bottle of (insert high-end beverage of choice)". Well, obviously. I am one person and as baller as I'd like to live my life popping a bottle of Moët solo on a beach in Marbs, that clearly isn't the vibe I was going for. 

I just didn't understand this bartering-dance of challenging this €30 scarf-guy trying to hustle for a living. Either way, ten minutes later (and probably to get the seller to leave them alone) the women agreed to buy one scarf, for €10. As soon as the transaction was over, another woman sitting nearby honed in "Oh, did you just buy that scarf? Can I feel it?" The new-scarf owner obliged. "Oh, this is a very good copy... (takes her own scarf off) ...see my one is real, feel them, the softness is so close." After listening to the women complimenting each other's designer clothes, I decided I had to eat, get out, and sit on the beach away from the great chat.

After a while of trying to get a waiter's attention, I eventually managed to order and get my food (€10 chicken liver paté with salad and toast, with a tinto de verano). As soon as I finished my lunch, I headed over to the beach loungers (I was the only one as it was quite windy LOL). Thirty minutes into reading, one of the waiters approached me and asked I pay the bill. I noticed that my €10 paté had been cashed up as €14 (or something) so I challenged - but was just met with an I'm-ignoring-you-I-don't-really-speak-English-it's-tax-it's-tax response. So, this sucker just paid so I could be left alone. From this point, I was clearly the last guest on their minds because no one came over to ask if I wanted anything - in the four hours I was sat there reading. Instead, I would have to get up, pack everything up with me, and head to the tiki-bar every time I wanted to order something. The Tiki-bar server was friendly enough, but all the other waiters just moved past me - and I may as well have been invisible.

My first thought: maybe they just don't care because I'm not spending hella cash-monies in this place like everyone else?!

The reality: it was like déjà vu - I was, again, clearly not their typical clientèle. I wasn't spending lots of money (still spent €50 though!), I wasn't in heels and designer gear, and then... I realised I was the only ethnic person in the joint - aside from a black waiter, the group of North-African men peering into the restaurant waiting for someone to be interested in buying their knock-off designer wares (one of the gentlemen I spoke to called Balu said they would barely sell anything as it was quiet season), and the Asian ladies who were persistently trying to get me to buy a €10 "very good" foot massage. At one point, as I was sat on my beach lounger people-watching - I couldn't miss it: the brown picket-fence that divided the white-new-money-vibes from the ethnic-hustlers-€10-a-piece-vibes. This made me even more uncomfortable, and all I could think about from then on was to get out of the place as soon as I could.

Even on my exit, I asked for my suitcase from behind the bar and this was done with clear hesitation/annoyance. I was a paying customer that they clearly just didn't give a sh*t about. As I waited in the entrance, I continued to people watch - one lady came up to reception and the same man who had gone looking for my suitcase (I think the manager - English, not Spanish) was literally falling over backwards for this lady asking for feedback because although she said it was "perfect as usual" he "always welcomed her feedback even if it was little" - this lady simply nodded while twirling her fingers and said something about "definitely will write a letter and send it in - it was perfect but just a few little "tweaks"). What I witnessed next, I couldn't have made up if I tried - from the main room appeared not one, but three Elvis impersonators (beer-belly, accents, rhinestone-crusted white flared one-pieces in place). Then came the outrageous flirting between the Elvis' and every middle-aged woman that passed to go to the powder-room - it was like something out of a movie. Five minutes before my transfer to the airport, I decided to visit the powder-rooms myself - in which I found posters for the venue's upcoming events, one of which was for a Bruno Mars impersonator. I won't describe the poster, I'll just show you. It was time to leave.

I see colour ● thanks for the "stories" Marbs

If I was going to go to Marbs for "the stories", then I think I got them. At the time, I think I was just so shocked that I didn't really know either how to react or how I felt about the situations I was in. Having now been back in London for a week or so,  I am now hyper-aware of two things:
  • London is a unique bubble - I mean, so is Marbella - specifically Puerto Banus - in its own way, but in London I forget that I am part of a minority. I forget simply because I have lived in London for a long time and am so used to seeing people of all backgrounds (race, religious, sexuality, wealth, sense-of-style, you name it - London's probably got it, including me - one of not-very-many Malagasy people in the UK). And this is great. But, it has also meant that I have been conditioned to "not see colour" - the colour of my skin is not a differentiator for who I am (or at least this is what I like to believe - we are after all, all human.)
  • Everyone is different, me included - I'm sure my experience in Marbella has heightened my sense of spotting everyone's ethnicities and differences over the last few days. I can't help it. I even said to pops-chops that I am just hyper-aware that I am brown at the moment - which may sound ridiculous but it's almost like I forgot I was different (having melted into London's diverse citizen make-up) and Marbs opened my eyes again - imposed on me through different treatment, a reminder that I am different - we all are.

A really good friend of mine once said to me (in a discussion on holiday): "I don't understand why you notice that you're the only black person in this place - I was brought up and taught not to see colour". And this exact comment has become such an interesting topic of discussion between my friends and I (her included) over the last few days - because whether I like it or not, I have also been taught not to see colour (because I live in a highly-diverse city, I can implement this relatively easily in my day-to-day life). The only challenge with this is, I then didn't see my own colour - when the fact is quite clear: I am brown. It is the colour of my skin. I cannot change that. I don't look like an "English person" - though arguably an "English person" in London could look like anyone from around the world so forgive my use of reference for a moment. And my facial-features are different. It's almost like I've been so eager to "fit in" that I've forgotten who I really am - I am a brown girl, from Madagascar, in Africa - and I have two cultures running through my veins (Malagasy and British). This is fact. And I don't want to blend in anymore. I am Cathia. And I see colour.

🙆 See y'all soon!


  1. You are Cathia, and you are a descendant from the Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar!


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