This massive great cruise ship was in Málaga port last week. It is either beautiful or ugly, I’m not sure which. But it is big. Umpteen floors, 6,500 passengers, 2,500 crew. It’s the sister ship of the one that came in a couple of weeks ago, the one that people live on all year round. Both times, people flocked to the port to gaze at the ship, marvelling at its sheer size, and marvelling at the idea of living full-time on a ship. Gazing with mixed emotions, of which envy was certainly one. “How the other half lives” was a comment that was scattered across the English-language press here, and on internet forums. Not only the extranjeros of course – I listened in on the comments and joined in some of the conversations of the Spanish people lining the port. “¡Mira!” “¡Imagínate!”
“The other half”. The rich half. But that’s not right, is it? That ISN’T “the other half”. That’s the half that we are in. You and I. For every really wealthy person we read about or see on television or emerging from a £10,000-a-night hotel, there are hundreds of thousands who look at our own lifestyles with the same envy, awe, longing, or desperation. If we are going to talk about “the other half” with any accuracy, we must first recognise that we sit solidly and without exception in the wealthy half. We’re lucky, mostly because of where we happen to have been born. To the majority of the world, WE are “the other half”, the rich half.
1.4 billion people in our world live on less than $1.25 a day. That’s 83p or 1.12€. It’s impossible to imagine 1.4 billion people. So let’s imagine one of them. Someone walking miles to a water point in blazing temperatures. Someone lying in a cardboard shack unable to swat away the malaria-carrying mosquitos. Someone camping beside the fence on the Moroccan side of the Melilla fence for up to two years waiting for a chance to improve their chances on European soil. Someone queuing at a food-bank or soup kitchen in an otherwise wealthy country. Just picture one person, and mentally invite them into your home. A comfy, warm, centrally-heated English cottage. A flat in London, Paris, Rome, or Madrid. A Spanish villa, or an apartment with lawns and a pool. Imagine you are looking into their face right now, as they look at what you have all around you. And know which half you are in.
805 million people do not have enough to eat. That’s too many to imagine, too. They are the other half. Our fellow human beings, starving.
22,000 children die every day because of poverty. The numbers I am quoting are getting smaller but are still impossible to imagine. But you can picture one mother cradling one tiny famished body. That’s unimaginable too, fortunately. Because we are lucky. We have food, we have more than 83p or 1.12€ a day, and we are the rich half.
1,700 refugees have drowned so far in 2015. Three weeks ago 400 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Now the numbers begin to look more like individuals. Real people. People with families, achievements, sorrows, gardens, art on the wall, cookery books in the kitchen, a child’s drawing stuck to the fridge. People who wanted the best for their children. But their ship wasn’t a cruise liner, they didn’t get to dock in Málaga or anywhere else, and they drowned in the Med.
A good friend of mine is one of those refugees that many newspapers berate. We go to Málaga’s art galleries together, we search the city for really good coffee, and we sometimes go on drives to explore the area. We use my car, because he hasn’t got a car here. Or anything really. Except for a shared room in a refugee hostel, government-funded Spanish lessons at the same language school as me, and a paltry bit of “pocket money”. Oh and a crushed photo of his lovely young wife and his beautiful little girl. They are why he is here. His wife sends me sweet messages thanking me for being her husband’s friend, as though it’s some kind of favour. He’s my friend because he’s my friend – we get on well, we share a passion for justice, and I enjoy his company. We go to art galleries because, contrary to what the Daily Mail might pretend, he is a rounded, cultured, professional man, and arguing with him in Spanish about the elusive meaning of a painting is interesting and fun.
His daughter is pretty. In my view, no little girl should believe that it is normal to have soldiers in the street outside her house all the time, and no little girl should fall asleep to gunfire every night. No little girl should ever learn that it’s dangerous to stand up for what you believe in, and that to do so can mean that you live in fear and uncertainty, and that your family is split up. I HATE that what is happening in the world now is teaching my friend’s daughter that her father’s morals and courage mean that he has to flee to another country, far away from her, because in his country it is too dangerous to stand up to oppression.
I had a drink with another friend and his little girl this week. I wrote about G once before, how he was a political prisoner in San Salvador in the 1980s (103 – The Kindness of Strangers). He has the kind of criminal record many of us would be proud to have. As a mere teenager he put his head above the parapet and stood up against government dictatorship, and put his life at risk, forcing him later to flee his home country as a political refugee after imprisonment. Recently he has been informed that his country’s government has offered an amnesty, and is willing to offer him a “pardon”. My instant reaction, while getting another peach juice for his daughter, was “no!” – to me, his criminal record speaks of his courage and his humanity. He laughed. Obviously he thinks the same. “And when she grows up,” I said, “she will be so proud of your history and your fight against oppression.” “I hope so,” he said, his eyes softening as the 6-year old smiled a toothy grin and interrupted to tell me that Ratoncito Pérez had brought her 5€ for her last tooth. She is lucky, she was born here in Spain, and will learn about her father’s courage as a “story” from his distant past.
Meanwhile the other little girl, in Palestine, listens to the sound of gunfire from her bed, and looks out of her window some mornings to see dead bodies in the street. 100 yards away, next to one of the new Israeli settlements, border fighting is the norm. Inside her house her mum tries to keep life as normal as possible, and texts me her gratitude that I am friends with her husband. I just hope, as he does, that his little girl will be here in Málaga in time for Ratoncito Pérez to put 5€ under her pillow when she loses her baby teeth.
We paid for our drinks, and walked along to the end of the port to gaze at “The Allure of the Seas”. Huge. A boat full of people who are not fleeing danger, persecution, and oppression. Behind me, a group of Welsh ladies squealed in envy – “Look at it, Megan! How the other half lives!” They were carrying bags from the shops along Muelle Uno. Without doubt, they are in our half. The lucky half.
© Tamara Essex 2015 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
The more you learn, the more you learn what you don’t know. So true! I thought I’d cracked the subjunctive. With all the over-confidence of someone whose B1 diploma has finally arrived in the post. But now at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, we are learning the final category of “when to use the subjunctive” – the one that is defined by “sentiment”. And it is highly subjective! Or subjectively subjunctive. Or something.
Mostly I’ve got it. (1) cuando in the future; (2) wishes or desires; (3) possibilities. And now (4) sentiments. So verbs which usually take a normal tense (the indicative), go into the subjunctive mood when the sentiment is emotional.
SENTIR – “Siento que hace frio” – i feel that it is cold, or I feel cold. There is no sentiment in this phrase. “Siento que haya muerto tu amigo” – I’m sorry that your friend has died. The sentiment or sorrow in this phrase triggers the subjunctive.
COMPRENDER – “Comprendo que hay mucho trafico” – I understand there is a lot of traffic. Just a fact, no sentiment. “Comprendo que tengas problemas este mes” – I understand that you are having problems this month. Subjunctive, because it is expressing sentiment.
So there’s another spanner in the subjunctive! Not a clear-cut rule or a nice list of verbs that can be learned. More a judgement, that the feeling in a phrase means you should choose the subjunctive mood.