19 octubre 2006

Your language, my language

I speak two languages, Spanish and English (I can also read and understand somehow Italian, Portuguese and Catalonian).

Knowing both languages is great; I can communicate with billions of people around the word. I can have a talk either with a stock trader in Chicago (or Madrid), or with a farmer in India (or Cuba). I actually have had those sorts of talks. I have heard live (and talk to sometimes) few billionaires, but also I have talked incredibly poor people in Mumbai or, Havana for instance.

I specially remember my conversations with a Bolivian who was trying to refinance her unpaid mortgage in Bolivia. I help in a NGO, in a micro-loan project for Latin American women recently immigrated to Madrid. Two of the Bolivians told us the story of their mother and sister; they were in Bolivia, where they had a mortgage over a shanty but they could not pay it because the husband spent all the money and lost his job. They were about to be repossessed by the bank, and the two sisters asked us to lend them money here in Spain (the amount was here not very high, something the sisters could pay in less than a year!).

So I started to make calls to Bolivia; to the mother, to the sister, to the bank branch director, etc. etc. Since we speak the same language, it was easy, I felt very close to them, especially to the sister, who was my main contact, and a beautiful person. One day I called her and asked her why I could not have reached her the day before. Without any emotion she told me: “we have lost a baby in the family” (I think actually it was her baby). I asked her “What! What happened?”. She replied: “He had a bad night, and died the following day”.

That suddenly brought me about the real differences between us. Talking the same language really denotes the differences between the poor and the rich. What is a simple infection in Madrid is a deadly disease in Bolivia. What is a tragedy in Madrid is another life avatar in Bolivia. When we watch the poor in TV news, we sort of have the sensation that it is something external. When we can talk to poor people one to one, we indeed interiorise the issue (or at least part of it). Maybe that’s one of the reasons why countries like Spain, Ireland or the UK are more social-sensitive than the rest. Also, in the case of Ireland and Spain the path to being rich from poor has been so quick that we maybe feel spiritually closer to the poor than to the rich. In my personal case, when I talk here in Spain to a Bolivian woman -usually shorter in height, less educated than the average Spaniard, not very handful with the city’s environment- I can only see one thing: My grandmother, who emigrated from a poor Spanish region called Extremadura to Madrid, 50 years ago. And when I see a Nigerian, a Chinese or a Moroccan woman, the same, although communicating with them is harder, the underlying phenomenon is indeed the same.

Your language, my language. Your problems, my problems.



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