Remember those intercambios I was telling you about? I stand by my charge that they are a fantastic way to meet all kinds of people in a new city. I’m going to share with you one example of why I stand by this statement so fully.
In the last month I have met quite a few new people for intercambios; sometimes as many as one a day for more than a week! In doing so, I’ve grown accustomed to answering a few of the same standard questions with each meeting, much as any conversation progresses with a new person. But among my repertoire of questions I have noticed myself having a particular favorite, which is to get the person talking about how and why Spain is in the economic straits of present. The answers, much as you would expect, are completely fascinating. I literally hang on to every possible word I can remember as they’re responding because immediately and nearly innately they just start… talking. They’re not concentrating on modifying their normal speech habits for my benefit; they aren’t slowing down so I can understand; they aren’t annunciating. They are simply consumed by the topic that has consumed their nation and they find the words flying off their lips faster than they even realized- and at times faster than I can comprehend. But this was not the case with one recent meeting. In fact, his response is the most clear, concise and chilling retort I’ve heard thus far.
I had passed the early evening trying to keep up with the tour (complete with history lesson) of Madrid I received while devouring some yogurt con mango with Nacho (which, my American friends, is not a name to be laughed at despite the temptation! Nacho is short for Ignacio much as Bob is short for Robert). After a few hours of walking and being shown about we ducked into a bar for a caña and starting talking about families and grandparents, which led to a discussion of the elderly, leading to a discussion about healthcare provision, which prompted inquiries about Medicare and Medicaid. After trying to explain the difference that few Americans can rightly distinguish Nacho shook his head slightly and responded,
“Ah, I understand. But here, that’s free.”
“Well yes, but isn’t that part of the reason Spain is in its current situation?” I asked knowing full well I had made my Hoosier roots proud much to the blushed cheeks and chagrin of my blue-state leanings.
“No,” he said turning suddenly more serious than I knew him capable of, “Spain has no money because politicians steal.”
That was it. He said no more. Nacho simply waited for the weight to fall. And it was then that I noticed there was no sarcasm to glean from the playful eyes I’d seen for the last three hours; all traces of prosperity had vanished; his shoulders previously straight now rounded, begging to slump into the despair racing through his mind. Nacho sat still as ice, staring blankly back at me as I tried to assess the truth of what I had just been told. In that moment, though, I realized it didn’t actually matter whether it was true or not, because to Nacho is was truth- as true as anything he had ever said in his life. A truth that possessed no more rage – it had long passed. There was simply…dashed hope. His eyes had vanished into the abyss of sheer hopelessness and I could nearly taste the conviction with which he had spoken, and in that moment I learned more of Spain than I had in all my time prior to this.
I learned that for some of my Spanish counterparts they are certain beyond all measure that this is the reality of their state of affairs. They protest; they scream; they yell; all in the desire to be heard and to find escape for the jaded, cold eyes that sat three feet away, staring back at me. I also realized I have never known the sentiment that not only does my government not listen to me, but I am completely without ability to change the fact that they don’t listen to me. I have never felt that there is entirely no way for me to be heard. Nor have I encountered the time when amidst turmoil of voice and identity I believe my life is tangibly and measurably growing harder because of the actual dishonesty of those that are to be representing me. And what is worse is that I have neither no way to change what is being taken nor the people who are taking. I am simply stuck.
This, these words, these sentiments don’t hold a candle to the look of resign that Nacho gave me that day. It was a moment that I believe will stick with me for the entirely of my time in Madrid. It has changed how I view the hassle, insecurity and noise of the protests that bellow down my street. Because if Nacho’s look is at all representative to just one other person in that entire crowd, the weight of his one look sheds light to the ability to mobilize thousands day after day.
…porque se roban, Anna. Because they steal.