Yesterday morning my student SJ and I were meeting a Moroccan woman for an interview, and our interviewee had suggested we meet at a McDonald’s in the Sants train station. We emerged from the metro into the chaos of the enormous station, clean and bright and full of digital green signage proclaiming the thousands of trains that leave each day to travel all around Europe. I wouldn’t normally go to McDonald’s except under duress (pushed by a child, perhaps), but this one was bright and colorful, and it had both a restaurant area and a “McCafé.” In a busy station it proved to be a good place to meet, because it was a little quieter and easier to talk. But we needed to order something in order to sit there. None of the breakfast options looked appealing to me, and they weren’t yet serving gazpacho since it was the morning, so from the McCafé I ordered a bomba, also known as a bombón. You can get this coffee concoction in many cafés here. Said to have been invented in Valencia, the bombón brings together two of my favorite things in a 50-50 ratio: coffee and sweetened condensed milk. It comes looking like the picture, and then you mix the condensed milk into the coffee. The drink is truly a sugar bomb, hence the name, although next time I think I will keep some of the condensed milk at the bottom so I can just eat it by itself at the end, much as I might “accidentally” leave too much in the bottom of a can when preparing flan and have to finish it off later, with a spatula so as not to miss even the most tiny drops.
The theme of our interview, as with all of the interviews we are doing these days, is what it’s like to be an immigrant here in Spain. Our friend we interviewed yesterday has lived in Spain since her childhood, so despite her origins in Morocco, she feels more at home here.
“There are two things,” she told us, “that are necessary for a good life: safety and health.” Seguridad and sanidad were two words she used. In Morocco, she said, the police are slow to come when you call. Here in Spain, she felt the police were better, she trusted them and felt they were dependable for keeping law an order. Spain has 533 police officers per 100,000 people (compared to 284 in the US), and I couldn’t find statistics for Morocco. But it does feel very safe here. Despite Barcelona’s reputation of being a haven for pickpockets, which we don’t really have to deal with in America, Spain in general has far less violent crime and fewer murders than the US – .8 murders per 100,000 citizens as opposed to 4.8 back home. Are we secure? It’s hard to separate perceptions from reality when mass shootings are a part of everyday news, and when our kids have drills for active shooters/terrorist attacks/natural disasters.
The other issue we talked about was healthcare. While in Morocco it is possible to find good healthcare at a high cost, the vast majority of the population relying on public health services receives sub-optimal care. She told us the story of someone she knew with a complicated pregnancy whose delivery was so botched that she’s now unable to have children, yet when these types of things happen, she said there was no follow up, or no inquiry. (Not sure how well the US does with these issues either). So many people here have told us that the Spanish medical system is excellent, and that everyone is entitled to affordable healthcare, even immigrants. I compare this with the interviews we’ve done in Florida with immigrants, who avoid the medical system entirely unless they have to encounter it for childbirth or health emergencies, due to both cost and inaccessibility.
Safety and health are two essential human rights, necessary at a most basic level for a productive society. How well are we measuring up at offering safety and health to everyone within our borders?