It’s true that when you give to someone who has almost nothing you can witness joy on a whole new level. Today I encountered Elena, a woman from Spain who has been unable to find work for the past eight years. When I offered her a coat and a scarf, which I imagine she needs much more than I do, her tired eyes lit up and her cheeks rose with such a grin that immediately warmed my heart.
She jumped up off her wooden crate, pulled me towards her, hugged me and told me it was wonderful. I have never witnessed such gratitude, particularly from what to me is such a small gesture. Elena has been in France for three months. Having arrived by bus from Seville, southern Spain, she recounted to me that it was a journey over a period of two days and 2,000km, the return leg of which she will likely never take. She came here with her family for one reason, because of the unemployment crisis in Spain. None of her daughter, son, husband or herself has been able to find work since 2008. Prior to that, Elena worked as a carer for elderly persons, for which she earned a meager €300 a month, which was not much but it was €300 more than what she earns now.
Here in France, employment opportunities aren’t so dire. Elena is hopeful because she knows it couldn’t be worse here than it had been for so long for her and her family in Seville. However, here she has a new challenge. One debilitating factor weighs down on her shoulders and for the moment impedes her from working here: the language. Without being able to say much more than “bonjour” and “merci beaucoup”, Elena is begging silently in a city where nobody understands her.
Imagine, leaving your country because your family has no prospective chance there, to live in a place where you can’t communicate, nor understand anything. To be trapped in a bubble that encircles only you and your family, isolating you from this foreign land. And missing your country without any knowledge of when or if you may see it again, yet still manage to cling on to hope, express gratitude, and bear a smile much greater than those of many of us who have so much more than she does.