La Tomatina Festival is about five minutes of trying not to gag from the smell as you slosh around between strangers in a sea of dirty, crushed tomatoes flooding the street and eventually the air… and about six hours of waiting in lines.
The most soul destroying moment for my tomato fight partner in crime, Ledia, and I was after the fight was over. Our eyes traced a static line up three blocks of street, deep with other red, wet and shivering people waiting for the shower. There was nothing for it but to lope onto the back of it. We waited two and a half hours, every 10-15 minutes a wave of movement working its way slowly up the queue as tomato encrusted bodies bent down to pick up bags or kick them one metre forward before returning to shivering and cursing the organisers. Hating life.
At the one and half hour mark, Ledia left to go find some food – hot food with lots of grease please – inevitably at the end of another long line. She returned an hour later just as we were about to enter the showers. I engulfed my hot dog in about 10 seconds, discarding the last couple of mouthfuls to turn to what I’d really been waiting for, a bucket of hot chips.
Yellow, salty, steaminess crushed into my mouth as fast as the little toothpick could pierce a bunch of them. Blue lips turned red again just for a moment before I wiped the tomato sauce away with a stiff hand. Warmness spread through my stomach. Loving life again! Halfway down emptying the bucket, I noticed a group of three girls standing to my left behind us in the line, English by their accent, also plastered with tomato juice layers and freezing t-shirts, eying the bucket of hot chips exactly as I would have been if I were them. I knew what they were thinking cos it’s what I would have been thinking.
‘Give me some. I wish that girl would give me some. Please, for the love of god, gimme some damn fries.’
My first thought was, ‘These are my hot chips. I bought them.’ and I magnaminously planned that when I was definitely finished having all that I wanted, I would share the leftovers.
My second thought was, ‘If I were them, I would want some hot chips.’
Later that night, our group of friends walked from a restaurant to the front of a 5 star hotel. We thought it would be easier to get a taxi or three but it wasn’t. The hotel refused to make a call for us as we weren’t guests. I called from the driveway and once organized, walked inside the hotel lobby and sat on one of the couches at the back to wait. It was freezing cold outside and I’d been bed-ridden with a chest infection just days before.
The spanish door man sidled over. ‘Please ma’am, could you leave?’
‘You are not a hotel guest and are not allowed to sit in the lobby. You will need to leave.’
I blinked furiously a few times. No, I replied. I’m sick, wearing a nice dress and not bothering any of your patrons. I will not go outside into the cold.
The rest of the conversation involved me refusing to budge or buy a drink to legitimize my position on the leather seat while he pretended to use his phone to call security guards to throw me out.
‘I will not help you be a bad human.’ I explained in completely inadequate Spanish, ‘It is a bad thing asking a sick person to go out into the cold.’
My hotel lobby. My bucket of fries. Mine, mine, mine.
Do you know that movie Hotel Rwanda? It depicts the story of hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina during the Rwandan Civil War. When the Hutus are endangering the lives of all Tutsi’s, including that of his wife and children, Paul manages to secure his family behind the walls of his upmarket, luxury hotel. He then risks his life, and the lives of his family, to take in more than 1200 other refugees, hiding them away and eventually negotiating for their freedom.
We like to think that if we were the people on the other side of a safe hotel door while a minority group was in danger of being slaughtered we would open the door and let them in.
But would we?
Can we even share a bucket of warm fries with a bunch of strangers who really want them? Can we let sick people sit in our 5 star hotel lobbies for five minutes to avoid the cold? Can we open our shores to the relatively minute number of people who genuinely seek refuge in our huge and insanely abundant land? Every day, we make decisions between protecting ‘mine’ and simply being a decent human being.
I shared the fries. The hotel guard let me stay. What does it cost to open up ‘mine’ and make it ‘ours’ instead? I didn’t go hungry. The hotel lost no money.
Don’t let Mine drown out Human. Share the fries, people, you won’t go hungry.