Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hopeless in Havana

Heather Flynn, reporting from Havana

One of the most exciting aspects of going to college and establishing a career is the unlimited possibilities that the future holds. I can choose to go in many directions with my life, the decision is up to me, and if I work hard enough there is no telling where I might end up. One of the most profound moments for me during my time spent in Havana occurred one day as I was talking to a young man selling paintings at a local art fair. Hi name was Jose. He was tall, friendly and spoke good English. I began asking him about his story, and found he was 24 years old, and a college student at Havana University. He was studying English and German. I began asking him about his goals or plans after college and was a little confused when he responded, “Probably just keep selling these paintings”. It then dawned on me that Juan was living in a very different world then the one I was used to. His opportunities were very limited in comparison to mine. Living in a communist country, there is little incentive to go out and “make something of yourself” when there is no opportunities available to improve your quality of life.

Jose Balcasar poses with his artwork at a craft fair in Havana, Cuba

This was also reinforced through out the trip, when we met a doctor who now drives a taxicab instead because he makes more money through tips. Or an engineer that now gives tourists leisurely strolls on a horse and carriage through the historical squares of Havana. When we asked him why he had the same reply, “I make more money giving people carriage rides all day then I do as an engineer”.  It continually shocked me to see all of these highly educated people giving up their professions and working for tips instead because it is more profitable. It was hard for me to even fathom a world where a doctor or an engineer couldn’t afford to feed their family. It was then that I began trying to put myself in these people’s shoes. I can’t imagine how frustrated I would be knowing that no matter how hard I work I won’t have enough opportunity in the country I live in to ever have a comfortable lifestyle. This experience gave me a great sense of empathy for the Cuban people and the lack of opportunities available to them. I feel very blessed to live in a country where I am able to work hard and have several options for my career and future.

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