Thursday, 26 May 2011

A travel destination that makes me sad

30 Day Travel Challenge
Day 4 - A travel destination that makes me sad

One of my first trips outside Canada was to Cuba in 2007. I did an all inclusive vacation with a few friends after graduating from university, and was quite looking forward to seven days of sun, sand and cerveza.

However, the novelty of a resort-style vacation wore off on me after a day or so, and I got antsy to travel outside Varadero. I told a couple of friends about a day-trip to Havana, and together we agreed to visit the city. So off we went with our tour guide to visit the post-colonial heart of Cuba. And boy, was I in for a big surprise.

I should start off by saying Cuba is one of the most culturally rich and warm countries I've ever had the fortune of visiting. I felt as though a samba/reggaeton soundtrack followed me wherever I went. It can't be helped -- that's just how it goes down in Cuba!

My trip to Havana was an eyeopener, however. What got to me was the every day reality of people who lived and worked in this country. One of my first stops in Havana was at this old church. I remember walking in and falling in love with the beautiful architecture and ambiance right away. But when I stepped on the porch to get a view of the outside, I came face to face with a group of young women -- each about 5-8 months pregnant, and each holding an ultrasound of their unborn child against their bellies, while begging for money. I was shocked. It was the first time I had come close to such blatant poverty (outside of India), and I wasn't sure how to react.

As I talked to some of the workers back on the resort, I quickly found out that ideal and fulfilling jobs didn't include that of doctors, engineers and lawyers (as it seems to in most developed/developing countries). Instead, people yearn for jobs in tourism -- working on resorts as servers, cleaners and receptionists. Everyone else just kind of... is.

Apparently the reason for this is because people who work in tourism make more money than those who work locally, doing the everyday jobs. The hospitality and tourism industry in Cuba allows the workers exposure to life outside the island. Tourists bring in dollars, which are handed out as tips, and other luxury items that most people aren't privy to... (you know, because of the 'everything is equal' (not really!) communist climate).

Anyway, needless to say this broke my heart and made me quite sad. Yes, healthcare and education is cheap (if not free) throughout the country, but it's so sad that people can only rise to a certain level, regardless of how hard they work.

A friend who spoke to a cab driver in Varadero provided some insight. He told her that if he thinks about it, it makes him upset. But the reality is that most people on the island don't know of life and the luxuries outside their borders. So they're content, and that's that.

I suppose I understand it, but it still makes me sad when I think about it. I'll never forget those women outside the church, and I can only hope that they and their children are doing alright.

Inside the old church in the heart of Havana, Cuba -- May, 2007

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