By Ronelle King*
HAVANA TIMES – On our return from attending a global youth event in Sochi, Russia my two Grenadian colleagues and I decided to peruse Old Havana where our hostel was located. Separated from our delegation and depressed over our misplaced luggage, I thought it best we have an adventure in case our sanity decided to take one first.
Two of us had already broken down into tears and figured it was only a matter of time before the last of us did. With nothing but the clothes on our backs—so basically all our possessions—we ventured deep into Old Havana.
It was already quite apparent from the several dilapidated buildings that we were no longer in Kansas yet there was this strange familiarity that lingered in the air. Community. There were people leaning against street bars with their companions laughing and drinking their beverages.
The sound of knees being slapping after a well-executed joke.The hearty laugh that cared not for respectability in this very moment. The sound of children’s amusement as they made their way home from school. The rough housing from the boys as the girls looked on indifferently.
Drinking it in as we walked by, I felt a pang of guilt in my stomach as I compared my childhood to theirs. I had done most of the same things, but the gulf between us was my privilege. I was afforded privileges that these children might never experience in their lifetimes. I went to private school. I never lacked for clothing, and on the rare occasion the words “hand me down” presented themselves, they were presented as a last resort. I never had to worry about my next meal.
Likewise, I had access to running water day and night. I had access to the Internet and the wealth of knowledge that it held. I had libraries full of books to read at my leisure. I had access to transportation to and from school in my parents’ vehicle, etc. The list of privileges were endless. My feelings of entitlement to these privileges were still present—not twenty minutes earlier, I was livid because my hostel had no internet.
I swallowed my guilt and decided to view my current location in a new light. My situation though tragic, was temporary. Theirs was not. In 24 hours, I’d be flying to a country where the air was clean, the wind was cool, and hot water was aplenty.
As I continued to ponder my good fortune, we began to venture further into city looking for souvenirs to take back home to our loved ones. It was during this search that we stumbled upon Chinatown. In what literally looked like a hole in the wall, there were three women ushering us inside.
As someone who supports the advancement of women in rural areas, I encouraged my companions to spend 5 CUC ($5 USD) at a local salon just to get our nails filed, buffed and painted. We could have gotten souvenirs at a mall but putting the money straight into the hands of the women I was certain were the backbones of their households is always the better option. That money would help their children eat another day, or contribute to the bills. I thought I’d rather support her hustle than add to the riches of a wealthy business owner.
I was in awe of the strength, the cheerful hospitality, and the resilience of these women. They had not even half of what I have as a salon owner but their drive and willingness to hone their craft, to earn more so they could better provide for their family, was inspiring. We couldn’t understand each other without Google Translate, but who wouldn’t have felt welcomed by those warm, inviting smiles?
We made our way back to our hotel via horse-drawn carriage, made little to no fuss about having to bathe with hand sanitizer due to there being no running water, and got into our beds. It wasn’t long before we were fast asleep, as we had quite an exhausting day.
Five hours later, I awoke to the sound of my alarm. I brushed my teeth and showered in the sink before dressing in the t-shirt provided to me by the hotel. I picked up my carry on, checked out of the hostel, and headed for the airport, waving goodbye to both beauty and horrors of Havana while wearing my guilt on my sleeve.
*HT Guest writer