John – The Ghanaian Professor
John is an outgoing and highly educated man. Yet he lives a life, he feels, that is very constricting to his opportunities for growth and advancement. Seeing the imbalance of power, wealth and simple division in his now home country of Cuba, causes John daily pain. His concern for the world around him drives him to have his voice heard. Yet his caution for being silent keeps him in a perpetual state of uncertainty, seeing injustice, but unable to speak out for fear of further injustice has left John bitter about most things in his present. John hangs on to the hope of better days to come.
The desperate situation leads John to strive for better things, simple happiness in his home of friends and family, celebrating when and what they can as well as sharing what little they do have. His story of injustice and compassion gives him the unique perspective of love for those closest to him and anger at those keeping him bound.
Born originally in Ghana, John moved to Havana for the opportunity to become a professor at a University. Many years ago, he came to Cuba with the hope of educating a population he felt was in desperate need to learn the truths of history. With such a noble goal in front of him, John quickly became discouraged when he saw the limitations of his materials, the oversight of his teaching methods and the lack of freedom to simple teach historical truths.
Despite knowing from his youth that he’d likely never lead a life of luxury, he felt strongly he could make a difference in the world through his love and study of history. John works at a local university in Havana where he finds each day as he prepares to teach his students, redacted information, history books with missing pages and strong guidance to not cover certain ideas. He longs for a future where the freedom of information and the truth will surface for the people in Cuba.
With his meager salary of $25 a month, he feels stuck in his situation. He’s cautious to not cause any additional trouble for himself, but also feels that the oversight at his position as a university professor restricts the freedom of learning, to teach his students, to inform them and let them make their own judgements on historical events. He understands the power of ideas and how information can control and propel people to act, yet he believes transparency will produce a better educated population that can build up the nation, instead of leaving it bound in its current state without progression.
John lives with several others in a run down, ground floor one room building. There are several that come and go, sometimes spending their nights there, if there is room to accommodate them. His salary and poverty keep him tied to this location, unable to even travel back home to his native country of Ghana. Yet despite his difficulties he has learned to manage his situation and find happiness.
He is fiercely loyal to those friends who have become his family here in Cuba. They enjoy the little things in life and celebrate what they can, including birthdays and holidays, anything to feel like they have more control over their lives, that they have something to look forward to and enjoy. Although he describes his home as a “cell”, John seeks to find happiness and meaning in his life through his career, his Cuban family and his desire for the division to improve.
John’s greatest struggle is seeing separation. He walked me down one block away to fancy hotels, expensive restaurants, well-kept homes with space and furniture. “Why is there so much separation, why is there such a division?” He describes how many of those in poverty work long hours in desperation and put forth immense effort to simply survive each day, yet “where is the money?” He sees the tourism, the commerce, the trade and wonders why none of the money goes to the Cuban people.
He sees himself as a proud man, not taking any handouts, and not letting it be known that I even paid him for his time. “I’m not a beggar,” he said, explaining his secrecy. His perspective is appearances make all the difference and when we appear as beggars, we think as beggars, we act as beggars. But when we make the change to appear as contributors and can think and act that way, we may start seeing the changes necessary in this world for a decrease in division and an increase in unity.
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