Gerlinde

Gerlinde – The Survivor


Background

Gerlinde is an 85 year old woman who has lived through incredible atrocities, yet has seen immeasurable growth through her vast experiences in nearly a century of life. She was born to a simple farm life in Czechoslovakia, yet her life took a turn that she never could have anticipated. This is her story:

The Past

As the oldest of four children, Gerlinde always felt in charge as a child. She was the go to person for her parents for help on the farm, whether it was working with the animals or manually plowing the field. Her family had lived in the same small village for over 600 years and the farm passed from generation to generation.

Then in 1943 the world came crashing down all around her. She was only 7 years old when the war came to her in such a crushing and unique way. Gerlinde wasn’t a Jew, she wasn’t a German, she wasn’t a conquered nation and didn’t spend any time in concentration camps, hiding Jews from Nazis or other typical stories many hear about in World War II. Her story with the war came towards the end when Russia took over all of Western Europe and came to wreak havoc on her small village.

She saw some of the worst of human behavior, to this day she remembers them as “animals, completely lacking any humanity.” Russian soldiers arrived in May and quickly dismantled the few retreating German soldiers and took charge of the village and surrounding towns. They stole what they pleased, clothing, bikes, machines, money, and even went about raping the women in these war torn areas. They shot anyone who resisted in any way and Gerlinde had to go into hiding in the barn, with hay for a pillow and constant tics embedding in her skin, for months with her mother and sisters to avoid the soldiers.

Once, while out to bathe, she narrowly avoided a drunken soldiers open machine gun fire. She credits her faith in God and her answered prayers for protection, along with the propensity for Russians to get so drunk they couldn’t see straight, let along shoot straight. Her brother, right next to her during the event, stood frozen in fear as she ran from the bullets. None hit either them and the soldier simply walked away.

Russian Invasion

The Future

Once she was able, her family picked up and moved in cattle trains to Germany with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Life slowly returned to normal, Linda returned to school, and eventually became enamored with an American soldier who was about 10 years her senior. Despite her mother’s strong disapproval, they married. She said he was the first person in so long that treated her like someone who was worth something. After so many years of living in fear, traveling into the unknown and no one able to help, it was the American soldiers who gave her and her family food and clothing and blankets. She always remembered that and saw that same kindness in her new husband.

She moved back to the United States, became pregnant and then tragically lost her first husband before the birth of her son. She was alone in a foreign land, where she didn’t know the culture, language or even her way home. She is a survivor though, and continued with her persevering nature to find a way. Her posterity now reaches to nearly 60 individuals and lives a quiet life in small town in Utah with her kids and grandkids close by.

Her Perspective

Gerlinde’s story shows her ability to live and resilience to evil, injustices and just simply extremities life can throw at people. The fear of death, rape, losing everything, and going into the unknown were nearly a constant threat throughout her life. She knew death, all too well, of those close to her, friends, neighbors, family met their ends in the most egregious manners. Yet she remains faithful, focused on God, Christ and a new found religion that she feels brings all meaning to suffering and injustice that occurs in the world.

Despite the horrors and continued torments of memories of times in Czechoslovakia, Gerlinda holds to humor, faith, kindness and honesty to help her become a light and a beacon of hope to those who feel life gets to difficult to continue. Her survival has enabled her to thrive and share her incredible story and perspective of resilience, faith and determination to live and thrive in any circumstance.

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Juan

Jorge – The Seaside Shop Owner


Background

Juan is a charismatic salesman who instantly connects with potential customers in a real an authentic way. As a black coral salesman on the coast of Cozumel in Mexico, Juan hopes to make a real impact on each individual that passes by his beach and his store. His personality trait of being willing to be honest and open with all those who cross his path, lead to a connection of humanity and often, an increase in economic prosperity. This is his story:

The Past

As a frequent traveler to the United States, Juan eventually spent a few years in North Carolina working on his own in construction. He was always an expert in connecting with people on an emotional level and never seemed to find a long term career that used his skills to make a real difference in the world.

As a young adult, Juan returned home to his island Cozumel to work with other locals in creating black coral jewelry. Black coral is a coral reef that commonly grows off the coastline in Mexico. Juan and many other seaside shop owners search the shores and shallow seas for the authentic coral to make figurines, jewelry and even sculptures to sell to the many tourists that frequent his town. Black coral is unique, durable and yet strangely flexible material. Juan’s life revolves around hand carving, modeling and uniquely designing souvenirs for his business. His hard work in creating authentic jewelry helps set him apart from other counterfeits in his same industry. He feels his authentic character and openness towards strangers help him share his perspective and insights. It not only builds business, but helps him enjoy his life through connecting with people.

Hurricane Delta Damage to Road

The Future

In October 2020 a devastating hurricane ravaged the coastline in Cozumel, ripping up roads, stores and foundations. Juan’s shop was completely leveled. In Mexico, shop owners don’t have any kind of insurance, so the storm threatens not only their physical safety, but their financial stability. The storm even wiped out internet access on his remote part of the coast, making his business a temporarily a cash only business, hurting his financial stance even further.

Just after returning from the United States and reestablishing himself in Cozumel, Juan’s shop was destroyed. He is now picking up the pieces of dealing with pandemics limiting tourist travel and 100 mile per hour winds splintering walls and lifting roofs all in the same year. Juan hopes that with his positive attitude and authentic personality, he’ll be able to lift himself back up after being beat down several times recently. He looks forward to the future with a positive outlook and believes he can turn things around.

His Perspective

Juan lives for connecting with people, being able to meet and swap stories as well as goods. He knows that people see through the fake and insincere and has hoped that his sincerity in sharing the good and the bad that has occurred in his life will let him connect with people on an emotional level. He acknowledges that yes, this tends to lead to better sales for his jewelry, but even when it doesn’t it leads to a better human connection, which he believes brings more happiness than money.

The year 2020 has been hard on people throughout the world, but Juan, dealing with both the worst natural disaster to hit his hometown in 15 years along with a once in a generation pandemic limiting his access to customers, has made life tough. Yet despite being authentic and open about challenges he faces, his positive perspective helps him continue to connect with people, bringing him joy and satisfaction in good times and bad.

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Jorge

Jorge – The Mayan


Background

Jorge is a man who believes in the wisdom and experience of the past. His kind and outgoing demeanor help him convey his beliefs in the mysterious Mayan culture, calendar, predictions and even life beyond this world. As a guide and salesman on the Mexican island of Cozumel, Jorge helps people understand the importance of looking to the past to understand our future. This is his story:

The Past

In a society that has long overlooked the power and importance of women, Jorge describes how his love of Mayan culture and studies, led him to respect women. He explained his wife and three daughters have shown him greater insight into how to have compassion, patience, love and understanding towards others. Yet as much as Jorge credits this to his wonderful wife and daughters and the individuals they are, they joy they bring and the lessons they’ve taught him, he also credits the Mayans for his ability to respect and even revere women.

Jorge explains with evidence from the Mayan ruins, calendar and especially their temple on Cozumel dedicated to the Goddess (not God) Ixchel. The Goddess of Fertility Ixchel was held as one of the most important and fierce gods in the Mayan culture. From the famous Mayan calendar, which ended with the year 2012, Jorge says he can see the hint and predictions of women become more and more important in the 21st century. He points to the hispanic nations and the women leaders as evidence of this prediction coming to fruition. He expects the Mayan predictions for women will only become stronger and feels the time is nearly here for the President of the United States to also be a woman.

Ixchel – Goddess of Fertility

The Future

Jorge hopes that the compassion and kindness of women who are slower to anger and quicker to understand and show empathy will put the world on a better path of peace and prosperity. Despite the fact that as he explains, “the Mayans had help from the higher powers above and those from other worlds,” to elevate their society to revering women, Jorge feels our current society is on a similar path without alien help. He sees the future as bright and hopeful.

With a focus on peace and gentleness, Jorge feels that the leaders of the world could benefit from a woman perspective. As more embrace the lessons of the past from great societies like the Mayan we can achieve a greater harmony in the world. Jorge will continue to preach this doctrine as he travels back and forth from Utah in the United States, working summers as a landscaper, and Cozumel, Mexico to draw into his Mayan roots and ancestors.

His Perspective

Jorge’s belief in the past, a higher power, the Mayan society and women lead him to generate a perspective that he feels will breed success. The lessons from the past about compassion and understanding, even towards our enemies, has produce better global prosperity than any other factor. His focus on this belief guides his every day actions to connect with people, provide service and find happiness in his family life.

To really make an impact on the world, Jorge believes we must learn from our past and ancestors and understand what gave them power and what gave them chaos. He highlights women rulers as times of innovation and peace, and men rulers as times of greed and pride that led to ruin. Regardless of the gender factor, Jorge’s perspective on selflessness leading to success and prosperity seems to be a universal truth in all times, peoples and nations.

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Ricardo

Ricardo – The Islander


Background

Ricardo lives in what most would consider an Island paradise, a small island off the coast of Belize with a population of a little less than 6,000 people. Yet he is not a typical islander and talks of his world travels and experience in snow and the cold, something he still misses. Ricardo is a pragmatic, controlled and laid back personality. As a native to the Belizean island life, he knows how to go without stores, markets or much at all beside the ocean. Yet with his experience living in both London and New York, he has experienced the hectic city life in the concrete jungles of the world. This is his story:

The Past

Ricardo explains that his past has been full of trying new things and pursuing his drive to experience more of the world. As a young man he pursued an education opportunity half way across the world in London. Although his education didn’t stay the intended course, he spent eight years in England taking jobs as they came to him. He is a “go with the flow” type person and with his personable character, is easily able to charismatically find work when he needs it.

Eventually Ricardo, living on his own, decided somewhat spontaneously to move to New York City. He says he loves and even misses the cold, the blaring heat of his home island is now something that feels almost foreign to him. After five years of living in New York, he decided it was time to return home and see family again.


The Future

Ricardo currently works as a boat driver, taxying mostly American tourists from the mainland of Belize to the outer reef for snorkeling and SCUBA experiences. His laid back nature leads him to not think of the future too much or make plans for his life. The here and now is what he lives for and takes things one day at a time.

He hopes one day to return to New York, to the colder weather and snow, perhaps when the economy turns for the better and he can find more permanent and reliable employment. Ricardo has lived a very independent life, despite being so personable and able to connect easily with people. His solitary life is something that he sees as a freedom for him, not to be tied to any one thing so he never has to stay put in one place. This freedom to move throughout the world and pursue interests as they come is one of the most valuable mindsets, in Ricardo’s view, one can possess.

His Perspective

As the easy going islander, who has a drive to pursue his passions as they come, Ricardo leaves himself open for anything. Because of this perspective, he’s able to keep a satisfaction that almost never leaves him. Even if many would say he lacks direction or meaning in life, Ricard instead feels the meaning of life is to enjoy it.

Ricardo will continue to pursue opportunities as they arise and strive to follow new passions and interests whenever he can. With this perspective in life, he feels joy will come to him and that’s what he feels, “life is all about.”

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Manuel

Manuel – the Taxi Driver


Background

Manuel has been working his entire life, from childhood, now into his old age, and sees no end in sight. Yet he considers himself fortunate as he takes a look at his long life and the simple pleasures and enormity of accomplishments he achieved. Working as a taxi driver for the past 16 years of his life, Manuel, now 75 years old, talks of his family and blessings he’s experience in his three quarters of a century in this world. He has gain a perspective many would envy and few have reached. This is his story:

The Past

Manual is father to four children who have all moved on in successful careers across the country of Mexico and even spent time abroad in other countries. Manuel, however, grew up in a small Mexican village, with little comforts of modern life, but, as he explained, little worries modern life brings either. His home life was secluded without much connection to news or the outside world. He felt safe and secure even with the efforts of extreme manual labor to simply get running water or reliable electricity.

The simplicity of life continued as Manuel married and then had their four children, three boys and a girl. He describes them as the joy and pride of his life, that family is really the most significant venture anyone can embark on. He had moved around from job to job to find work as it suited him, providing for the needs of his family, but never aspiring to or attaining great wealth, recognition or status. Manuel’s life was not without challenges, but he took them in stride and gain perspective from his trials so that he didn’t discuss them much. He felt they held no real value in his life, but instead focused on what he had. He chose to focus on the positive.

The Future

After his children moved out he pursued work in the tourism industry to make a better living for himself and his wife. He moved out to the coast and settled in the cruise port town of Costa Maya. Many there, set up shop in hopes that the constant flow of tourists buying souvenirs and trinkets will provide the financial stability they need in their lives. Store managers as young as 12 years old setup along the beach, anxious to sell to Americans and Europeans who come to see their beautiful views and coral seas.

Manual admitted, “At 75, I don’t really think much about my future. I’m focused on my present and the past.” He has continued his secluded lifestyle even as a taxi driver and was a bit perplexed why, in 2020, so few tourists and cruise ships seemed to be coming to his shores. The COVID-19 pandemic hit him hard financially and he hadn’t heard much about it even today. His only real focus on it was fewer and fewer tourists were coming asking for rides, and many, including himself had started wearing masks. As far as how many people globally had been affected or what the virus really was, as well as any conspiracy theories, didn’t seem to matter much to him, just that tourism had stopped and it was hurting his wallet.

For his future, he hopes things continue to turn around for tourism in his country and the pandemic subsides or at least becomes manageable for daily life. He is always trying to improve and although is only able to speak the basic english words to get people in his taxi and to their destinations, he continues to try, in his old age, to learn more and basic communication skills in English to help his business grow.

His Perspective

With a perspective focused on positivity and simplicity, Manuel has been able to focus on one task at hand. He is not burdened with global news stories of pandemics, or catastrophes beyond his control. He has a simple, but happy perspective on family, beach life and not sweating the small stuff. As he focuses on his blessings instead of his trials, he’s found happiness with what many in developed countries would consider only a meager salary.

As he continues towards his goal of happiness and satisfaction through simple means, Manuel continues to work and work and will likely drive until the day he dies, feeling he has those things he wanted most in life through family relationships and beautiful coastal views.

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Oscar and Jorge

Oscar and Jorge – The Musician and the Artist


Background

As most people in Cuba, when discussing what is most important to lifetime friends Oscar and Jorge, they mentioned their families and their employment. Oscar feels closest to his brother who has been there for him through thick and thin, while Jorge focuses in on his children. Both focus on employment only to meet their basic daily means of providing for their loved ones.

These men have both recently taken street jobs, Oscar plays live music at restaurants and on the streets for tips, whereas Jorge creates artwork he sells to local tourists throughout Old Havana. Their story highlights the adaptability of the people of Cuba to become a jack of all trades in their ever-changing economic uncertainties as well as their ever-demanding environment.



The Past

As children, Jorge and Oscar had big dreams. Oscar’s days as a child were spent in the streets, using makeshift bats and whatever they could find to substitute as a ball, playing his number one passion: baseball. As a boy he remembers thinking that baseball was life, that it was all about hitting that ball and making that catch in his street pickup game played in bare feet. They all thought they were going to escape their poverty through excellence in sports. Yet as time progressed, Oscar was forced to adapt, to give up his dreams, and pursued training as a mechanic.

Jorge wasn’t as focused on sports and instead spent his time on seeing the sights. As most children in Cuba, he grew up with very little supervision and walked the streets most day, observing people and seeing nature. He’d eye the sweets he could see and lived for a piece of chocolate or a scoop of ice cream. He wanted nothing more than to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and to perhaps, one day, travel to the United States and see “if everyone was lying about what it was like there.”

Oscar has one child. Just the thought of providing for his son, motivates him to do whatever it takes to find money, food, shelter, medicine. Both Jorge and Oscar have learned to become quite thrifty in their pursuits, knowing the right people that can get medicine at a cheap cost, knowing the right hospitals that won’t turn away their family members if they can’t pay, knowing the streets that will pay them better for Oscar’s musical performances or Jorge’s paintings. Oscar was forced to find additional work, beyond being a mechanic. Being as adaptable as he is, he learned to play the guitar and performs wherever he feels the money will come.

Jorge’s past employment in factories and assembly lines not only never gave him the life he wanted but left him unfulfilled and needing more income. He also picked up his trade skill of painting later in life, as means to provide for himself and his children. Jorge discusses that money and employment in Cuba is very different than other places in the world. There’s simply not much money going around to the people. Jorge believes that regardless of the trade or skills or experience you have; life always seems to have its uncertainties and one needs to adapt in order to really survive and thrive.



The Future

Because of their ability to adapt, Jorge and Oscar have been able to continue to survive even with the rising costs of everyday necessities with groceries, food, housing and travel. They get by with what they have and wait for better days to come. Even the simplest food necessities such as milk, eggs, vegetables are increasing in price. But their income is not. Each day it becomes harder and harder to get by and they must become more and more resourceful in order to find the right connections and still provide for their number one priority: Family.

When describing his hope for the future, Oscar was simple and practical. He wants one family, living together in one place, with just enough to cover their basic needs for food. Jorge thought more of travel and his dreams to travel, just to own a car one day or have the financial freedom to go wherever his heart desires. Yet both cautioned about having too high of expectations in life, that their happiness cannot be dependent on future wish list items. Instead their future is all about gradually improving life and living their children better off than their parents did. Hopefully, overtime, they build a better life for the coming generations.


Their Perspective

Life is shaped by family. We are born into a family that influences our lives and our opportunities. We then choose to pass these same beliefs on to our children or choose to change for the better and pass on better opportunities. We are all connected through the idea of family, our parents influence us, and we thereby influence our children in this chain connecting us through generations.

So, in a micro perspective, despite difficulties in one’s circumstances, the family must always be the center of attention and focus. It is the constant in our lives that gives our struggle purpose, our fight meaning. It keeps our minds sharp and focused on adapting in order to survive and provide for those who mean most to us. Jorge and Oscar share this perspective, and although they admit that their own friendship has given them much happiness, nothing can replace family. Their future is uncertain, but they set all of their hopes for the future on their children to make their world a better place.

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Ruel

Ruel – The Family Man


Background

The most important thing in Ruel’s life is simply, but emphatically: Family. He is a quiet man who knows his limitations but finds simplistic joy in his everyday surroundings. He is a man of few words but thinks profoundly about what he says before he speaks. This gift of wisdom gives him the stability to react in situations with a calm head and a focused mind.

Ruel’s reserved nature allows him to observe the world around him, gaining a unique and thoughtful perspective on life in Cuba for the common citizen. He describes himself as a valiant and fearless man, who at all times stands his ground for what he feels is right for himself and for his family. This is his story:



The Past

Ruel’s family includes his two sisters, his mother and his three nieces. As the only man in the family, Ruel feels an added responsibility to provide in any way possible for his family. The four adults and three children live together in a small, rundown apartment in the heart of Havana. They are a close-knit family who look out for each other, providing a place of security and refuge despite any unrest or uncertainty in the world around him.

When Ruel reflects on what has influenced his life most, he lands on a single word: Society. With further prodding for an explanation, he discusses the constant changing of society, societal norms, government practices, economic policies and opportunities as constructing his experiences. These changes in the society around him in Cuba, have had the greatest impact in his daily life.

As a child, Ruel had dreams of escaping his poverty through grand ambitious to be a traveling businessman. He desired to help lift his family away from the daily requirements of food, a place to sleep and clean water to drink, to a state of influence and power, to impact the world beyond his small family. No matter the area, no matter the product, Ruel simply wanted a means to escape the daily fight for necessities and live a life where he could think about more than basic survival.



The Future

Joy for Ruel is all about his family. “Living well as a good citizen of the world with my family, that brings me joy,” he says. He finds hope in the future by having hope in his family. Yet Ruel acknowledges there is misery in the direction that Cuba is moving now. Instead of more security and more opportunity, he fears the future for Cubans will be more of the same or even fewer opportunities to live the dream of escaping poverty through industry and work.

Ruel admits the challenges he faces, working as a server in a small restaurant with only the capacity to seat three tables. Yet he knows this is not his future. He trusts in himself, that he will continue to work and to strive and to struggle, but will create a better future for not only himself, but his sisters, their daughters and his mother. As he trusts himself, he is very cautious of trusting any others. In fact, he describes trust as only in himself, and that he feels distrust towards the rest of the world. He feels he can only really rely on himself to get him through the challenges life throws at him. Despite having some hopes of a better future, he feels he must live day by day, because he never truly knows what his next day will hold.


His Perspective

A unique perspective Ruel holds is that the most commonly misunderstood part of his culture is simply that the world looks at Cuba in a black and white scenario. They don’t see the good that happens, he feels the country has been labeled as completely dire.

Yet that’s not entirely true. Just as in all parts of the world, they experience the good and the bad together. There are things to be celebrated in Cuba and times of joy, as well as times of pain and devastation. Ruel feels that because the world sees Cuba in only a negative light, they don’t understand the joy that can be felt in his homeland. “Cubans don’t only experience difficulty, they also experience joy and happiness. Yet most foreigners never see this side of Cuban life.”

Although he readily admits his greatest flaw is that he has had no opportunity to know any other life, culture or country than his own, Ruel feels that the love he has for his family is not appreciated by the outside world for the joy it brings him.

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John

John – The Ghanaian Professor


Background

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.

The Past

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.

The Future

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.

His Perspective

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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Mohammed

Mohammed – The Revolutionist


Background

Mohammed is an outgoing and passionate man who fights for his belief that the Cuban government must change to improve the lives of its citizens. Without the freedom of information, freedom from poverty, and freedom of opportunity, the people will always be bound in a state of overwhelming imbalance of power. The focus of change drives Mohammed’s entire life, past, present and future. He is a man of the people, a man from the streets, living in his state of poverty, but with a voice he hopes one day will enact the change and the revolution he feels the people of Cuban desperately need.

The best moment in his life, Mohammed believes, is yet to come: to see his country be free.

The Past

Mohammed is a Muslim living in Havana. He has done everything to educate himself in a world without opportunity. He spends his time studying books and learning various languages. He is fluent in Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and English. As a part of his past, his focus on education led him to feel very constrained and trapped. He learned of other people, other cultures with free access to the internet, with freedom from oppressive authority figures, and freedom from an extreme separation of wealth so they could improve their economic standings with a view of admiration.

His past studies led him to a path of full fidelity to what he sees as the only way to happiness: freedom. Mohammed began to see difficulties in his own nation and people that before he felt blind and unable to see. He described recognizing that many Cuban people “are like the chicken. They constantly turn their head from one way to the other, constantly changing their belief depending on who is around them.” He described the “chicken” weakness not only because of fear of those in power, but also an unwillingness to stay true to personal beliefs of freedom. He has rejected this practice of passiveness and divulging in the few available technologies that, he feels, curb the appetite of the youth away from real change and real freedom.

The Future

All ideas, both present and future, are concentrated on making lasting change to improve his quality of life for himself, his family, his friends and his people. Mohammed strongly believes that change is possible and he will always be fighting for that change to improve the quality of life for all Cubans in poverty. His hope and focus on improvement, he believes, will eventually cure the “chicken” issue of Cubans being too fearful to enact progress. As others see him openly sharing ideas of revolution, not through bloody means, but through the power of information and freedom of speech, sharing ideas, knowledge, and economic possibilities, he hopes the spark of freedom will spread.

He is still unique in his views, many others in his neighborhood shy away from his bold ideas of revolution. He strives for more access to information, as he believes the internet and truth of information will give him and his people the power to break free from their impoverished and fear bound state. “The only way the Cuban people will break free is if the will to change comes within. It is not outside our country that our problems stem from, it is from within. Our human rights fight is right here.”

His Perspective

“You need only look to the pharmacy lines to see the dire situation my people face every day.” Early morning lines develop quickly at nearly every pharmacy which hold very limited medicines that run out completely after only a small fraction of those in the long lines, spanning around the block, receive needed medication. He feels his eyes are open and being honest with himself in all situations, he regards it as his moral duty to fight for the change needed for the people in Havana and throughout the entire country.

Mohammed’s perspective shows the difficulty of his situation, the Goliath he faces with odds becoming increasingly against him. Yet his hope and confidence of a better world, propels him to continue to spread the word of revolution to those who will listen, lighting a small spark that may one day change a nation. He hopes the billboard seen near Revolutionary Square in Havana could one day become a reality, where his people can “understand love, but not hate.” He has extreme love to his people and hopes for the peaceful revolution to real freedom.

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Armando

Armando – the Fisherman


Background

Armando is a simple man, who works for everything he gains, in every aspect of life. Finding ways to survive and improve life for himself and his small family consume his total focus. Sitting by the harbor in Havana, he uses fishing line, with no reel, in his hands to fish for sardines for his family. Times are difficult in Cuba and in order to have enough food for him, his wife and his 3-year-old daughter, he spends the evenings fishing with line directly in his hand and only one hook.

The Past

Armando has always sought a better life for himself. He is observant, but humble, hopeful yet bold in his risks. Once during his life, he made the dangerous 90-mile voyage from Havana to Miami in a boat with a small motor, no longer than 10 feet.

He describes the seas as very rough and the journey as perilous. Although hundreds of Cubans throughout history have made this trip, it is one of high risk. He’s known others who drowned taking the very same route. During his own experience, with the highly trafficked Caribbean seas, massive cruise liners pass by the small motorboats frequently. The massive waves the cruise ships leave in their wakes caused Armando’s own boat to capsize while out at sea. He and all his companions made it safely back to the boat and, after great effort, while treading water, flipped the boat right side up to continue the journey to Miami.

While in Miami, Armando found work in any fields he could: manufacturing, construction, server, anything to save money and send back to his wife, and at the time, newborn daughter. The distance apart, the longing to be together and the priority of family, all took a back seat to the priority of surviving and just providing for daily meals. Yet after less than a year, Armando was deported back to Cuban where he lives now today.

The Future

In discussing his future, Armando answered in the same ways as many Cubans. He said, “That question is such an American way of thinking, you think about your future because you have opportunities. When you don’t know if you will have enough food to eat each day, the future is not a concept you can even think about.”

He hopes commerce in Cuba will rise with less restrictions from the foreign countries, specifically the United States. With more free tourism, free trade and increased job opportunities for the Cuban people, he believes not only he, but many of his people can rise out of their poverty.

His Perspective

Life is tough for Armando, he is in a constant search for means to meet his basic needs of food, water, and shelter. Yet he also finds ways to maintain a meaningful pastime. Armando collects old coins and has several that are over 50 years old. His simple pleasures help him through the difficulty of trying to feed a family with a full time job making barely more than $40 a month, so he spends much time away from his family to provide for their needs.

He feels that people misjudge him as unintelligent or uninformed, but his life experience has given him a perspective into a life only those who fight each day for their food can understand. He dreams to travel, he dreams to gain more knowledge, he hopes for more freedom and to impact the world, but until he can provide for his family and more, he remains constantly focused on working, fishing and providing food.

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