Earlier this year I was in Cuba. I have been to many third world countries but this was different. The people have come to either give up or work extraordinarily hard for next to nothing. Yes, everyone knows the old cars, but there is so much more. The building while once beautiful are crumbling from lack of attention, and no money to a attend to the deterioration. The reality is that only 50% of the people work and those who do earn an average of $10.00 a month. For professional people like Doctors the average is about $15.00. No matter who you are you get your food from from an assigned bodega in your neighborhood with a government issued coupon book. These places look largely like road side stands we have here at home but with far less. There are pharmacies but they have almost nothing. Your prescriptions are useless if the store has no drugs to dispense. The irony is that the number one export in Cuba is pharmaceutical and yet the people who live there just go without.
So while I didn't know the extent of the poverty until I got there, I did bring things to leave. I brought a case of toothbrushes and small toothpaste I got from my dentist at home. I brought soap and hand cream, shampoo and band-aids. I knew I would visit a senior center and a children's day care place but as soon as I arrived it was clear the need was everywhere.
We were advised to leave our tips in the hotel daily, as it was possible that different people would work on different days. The first night there I left the equivalent of about $3.00 and a few toothbrushes, toothpaste hand cream and soap. When I returned to my room, I found the following note:
I can't remember when a small gesture touched me so deeply. Needless to say on each successive day, I left more and more until the last day when I left all the country currency I had left and the remainder of the things I brought to give away.
When I came home I was sorry I didn't bring more to leave but hopefully others will. Being mindful of how lucky I am in my own life was never more apparent to me. So now when I travel, I think about what I can do to make a difference for someone else who by virtue of their birth, enjoys very little. Paying it forward, not just at home, but on holiday.