“Have you ever been to Rick’s CafÃ©?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” She answered. Then adding quietly, almost to herself, “I’ve never been anywhere.”
I looked down at the ground and tried to ignore the discomfort filling the air. Half mindedly, I kicked the soccer ball back to her. With somber amusement, I watched this bubbly, lighthearted Jamaican girl sing to herself while playfully trying to dribble a soccer ball. She did not feel the awkwardness I did.
Why did she not? Because this young lady, Arelia, would probably be considered “lucky” by the rest of her Jamaican citizens. Arelia was young-probably somewhere between 19 and 21-and she was a staff member at The Grand Palladium resort in Lucea, Jamaica where my family was vacationing this summer. Contrary to my convictions preceding this trip, I learned that only a small portion of the population lived by these means; the vast majority depended on the prosperity of their crops to survive. Later on we would go on an excursion via Reggae Tours, on which numerous shanties surrounded by ackee, and breadfruit trees validated this concept.
I was disappointed she had never been to Rick’s; it was a huge tourist attraction located in Negril, Jamaica, not to mention a premier cliff diving spot worldwide. My mind produced daydreams incessantly like an old locomotive puffing out smoke; I was restless to see this place.
“Where are you from, Steve?” Arelia asked.
“Ohhh, the City That Never Sleeps?” she said, with somewhat more interest.
“ No, we’re about an hour north of New York City, but we go there a lot. How about you?”
“I am from Montego Bay, but I stay across the street.”
“You live across the street from the hotel?” I was befuddled. Obviously I had not noticed anything on the opposite side when our cab was pulling up to the palatial hotel. Several question popped into my head, however I thought it best not to push this potentially sensitive topic.
We were pulling out of the gate of the Palladium- vacation was over. Across the street! I thought suddenly, spinning in my seat I saw chambermaids, bartenders and chefs walking from a cluster of buildings that resembled warehouses. In all probability, these were space-efficient residences for the employees with limited facilities. Oh, Arelia, I thought dejectedly.
When I was a kid my dream was to simply “change the world”; I did not know how to go about this or what exactly I wanted to alter, however that was the goal. I supposed my aspirations arose from my adoration for characters like Batman and Superman. However, as I entered my teenage years, the world did not seem to be such a magical, pretty place; the full extent of these horrors-poverty, starvation, disease-washed over my hopes with the force of a tidal wave. How could I ever hope to eradicate these monstrosities if they are so widespread?
And yet now I see the error of my thinking; the only reason these issues cannot be solved is because people automatically sink into the mindset of defeat due to their overwhelming nature. Seeing the dichotomy of Jamaican and American society has rejuvenated my motivation. Given a different hand of cards, I could have been born in Jamaica and Arelia embarking on the college search right now. And life is just too important to leave up to fate. It may not be everyone’s calling, but I cannot watch while people remain isolated from opportunity and freedom to explore. Thus I return to the United States a changed person with a renewed vow for change.
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