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December 02, 2010

Doing Well In America


 Doing Well In America

Travel  and foreign living experiences can be a reminder of how soft we have it  in America -- even when the U.S. unemployment rate is in the double digits, and when one of our biggest concerns is if Congress is going to give us more unemployment benefits.

Fact is:   We're fortunate to have been born and raised in this country. 

All of us. 

Relatively speaking.


During a visit to rural Ghana in West Africa a few years back, a new acquaintance commented to me: "We  watch American soaps on our  village TV. My son said: 'Mommy, mommy. I want to live in America.  Even the poor people are fat in America!!'"


Living in Florida not long ago, my new landlords invited me to dinner, along with another friend  who speaks fluent Spanish.


Landlords are Cubans.  Mid 30s.  Have been in the US for only four years. 


The husband is this burly guy who looks more like a sumo wrestler from Japan. 


The wife is attractive, with personal balance along with an obvious,  strong love of her husband.  (And much deserved pride in her home cooking.)


We sit outside in the night heat.  Lots of laughter.   Mostly in Spanish among the three others. 


I watch their lips, trying to capture words, from my high school Spanish class, like lightening bugs.


We eat homemade tacos thick as Bibles; stuffed with fresh corn, meat, green peppers, lettuce,  onions and sauce. Followed by thimble cups of thick, black coffee or Pepsi and a homemade Cuban custard.


The husband works as a welder each day. 


During dinner, he rubs his arms to relieve large burns, presumably from a welding torch.


He can speak little English.  His wife more.  And their 8-yo daughter both, but has no Spanish accent.


Daughter is bored by the growups’ conversation and wanders back and forth from the patio to a small tv in the kitchen, where lipsticked, prepubescent girls  sing in English while stage dancing on Nickelodion.  


“Oh, Jessica mocks my English all the time,” the landlady says, looking at her nearby daughter, but laughing.


Landlord  goes to work from  2 p.m. to midnight most days.   I hear his car pull back into the drive.


By 8 a.m., he’s out in front  of the house fixing other people’s cars; to make a little more money for his family. 


Or he’s  on the roof, installing shingles, finishing the rehab on our house, which he is turning  into a three-unit.  He appears to do it all: car repair, plumbing, framing, roofing,  electrical, welding.


My Spanish-speaking friend mentions she wants to have a new bathroom added to her own house.  We talk about cost of materials.  Landlord suggests he could do it ‘in his spare time.’


His wife is upset.  She tells us she doesn’t have enough to keep her busy. 


She is raising their daughter. 


She is going to school every day, full time to become  a beautician. 


She notices I’ve just had a haircut and wants to start cutting mine. 


She hears my  friend talking about cleaning my apartment every two weeks for $20, and says she would like to do it herself.


“I need more to do,” she says.  ‘Or life gets boring.”


They’ve brought many skill sets, and a great attitude to America.


In Cuba, it was  about 'making do.'


In America, these people will do well.

Even in these hard times for many of us.


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