Sunday, December 29, 2013

Conversations With Juan

For the past two months, one member of my team at work has been a man named Juan*. He is in his late thirties and came to the U.S. from a developing country in South America. I carry photos of my sponsored girls in the front pocket of my safety vest, and that led to some very interesting conversations with him about the conditions he grew up with and how lucky he feels living in the U.S. and working for a company that provides health benefits for him and his family.

Our job is not glamorous. It is an entry-level, blue-collar position. We will never become wealthy doing it. But it is steady work, with guaranteed hours and pay raises each year, and some pretty awesome health, travel and retirement benefits. Juan tells me that once he couldn't have even dreamed of such a job.

He has described incredible gaps between the wealthy and the poor in his country--in health care, and in every other aspect of life. He owned one pair of shoes--dirty and full of holes--that he only wore for special occasions. His parents found work as they could and struggled to purchase enough food to keep hunger at bay. The only reason Juan was able to escape, he says, is because he taught himself from books and pamphlets to speak English and then got lucky to be hired for a position he wasn't really qualified for BECAUSE he could speak English ... which eventually led to the contacts he needed to obtain a position here in the States.

For people who don't or can't take some sort of initiative like he did, he says, there is no hope. Even when they DO try, it still takes an incredible amount of luck. Juan thinks he is the luckiest man in the world because he is able to put food on his table (700 miles away, where his wife and kids live in another state), send his kids to school, and buy them shoes. No matter how busy work gets (and during the holiday season, it's downright INSANE), he never has a word of complaint.

I've always known that the coworkers of ours who complain constantly and try to get by with doing as little work as possible don't appreciate how good we really have it, but after speaking with Juan I find myself wanting to smack them upside the head. At the very least, I wish they would take the time to sit down and listen to his story.

We all have difficulties and problems, but we should never take what we DO have for granted. Because there are people out there who would give anything to be us.

*name changed to respect privacy

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