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As Havana Gets Ready for U.S. Embassy Flag-Raising, Hope for Future

HAVANA, Cuba — Under the merciless midday sun, a group of workmen poured hot asphalt Wednesday into a pothole on the seaside avenue leading to the U.S. embassy, where Secretary John Kerry will preside over a historic flag-raising ceremony on Friday.

On Wednesday morning, a casual glance out the window at the Hotel Nacional, where many journalists covering the event are staying, showed a group of men in a building's rooftop draping an enormous flag, one of many which were draped around the city, including near the U.S. Embassy.

There is buzz and activity around the city before Friday's events, and talk of what may come next.

Joshua Wait, a young tourist from England, said it was "completely by chance" that he is here during this historic moment.

British tourists Joshua Wait and Tom Lovelace are visiting Cuba during the U.S. Embassy's historic flag raising. Sandra Lilley / NBC News

"Whether it's a good thing, it's up to the Cubans to decide," Wait said. "As an outsider, it does feel like going back 50 years in the past — that's one of the reasons we wanted to come now."

But he also noted the shortages and the limited resources. "You go into the supermarket — everything is quite basic," he said. "That's part of the system and I would be careful to say negative things."

Workers pour asphalt to cover potholes along the Malecon on Aug. 12 in preparation for the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy. Sandra Lilley / NBC News

Chilean tourist Nancy Lehvede had mixed reactions to the closer U.S. ties.

If you look at the country, she observed, there are a lot of things that have not reached the Cuban people — like the Internet. But she hoped the other areas of Cuban life that she saw as beneficial would not be affected down the line by the new openness.

"The studies, the health, is no cost for them, that is very good," she said. "You can walk at any time, day or night, and there is no problems for the tourists ... I don't know if the future will be the same or that will change."

A large Cuban flag is unfurled on a building near the Hotel Nacional, one of many flags unfurled around the city as the U.S. Embassy prepares to raise its flag on Friday. Pete Kraynak

Cuban attorney Marlene Mendoza was taking her 7-year-old daughter to the movies on Wednesday. When asked about Friday's events and its possible repercussions, she said "it's possible [to have] a new opening, more economic developments for our families, for our country — for us."

But she conceded that it was complicated.

"There needs to be good will from both parties," she said, adding the U.S. needed to change its views of how they see Cuba. Moreover, she said, it was unclear what takes place next.

"There are a lot of expectations, but one has to [wait and] see what is going to happen," said Mendoza.