THE LUXURY OF CUBA PART II
Thanks for returning for the remainder of my blog post on Cuba!
I took a classic car tour around Havana. However, since I had already taken in so many sights on my own at this point, the tour felt a bit generic and overpriced. I did enjoy the tour guide, a young woman who had gone to the university to learn German to communicate with the droves of German tourists who travel to Cuba. She reminded me of my father, who also spoke fluent German, was intelligent and funny. She was also forthcoming about life in Cuba and was able to provide deeper context on much of the things I had observed from my short time there. Contrary to what we’ve been taught in America, She told me that the people loved Fidel Castro and took to the streets to mourn his death when he died. She spoke of how despite having little, Cubans were happy. Later, when I asked about the local ice cream shop, the guide stated that I probably wouldn’t enjoy the ice cream being an American, because it is watered down to ensure that there’s enough for everyone. Her statement resonated with me as it demonstrated a strong commitment to sharing what you have, even when there’s not much to go around. Her words also made me recall a memory from two years prior when I was in Kenya. While touring the the Kibera slum, an impoverished little girl shared a small piece of bread from her lunch with several other children. These examples of generosity are touching and humbling. CALLEJON DE HAMEL, SALSA DANCING, A GUITAR LESSON & MORE SIGHTSEEING The following day I went to Callejon de Hamel, a small alley where locals and tourists go every Sunday to celebrate Afro-Cuban culture with music and dancing. There are also restaurants, gift shops and lots of cool art. Famous Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales has a gallery there.
My twin sister Kamilah and me at CalleJon De Hamel
That night, I went to a dance instructor’s home to meet others for dancing. Our group consisted of people from Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. After receiving salsa and rumba lessons from the engaging instructor, we went to a nightclub to practice our moves. No matter what our skill level was, we all had fun dancing the night away with each other and the locals.
Getting my salsa on with the locals
I ended my trip with a guitar lesson at the Havana Music School - a business created after the government allowed Cuban citizens to own small businesses in 2010. HMS gives lessons in guitar, bass, percussion, piano etc. and is a great way for tourists to learn about Cuban culture through music. The instructors and staff were all very welcoming and understanding. I arrived 30 minutes late because my taxi driver couldn’t find the school (No GPS!), but was still given my full hour of instruction. After my lesson, I spent my final moments sightseeing and preparing to say goodbye to the island that had exceeded my little girl fantasies.
Me receiving a guitar lesson from Marcos at HMS
Kamilah receiving percussion lessons from Maurice
Shopping in Old Havana
A TEARFUL GOODBYE As I grabbed my bags to head for the airport, I reflected on the amazing experiences I had in Cuba and all the wonderful people I had been fortunate enough to meet. Cuba felt like home to me and I didn’t want to leave. On the way to the airport, I actually cried. That was a first! However, Cuba was in so many ways, unlike any other place I had visited. Cuba isn’t a lie on the beach and sip cocktails kind of destination. It’s not a place you visit for spa resorts, luxury hotels or golf. There’s no Bluetooth, GPS or rampant Wi-Fi. However, Cuba is not a country collapsing under the weight of its own antiquity. Despite having so little by opulent standards, it is thriving in other, more enviable ways. Beyond the tourists’ magnets of rum, cigars, coffee, music and dancing - there’s quality, free medical/dental care and education for all Cubans. Over 99.8% of adults are literate, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country is relatively safe with minimal violent crimes. Only police and military are allowed to carry weapons. There’s a real sense of community and compassion for others in Cuba; humans and four-legged. There aren’t thousands of homeless people with mental illness roaming the streets because they lack money or access to proper healthcare. Instead of being caged or euthanized, the stray dogs are actually rounded up, given shots and set free with tags stating that they are not dangerous. They exist on scraps given to them and no one abuses them.
Additionally, there’s an undeniable spirit of resourcefulness and innovation in Cuba that extends from restoring a 1950s Chevy and recycling furniture to pioneering the development of Cimavax, an advanced cancer treatment, shown in Cuban trials to extend the lives of lung cancer patients by months, and sometimes years. Although this treatment has been used in Cuba since the 90s, it is just now starting to be used in U.S. trials. Finally, the rundown homes and buildings are not metaphors for the spirit of the Cuban people. They are strong, confident, resilient and happy - I was told this repeatedly. They are proud and know the importance of preserving their culture. During the five days that I spent in Cuba, many Cubans apologized for not being able to offer me American-style luxuries. However, for all of America’s self-aggrandizement, I felt saddened when I considered all we have lost in pursuit of those luxuries. Cuba has its share of problems. However, like some awkward dance move being choreographed by circumstance, it still manages to have one foot firmly planted in its own past with the other tapping to the beat of its changing present. The result is a future unfolding in its own beautiful time. I am so grateful that I was able to see Cuba’s raw essence. The slower pace, low crime, community spirit, compassion and overall digital detox it afforded me, was a refreshing and much-needed change. With all of the craziness in America, Cuba allowed me to revisit the past, restore my faith in humanity and have hope for a day when we’d value the simple things in life rather than the superficial. Above it all, this is the true luxury of Cuba.
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