Once in a lifetime opportunity: at a crossroads tour;
Myrtle Thompson Curtis
I recently traveled to Cuba on a learning journey. I went to experience a place I only read about or heard about in the news. I was there to engage as best I could despite limited Spanish. At home on my bookshelves are many books on Cuba, Che, Fidel Castro, Haydee Santamaria, and others.
These books and my life have taken me a long way from the images of Cuba I grew up with. As a child I heard that socialism and communism are anti American and will destroy life as we know it. Cuba was a place to flee from. It was not a place you would want to visit, let alone live there. I heard poverty is rampant, with a lack of shopping and basic freedoms. I had been told people deserved to be cut off, punished, and left to their own devices. After all, they rejected U.S. rules and money.
I have come to learn how much many people in our country see Cuba through fear and uncertainty. But through this journey I have been first hand schooled on how being revolutionary in principle creates strong folks filled with dignity and love.
My partner and I are lovers of justice, peace, the power of self-determination, all of the qualities that I read about in the books lining our shelves. As I spoke with folks in Cuba despite my limited Espanola, I never heard the words communism or any anti American rhetoric. Quite the opposite, I was taught how much the people there want to be able to travel to the states. The people were warm and welcoming, curious and excited about the possible lift of the blockade and look forward to an economic boost from tourism.
After all the country of Cuba is beautiful. Yes some of its buildings are in need of repair and the citizens work hard for little pay, and there is much needed infrastructure work. Sound familiar? The fact that there is health care for all its people, no cost education for all, a food subsidy for everyone regardless of economic status and all social, cultural amenities are free or affordable to its people makes me think we have something to learn from this country.
As our tour guides, Rita Periera and Roberto Perez, spoke to us with a deep and genuine revolutionary love for the country and its people. They want Cuba to remain principled, with focuses on the cultural aspects of the country. The people are proud of their accomplishments in health, education, and arts, despite being cut off from trade with the U.S. and other countries. The only counties that maintained relations were Mexico and Canada. There is not an overburdened prison population, no part of this beautiful country is off limits to its people, and its health care is available to all, despite income.
Our guides were so insightful as we went through Old Havana. We strolled the Prado Promenade, visiting shops and Museums and amazing restaurants. Roberto was amazing in his knowledge of anything to do with the environment and its protection. His love of all things bio was so energetic. We visited the Jovo urban agriculture farm, and the farm theater where actors live off of the land and perform there. There was art everywhere. Complete neighborhoods are dedicated to tile art and the work of Jose Fuster called Muraleando. His work is so vast we could not see it all in one visit. La Tanque was another neighborhood with recycled and reclaimed materials. It was a wonderful place to have lunch. Murals and creativity are prevalent along the roadways and neighborhoods.
There is so much to say about this wonderful learning journey, the music that told of Jose Marti and the revolutionary heroes. I purchased cd’s from local musicians and singers. I dined at neighborhood eateries as well as the DuPont Mansion. We visited a barely used, but swanky Marina, saw a 700 yr old cactus tree, and even ventured inside caves.
I have many lasting memories of this journey to Cuba traveling with an engaging group of folks. Some I barely knew, some were complete strangers. By the end of our travels I had made beautiful connections and will share this experience always. I also had the added bonus of traveling with my 30yr old daughter and her son Seti who is four years old. The Cuban people and our travel companions lavished him with love. Seti learned the word abuelo (grandparent) because he was treated as one of their own.
My greatest take away will be how welcome I felt and the smiles and hugs of the Cuban people. Oh yeah while I was there the weather was great until President Obama got there and brought storm clouds and high waves.