Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to people-to-people exchange as the basis for American travel in Cuba. That's my favorite kind of travel.
We saw first-hand why working with tourists provides more life-long opportunities than being an engineer, and experienced the rising wave of entrepreneurship that is greeting all those tourists.
We stayed in a casa with a voluble and energetic grandmother who spoke only Spanish and lived in a third floor apartment several blocks from Jakera's hostel and center of operations in Habana Viejo. My husband often spent several hours a day talking with V. about her daughters, the family's daily life, and the carefully calibrated shopping events necessary to obtain a chicken, fish, and eggs for a birthday dinner. Due to my beginner's Spanish, V's rapid rate of delivery, and the lack of final vowels that characterizes Cuban speech, I went to daily Spanish lessons.
The Cuban art scene is vibrant, and as my husband is an artist, we hoped to meet some Cuban artists. The Jakera staff pointed us to several wonderful people and events. On the weekends, on the Prado, artists sell their work and give lessons for free to children. At 2pm Sundays there is a lively art discussion facilitated by an artist with numerous others providing their opinions into a shared microphone. Jakera also organized our participation in a monthly teaching event for children at a center for arts and culture.
By stepping into galleries and starting conversations, we were privileged to meet and see the works of a ceramicist, printer, and painter.
We appreciated the colorful, mass produced works for the tourist trade featuring vintage cars, references to rum, and local land marks as well as fine arts produced in spite of what we would consider the basic requirements for paper, paints, etc. The commitment and production of art in Cuba is impressive.
The weight of socialism is evident in how people must live to get by, the crumbling, molding buildings, the extraordinarily safe streets, and the care with which people express their opinions. But Cubans are proud to be survivors.
They have an amazing spirit and a common desire to make their country better for everyone - not just themselves.
And where else in the world, other than Cuba, can you hear riffs on the Buena Vista Social Club in the streets 24 hours a day?