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GeoVisions Blog

Participant Stories

Cuba: Connecting With People and Culture

Posted by Edith | Dec 18, 2015 10:07:48 PM

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.


Edith loved meeting with everyday people, while traveling in Cuba
The people we met in Cuba were remarkably open, warm, opinionated, and happy to discuss almost anything except the Castros - a topic we never brought up.  But we did hear personal reasons for the decline in birth rate,  what life was like during the Special Period In a Time of Peace, and learned every day items (like milk) are coveted.

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.

cubaMy fellow students were mostly Europeans who had just finished university or were taking a year off to travel the Americas.  The Cuban teachers were lively, University educated and most had had several careers before English teaching. They also led culture walks around Habana Viejo and trips to the beach, brought us to the fruit and vegetable market, walked us though the market for arts and crafts and encouraged us to bargain.  The teachers were happy to talk about their perceptions of climate change, as well as ask about Trump's potential for winning the presidency and how that might affect improving relations with the U.S.

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. 

cubaJakera also organized salsa dance lessons, which my fellow students enjoyed immensely.  They took lessons in the afternoons and practiced 'til the wee hours while sampling local rum. The afternoon heat (in November) was debilitating enough for me.

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?

Written by Edith

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