Our last day in Cuba ended with a visit to Fusterlandia before we headed to the airport. A crazy Picasso meets Gaudi situation where the artist converted his home and many others in the community into glistening, colorful, funny, joyous celebrations of art, community and Cuba. A very befitting way to end our trip.
What a trip from Santi Spiritus to Habana! In between, I discovered the creativity and resourcefulness of the Cuban people. I was impressed by the role of music, dance and art, by the ration cards that held information about each citizen’s medical needs, by availability and respect for education, by their efforts towards sustainable development, by their surprisingly entrepreneurial spirit, by their awareness of the dangers and benefits of tourism, by their efforts to be energy efficient and ecologically sensitive, by the general safety and scarcity of crime and gun violence, by the active and respected role of women, by their racial diversity and much more. Yes, often the ideology does not translate into reality. However, the effort seemed genuine and hopeful. On the other end of the spectrum, no fishing boats are allowed for fear of citizens escaping to Miami. They import fish while they have fish available off the coast. There is certainly a level of control and suspicion that we as foreigners were not privy to. The dual currency system of CUCs and pesos frustrates everyone to no end. The infrastructure is lacking, as in the case of highways or crumbling, as in the case of old Havana. There is so much in need of repair. Housing and food seemed to be the biggest concerns for Cubans. Given Cuba’s slave trade past, elimination of native population, harsh and exploitive sugar plantations (like many countries) it offers a humble history lesson about working for one’s self and the sanctity of labor.
Personally, I will carry two lessons learned in Cuba onward.
- For us, what we own, in particular, home ownership, to a large extent defines us. Cubans seem to define themselves by what they do, instead of what they own (most of what they ‘own’ comes unofficially from family living abroad or the black market..flat screen TVs seem to be the highly prized). This was a worthy reminder for me. What would I do if I couldn’t define myself by what I “own”?
- Each home was an independent business in all the towns we visited, whether as a casa particulaire (bread and breakfast), paladar (restaurant) or craft studio. The living rooms of most houses visible from the street were devoted to selling something they made. Despite limitations, there is always something one can offer, even if that is five mangoes and two bananas on a table. What can I do with whatever skills and abilities I do have?
I was humbled by my Cuba experience and thankful for all the gifts I enjoy. The struggle towards a world without starvation, homelessness, violence, ignorance and sickness are fundamental human material needs (and not mere ideology) practiced there. How we get there is worth ongoing discussion. Cuba is an important voice in that discussion. Viva Cuba!