After being in Cuba for about two weeks, I’m finally back.
The entire experience was so eye-opening, and clarifying. I now understand why people want to come to America, and why they’re willing to risk their lives in the attempt. The airport in Havana is the size of a fair sized airplane hangar, but still smaller than a Costco. Customs consisted of this row of shabby booths that they ‘interviewed’ people in – you stood up and answered questions that were asked by socialist military people in olive drab uniforms. Afterwards, we were directed to go to a table to open up and empty out our luggage for inspection. The officials took the beef jerky and a pack of Oodles of Noodles that I had packed, saying something I couldn’t understand. After getting frustrated that I understood almost no spanish, they just waved me on after only taking a few more things out – my bags were enormous.
Outside the airport, people were gathered in a swelling crowd outside the gate because the airport itself wasn’t big enough for people waiting for arriving passengers to sit or hang out in. It was sweltering inside, and the bathroom had this attendant that handed you this LITTLE teeny amount of toilet paper – and you couldn’t get any more. The cabs outside the airport were all old cars from the 50’s and 60’s that rattled as they rode along down the very bumpy streets leading to a four lane highway – the largest highway I saw during my visit.
As we rode through the streets I was struck with the impression of a city existing within the Road Warrior genre that, for some strange reason, had a rip in time that seemed to toss vehicles from various years together on the congested highways. People drive pretty much any way they want in Cuba, and there were a couple of harrowing trips where I was positive that we’d scrape up against a bus or a small truck, but everybody just blithely sailed along the roads. It was very surreal. Most of the trip was very surreal.
Another huge culture shock was the fact that there was absolutely no corporate advertising to be seen. There were images of Che Guevara and Fidel everywhere. The buildings and signs had socialist and Communist slogans about victory and prosperity, which was extremely ironic considering the dilapidated state that almost every building we drove by was in. The place had an almost post-apocalyptic feel to it at times.
I was stunned to find out that, on the nicer beaches, Cuban citizens weren’t allowed to go to them. There’s also apparently a five star hotel in Havana that Cubans are also not allowed in. They can’t even go into the lobby without having their ID checked.
The house we stayed in was wonderful. The courtyard was full of banana, mango and coconut trees, and had a little pond with a stream that ran through the trees. The people that I lived with for the time I was there were just wonderful and so warm and welcoming. I found myself fervently wishing that my spanish was fluent so that I could have lengthy conversations with everybody. I’m staying in touch with the people that I’ve met, and am hoping to go back in a year. I can only hope that George Bush doesn’t get re-elected because he’s doing his best to keep any Americans from going to Cuba, unless they’re visiting ONLY their mother or father. While we were there, Castro shut down shopping in all of Havana – limiting the items that one could purchase to water, toiletries and bread. The people that went to the stores told stories of having to wait in long lines to buy products from a window on the side of the store.
The entire experience was exhilarating, educational and very fulfilling. I dearly love everybody that I met, happy that my extended family has now grown a little larger – and I hope that someday fortune and prosperity shines on all of them giving them a chance to be a part of a society that has the kinds of freedom and choices that we do in America. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to have this experience, to have my perspective shifted in a positive way that helps me realize all the great things that I have here. I’m now better able to appreciate things that I wasn’t before, which I was hoping would happen after the visit. I’m also now able to better appreciate my country and the things that it has to offer, even if at times they’ve been mildly inconvenient in the past.