In so many places throughout Cuba there was reconstruction and renewing of old buildings and structures, along with the replacement of pipes and sewer systems, especially in Havana Vieja. This seemed like such a hopeful thing and in my mind it represents the beginning of a new era that begun when Raúl took over in 2008. Havana seems as a whole to have begun losing the disparity that has haunted it for so long. Not many people came up to our group begging for something and everyone seemed to be dressed fashionably by the world’s standards–not just by Cuba’s. I know that Cubans are supposed to have always had an easy-going attitude no matter their circumstances, but it just seemed as though the
people were happier than that have been in a long time.
It was interesting to note that most places to eat were known only to the natives if you wanted the authentic Cuban food that is found mainly in los paladares, or home restaurants. However, those weren’t the most important kinds of connections. The connection that one Cuban has with another Cuban seems to be very strong. I noticed that oftentimes Cubans enjoyed just talking to someone they had never met before and acted as though they had been lifelong friends simply because they had been through hard times, and in general, that seems to bring people together.
Much of what I had researched regarding education and Cuba in general seemed to be true. As I talked to Geldrys, our tour guide, she told me much of what I knew already. The length of the school days, the uniform, the way the system worked and how the teachers are really involved in the community of their students, etc, were all things I was familiar with. It was good to know that the information I hadfound was accurate and also interesting that, since my information was at least a few years old, was still accurate in their quickly-changing society.
The beauty of the city and especially the countryside was extremely surprising to me. Even though much of the architecture was corroded, it had a certain elegance about it that only added another facet of interest. The amazing Viñales Valley was also a surprise. I could hardly believe how incredibly vast the mountains were. I also didn’t expect the people of Cuba to be so very thrifty and skilled at making something out of seemingly nothing. Fusterland was a great example of this. I was absolutely amazed at the skill of this man to make a so-so neighborhood beautiful with his art. It was magical. The uniforms of the women who were officials or in the military were quite a shock. I had thought that the goal of the way women dress in Cuba was to prevent the machismo from being a very important component in society, but the skirts these women wore were very short and were worn with tights that often seemed to have a sexually suggestive look to them. It was a true, not many women wore short shorts, but men and women alike wore shorts that went right past the knee, and surprisingly men did too. The hairstyles of many young men in Cuba were fascinating. They were much more modern than the styles of the US, which I found interesting because I thought that the US would be more progressive because we simply are more progressive overall.
The food almost the entire time we were in Cuba was mouth-watering. Black beans and rice with everything, but a slightly different flavor everywhere we went. The use of many vegetables and then a bit of meat, whether it be pork or chicken (normally), and sometimes beef or lobster, made for a very colorful plate. Looking at the pictures I took of our meals, I wish I were back in Cuba again. Their food was so very flavorful! Perhaps this is due to the fact that they fried a large portion of their meals, but everyone knows that fried food tastes the best, or so I believe. However, all of the walking that the average person does in Havana probably counter-balances their high calorie meals. Either way, I am greatly missing the food. The different courses, the dessert at the end (usually a very yummy twist on an American favorite), the fried plantains, and of course, the TuCola, made for a unique and beautiful meal that would be very difficult to replicate here in America.
After the first couple days in Havana, it really hit me that I was in CUBA! I could hardly believe it. Growing up, I didn’t have a very good impression of Cuba since it was communistic. I thought that it would be something like barren Russia where nobody wants to go, and I only heard bad things about Cuba as well. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had to make an adjustment in my mind to all the things I had been told and assumed myself. Another adjustment I had to make was to the fact that there was no milk. I have been taught my entire life to drink one glass a day, so this was something I had to make due with. However I also thought it was so interesting that most people in Cuba had never really had milk, so they didn’t necessarily know what they were missing. On the other hand, the people there were constantly making adjustments in their own world. Cuba today is not the same Cuba it was 10 years ago, or even 5. It was fascinating and a real blessing to be able to have seen a part of this process in Cuba’s history.
While in Cuba, we were told to enjoy Cuba, but not to try to understand it. This was quite an enigmatic statement. I thought that in all truth, the hardest thing to comprehend was the Cubans’ attitude toward life. They had been through some horrible things, but they had never revolted or tried as a whole to completely change things and the system. They seemed to just take what they were dealt. I think it is difficult for me to understand why they seemingly never changed their mind about the revolution and still to this day believe that it was a good thing. It seems as though the Cubans just waited out the storm, hoping that it would eventually get better. And now it actually is for the first time in a long time, getting much better!
In comparison with Cuba, Montreal is a completely different place. I think the most unique thing about Cuba is the attitude of the people. They are very hard-working, resourceful, never complaining, and always kind. In Montreal, the people are not so friendly to strangers and seem to be like the people in the US until you get to know them better. However, both places have very good and somewhat different food than in America. They also both have a lot of really old architecture and have an old feel to them, which is very intriguing.
Overall, my trip to Cuba was absolutely fascinating and one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was such a beautiful place. I’m so blessed to have been able to go and I would jump at the chance of visiting again in the future. It was great to begin to scratch the surface of understanding the Cuban way of life.