Monday, March 14, 2016

Cuba: a Kaleidoscopic View: Part 1

Cienfuegos: Revolution Forever

Just before I left for Cuba I received an e-mail from my friend, Alma Flor, who is Cuban. She wrote: "Your trip will be full of surprises of different kinds. I know you will be able to see the many shapes and colors of that kaleidoscope, and ah, the contradictions." She was so right! Kaleidoscopic indeed! I preface anything I write here with the confession that my Cuban eyesight is most likely 20/200. The many shapes, colors, and contradictions that exist there cannot be distinguished clearly in three weeks or even three years. So read what I write here keeping that in mind.

My time in Cuba was spent with my good friends Lena & Lenita, friendships that go back nearly forty years. Our travels took us to Habana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Viñales and back to Habana at the end of our trip. We drank mojitos together, ate lobster and roast pork, and enjoyed each others' company fully. Qué pena that Marie was not with us physically, she would have loved the lobster and the company! But we included her in all we did together.

Our stay in Habana took us to el Museo de la Revolución where I was surprised to learn that three American presidents are officially honored there: Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr, and good old "W". Alongside each dignitary's image was a plaque commemorating their unique contribution to the Revolution. I left proud to be an "American". I sincerely hope that Donald Trump does not get a chance to be added to that wall!

Since it was my friend, Lena's birthday, she treated Lenita and me to an hour long taxi tour of Havana! During our tour, our driver, Hansel, explained why there are so many incredibly preserved old American cars in Cuba. After the Revolution in 1959, an edict was mandated that said there would be no cars newer than 1959 available for purchase on the island. That law was not rescinded until 2011. Thus, fifty five year old vehicles look like they just came off the assembly line thanks to Cuban ingenuity. 

Street Parade - Cienfuegos
Apart from Habana, Cienfuegos was the city I liked best. It was fair less touristy than Trinidad and Viñales. I felt more "invisible" there, more as if I was seeing Cubans living their daily lives normally without the "tourist mania" that Trinidad and Viñales had. It was a city full of culture and a history that was heavily influenced by the French. It is a place I would readily go back to. 

Marisol and her son
Despite the colonial beauty of Trinidad, I could not connect with it, far too much tourism. And since people need money to move forward in life, everyone is trying to get their share of the dollar or euro. I much preferred to walk on the periphery of the city in more removed areas. It was here that Lena and I came across Marisol and her children. She was cleaning rice on a doorstep when we walked past. "Do you have any soap", she asked. I told her I did back at our room and that I would bring it to her the next day, which I did. Marisol is a 38 year old single mother with two children. Her thirteen year old son has leukemia and her eyes were full of tears as she explained the episodes of intense pain that fell over him. She told us his condition was viewed as terminal by the doctors. They lived in a very basic one room house, which she owns. She cleans houses where the tourists stay and earns forty dollars a month. But throughout all of her son's illness, she had not spent one peso on doctors or medication. She was incredibly grateful for that. Is there something that we Americans can learn here about caring for our people? About having access to quality health care no matter what your socio-economic situation is? Or is that "socialism"? Hmmmmm!
Trying out Lena's specs

Our stay in Viñales was restful and uneventful. I was ready to get back to Vedado, the area of Habana where we were staying. I was ready to escape the fluorescent label of "tourist". I had good contacts in Habana for photographing and was ready to start. So I sat back, had a few mojitos and thanked the universe for letting me be there.
Habana will be Part 2 of this blog entry. 

1 comment:

Lisa Ede said...

Sounds like you had an amazing and informative trip! Thanks for sharing. I always love reading your blog posts.