Despite the sentimentality of it all, my views of Cuba have shifted for the better. First off, I landed with the notion to take any political talk with a grain of salt, but if anyone did bring up politics, I simply responded, “La política no me interesa.” However, I left with the knowledge that the people of Cuba are fundamentally happy. People will openly tell you that they are proud of their country, and of course they are! It is their homeland, la patria. I am skeptical to believe this, as most people spotted us as American tourists, and most people want that tourism to stay as it does affect their economy, but I do think that the clear majority are content.
To speak to the political climate, I noted billboards advertising elections. I would later find out that the regime is still firmly in place by rigging these elections but it’s slowly opening to the idea of democracy and loosening its iron grip on free speech and free religion. Here, I will state that it is incredibly important to keep in mind that the American standards of happiness do not
Additionally, the issue of the embargo is getting better. The country is nowhere near as it was in the “good ol’ days,” as brief as that stage was after Cuba’s independence, but it is steadily getting better. Dr. Schweitzer pointed out a hardware store to us and noted that they had more inventory than last year. Now they were selling new toilets. Still, Dr. Schweitzer advises us to pack items that our host families were lacking, such as toiletries and basic first-aid medicines.
One original opinion I had that was strongly confirmed is that Cubans are incredibly inventive, or “Cuban engineering” as my father proudly calls it. Farmers who have equipment to maintain, mothers who want to furnish their homes and keep their family warm, business owners, taxi drivers, musicians, etc.; they are all insanely clever and have adapted quite well to their individual situations. The drivers must manage their vehicles and are quick resolve any issues that may come about, such as the stick shift coming right out of the console.
The taxi drivers are also very adept motorists. It’s okay, you’ll be safe.
I did eventually tell a few people that I had Cuban roots. Some were excited, some were incredulous, some didn’t even bat an eye. I had a conversation with our bus driver, Yoel, on the trip back from Trinidad. He told me that most tourists found the country disappointing, ugly even, because of the overall poverty. In Havana, our group had been invited to our hostess’s home across the city, and I stood on top of that building looking out at many crumbling edifices. A cat walked along the jagged edge of what once was a house wall and crawled into another building’s intact window. This was a life my family had once known passively, but fate had been kind to us. I watched two girls in my group make a face of disgust and then, as if it were a boring museum exhibit, turn away and leave. I told Yoel that I understood.
My experience of traveling to Cuba was an adventure I’ll never forget. Being able to share my photos with my family was highly emotional and brought me closer to my relatives. Coming to Washington College as a freshman, I had no idea that roughly a year into my college education I would be achieving a lifelong dream. My view of Cuba has completely changed for the better, and because of this incredible experience, I’ll be doing my English senior thesis on the Cuban hero and writer, José Martí. I hope that more students go on the seminar and can have their own views challenged and changed like mine have. My word of advice? Sit down at one of the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants along el Malecón. Order a café con leche, and as you watch the waves crash against the wall, think.