In addition to our trip to Cuba being extraordinary in and of itself, this was an especially powerful excursion for the HOTY (a.k.a. The Husband of the Year) because his grandfather vacationed in Cuba in the 40s and 50s (much in the same way that people travel to Vegas and South Beach today).
Havana is one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere. At one time, Havana was referred to as the “Paris of the Caribbean.” Not so now. The poverty of Cuba is omnipresent, palpable and literally heart-wrenching.
Our guide told us that each person gets a certain amount of food rations every month. Sounds great until you learn that the monthly food allotment only lasts about 15 days. Then, they are on their own.
Because of the black (food) market, farmers are not permitted to kill cows. Even if they own them. If a cow is intentionally killed, the jail term is 15 years. As a frame of reference, the penalty for killing a person is 8 years in jail. Hmmm….So, what “smart Cubans” do is tie their cows by the train tracks and when they are killed, the death is called an “Act of G-d.” Meat is imported from Canada and Uruguay. Yes, Canada and Uruguay.
Fishing in the sea is, for the most part, prohibited because the fishermen have a tendency to follow the fish all the way to the shores of Florida. Get it? As a consequence, the fishing fleet was all but disbanded. Fish is imported from Thailand. Yes, Thailand. To think about all of the food that surrounds the country (in the sea), but is unattainable is profoundly baffling to me.
In addition to hourly reflections of gratitude for my life and for living in the United States, I found myself becoming accustomed to things not making sense. Is this rationalization of an inability to wrap my mind and heart around that which is so painful? Very likely.
Before you think that this is all gloom and doom, you know by now that there is always a Silver Lining to be found. That Silver Lining is a pride in the Cuban people that is joyous, fervent and contagious. Celebrated Cuban author Enrique Cirules describes the his perception of Cuba: ”We are a 3rd world country, but the best 3rd world country.”
Amid the poverty, there is a hopefulness. Hope is one of the greatest Silver Linings in the world, whatever the circumstance.
This hopefulness was present at a dinner hosted by a prolific Cuban artist who lives with his American (curator) wife and teenage son. All of them could live in the United States, but choose to live in Cuba because “this is our home.”
Additionally, much of what made Havana appealing in the 1950s remains intact today. The music. The art. The cigars. All are incredibly energizing (though I didn’t actually try a cigar. Not how I roll.)
One of our new (and incredibly adorable, fun and hilarious!) friends from the trip, Frances Schultz is also blogging about the experience on Frances and the Belle Sisters (I told you she is adorable!). Be sure to check out her blog.
In the meantime, please allow me to share images of some Cuban people who left quite an impression on me.