Category Archives: Travel

Three Things Cuba Does Really Well

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Three things that the Cuban government does very well are (1) educate its people, (2) include cultural knowledge and the arts as part of the national curriculum;  and (3) foster environments that are inclusive, from an early age.

The underpinnings of a society are best seen in the behavior of its children and Cuban children could not have been more engaging, enchanting and inclusive of a little girl who had no idea what they were saying.   So below is a clip of three scenes: (1) Reflects the value Cubans place on providing an education that promotes critical thinking, strategic analysis, and active engagement (all children learn chess); (2) Reflects the high value placed on culture and the arts in Cuban society (this young girl attends a boarding school in Cienfuegos that specializes in classically trained musicianship (Cuban education is, by definition, State-run and free); and (3) Reflects the innate inclusiveness of Cuban children and how it extends outward to everyone (there is no fear here).

This is what makes Cuba unique in the world.

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Musical Moments in Cuba

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Cuba is a place where music and culture are valued beyond material wealth and acquisition, and as such, the sounds and rhythms of the country and its  people, are never far behind.   Outside of Havana, Santiago de Cuba is probably one of the best places to experience Cuba’s cultural diversity and the video below provides a snapshot.

The first scene is a group of men literally singing for their supper, to the   tourists that visit Castillo del Morro (or more formally, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca), and choose to stay for lunch.

The second scene is a singer at Casa de las Tradiciones.  This is a very popular spot for both tourists and locals.  The first part of the evening consists of solo (and typically older) singers with traditional tunes and the second part of the evening involves hot and sweaty salsa dancing.

The third scene is part of the musical rehearsal for the national closing ceremonies of the Feria de Libros (National Book Fair).  This is my favorite piece because it reflects the strength of African cultural and linguistic roots in Cuba.  When watching the dancer, imagine her arms holding up the ends of a long flowing traditional gown.  This is the  Ballet Folklórico Cutumba and for more info on them, click here.

Entrepreneurship and the Socialist State

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I am an entrepreneur and I am not ashamed.  I like to make money and I like to do good, and when I can do both simultaneously, I am at my happiest – so Cuba presents a conundrum.   How could someone like me (a business person) live and thrive in Cuba?

  1. Someone like me (a foreigner) has not right to stay in Cuba beyond the terms of the tourist visa or temporary residency granted because of one’s work.
  2. If someone like me was looking for a more permanent solution…then (easiest solution)  it would be time to get married to a Cuban…..and Miguel was good looking, but he wasn’tthat good looking!
  3. Most private enterprise is limited to small service businesses – selling food/restaurants, taxis, hairdressers (of course), renting rooms in homes, etc.  The services I get paid to render in the US are non-existent in Cuba…because they are free.

So unless I plan on being a black market business chick….which (for the record) I do not….making money in Cuba remains an elusive concept to me.

How do you make money in Cuba?  If you have some ideas, I would love to hear them.

The Dark Side of Paradise

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Our final night in Cuba. We had finally gotten to our last casa particular, after 6 hours on a Viazul bus from Trinidad, and not only where we tired, we were starving as well.  So with our bags stowed away, my travel buddy and I ventured out into the Varadero night to find an open restaurant and feed.

We considered a nice looking Mexican place, but the prices and the fact that only one table was occupied, kept us walking.  We finally settled on a nice pizza place that had a couple of filled tables.  We ordered our food (pizza and calamari) and for whatever reason, of all the places we could have sat, I chose an enclosed side room that looked like it was setup for more formal, wine with your meal, dining.  This is where this story begins.

My 8-year old travel buddy and I sat at a table for two and directly across from us, on the other side of the room was a table set for three, and overflowing with empty beer cans and a bottle of wine.  Seated at the table were (1) an Italian woman in her early 50s, sporting a blond bob, a tight, breast enhancing, black dress and a voice so deep…you really had to consider, she could be a he; (2) an average looking Italian male, probably mid-30s; and (3) a stunning Afro-Cuban girl who was probably 5 feet 11 inches (without heels) and all of 100 lbs (45.4 kg for you metric people).

Why was this scene any different from any other?   [Warning – I have never watched a Columbo detective flick, but I can play detective too] I noticed that the  man was overtly trying to get the Cuban girl to drink more beer and she, being rather inebriated already, kept pushing the beer can away.Then the conversation would flip from Italian to Spanish then to Italian.  In Spanish, the Italian woman would describe different recipes (in a light tone) and in Italian, her baritone would come out as she talked business.

Now I don’t speak or understand Italian….I barely speak and understand Spanish (well okay I can get by and be conversant in Spanish) the point is, there was no reason for me to understand any of their conversation but I’ll tell you what I did understand:

  • The Cuban girl was told she could make up to 4,000 euros a day and the work would not be hard;
  • The men she would be dealing with would be a diverse set but there were many Pakistanis, Arabs and some Africans;
  • She (the Cuban) should come and  commit to working for them.

The Italian man then started to take some pictures of the Cuban, then turned the camera to the Italian woman, who immediately and sternly said, no pictures (of her).

Now I am not a “worldly” woman, in that slimy, underworld sort of way, but I have watched enough TV and movies to have a very active imagination.   And given the context and just how everything unfolded … I am pretty sure I was witnessing a young woman being enticed into a global sex/slave trade by shiny lights, fancy talk, and alcohol. If I let my mind run, I could see that they would get her permission to leave Cuba by saying she had an employment contact with an “Italian Firm” as a model, travel agent, etc.  Then she would leave the country and it would become impossible to track her down.  She would become one of the thousands of beautiful girls out there who are trafficked and enslaved for the express purpose of satisfying someone’s deviant sexual desires.      THIS IS SO WRONG!

This Afro-Cuban girl was promised a daily wage that would take the average Cuban 20 years to earn.  And she…thinking of all the ways that money could improve her situation and that of her family’s, is the lamb being led to slaughter.   The irony here is that, while many Cubans may (or may not) think that they are really poor and suffering, relative to so many other parts of the world, Cubans are living in paradise.   Compared to the average person living in Sierra Leone, India, Thailand, or El Salvador, Cubans have an abundance of everything. Of safety, security, food, education, medical care, great hairdressers and cheap nail salons.  No Cuban is homeless or starving or illiterate.  But the desire for “more”, more stuff, more house, more cloths, more luxury, drives people to make choices that put their  lives in peril.

I wish that Cuban girl knew her worth. I wish she knew that “all that glitters is not gold” and that smiling faces do not equate to good intentions.  I wish she knew.

Walking Out On Faith

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I promised myself that after our side trip to Cuba I would come home and start packing. Well the packing has begun.  Yesterday I started paring our life down to just a handful of boxes (my goal is three) and a couple of ready suitcases.  Given how relatively nomadic my life has been, reducing our family’s belongings to those items that are historically most crucial (e.g., children’s art projects and awards), gets easier every time I do it…but I always have to ask myself, “Am I letting too much go, should I hold on to this piece and that piece?”

The reality for me is that we are more than the collection of items that sit on our shelves or gather dust in boxes that we only open when we are moving.  I am more than that collection of 1st love, love letters, that I have towed around with me for the last 20 years.  I am more than the sum of things that I thought were important once, but no longer.

So our spring cleaning has begun. Today I paid for my next two months of rent and gave my landlord my notice.  Hooray for small victories!

Always at moments like these, when I stand ready on the precipice of significant change, I visualize an image that gives me strength and conviction.  I imagine Jesus walking on water, a miracle born through his unfailing faith in God, and I imagine myself, unfailing in my belief that God will always protect and guide me, walking on a sea of change, buoyed by God’s grace. This gives me the strength to proceed without fear.

Can I get an AMEN!!