As a country still living in the shadows of communism, Cuba represents a combination between an old and new life. This past summer, I received the opportunity to spend a week in the island’s capital of Havana for educational purposes. Before hopping on the plane, I had no idea of the many adventures that awaited me. In my mind, Cuba was an ambiguous mass in the Caribbean without form or meaning. I began the journey with the hope and desire of learning about a country that had always felt so close yet so far away.
When the morning of my departure quickly arrived, the weather was humid but a cool breeze softly traveled the quiet streets. I said “hasta la proxima” to the Cuban family that housed me for six days. They said they would see me again soon. Those words seemed to comfort them. The streets were calm and smelled of a mix of dust and salt water. Although grungy and tested by time, the large Capitol building had an air of power and importance. The rest of the surroundings were dark and the lights were off, an effort by the government to conserve energy in the city.
The street curved downward toward me, dotted on both sides by tall buildings with faded chipped paint that curled at the edges of intricate balconies. Those buildings stood as a reminder of what life used to be like before the Revolution. They are all that is left along with the memories of those with the courage to still live in them. Many of the people have left, but the buildings still stand holding their ground as the surroundings crumble. The buildings’ brownish cracks are like the wrinkles of old men symbolizing a wisdom that grows ripe with time.
As the taxi turned the corner and I held on to my luggage, I looked up and down the streets. I had so many memories on those streets. As you walk those streets, salsa music can be heard from the houses and the swift Cuban accent lifts upwards in the dusty air. You can smell the various spices of chicken, rice and beans. People watch the passersby from the streets and balconies, with pure fascination and awe.
The streets have a flavor and color that those that walk by can taste. Still, like the shadows of the buildings, the shadow of communism is a constant reminder. People in Cuba lack the liberties to do and be who they want. The tourists and foreigners like me can savor the city’s flavors and color, but have the liberty to go where we wish. The Cubans must stay and survive this system. For the Cubans, the tourists represent and embody freedom.
As my airplane raised towards the morning sunrise, I looked down and could see a different Cuba. That week I learned so much about Cuban culture and the society. I left the island with great memories, but also with many realizations. I was thankful for the freedom and opportunities that awaited me on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, the historic island of Cuba had taken shape in my mind. I had seen the many tragedies and beauties of the country.