During spring break my family and I had a unique opportunity to visit Cuba. The trip was sponsored by “People to People,” a cultural exchange program.
I had always thought of Cuba as a closed society, lacking the luxury of such things as department stores, elegant restaurants, and technology, totally strangled by the vine of Communism and blind to all that makes life in our society so exciting.
When we landed on the island, the airport was the same as any, but small, about a quarter of the size of Greenville’s. It was surrounded by farmland and few roads. On occasion a lone truck could be seen. The people who met us didn’t treat us in any unusual way, and they didn’t appear to have anything against us. We were just like any other travelers.
As soon as we left the airport, I knew that my first impression of Cuba had been wrong. In Havana, there were people running around with cell phones, there were giant charter buses, there were taxis, and there were busy roads. However, there was one thing that stood out about the roads. Most of the cars were American cars from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s that had been imported before the US Embargo. They were still in working condition, but were beaten up on the outside and looked as if they had gotten a lot of use in their time. Some had been painted with brushes and some shook as if they were about to fall apart, but they still ran. There were also more modern cars left behind from the Russian era.
Havana itself is not too different from our cities. It is a very old and very large city. The architecture consists of styles from 18th century Spain to early 20th century America, but unfortunately, the older, more beautiful and ornate buildings clearly lack proper care and are falling apart, literally crumbling to pieces. There are millions of people living in Havana, so there were people and noises everywhere, just without much of the modern technology that one would see in our major cities today. It seemed as if after Castro took power in 1959, time just stopped, but now the Cubans are slowly trying to crawl their way out of that era and into the modern world. Yet, everywhere we looked, on almost on every wall, on every shirt, every picture, every painting, we could see immortalized faces of the Cuban Revolution – Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Fidel Castro – constant reminders to the people of the strong efforts and the valor that their Communist government had been built on. It was as if the government had immortalized these faces to keep the people transfixed, blinding them from the fact that they were stuck in a bubble, separated from the rest of the world and robbed of the freedom of self-opportunity. These same images remain to express their pride. The people are proud and reminiscent of the revolution, but we could tell that they wanted a change. They don’t like the government, but most still think that the Castro brothers are the people who can get them to where they want to be. The Cuban people want a chance to see what the world has to offer, and the Castro brothers are beginning to open up to the modern world’s new technology and ideas.
I feel extremely lucky to have been able to experience such a trip and look forward to the chance to go back to Cuba in a few years and see how things have continued to change.