Most of us know the history of Cuba and its bitter relations with the US. Going in your initial thoughts may be, if you’re a sympathetic emotional type who doesn’t have ice for veins, what can I do to help these people? Some may feel sad during the visit because the Cuban people don’t have access to the superficial things most American’s have in the way of cars, designer clothing (i.e., Adidas vs. Qatar airways t-shirt), accessories or even access to the internet.
WHAT IS CUBA?
A country of course but the ingredients that make it special are the rare idiosyncrasies and attributes that not too many other countries possess. This keeps them unique. Cuba has a strong foundation which started with the revolutionary pioneers, Fidel and Che. While there are many who may disagree with their revolutionary way of thinking, there are those that I spoke to who had nothing but great things to say about these two pioneers.
In my conversations they have been referred to as leaders, intelligent, fearless, and strong. You even have some old and young who continue to say, “I am Fidel” which translates to I am a leader.
My perspective changed and my focus shifted while in Cuba from everyday life to life in general and how their experience has shaped and formed them into being these proud resilient individuals.
The more time I spent in Cuba speaking with individuals, I realized there was a common theme in the response to my question, “If you had the opportunity to go to the US tomorrow, would you?” The emphatic NO was always followed by a listing of reasons why such as:
- You guys pay for healthcare
- You guys have to pay for education
- You guys have violence
- You guys can’t even safely go to a movie theater (said one lady)
- Your government doesn’t help you
- We have very little drugs and prostitution
I began to think about this as well as things like depression and how they cope or just overall happiness and what makes them happy. The answer was simple. No, they don’t go to a doctor and get a prescription for depression, they have their community, family, and friends for that. Material items and money is not the root of their happiness. Although many of them would like change in the way of more jobs and more money. Happiness, however, comes from within. Mariela, one of the ladies I met while visiting summed up happiness and freedom for me. While I understood that Mariela’s point of view didn’t speak for all Cubans, I felt the sentiments may be somewhat of the same. She said freedom was going to the park with her kids, her family, and husband and just spending time with friends drinking rum and dancing. She also said freedom was not worrying about money but being polite, educated, intelligent and just enjoying life. Her last comment to me was about how people come from other places, mainly America, with all their money looking down on her but she told me she sees them as, “A monkey they dress in silk but still a monkey.”
After my visit to Cuba I realized it was not my help the Cuban people needed but it was their help that I needed. Here I am from the land of the free-home of the brave but after speaking with these individuals, I felt enslaved. I thought about my return to work and the image that popped in my head was my badge that hangs around my neck which serves as my reminder that I’m a slave to my work for healthcare. Without employment, I would have trouble seeking medical attention.
They are strong because they are united; we are united because that is our country’s name.
I felt like the Cuban peoples’ occasional mention of Trump followed by a chuckle and a raise of an eyebrow from some may have been their way of saying without saying, “Don’t worry about us – we are fine – you have your own problems.”
In the end I question how free am I really? What will it take for me to reach freedom? Among all my souvenirs, the most valuable thing I returned with was an understanding that I determine my freedom.
WHAT DOES FREEDOM MEAN FOR ME?
“Hasta La Victoria Siempre” which means always toward the victory whatever your victory may be.
By Stephanie Maniche