Alison Luterman's report on La Pena choral group's trip to Cuba is excellent! The experiences she describes are very touching and show the human side of Cuba, the side that has drawn myself and a zillion other tourists into making return visits to the island for years, and a side that too few Americans get to see. It reminds me of the time, in a packed hotel restaurant near a small town west of Santiago, we were treated to the incredible sounds of the local students' choir. The best way for me to describe their presence is to tell you that dinner stopped entirely while they were given a long and emotional standing ovation. But it's not just their polished talent, in so many fields, that blow us off our feet every time, there's much more.
Forget to pack a toothbrush in an embargoed land where it can be impossible to find such basic necessities and the maid not only finds one somehow but engages an all out cooperative search to track you down and give it to you before lunchtime. Tip the maid and a few days later she drops by to give you a beautiful shell. Give the boy in the street the pen in your shirt pocket and he comes back insisting that you accept his worthless 2 peso coin with a portrait of Che on it -- "present for you". Give an artist ten dollars for his painting and he gives you a poem as well. Tip a musician and later receive a clay fertility doll. Ask a little girl to be in your photo then thank her (because you have nothing else to give her) and she, who has much less, comes over and gives you a kiss.
Cycle or hike down the back roads and the locals come out of their homes bringing you water and flowers. Play on a nationally and linguistically mixed-up local softball team because the Cubans' sense of pride and dignity will not allow a Team Canada, no matter how confident, to lose by a mile every time in front of the whole neighborhood. Meet a teenager who cycles ten miles to the game to meet tourists and learn English, lend him your $100 digital pocket translator while you play ball and his pals cluster around him -- no problemo. Time out while some oxen pull a wheel-less cart of bananas across the outfield. Or visit the local hospital, be brave even if you're a nurse, sit in the dentist chair with padding torn from the arm rests and seat sides (no anesthetics), meet everyone staying for five days after birth in the poorly furnished maternity ward, see the ambulances with no wheels, the children outside who look like they could do with a decent meal, and leave with the hospital's business card and a burning ache.
Freely walk about, to an extent you couldn't do here, at a May Day parade of thousands of proud and jubilant Cubans, devoid of any noticeable police. You can safely explore on your own or be given a personal tour of the city by an under-employed architect who speaks several languages. Check out the fleamarket where "they sell everything, tomatoes, onions, everything!" Hang out at the ultra-modern 24 hour gas station, mini mall and mac-clone joint as a full load of Cubans pile off their rickety bus while it's refueled and plaster their hands and noses all over the windowfront of the music and video tape shop. Receive a crudely printed business card for a local family 'restaurant' from one of them. Stand by the side of the road and a Cuban family will stop and gleefully find space for you in their classic old car and offer a ride home, for a buck or two. Or climb aboard a bus full of Canadians as we clap and cheer at the Maple Leaf flying atop a new, sparkling clean oil well.
Roll in the aisles at their satirical skits of their impressions of us, be enthralled by their music and dance, and wonder about their karaoke choices: "You gave me the reason, reason to face the truth, Oh yes you did"; "That's why darling it's incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable too" ; "Since you've been gone I can do whatever I want, I can see whoever I choose", "Can't live if living is without you, can't give, can't give anymore", and apparently, when Fidel is carried off to pass away quietly "we're gonna have some fun, we're gonna rock around the clock!"
Be prepared to see your child cry when he has to say goodbye to his Cuban kids camp counselor. Get on the wrong bus to the airport, dropped off, luggage and all, in the middle of nowhere and a young Cuban in a baseball cap appears out of the bushes to keep you company until the taxi comes. Panic only to be reassured by Carlos who wants to know all about you, and if he could get a job as a cook and a bigger apartment for his wife and child in Toronto. Freak out again only to receive a smile and pat on the back - "taxi come". And when the taxi finally arrives try to give the young unemployed Cuban some money and he ignores it, shakes your hand instead and says "Amigo, hasta luega" ... until next time. And go home with a lesson in friendship and dignity and priceless gifts from the Cubans, every time!
And I haven't even mentioned the beaches, health spas and mineral waters, malecons, city parks and renowned colonial buildings, fishing and hunting, scuba diving, sunken ships, caves, eco-hikes and lodges, Casa de la Trovas, Tropicana shows, Hemmingway, cigars, ice cream ... and other yet to be discovered treasures, but then again maybe it's just as well if you're not allowed to go. Nevertheless, hopefully the endeavors of groups like La Pena and this web site will help to reconcile relations.
Hi from the UK
We are two friends of Cuba who just spent some time there in Santiago de Cuba. I just want to tell you about a very wonderful day we spent with some campesinos there. We had the good luck to arrive at a beach that was not in the least touristic - we spent a couple of days there and in that time we met a family who invited us for a meal, with all the brothers, cousins and everybody, drinking pure cane liquor and savouring a piglet roasted in our honour! At one point they asked us if it was true that the people in our country thought badly of them. Of course we had to say this was true, that our government repeats US propaganda about Fidel being a dictator, that he runs the country. To a man, they protested - no that's not true, the people are the government here! That was enough for us! The people in Cuba Know what they want. They will not surrender to some unknown senator and as Fidel said `this is the only governement in the world that does not answer to the US senate!'
There are thousands people in the UK (not to say the world) that will reply to the call!
KT and Javier
Hello there, I am a Canadian who has had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Cuba this March & April, and I agree with you on the topic of the embargo. The trip at the time seem to fit my budget, but I was quite wearey after hearing all the Americian propaganda. After arriving in Cuba we found out that everything we heard was bull shit. It's a very wonderful Country, great people, good food, good drinks, and a hell of alot of fun.
For the past 6 years I was travelling to Flordia each year for my vacation, never again will I go to Flordia as long as there is a Cuba. The feeling of security is overwelming, not once did I feel threatened by anyone in the cities or villages.
Cuba is a wonderful Country and I think that Dictatorship Government of the United States of America should cut them some slack. The people of Cuba are good people and should not suffer the way that they do.
The best thing about Cuba in one sense is that it is unspoiled by Americain influence and their permanent erection that they are so much better than everyone else.
As the Cubano pueblo say FUCK AMERICA
Grade eleven Canadian high school teacher tells class to teach a 40 minute class on something I picked something current (or so I thought).
While researching the topic I found out alot more. I'm sorry if I insult any of you Americans, but I think your government is evil by trying to control the rest of the world. You tell us that if we help out Cuba we become blacklisted from visiting your country. Your threats are no match against basic human need. Are you trying to become Murderers? Well, maybe not first degree murder, but by denying Cuba medical assistance, food or whatever else they need, you are killing them off one by one. Children and Babys dying because they don't have the medical technolgy that you have. Mothers, who are this minute, mourning the lost because your government seized what could have saved them. You are one of the most powerful countries in the world. SO WHY are you dragging this embargo on for so long. GIVE IT UP. NO one cares for your petty ego. Read the bible some time. there is some good words written in it "thou shalt not kill" or how about "love thy neighbor" or maybe even "do onto others as you would have them do onto you". Bill Clinton you can play a great sax, but why the hell can't you be more sympathetic towards the rest of the world. I aplogize for being rude but the fact that your government is trying to take over the world pisses me off. You Americans should fight back. It's your government "For the People, by the People". Write to your congressmen/women and tell them how you feel. I'm Canadian. I'm only 17 and already because of your government this world disgusts me. I hope that there is alien life out there so that they can abduct me and get me off this godforsaken world. To end it I believe that your government is only angry for the fact that Cuba makes better cigars and is trying to cover it up with politcal nonsense. Govern your own country and mind your own beeswax. It's no wonder that there is so many problems inside your country, you spend too much time concerned with everyone else.
I didn't mean to offend anyone, just stating my mind.
Jam on Toast
I am Puerto Rican and have always admired Fidel Castro. I have a sister and cousins married to Cubans, they currently live in Orlando and Tampa Florida. I have been astonished at the hatred, the strong emotional outburst on the part of my sister's husband and his family towards Fidel Castro. So strong was their feeling, that I was afraid to voice my opinion. But here in there among the Cubans that have recently arrived in the US and live in Florida. I exchanged conversations, about the positive things that they felt Castro had done in Cuba. They were not as happy here as they thought they would be. They missed Cuba, but they were afraid to speak about Castro to their own fellow Cubans in anything but the most hateful tones. I was amazed, by one woman in particular, that was telling me about how she suffered from certain medical conditions that were taken care of in Cuba for free, and that here she had to pay as she had no medical insurance. But yet, when my brother in law came over to, where we were, she changed the whole tone of the conversation to downgrade Castro in the most strident tones.
I am reading a book, that I bought in Barnes & Nobles, titled Fidel Castro, by Robert E. Quirk. It covers Castro's life from his beginnings to the present. I believe he is a fascinating man, I am only sorry that Puerto Rico does not have a strong man like this at it's helm. For better or worse Castro has had powerful impact on Cuba. In a lot of ways he has benefited Cuba.
Puerto Rico is currently a colony of the US, with a man like Castro at its helm, I do not think that would have happened.
I still can't get over, my sister's in laws. Most of them will not acknowledge anything whatsoever positive that Fidel Castro has done. If he were to save a dying child, they would attribute this to an ulterior motive. They also can become extremely emotional and angry whenever the topic of Fidel Castro is mentioned and his positive as well as his negative side is mentioned. They are perfectly willing to turn against anything or anybody that support or even not to say support, but just point out the good things Fidel Castro has accomplished. They have stuff they say for instance: Que queremos los Cubanos, la cabeza del Tirano!
But as I said before, I haven't noticed a marked difference in the way that Cubans that have been here a long time feel, as opposed to Cubans that are fairly recent arrivals.
Cubans that came here first really hate Fidel Castro, but the other Cubans that arrived here in large numbers around 1980 and after, do not seem to have those strong anti-Castro feelings. But they are really afraid to say so, unless they feel comfortable with you. I did meet a young cuban woman, Kenia Serrano was her name, she was visiting here from Cuba and backed Fidel Castro and his revolution. She spoke at Baruch College in Manhattan as well as other Colleges. She attributed her education and that of her sisters, brothers to Fidel Castro.
I recognize that Fidel Castro has made errors, but so has everyother world leader. What about Reagan funding contras, death squads in Latin America. Castro has sent troops to Africa, to help with that countries liberation. But over all I think the impact that he has made and will continue to make after he is gone has been a good one. He has shown that a tiny island can defy a world power and live! He has educated his people and provided medical care for everyone, despite embargos. He has done something else, he has shown the Cubans a Can DO kind of spirit.
Puerto Rico is lacking that and suffers because of it.