I received a message from a friend recently and it got me thinking…sometimes it’s just so difficult to balance the feelings of helplessness and utter disdain I have for the s**t my Cuban friends are forced to live with (food shortages, decaying infrastructure, economic hardship) and the fierce love that I have for the country and all of the positive things that exist there (an exceptional arts & culture scene, spectacular natural beauty and the intestinal fortitude of the people themselves, to name only a very, VERY few).
My amigo texted me, not from Cuba but from Chile, to inform me that he’d left the island (legally…I think) to go work in South America for a while, to make some money so that he can support his four children back in Cuba. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return, but it’s what he needs to do in order to put food on the table. I’m sappy, so I cried when I imagined him separated from his family for an indefinite period of time. But for him, this is what the locals refer to as ‘la lucha’ (the fight). It’s not something you cry about -- it’s just something do.
Thankfully, for every story like this, there’s another that shines a light and brings perspective. When I first met my amiga Daymi in 2015, she was living in the small farm town of Manguito where there is almost zero to do and even fewer job opportunities. Not surprisingly, life in rural Cuba is much more difficult than in the city, and she was struggling to support herself and her son. But her desire to achieve something meaningful and to move forward in life propelled her to a much better situation. Today she’s a formally-trained and certified tour guide living near Varadero, she speaks three different languages (I believe she’s working on her fourth), and she’s happier and more vibrant than ever. Considering where she began, she’s a bit of a superstar in my books.
And then, of course, there are times when being in Cuba leads to overwhelming joy – the kind that makes you feel like your heart will explode out of your chest. I was lucky enough to be in Matanzas for the 4th International Dance Festival “Miguel Failde in Memoriam”. I’m accustomed to free concerts in the streets of Matanzas, they happen all the time -- it’s one of the best things about the city. But this was unlike anything I’d seen there before. An entire plaza filled with 1000+ people (not sure of the exact number but I know it was a LOT), all ages, and every single one of them was either dancing or moving their body in some way. It wasn’t just people and music that filled the plaza that night – there was an incredible celebratory energy and a sense of community, two trademark characteristics of every Cuban festival.
If you travel with eyes wide open here (which you absolutely should), it’s sometimes impossible to avoid getting frustrated and downright p***ed at the state of things. But if you know and love Cuba, you also accept that it’s a love/hate thing, and you know that the unwavering Cuban spirit has a way of bringing everything back into check…big time.