The following are some of my feelings towards my experience in Cuba:
Travel has always been my way of living. At the end of 2016, there was a point when I felt endless drifting didn´t bring me much anymore. It was time to help others in need and I was hoping to utilize the skills and qualities I have to give and make it a better world. Also to learn Spanish, for real!
Cuba somehow came into the picture. I had an urge to go back to one of my passions, photography, which I studied in the university. Everything somehow came together at one point and all turned out incredible. I am grateful.
I acted on spontaneity. I didn’t not have any program registered when I first stepped foot in La Habana. I was there for a month and I couldn’t find any volunteer project. I didn’t realized that Cuba is different, and difficult, to arrange volunteering as a solo participant. So I went back to New York and found BEST through internet. It offers the best rates and their proposal itinerary was EXACTLY what I had been looking for. It is a program collaborating with a local NGO and also I would be able to work on a documentary film production as an intern. In addition I would be able to travel a bit out of Santiago de Cuba to see non-touristy towns. I was so excited about the program!
First, Cuba! I had stayed a month mostly in La Habana before the program and I was fascinated by the cultures and history of this tropical island. I told myself that I had to see more, go to the East. It turned out I was not at all disappointed as the culture is different. The influences from the Caribbean are more intense in the East. It’s less touristy (compared to La Habana). People are super hospitable and friendly. The host of my lodging was caring and the place was comfortable.
Although the time I worked on the film project was short, it was rewarding. I was introduced to a Cuban artist from a town outside of Santiago. I was blessed to be invited to his studio and home for a stay during the shooting, to meet his family who were so warm and caring. It is simply such an experience to meet artists from different cultures and to interchange about their works and views.
Waldo, my guide, caretaker, director of the program, translator, friend... was welcoming and caring. He has done his best to show the best and the authentic Santiago. I have nothing but appreciation for that.
Of course, my Spanish teacher, Cecilia rocks! I was so happy to have her as my teacher, consultant in Cuban culture, friend, mama in Cuba. Her teaching was practical, flexible and lively. We got to discuss all sorts of topics I encountered everyday in Cuba.
Spanish. I wish I spoke better Spanish. The locals generally speak very limited or no English. They are very hospitable and talkative people and this makes it so easy to get to know the culture even just walking down the streets, sitting on my porch, sipping a cup of coffee in cafe. I wish I had known the language better especially when they were always so eager to explain stories to me.
The culture. The people are generally expressive. Some of the ways they show it may come across as disrespectful. It may take some time to understand that these behaviors are not out of bad intentions. It is unnecessary to get offended, keep calm.
It is common to see hustlers on the street and some make a living by accompanying tourists. Just keep present that a free tour might not be free. But then again, this is a sub-culture but NOT the majority of Cubans.
Spanish! I wish I could speak better Spanish (or Cubano). This wouldn’t just bring me more friendships or more knowledge of the cultures but also during the shooting of the film, I would have understood the artist more and have been able to interact.
But yea, Cecilia did a great job.
Picking up the sweet rum as a daily routine, ha. (just kidding)
Before this trip, I was at a point looking for opportunities in the humanitarian field or non-profit organizations. With the experience of the project, I am more confident in finding a position in any part of the world. It turned out that it does not matter where but anywhere that needs me.
I had put aside photography for a while. This trip gave me the extravagance to relive my passion. I really enjoyed it and am so glad I have found my voice again. I would like to see possibilities of doing it professionally.
Cuban state of mind is the most significant takeaway from this journey. As a foreigner traveling in Cuba for the first time, I am grateful that I have stayed enough to feel the impact of tourism and the influx of capitalism to the country and how this is changing the values of the Cubans, especially the younger generations who have not been though the age of revolution.
I admire the Cuban pride of the majority. The optimism, positivism and laid-back mindset are the qualities they bore which sustain their cheerful life through either war time or good times. This is something that I would like to carry over to my life along with their hospitality.
Being constantly on the road has given me tons of experiences and views from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, yet it is time to take all these into another level of comprehension with academic assistance. I would like to comprehend this world we are living in and how we can live in coexistence with each other and our Mother Nature. I am preparing myself for a Master in Ecology and Spirituality. It is time to explore my position in this beautiful world and act on the role which makes this a better place for all.
Love and Peace,