I’m spending a lot of my day sitting and wondering, watching the world go by. Just like they do in Cuba. More than a month after my trip, I still have whatever bug it was I brought home. Lab results tell me it isn’t the Zika virus and any day now, or so they say, my ears will pop and life will return to what approaches normalcy in my world. In the meantime, I will continue to do battle with the noises my head that are making it difficult to hear myself think, to concentrate.
People have asked me about my trip, about whether I enjoyed it, about whether I’d go back. And yes, I enjoyed it in that it was different. It wasn’t the type of holiday where reality is suspended for a few days and all unhappiness and angst put on hold. It wasn’t a mindless quest for fun and frolics that required heels, accessories, and the stamina of a 23-year-old. It wasn’t a capital city tour with a list of sights to be seen and restaurants to be seen in. It was different.
Cuba feels like something waiting to happen. There’s a palpable expectancy in the air. It’s an excitement of sorts. Not the Christmas Eve waiting for Santa excitement but more like a ‘let’s see what life throws as us next’. People watch. They watch life unfold around them with a detachment that speaks volumes. The line from the Brandi Carlile song – The Story – all of these lines on my face, tell you the story of who I am… comes to mind. They sit by the side of the road, on steps in the towns and cities, on balconies, on buses, and they watch. Waiting for what happens next.
It’s as if the entire country is facing the front door wondering who will come through it next and all the while, western influences are sneaking in through the back.
It was a complicated trip. It was a sad trip. My overriding feeling was a heady mix of resentment and shame, seasoned with a massive dose of confusion. I resented the disney-ing. I was embarrassed by the flaunting of the tourist dollar. And I was confused by the whole Fidel/revolution signage. If Fidel’s Cuba increased literacy to 100%, dropped the crime rate to one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and fostered the best healthcare system in Latin America, then was he as evil as the west has painted him? I don’t know. [Quora has some interesting comments on how Fidel is seen by Cubans.]
Selfishly, I want Cuba to stay as it is, to preserve itself, to protect itself from the consumerism and materialism of westernisation. I want it to keep its character, to stay intact. But after 57 years without elections, without independent radio or TV, without a choice of labour unions or political parties, literacy, security, and healthcare may well lose their sheen. The people want the freedom that comes with having a choice. They want to travel. They want money in their pockets. They want a taste of what the outside world is enjoying. [I can’t help but think: Brexit, Trump, and ISIS.]
It is a fascinating country, what little of it I managed to see. In terms of after-effect, it ranks up there with South Africa and India for its potency and provocation. It makes you think. Everything about it makes you think. In terms of taking a vacation from reality, it doesn’t rank at all. Instead of allowing me vacate my own reality, it hijacked it.