I visited Cuba in November 1999. I was living in Jamaica then, and had always dreamed of visiting this intriguing country. Cuba is Jamaica's nearest neighbor, with a mere ninety miles separating the two countries. It was commonly claimed in Jamaica that on a clear day, from Jamaica's tallest mountain chain, the Blue Mountains, one could see Cuba's coastline. I am not sure about that.
Growing up, my grandmother and mother told me stories of my grandfather's sojourn there as a cane-cutter. In fact, my mother's few Spanish words were picked up from him. A paternal great aunt of mine, Aunt Terry, also just upped and went to live there for a while (before the Cuban Revolution, that is). I guess it must be in the blood, because I also chose to major in Spanish Language and Literature for my undergraduate degree.
Cuba's Castro had a long and warm relationship with Jamaica and one of its former Prime Ministers, Michael Manley. Both Manley and Castro exchanged visits on several occasions. In fact, one of my poems, "The Day Castro Came", is my reflection on Castro's first visit to Jamaica when I was a teenager, and how I scrambled to get to downtown Kingston to catch a glimpse of him.
I have fond memories of my first and only trip to Cuba with my friend Petal, and sister-in-law, Deon. I was designated the official interpreter because of my fluency in Spanish. The people were very warm and friendly, and communicating was easy.
Serenaded with "Guantanamera" in Havana
The University of Havana
(I was actually told by a guard not to take pictures of the university, but I quickly shot this)
Some of the memories that I cherish are:
standing before Marti's statue
visiting the bar where Ernest Hemmingway was a frequent visitor
a bus tour of Havana that highlighted the amazing Spanish architecture
a trip to an orchid farm in Soroa, outside of Havana
seeing vintage cars from the 1950s
attending a public performance at the Malecon where I had Cuban beer from a paper cup.
La Bodeguita Del Medio or Ernest Hemmingway's Bar
Beautiful Soroa, where I visited an Orchid Farm
Of course, I also felt Cuba's pain and at times it felt like a country stuck in time. One Cuban I met shared his challenges and hopes.
Havana architecture (me in denim dress with back turned)
Vintage Cuban Cars in Havana
Perhaps one day when the embargo ends, many more persons can experience Marti's Cuba. I am glad I did.
Any thoughts? If you have been, I would love to hear your reflections.