What I learned in Cuba

What I learned in Cuba

I am writing this blog from a park bench in Cuba. (Of course, I can’t send it from here. I can barely get out texts to my kids.)

I don’t know why, but I had anticipated a Hollywood-esque kind of Cuba, like a snapshot from black-and-white movie. But this is not Hollywood. This is reality. Communism, no matter what it promises, brings hopelessness, cruelty, and fear. What I learned in Cuba could fill a small book. Details about outlawed beef, milk rations, the same food for every meal. How Cubans live with their parents and inherit their houses. That building your own house would take an entire lifetime because you can only afford one brick at a time.

What I learned is what I feel here–that freedom is spacious, and the lack of freedom is to feel a lack of space to live.

Around me, 1950s Chevrolets and mule-drawn buggies wander the streets in random routes. People weave their bicycles between them, with friends perching on wooden seats attached in front of or behind the driver’s seat. Bikers carry things while they pedal. One man pedals past me holding an oscillating fan over his head.

A buggy (not in the Oklahoma! sense) creaks past us; the man inside firmly holds a chicken, unaware that it should start pecking its way to freedom. Thanks to a recent hurricane, tourism has screeched to a stop; we’re having meat and potatoes each night, even though it takes our hosts hours to find places to buy it. A neighbor man butchers a pig on his front porch. Flies hover—a rarity here.

The park is the only place in town with available internet, if you’re willing to purchase a card from the government containing the login information, and you don’t mind having your texts censored. Cards are cheap, like everything else–$2.00 for an hour. But for the average Cubans, $2 is a tenth or a twentieth of their monthly income. I wonder how so many people have cell phones here. The Black Market, perhaps. I, too, am desperate for news from the outside world.

The park contains benches and some scruffy grass, but no playgrounds, no flowers, and no bandstand. An ugly concrete structure stands in the park’s center. Today, a pig forages for dinner in its shade. Suddenly a stirring march rings through the park. I look up from my phone and notice everyone around me standing–under the loudspeaker–along the pathways, phones silent. They stand in the street next to their bicycles and carts. It’s the Cuban national anthem, and the Communist headquarters sits behind me in austere silence.

I stand in solidarity for the Cuban people. I honor their fear and their fate. I am catching a glimpse of their hopelessness, their powerless reaction to their reality. I think suddenly of Americans at sporting events, refusing the stand, refusing to sing, refusing to honor someone’s sacrifice because they disagree with our history. I think about freedom and what it costs to have it and how richer and free-er we would all be if we asked the challenging questions and cared enough to listen to the reality of the answers. I am thinking that freedom gives everyone space to live and space to speak life. We can speak up or not speak up–we have that right. Cubans don’t.

My Wifi cuts out for the fifth time.

I have never appreciated my freedom of speech so much, and I have never been so annoyed at the way it is misused.