a Gringa in Havana

My love for Latin culture runs deep.  The irony is I have no idea why.  I grew up with German roots in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and yet a salsa song comes on and you’d think I’m busy celebrating my very own Quincenara.  I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy many incredible adventures to Latin countries- from Colombia to Costa Rica and now to Cuba.  I’ve wanted to go to Cuba for so many years I’ve lost count.  When Obama opened up travel, I was thrilled for the chance to finally learn more about this country, it’s people, arts and music and get the Real Real on this country.

Needless to say, I was a bit…..hmmm, how shall we say, oddly surprised?

I know my expectations might be slightly off- The spirits of Buena Vista Social Club Streets playing throughout the streets, while couples dance Salsa with reckless abandon.  Instead, it was more like streets ripped apart, riddled with trash, clearly uncared for, for decades.  This country has endured a lifetime of entrapment, not only NOT moving forward….not staying as-is either, as nature still manages to take its course in dilapidating and further breaking down not only the land, but also the former captivating architecture that Havana is so known for.  This stunning beautiful buildings crumbling all around.  And not just in the outer areas- the inner cities that welcome tourists.  It is not hidden, as may be the case in other cities. People residing in buildings that have no windows, floors consisting solely of rubble.  Trees growing out from where the foundation used to be.

Inspired and stunning architecture still remains within the soul of this city.  Even if most of the buildings appear to be blown out- as if a war had taken its toll.  Though in reality, most of these buildings being owned by the government and unfortunately not upkept by its residents has turned this great potential into a sad reality.

As you walk the streets you can feel the pain this city has endured.  From the many years of revolution and take over from other countries.  This is not a city to be taken lightly.  For it’s people have incredible heart and determination.  Not to mention loyalty.  To my surprise everywhere I turned was either the image of Che or a memorial of sorts for their recently lost Fidel.  I’ve never been to a communist country before this excursion and I was apparently a bit surprised to learn, experience and bear witness to life within.  And yet with all of this said, this place is still hopeful.  The locals offer smiles beyond the struggle.  With the spirit and soul to believe that one day Cuba can truly be Cuba Libre.

Francine

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