By Maddie Sersic
I didn’t know what to expect. Week after week of study passed by, but somehow I knew this wasn’t something you could just be lectured on, shown photographs and short video clips. This was something you should experience for yourself, and I was more than excited to do so. Since I was a baby, I have been raised on music from around the world, so I had become very familiar with the music of Cuba. I felt a connection to it, so I knew that I needed to go. I was determined.
The third week of January Term had finally approached: travel week. I prepared the best I could for the unknown and caught a plane to Miami, finally landing safe and sound in Havana, Cuba. What I remember the most about our short 5 day trip were things my senses picked up: colors, smells, tastes, sounds, textures, all new to me. Music played on every street corner, at every restaurant; everywhere you went, there were bound to be passionate locals singing or playing their hearts out. Artwork streamed the city alleys and buildings. Vendors called out to you in hopes that their art would be worthy enough to buy. It wasn’t a matter of seeking fame and fortune, it was a matter of throwing their raw emotions out to the world, vulnerable for everyone to see. It was about passion and love; the kind of love that had to be shared with others, for it was too great to keep in; the kind of love that demands to be felt.
“Museum on wheels,” as our tour guide called them, raced by on the streets, as if hundreds of vintage American cars were no big deal; that it was “normal,” if you will. Buildings splashed with seemingly random colors lined the street across from the sea wall. Cuba had seen an apocalypse, but this time it was not one of zombies or plague, it was one of poverty after a long aristocracy. This apocalypse had left in its wake buildings of marble, limestone, and ironwork, crumbling and “breaking at the britches.” They were the broken and beautiful, two adjectives that seemed to coexist rather nicely. This was not a sad sight; it was hauntingly beautiful. It screamed, “adventure,” and it shouted, “different.” The people were quite similar.
Cuban people come in all shades, their skin tanned from the Caribbean sun. Smiles adorn their faces whilst happy eyes and excited voices speak, “!Hola!,” at the least. The locals of Cuba have a way of making you feel warm, a part of something. No longer were you alone in your own bubble, parading down the street, dodging the eyes of passersby or simply giving a head nod to those who seemed friendly enough to speak. You were a part of a well-oiled machine of bodies sauntering to their destinations.
It is true that the culture I speak of was not our main focus of study; it was the Cuban Revolution and all that came with it. The embargo and Communism that remain were clear in Cuba, and I was not naive to this fact. The interesting part was how the locals perceived it; nothing was just black or white, right or wrong. Most of the Cubans were moderate about the situation, acknowledging that there were things they enjoyed and that worked with Communism, such as “free” education and medicine, and other things that did not work, or even hurt.
One man that we met explained his country as follows: “Take it in. Take it all in and enjoy every last piece of personality, but never try to understand this country, you will waste your time.” This quote stuck with me and I believe it has changed me for the better. I spent 5 whole days in Cuba and took in everything I could, yet I still don’t understand it, and sometimes that’s just how things are.
My advice to you is this: Some things are simply too complex to be understood in such a short life, so enjoy what you have and don’t always worry about understanding something or thinking about the future while in the present. Don’t waste today waiting for a tomorrow that may never come.