In less than a week, I will be in Cuba for the first time. This is a trip that I have thought about for years.
I first became interested in Cuba during my days as an undergraduate at Xavier University. One of my professors, Dr. Matías Vega, shared with me stories of his youth in Cuba. He was a classmate of Fidel Castro’s at the University of Havana in the days before the Cuban Revolution. I have been both curious about and angry for the Cuban people. Over the past 27 years, I have met many Cuban Americans who have very strong anti-Castro feelings based on their treatment or their family’s treatment in the days after the Cuban Revolution. I sympathize with their anger and resentment for feeling as if they had no choice other than to flee their country as it quickly (and surprisingly) became a communist regime overnight. I sympathize for my neighbor whose parents sent her to the US as a child in the Peter Pan Operation rather than have her be subjected to the pro-Castro indoctrination that was occurring in the schools in Cuba. More than anything, I have been curious about life in Communist Cuba; a place where there are more doctors per capita than most other countries in the world. A place where all citizens receive a free education through Ph.D level. A place where medical care is free and everyone has a place to live. A place where most business is owned by the government. A place where families still receive rations to pay for their food. The average wage for a working Cuban is $18/month. There is no widespread access to television or the internet. Freedom of speech, the ability to assemble and the right to free press don’t exist in Cuba. I am curious about what life is like off the grid. From what I hear, it’s an experience like no other.
To help me prepare for this trip, I have been reading, watching and talking to everyone I can! At this point, I feel like I’ve almost earned a second Master’s degree in Cuban Studies. I’ve watched the Netflix 8-part documentary The Cuba Libre Story and the HBO documentary Patria or Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death. I’ve read hundreds of blog entries and watched dozens of YouTube travel videos. I’ve contacted and researched many Cuban travel agencies (both US and Cuban-based). I’ve even read several novels that take place in Cuba both before and after the 1959 revolution. My brain is on complete overload. Since I am not going to Cuba with an official, organized people-to-people tour, the burden is on me to ensure that I fulfill the requirements of my General Education visa. That means that I must have an itinerary of at least 8 hours of educational activities per day. I will need to maintain my trip records for five years. I can be questioned upon return to the US (although this is rarely the case) about my activities in Cuba. Bottom line: The US government doesn’t want me supporting communism and the Cuban government doesn’t want me talking about democracy or capitalism. I guess we’ll just talk about the weather because like it or not, I want to TALK in Cuba. It’s a Spanish-speaking country and I want to practice my Spanish!
Adding to my pre-trip anxiety is the lengthy list of things that I have to do before we leave. This is not the typical trip. Brian and I are both going which means we need someone to stay with the kids. Thankfully, my mom will be there to help get them to bed at night and to school each morning. The biggest difference between this trip and my other trips is that we can’t plan on having any contact with the US for three full days. This makes me a little nervous. To help with this, we have registered with the US Department of State’s STEP Program. I’m also leaving a detailed list of emergency contact numbers and instructions for my mom and kids. I’m sure they will be fine, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be nervous.
I will be writing blog posts about the trip, but obviously they will no post until after I return. I can’t wait to take my own pictures and share my own thoughts about this trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned…