On 10/11/2013 Sandra and I departed Miami on a chartered flight to Havana Cuba, embarking on a seven day guided tour. The tour was organized and led by Earthbound Expeditions, with a partial focus on Cuba’s efforts surrounding sustainable agriculture. We embraced a ‘guided adventure’ with relaxed anticipation, as all of the details were handled by others, requiring only for us to show up and be led. We had a tour host, a tour leader and a Cuban guide, a triad of parental oversight if you will, providing far more information than my hearing impaired ears could possibly assimilate, while tending to our every personal need, including ministering to Montezuma!
Landing at the Havana airport, which serves a city of more than four million, its size and activity levels were striking, marked by limitations on both ends. More Cuban people seem to be coming to Cuba than we later found to be departing, or so it appeared. A significant number of friends and family were awaiting the arrived passengers.
Having been raised in rural Iowa during the nineteen forties and fifties, a time and place holding modest means and a goodly amount of scarcity, along with a profusion of self-reliance, our foray into Cuban life, in many ways, felt like a return to those years of yore. Many, if not most, of the highway vehicles were vintage 1940 to 1950 model american cars. Rural life held early 20th century qualities, marked by a dependence on manual labor, augmented by old bicycles, frail horses and oxen. Walking was a primary means of movement, as well. Where electricity was unavailable, solar panels could be found to provision television viewing and charging of cell phones, holding a slight touch of modernity. My favorite memory of the week long excursion was a three hour walk in a fertile valley near Vinales, west of Havana. It was there I felt a groundedness in the soul of Cuba and its people, where a mindful focus on survival was most evident, where dependence on mother earth is linked to survival, where pretense and vanity have no place, where authenticity of the human spirit is made manifest.
Another aspect of Cuba I found comforting involved the fusion of a very pluralistic racial makeup (Spanish, French, African, Asian seeming most identifiable) into a spirit of oneness, ‘we are all Cuban.’ A true melting pot of humanity evidencing an acceptance of common human qualities rather than being separated by external differences. Music, particularly Salsa, aids the uniting of the spirit and people, as its rhythms express so much.
In some ways, I felt a tinge of guilt for having so much and for living a life of once unimaginable comfort and freedom, in the face of so many perceived to having so little. I also became aware of the value of keeping my own life simple and grounded in nature and the merits of fostering authenticity in my interpersonal relationships.
In learning about Cuba’s revolutionary history, I garnered a deeper understanding of the seeds from which social and cultural revolutions emanate, creating a foreboding sense of one being fomented in our country. Bottom line, revolutions appear to offer a re-balancing of societies’ distribution of power and resources. When few hold the bulk of money and power, the majority can only take so much.
In a cursory look, there exist good reason to lift the governmental barriers between Cuba and the US, a commonly reported desire of the Cuban people we encountered. Expanded use of highly under-utilized land could be applied, as self-sustaining agriculture would certainly be an aid in limiting Cuba’s dependence on imports. And, capitalism with its accompanying industrialization efforts could bring modernity into the fabric of everyday life. However, I have concern for the downside of modernity and its potential to dehumanize a society people. What would happen to the existing socialist programs, which provide free education and health care, when profits are injected?
In summary, our Cuban excursion was memorable and educational, leaving a warm feeling of appreciation for the merits of simple living, and increased gratitude for all we have in the Autumn years of our lives in good ol’ Mississippi!