Why Cuba Will Always Hold My Heart

Cuba is one of those unique spaces in this world that have a way of awakening your soul. Its history, plagued by struggle and hardship, yet rooted in a passion for freedom and equality. Its streets filled with stories, radios blasting with music that takes over your body and makes you feel it down to your core. Friendly faces, greeting you from every corner; faces that manage their daily lives with limited resources that many of us take for granted, yet always willing to offer a smile and a welcoming air to your space. Many have faced that feeling of uncertainty at the thought of visiting Cuba, with its restrictions and constant debate over political conflict. From afar, we are treated to songs from Cuban artists, some of which invite us to imagine a space where your heart belongs, while others speak of the hardships even when those cannot be fully expressed due to censorship. 

Walking around Havana, there is an inexplicable feeling in the air. It’s a world that appears to have frozen in the 1950s, with colorful cars, old architecture, and that Caribbean feel of community, where salsa music blasts from speakers around every corner. Your heart fills with inexplicable yet conflicting joy, one that, while you can find it in some places in the United States, it does not compare to what you may feel in the streets of Havana. The first reaction one gets is to feel this typical Caribbean joy, the music that takes over your body and gives your hips and feet a life of their own; a type of passion that permeates your whole body and soul, and that starts to make you believe that all of your worries can be melted away just by standing under the Cuban sun.

But then, you slowly start paying attention to the little nuances that you had not taken into account during those first few hours of amazement; the long line outside the barely stocked market; the people on the streets urging tourist to come into their little businesses, inviting you to experience the Cuban culture; you are amazed by the lack of cars and congestion on the street, only to then realize the cost prohibiting reality of owning a vehicle, which means you either take the overly crowder public transportation to work, or you find yourself walking hundreds of miles under the humid Cuban heat. Art on the walls depicts the joy of a victorious revolution; an appreciation for the freedom granted to those that fought alongside Che Guevara that gave Cuba a new life. All of a sudden, that joyous air feels heavy on your shoulder, and you start to wonder if its that unbridled happiness that you first embraced as Cuban joy, or if it’s a superficial approach that keeps you from focusing on the idea that resources are scarce, and that every Cuban peso you spend on one necessity means you’ll have one less Cuban peso to spend on another.

We were lucky to be able to stay at a Casa Particular. When the government opened the opportunity for individuals to own their own businesses, people across town opened their homes to tourists. Every morning, the women would travel for half an hour to come and make sure that breakfast was on the table. Fresh fruit, bread from the “panadero” that you can sometimes hear walking down the street with bread freshly baked. Your mind begins to wonder as you try to reconcile the weight that you see on their daily lives, with the fact that not once will they welcome you in the morning with nothing short of a smile and a warm hug.  One morning during our trip, we were invited into a performing art center, where we were treated to spoken word and music written and performed by Cuban artist. The space is covered in that colorful art that is so unique to Cuban culture, and yet, the music and poetry presented to us expressed that inner battle between loving Cuba for all its wonders while struggling with all of that which is missing. I have always been very open about being an empath, and that morning was particularly difficult. Something about the beauty of the space, and the words spoken, filled my heart with a level of emotion that I was not prepared to experience; my eyes overflowing while my head battled against the release.

Our time in ViƱales was nothing short of magical. A small town that takes pride in its communal work, surrounded by farms, or “fincas” that are the true meaning of what it means to create a self-sustainable environment. Hours in the scorching heat, picking tomatoes to be sent to small schools around the area, then treated to a home-cooked meal with all ingredients being sourced from all around us. Its people devoting countless hours of their day to create a self-sustainable, completely organic space, that aims to help the world, even when the world has often turned their backs on them. We got to experience the wonderful nights in the open air, again as we were welcomed by home owners willing to open their homes to us and treat us one of their own.

But the part that inspired me the most, what truly made me leave my heart in Havana, was its passion. Just as we were told a man leads a woman while dancing salsa by our instructor, Cuba puts its hand on your waist, holds you so close that you can feel its energy seep into your body, and glides you gracefully yet passionately around its streets, encouraging you to feel its love and strength; you find yourself with your eyes fixated on your partner, as their energy takes over yours, creating a synergy that can only be described true desire, one that makes you want to never let go of this unrelenting joy. It opens your mind and encourages you to dig deep within you, awakening you to find your voice, your own revolution. It opens you up and inspires you to claim that Cuban joy as your own, as well as its connection to its deepest pain. That same pain that you are first feel like a burden, you convert it into fuel for your soul.

A town that loves you unconditionally, that sets aside unseen pain and struggle, to hold you in its arms and make you feel that passion that you didn’t know you craved with every fiber of your being. A space that renews your soul in unimaginable ways, where the beauty isn’t only in the aesthetic of the space, but the air, its humanity. It inspires you to reach deep into your soul, and explore the farthest corners of your mind, encouraging you to reassess what you believed to be your desired reality and reimagine it into a whole new space.

I will be forever grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, and will make it one of my goals in life to return and explore the rest of this wonderful country. For the new friends I made along the way, the old friendships that were strengthened and changed forever, and most importantly, for the new parts of myself that I managed to find throughout this journey.

And now, like the Cubans say, ‘palante.


Popular posts from this blog

Comfortably Uncomfortable: Let's Begin

What Is Joy, And Where To Find It

The Stolen Journey Home