Tag Archives: Abby

Lesson Learned from Friends on the Road

  • You should always bring some of the clothes you love and rely on (Nellie) but should also buy/bring some basic stuff you don’t mind giving away (Rhiannon)
  • Of course, don’t be “that guy” who just gives away all their broken/dirty junk: give away the things you love, and it’ll come back to you (Deirdre)
  • Just do it, magn/There’s nothing you can do about it now, so have fun/shoes are lame (unless someone steals yours)/spend your nights under the stars (Kristina)
  • There is no right way to experience a country, so just do what makes you happy in the moment, and if you enjoyed the time while you spent it you can’t look back with regret (Abby)
  • Bring a book or two, and trade them away for others when you’re done.  After all, on the road, a new story is worth more than one you already know, and can easily find again (Emma)
  • If you really are the “whatever” person (like Avi The Army Guy or Julie The Yoga Girl) trust that everyone knows that already, and let them come to you if they want to know more (Julie and Avi. Duh.)
  • Bring all-purpose items, and travel speakers (Laurel, aka Leslie)
  • Don’t lend people your Coach/Ignore all negativity (Aliesha)
  • Be unapologetically ridiculous and enthusiastic, and you’re bound to make friends.  Even if you don’t, you’re probably already having a ton of fun (Brit and Kristina)
  • Sometimes the cost of something “lent” is worth the friendship or the conversation you get in exchange (Britito)
  • Really listen, and remember people (Nellie, Laurel, Julie)
  • Sometimes being the butt of the joke is the best way to put everyone at ease, and the quickest way to gain friends (Gumby)
  • Lack of language doesn’t mean lack of communication (Mike)
  • You can sweet-talk your way into (and out of) anything (Pasha Daoud)
  • You’re always surrounded by a million memorable moments waiting to happen (Allyson)
  • Trust strangers (Dylan and Taylor)
  • Always ask the parents before you give kids something, especially candy–and make sure you have enough to go around (Lori)
  • Don’t let anyone (or anything) hold you back from what you want to see or accomplish (Falconer)
  • Just eat it (Brit, Rhiannon and Falconer)
  • Be humble; laugh at yourself; always be learning (Janine)
  • Keep an open mind and try to put things into context.  Also, always have a notebook and pen (Ilham)
  • Even if you don’t have the words, you can always make friends with your talent (Justino y Míles)
  • Laugh and smile and you will make friends (Diana)
  • Ask questions (Julie–like you don’t know which!)
  • Always have a scarf and a sweater (Marisa and Cynthia)
  • Always bring at least one or two things that make you look hot–you never know (Sarah)
  • Packing is for overachievers (Erin)
  • Relax.  When the bus breaks down, have a photoshoot! play cards! work on your tan! (Profe)
  • When you don’t have something, whether it’s an object or a skill: outsource (Kate)
  • A good friend is always there for you, no matter the distance or time difference (Alex)

What are your best lessons, from travel or otherwise?  What have the people around you showed you?

“I Don’t Understand This Place At All”

I truly believe that it’s called writer’s block (not writer’s lack of inspiration) for a reason other than brevity.  Sometimes you just can’t write anything else until you write through the block.  So that’s what yesterday was.  Back to regularly scheduled programming.

There’s a lot that I don’t understand here, a lot that none of us do.  Even Profe, who’s Cuban-American and has been here upwards of ten times is still trying to figure things out.  As Abby says, we probably won’t understand what we’ve learned here for at least another ten years.  Some information is scarce because people don’t want to talk about it, but often it’s because the government doesn’t state certain things publicly, and chooses not to ask certain questions on its census.

I’m looking forward to learning a bit about how the ration books work later on this week.  From what I hear, the rations only realistically last about two weeks, and don’t include essentials like meat and milk.  It’s towards the end of the month, which means we didn’t have bread or eggs last week, and water is scarce this week.  For our Cuban friends, this means going days without eating and trying to sell your stuff.

There is basically no fresh milk here, it’s all powdered.  Most people here in the Real World House turn up their nose at it, and it goes untouched many days.  As far as I know, Cubans who aren’t babies don’t generally get access.

There is no lottery here, because gambling is illegal.  There are of course numbers games on the street.  There are no taxes, because EVERYTHING is taxes…the government is just kind enough to take them out first.  The sidewalks are all cracked and a mess, with big holes or rusty bits of metal sticking up out of them.  Sometimes the holes are repaired with sand or bathroom tiles, but more often they aren’t repaired at all.

There are CDRs, Comites por Defensa la Revolucion.  Essentially, they were started to keep watch on their neighbors.  They have since become leaders in distributing vaccines and helping during a natural disaster.  They remind me of The Duke’s system of block captains and precinct captains for grassroots political organization.  I suppose the only difference is that here, it’s not grassroots.

There is not 100% employment.  Some people say if you lose your job it’s your fault.  Some people say there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.  Almost everyone does more than one thing.  Doctors are dancers; professors are cab drivers.  A single income just isn’t enough, and access to CUC (instead of just Moneda Nacional) is necessary for luxury goods.  Like any meat of quality.  By quality, I mean the most basic cuts and qualities that you would find in the US.

There is no lawsuit culture.  Are there even lawyers?

Because of the emphasis on culture, your state-sponsored job could be to rap, or dance traditional afro-cuban dances.  Because of the focus on tourism, your state-sponsored job could be walking around Habana Vieja dressed in all white, chomping on a giant cigar, taking pictures with everybody.  Basically, your job as a good revolutionary could be to hussle gringos.

These are all just bits and pieces of every day life that don’t fit in anywhere else, and stuff that doesn’t make sense to me, put here in an attempt to fill in the holes of my portrait of Cuba.

Nombre

Everyone is so frank with their nicknames here, which are more like blunt descriptors.  Every guy with Asian heritage is Chino, which is kind of confusing.  We often hear people called Gordo, or fatty, and men call out to women to call them Gordita, which they think is a compliment.

At this point, I should explain that a lot of terms that sound un-pc and racially not okay to American ears are not at all negative here.  Negro is an adjective, not an insult, and mulatto is the same way.  Chino is the correct term for a Chinese person, they just use those terms with a greater familiarity and frequency than we do.

Beyond that, all of our names have changed a bit.  Brittan is Bree-ton, Justin is who-steen, Abby is usually Awee, Dan became Danielle, Diana is Dee-ahna, and Aliesha becomes Alicia or Alish.  Brittan is also Músico, and Aliesha is called la mulatta, much to her chagrin.  She’s not actually mulatta, but there are basically no people here who are just black, so if you’re anything other than white or Chino, you must be a mulatto.

No one has any problems pronouncing Kristina Escalona.

I’ve become Dell-ee-uh, which I expected.  Entertainingly, the Americans have all taken to calling me this as well.  Some of them I think are just used to hearing me called that, the way I pronounce Diana the Cuban way out of habit and affection.  Many of the Michigan kids, though, honestly think that’s the correct way to pronounce my name.