I’ve been reading the U Michigan group blog, and it always leaves me feeling uneasy. Some of the entries, like Franny’s, are beautiful and lyrical. But others reflect an intense dislike of all things Cuba, extreme efforts to distance oneself from Cuba.
When I was at a reunion for last summer’s Egypt crew, I found myself suddenly on a stage. I was late (curse you, green
line!) and, as I was suddenly reminded, the only one who had been away for the semester who was back. Chantalle asked about the Cuba program, and I gave her the practical answer, the kind I wish I had been given by people who went the year before me. I talked about the realities of hunger and food scarcity, even for privileged Westerners, and the complex nature of friendships and relationships.
During a pause, someone chimed in dryly with a, “wow, sounds like a great place.”
I always feel like I’m balancing, countering myself when I talk about Cuba. It’s just not cut and dry; there’s no easy answer. Yes, I often felt like some of the U Mich kids who sought refuge in a western hotel with AC, nice bathrooms, comfy couches and English around every corner. A place where the privilege of my skin color, clothing and passport would allow me to block out the stresses of the Cuban reality.
But I also learned a lot from Cuban values. The importance
family, in whatever form it may come, and pride in one’s community. A sense of place, an intense eye for culture, both low and high, and the reality that perhaps those terms are outdated. To smile more, to relax, to complain less, to accept failure–or at least try.
I am very proud and protective of the places I have been, the cultures I try to know. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea, and I feel a perhaps self-inflated responsibility to portray everything with as much honesty and dignity as possible, but I find it tough when everything is so conflicting and based on rumour.
So please bear with me, as I try to tell you all the conflicting sides of life there, and how I felt about it.