After eight hours in Logan and another eight on a plane due to volcanic ash-related re-routing, I’m finally in Paris! Here’s a smattering of photos from our dinnertime stroll.
There was a point when I felt like my life path was always waiting for me, like that mini-game with digging for treasure in Mario Party, and I was lucky enough to be uncovering what was always there. With Arabic, the Egypt trip and working at Amnesty, I felt confident in my direction, if not my skills. I had a great answer anytime someone asked what I was up to, and in my daily life I felt like I was stretching, learning and adding to the conversation.
Then I came home and Andrew and I broke up. I started working and trying to recover from losing not only Andrew but some of my closest friends. I moved in with some strangers, and tried (and failed) to get back to where I used to be with my freshman year friends, and the great new people they had acquired in the meantime. That of course only served to remind me that they all live together and I lived with strangers. UNA was a constant source of negativity, although many would argue that I was that source. And finally, I got a poor review from Amnesty that I wasn’t expecting at all.
That leaves a lot of things up in the air, like human rights and nonprofit as a career choice, as well as the basic people I spend my time with.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with where I live, whether I go on coop in the fall or spring, traveling, or even writing this blog. I had wanted to try for an international coop at the Arab League this spring, but now I’m questioning my wherewithal to live alone in Cairo for six months. I don’t know if my tutoring job is waiting for me, though it probably is, and I have no idea what to do about UNA. I miss the debate and the camaraderie (when it was there), but I don’t know if there’s a place for me there anymore. Even if there is a place, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. For a long time people on both sides of the aisle have been wondering why I’m wasting my time, but I have yet to determine if that premise is true.
So that’s where I am today. It’s a grey day in Cuba and I’m 21 years old and I have no clue what I’m doing with my life, or even with my time here. It’s not pretty, succinct or resolved; it’s just today.
We had the classiest Super Bowl ever. And by that I mean the boringest.
Don’t get me wrong, great game, and any day the Manning family fails is a good day in my book.
But our atmosphere was so bizarre. We went to Melia Cohiba, a fancy hotel one block over. They were showing the game in the “sports bar,” which in Cubañol translates to cigar bar, I guess. There were two other Americans and a whole bunch of people from the Cayman Islands. We sat in overstuffed leather chairs, and Brittan and Morgan daintily sipped espresso. I didn’t drink because I didn’t want to pay 2.75 CUC for a Bucanero. And I haven’t really touched on this yet, but there aren’t really ads here. There were occasional commercials for the station itself, or watching specific sports on that station, but no products. And certainly not the standard American onslaught of commercials that are either wicked funny or wicked lame.
There was no standard football food, much to our collective display. MUCH. Not even wearing my old school pats logo shirt could make me feel better about the lack of bagel bites and swedish meatballs. And of course the commentary and the display were all en español, which was entertaining. So while we occasionally read the trivia stuff, we basically only had the commentary of our fellow viewers, when they eventually got rowdy, and we missed out on all those many useless facts. Perhaps the oddest of all was the simple fact that it was all too quiet, too refined. Football is meant to be watched with a bud light in one hand and buffalo sauce all over your face, yelling at the tv and cracking jokes.
Hope you enjoyed the game, and I hope Peyton Manning cries. On camera.
The scene at Jose Marti airport was insane. The building was like a big warehouse, but inside it was painted yellow, turquoise, purple. The baggage claim area was one conveyor belt that carried around a few scant bags, mostly plastic-wrapped in shiny blue.
A black and white spaniel ran around on the belt, spinning and sniffing as though he was playing a game. The entire room was filled with people, but even more with giant, lumpy baggage, wrapped in blue. With sheets of printer paper they were labeled “comida” o “medicina.”
Our luggage, entirely unwrapped, was easy to find but hard to retrieve. There was life everywhere, with screaming and crying and mothers and babies and a golden retriever. Sometimes the dog ran around, and sometimes it napped in the corner. There were overturned carts and people screaming to each other, and what looked like the swat team.
The dogs were bomb-sniffing dogs. No collars, no apparent handlers, and hardly the breeds we would use in the states. The comida y medecina is there for their families, since there isn’t enough on the island. The bags are not bags, they’re parcels of all kinds. Rock band, trash bags filled with canned goods, a toy truck for Christmas. The bags are wrapped so they’ll stay together, so no one will steal the contents, and so adouana (customs) will leave them alone.
I’m ¡finalmente aqui en Cuba! It appears our internet is pretty good, so here are a few pictures from the first 24 hours. Expect several short posts over the next few days, and some picture-heavy updates.
We had our first day of class today. We will be taking Spanish every morning from 9:15-11, and then a second class 11:15-1:30. The Second slot will be filled by four different classes over the course of the 12 weeks, all in Spanish. First is Cine, or Cuban film, taught by Profe. We started right in with our first (guest) lecture today.
Yesterday was a cold windy mess. At night, our ventanas (windows) rattled to all get-out, and we bundled up as much as humanly possible. Some people went out, but the rest of us were all asleep by 9:30. Luckily, today is already looking sunny with calmer waters. Someone from Casa told us this is the coldest week they’ve had in ten to fifteen years!
Breakfast is every morning at 8am, and dinner at 7pm. Both are homemade and delicious. I had papaya juice for the first time this morning, and it was pretty good. The texture was similar to watermelon, but the taste was quite different.
I’ll be posting plenty of analysis and academic exploration throughout my three months here, but for now I’m just settling in and trying to get exposed to the culture first. You can expect lots of basic info, pictures, and rections without judgement for now, until I get my bearings and learn a bit more first hand.
You have no idea how tempted I was to rename this blog The Rum Diary. But if I did, a ton of people wouldn’t get it (which would depress me) and they’d be all disturbed that the name of an alcoholic beverage is involved, despite the fact that I’d be legal to drink everywhere, (especially Cuba) by the time I got to writing it. On the other hand, a clever few would totally get the reference, and they’d know that there’s a whole lot more to be worried about than the name of an alcoholic beverage if I’m drawing these sorts of allusions. A classic lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.
The real reason though, is that changing the title would mean that I had to, in order to reflect my new setting. Which implies (not infers) that the blog was named after my setting to begin with, which simply isn’t so. This blog isn’t about Cuba, any more than it’s about Egypt. And away laughing on a fast camel doesn’t have to take place on a camel, or in some sort of desert setting.
Laughing on a fast camel is a state of mind, a way to react to the absurd situations I find myself in, like being on a camel that decides it wants to be al-Seabiscuit. (Yes, that was inappropriate. See, I can be politically incorrect too.)
This blog is about a lot of things, like politics, language, cultural exchange, social relations, gender dynamics and travel. But it’s not about Cuba or about Egypt or about Thailand. It’s about making sense out of what happens when you mash a bunch of very different people together, and doing it with a smile and an open mind.
So take that, Hunter.
I’m going to Cuba. For a semester. Starting pretty much right after New Year’s.
Sorry I’ve kept this way on the dl, for reasons both personal and logical. I didn’t know if I would be allowed to apply, I didn’t know if I would get accepted, and I didn’t know if the trip would actually happen.
Even more surprising, is that this idea has been around for a while. A little more than a year ago I mentioned it casually to my dad, who I assumed would shoot it down. I should have known better. As much as dad is always getting all worked up and worried that I’ll get myself into some sort of trouble with my curious, opinionated rabble-rousing ways, I know that we’re basically the same person. Which means that he wishes he could go to Cuba too.
Since then, the idea was in the back of my mind. After Egypt I knew I wouldn’t be staying in this country long, but due to co-op I would have to stay at least six months. I casually mentioned the idea to a few friends as a “someday” possibility at the end of the summer, but then I let it drop.
One Thursday, I panicked and thought the deadline for Cuba was closer than it turned out to be. At the idea of not being able to go, I suddenly realized the myriad reasons why I absolutely NEED to go. By that Tuesday I had applied.
Since then it’s been my bizarro little secret, with only Sarah, Alex, Marisa and my immediate family in the loop. I saw no reason to get everyone all worked up if I didn’t get in. But now I’m going. So there!
I feel like this is a press conference. But given the last sentence of the previous paragraph, a press conference for a toddler.
I want this blog to be a lot more interactive. I love travel, politics, language and culture, but I also love education. I love educating myself and I love the act of spreading knowledge, which is a big part of why I started this blog. Many of you will never go to Cuba or Egypt, or any third (or second!) world country. But I will. So much of what we hear about these places is misunderstood, over-simplified or flat-out false.
So live vicariously through me. Leave comments with your questions. Do you think I’ll be safe? Do you think I’ll be able to send/receive mail? Do you think people will hate us there? Do you think people will speak English? I want your impressions of Cuba. Does it make you think of Scarface and cigars, or Hunter S. Thompson and rum?
I promise to answer the questions, especially the safety one. I already know answers to some of them (especially the safety one!) but I would love to hear your impressions of Cuba, whether they’re based on books and movies or our President and the news.