Tag Archives: Santiago de Cuba

Things That I Love About Benin

Here is a list of things I love about Benin–both the program I’m on and the country.  I hate to give you all such a skewed idea of my life over here, and I also don’t want to focus too much on the NU specifics, but I’m a creature crafted for analysis, so that’s usually where my brain wanders.  In the interest of fairness, levity and a more well-rounded picture, here are some things I love.

  • Everyone is so friendly. Even moreso than in the American south, everyone we meet says “bon soir!” and is excited to see us.  Children wave and flash the peace sign, and women in the market are patient with our burgeoning Parisian French.
  • The Beninois students. We did a three day exchange with students form Universite d’Abomey,
  • Vodoun and the Cuba connection. I haven’t learned a ton more about vodoun here that i didn’t already learn in Cuba, but I love seeing how it is woven in to their clture, and talking to the university students about it.  Also, I miss Cuba and my Cuba aseres terribly, so its nice o have a little reminder of home
  • French! I love languages, and speaking French makes me happy.  I like helping other people with it, and getting a better understanding of the people I meet because of my language skills.  It’s also great to see what the francophone world outside of Paris looks like.
  • The weather.  I know it’s hot and sticky and furstrating, but it’s great to be back in a warm, comfy climate.  This coming New England winter may be harder for me than the ever were before…
  • The way of life. I love dirt and messiness and wearing the same gross clothes everyday, with worn-in french braids
  • The group. We spend a lot of time telling each other how smart, kind and adorable we all are, which is just refreshing and enjoyable
  • Our leaders. It’s nice to spend a little time being warm, fuzzy and non-competetive.  For those unaware, this trip is a Human Services excursion, whcih is not my major, but is a related field.  I am one of the few political science people here, but there are many international affairs majors as well as psych, journalism, art, sociology and a few others.  I miss the fiery polisci discussions, and I tease the Human Services kids about drum circles, peace signs and the high number of piercings and tattoos on this trip, but it is acutally kinda nice.  We haven’t met Prof. Luongho yet, but Rebecca is a lawyer in human rights law (!) and Lori has a great cross between sarcasm and being a mom.
  • Julie! Our TA, Julie Miller, is great.  We’ve been doing sunset rooftop yoga led by her, and I really think yoga should never be done anywhere BUT a rooftop in Africa at sunset.  She’s a great help both socially and academically, and I think we’ll all miss her when she goes to UC Berkeley for grad school in the fall.
  • The geography.  Palm trees, red earth, lizards running around everywhere, and adorable goats that act like puppies.  This place is great.  Did I mention we went to the beach?  And Obama Beach at that.  More to come!
  • The Songhai Center. More about this later, but it’s up there with the Grameen Bank and bacon on the list of things that rock my socks.


Reasons I’m suddenly happier about Cuba:

Going home doesn’t seem so far away. A weird paradox, but knowing it’s soon frees up some mental space to stop stressing and start enjoying

We went to Santiago. For one thing, I love that city.  Another is that we got a change of pace, making Havana seem fresher, and my time there more precious, in addition to giving me an entire new perspective on Cuba

I emailed Ilham. She was a faculty leader on the egypt Dialogue, and she’s on of my personal rock stars.  All throughout Egypt we had to keep journals for reflection, and I was very conscious that Ilham was reading it, at times almost treating it like a conversation with her and expecting her to react the next day about something I had written the night before.  Something about writing her a conversation for real was comforting, and reminded me of the person I’m trying to be, both personally and academically.

Our Group. The people I’m with includes Michigan and NU students, house staff, Casa staff.  I’ve noticed that the whole group is a lot more zen lately, especially about interpersonal relations.  I’ve seen people cutting each other slack where they wouldn’t before, and spending time with people they hadn’t before.  The relaxed attitude makes our house so much more pleasant to live in.  It fills it up with boisterous, friendly chaos, instead of jarring, staccato coldness.

I watched some American TV.
Dumb, I know, but it helped.  It was also fun to just be American kids for a little while.  We could’ve been anywhere at home, lounging on a couch, eating (fake) pringles and watching television in English.

Food. Aliesha’s mom sent a giant box of goodies, and Kristina’s mom brought some homemade cookies and pancake mix.  We also got great, filling breakfasts in Santiago, and decently priced, delicious food for lunch and dinner.  That was probably one of the only times I’ve felt truly satisfied with a meal her.  To boot, there aren’t as many shortages right now on staples like bread or eggs.

Home is a wee bit more organized. I know when my flight leaves for France, and when I come home from Benin.  I can go to Andrew’s graduation (after missing so many important events in his life this past year) and I can go to BMG’s first communion.  The first thing she asked was whether I would be there, and I hated that I didn’t know and wasn’t really in control of the answer.  Cuba has made me really laid back (in some ways), but I feel calm knowing I won’t let Miss Bridget down.

It’s amazing how much your perspective can change by seeing your world through someone else’s lens.  It felt good to have someone well-traveled recognize that Cuba is indeed strange.  We’re not imagining it, this really is hard, and it really is different from going to Australia.  I also loved realizing that what comes to mind about Cuba for me is all the good stuff, and I see all the bad stuff in a good light.  Things that other people found strange, stressful or scary rolled off my back with a laugh.  Someone said that we’re a funny group, but I countered that no, it’s just Cuba that’s funny.

I really do believe it.


Los Industriales de la Habana contre Guantanamo

It felt so good to be out in the sunshine, watching baseball.  My previous sporting events here included the surreal super bowl and watching the Beanpot via twitter updates and Jared’s blog.  I went to a few games last week, on against the atrocious Guatemala team and one against Santiago, which is like the Sox/Yankees match up of Cuban provincial baseball.  I saw a few Sosa jerseys, and remarkably few Yankees hats.

I sat next to Reuben, which was useful because he could answer all my questions.  I think he got a little annoyed at how often I wanted to know if something was the same as in los EEUU, but he obliged.  I was told that they sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and have a seventh inning stretch, but I never saw it.  They play like the AL, although pitchers do bat at the amateur level.  We even got to see the slaughter rule invoked during the first game, rung in with a home run by Los Industriales.

The inexplicable mascot, "King Carlos III"

Yes, that’s right, Havana’s team is called Los Industriales, which is perhaps the best name  ever for a socialist baseball team.  The city has three professional stadiums–one for the Industriales, one for the national team, and the third no one particularly explained.  I was told that the players, though not earning US-standard salaries, still do quite well.  They’re also rewarded with material goods, like cares (which few Cubans own) and nice homes,  their very own Industriales building.

There are no chairs in the stadium, just wide, cement steps that everyone sits on.  Up the next level of the stadium the steps have wooden slats bolted above them like benches, which is where we sat.  Upon second visit, there appear to be blue wrought iron patio chairs along the 1st and 3rd base line, but only about four rows of them.  No word on how you get to sit there, since it’s separated by security and the rest of the seating is a free for all.

The scoreboard, complete with adjacent propaganda. The Industriales building is the blue one in the background with the white "I" on it.

There’s a scoreboard, but they don’t always use it in order to save electricity.  Even when they do, it’s often too sunny to read.  Everyone just remembers the score and inning, and they all know the names of all the players.  Occasionally the announcer declares something as audibly as a driver on the T, but not very often.

There is no alcohol because everyone is too poor (or too cheap? I couldn’t quite tell which one Reuben meant) to buy it.  The stadium loses money when it buys alcohol because everyone just brings rum in water bottles and then buys TuKola.

Just some minor mid-game repairs

The most popular noisemaker was some sort of bike pump jerry-rigged to two air horns.  Delightful.  The games take place in the afternoon to save money on lighting the field.  They are shown on tv later that night.  Only in Cuba could that work.  I suppose wtih no twitter and little internet acces and few cell phones, its much easier.  Doesn’t hurt that the news stations are simply instructed not to report on the games until after they happen, and they oblige.  No one was in the outfield seats, trying to catch ho-merunz, at least until the Santiago game.

Someone selling "food" at the game. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Force uniforms.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all occurred when a Guantanamo player committed an error.  Suddenly, and in rather perfect unison for a crowd of that size, everyone started doing the Cuban hand-snappy thing and chanting “Palestinos! Palestinos!”  I looked to Reuben to verify that I was hearing what I thought I was.  It’s by no means a functioning metaphor, but the basic idea is that los Orientales, people from the East, move to Habana and swarm it, often living undocumented in ramshackle huts.  They are seen by many Habanaros as a loathsome trouble of useless country bumpkins.  There roving, unwanted nature is thus likened to the Palestinians.  Of course, I would argue that Palestinians are trying to get home, not to someone else’s city, and also that the Orientales are just trying to escape an area of their country with almost no economic prosperity, but those two facts have little bearing on baseball, apparently.

Despite the lack of beer and peanuts, and the bizarre ethnic parallels that are reminiscent of some European soccer squabbles (the “Jews,” anyone?)  both games were great, and I plan to take in a few more soon.  At 3 CUC for a foreigner and a peso for a student, it’s quite a steal to watch some of the best players in the world.

And yes, they do kick the ass of any American team that dares to enter Estadio Latinoamericano.

La Vida Cotidiana

I wake up sometime between 7:30 and 7:55, because breakfast is uptairs at 8 am.  We have pineapple slices and fruta bomba (papaya), jugo (juice) de pina o papaya, huevos revueltos (scrambled) or hard-boiled, water, and pan con mantequilla (bread and butter.)

After breakfast, we thaw out, get dressed, check email, study or do some last minute homework.

At 9am we head down the ascensor, or if the elevator is broken, walk the ~13 floors to ground level.  Class is down the street at Casa.  9:15-10:15 is espanol con Marbelia, but we used to have Idalia for the easier class. After a fifteen minute beak we have one of the classes we’re actually being graded on until 1:30.  For the first three weeks it was Cine (film) con Profe, then Afro-Cuban Culture con Profe, then Musica con Falla, y finalmente Cuba in the 21st Century, which will be focusing on public health, economics, politics and the relationship with the US.  Obviously I can’t wait for the last class.

In the afternoon we may have a cultural thing,  do homework, read, or I may go on an adventure around Havana.  Dinner is at 7 pm sharp, and we all eat together across two tables.  There’s some source of protein, moros y cristianos (white rice with beans), and some sort of starchy vegetable, like platanos, papas (potatoes) or yucca (mi favorito).  Y claro, hay pan y mantequilla.

After dinner we sometimes go out, meet up with friends, relax or play dominoes.  As you can see we have a pretty fluid schedule apart from meals and classes, and we fill it as we see fit.

That’s our routine Monday-Thursday.  Thursday night is obviously the time to go out, and we’ve decided that once a week we should go to Santa Maria, the gorgeous beach.

Some weekdays we have tours or cultural events, and on the weekends we do a variety of things.  A hip hop club, Club Tropical the discoteca, Havana Jazz, or talking and drinking on the Malecon.  Other weekends we go away to some other part of the country, like this past weekend in Cienfuegos y Trinidad.  The weekend after next will be Santiago de Cuba.  After that we’ll have our (gasp!) last weekend in Cuba, and the Friday after that I’ll be hopping a couple planes for home!  I can’t believe it’s almost over!