The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues with Exploring Havana Cuba…
It’s hot and humid, and I’m sweating. My clothes are soaked, but I’m enjoying meandering through the streets of Havana, Cuba with its eclectic scenes of locals, salesmen of all kind, few tourists and wayward dogs and cats. This is not everyone’s vacation. As I’m about immersion, it suits me just fine. I want to sweat in the heat of Havana, drink the rum and eat the fried plantain chips.
After a long first day of exploration in this nation’s capital, culminating with local music and caipirinhas, we call it a night, retiring to our casa particular in the old town of a country just twelve minutes in a jet plane from America’s Keys. Thankfully there is air-conditioning in our rooms. The machine runs loud so I use my earplugs. We sleep well with vibrantly colorful dreams of past lives, current happenings and this Cuba we are all waiting to experience.
Our second day takes us to the tiered stone stairs of Universidad de La Habana, or the University of Havana. We are on the Cuba Entomological Research Expedition, a research expedition to study insects on various parts of the island, and to initiate relations for a study abroad program between one of our American universities and the University of Havana. A friendly student becomes our campus guide, touring us through pillared stone buildings, lushly planted courtyards, classrooms of teachers instructing their students, and galleries holding scientific collections of birds, insects and other aboriginal objects. At the end of our tour he somewhat unexpectedly asks for payment. To buy a much-needed book of course.
We make our way over to the building housing the biology department to meet with various professors in the entomology field. It’s grand in scale with large stone staircases inside and out. After some initial confusion from our language barrier, we are seated with an animated professor in an office filled with old books and specimens, and discussing Cuba’s national parks and the incredible fauna and flora housed within each. So much has yet to be identified and documented. There’s been no money for such luxuries. We hope to aid in remedying this divide through publications, future expeditions, exchanges of ideas and information, and study abroad programs with enthusiastic students. In the short time we have with the professor we learn much about Cuba’s natural world, and discover text books do exist with documentation of mammals, snails, sea life, birds and insects. Why were they not found by Google’s search engine? After discussing our expedition itinerary, the professor asks us a favor. Turns out there is a study of an endemic butterfly on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, and we’ll pass by the site of concern as we are driven to our hotel. Of course we’d be more than happy to take a count and photos.
We continue to sit mesmerized by this professor who instantly shared all his knowledge and asked nothing in return except that we listen. He spoke of computer troubles and simple things like broken cables and no chalk or microscopes or desks for students, and the lack of new books in their library. There’s no money for such luxuries. Where has all the money gone? I saw renovated gated mansions in Miramar and Vedado, and there’s been the occasional Mercedes, BMW and Audi with tinted windows just as I saw during Perestroika and hyperinflation in Russia in 1993. We wish to spend all day with him but he’s headed to a conference in Santiago de Cuba and must bid us farewell. Yet he also wishes to speak with us more and discuss our exchange program so we solidify plans to meet upon our return to Havana in three weeks. We’ll have a day before flying back to the States. We must solidify the plans here as there’s no way to communicate. He doesn’t have a cell phone and we have no communication access, period.
How may I speak out? How does a blond white American girl know what’s right or wrong in this world? I am only able to judge based on my own life’s learning. From my time in Cuba, I see a wrong has been done but I cannot say what exactly or how it was done or how it might be fixed as I also see that people have roofs over their heads and food on the table for their children and accessible health care, and clothing. I also never see a beggar on the streets. At least not like the homeless we see in the USA with old torn dirty clothes and grocery carts full of stuff they’re keeping for that rainy day. There are no shopping carts in Cuba. Many people ask for donations from us visiting Americans who must have so much they can offer handouts to all. We even had a guy carrying a new pair of Levis jeans, saying that he only has two pairs of pants the ones he was wearing and the jeans he was carrying and he needed more. More? I’m the one who needs more to make the payments next month for all my modern conveniences. I have to believe that they just don’t know what visitor they are inviting in the door.
Exploring Havana Cuba continues with A Drive to Cuba’s Swamp Land Zapata…