Cuba. The most intriguing, thought provoking and passion filled country I have visited yet. I’ve never felt so at home, yet so far away from home at the same time. As though I was a character on an old movie set, each day stepping out from the comforts of my 'casa particular' into a whole new world, like the kids in “The lion, witch and the wardrobe”.
Narnia. Yes, that is exactly what it felt like.
Cuba is a photographers’ delight. A candy store of preserved architecture; some buildings hard and stone cold, others bursting with colour and Cuban flavour. Vintage car heaven. Cowboys on horse back with a backdrop of palm trees. Men and women casually walking the streets devouring big pieces of elaborately-decorated cake out of their bare hands. The five piece band rocking out on the quiet street corner. An old man sitting on his doorstep enjoying his cigar, being passed by another old man with his donkey. It’s every bit the visual masterpiece it is made out to be. And complementing it all nicely is the passion in the people. Passion for cigars, rum, women and salsa!
Cuba told me many stories. It told me stories of pain, heartache, determination, love, desperation, curiosity and freedom. Never have I experienced a country or it’s people so divided, in both wealth and opinion. In a country where education is so highly valued and many make it their own responsibility to acquire endless amounts of knowledge, the opinions and thoughts of everyday Cubans appeared to go from one end of the scale to the other. Hate, fear and anguish to love and pride, it’s easy to guess which ones came from those with a lower socio economic background. My first few days in this country of contrast simply blew me away at just how many people were desperate just to tell their story, have the opportunity to practice their English (which they had taught themselves), or ask a million questions about the world they feel they will never get to see. Hearing daily pleas and begging for the simplest of items, from a pencil to soap, had me feeling overwhelming guilt for how accessible these necessities are for us back home, and made me want to buy pencils and soap for every kid in the country!
Whilst their heartfelt stories brought a level of connection with local Cubans, there were also many stories and introductions (particularly in the cities) that came from a place of hidden agendas, and this led to one of the biggest drawbacks for me in visiting Cuba. Never have I felt so disconnected from the community, constantly worn down by endless scammers, who will do or say anything to get money out of you. Every new conversation leading to a guilt trip for cash, or a distressing plea, revealing an ulterior motive. Some even following the same script as the last person funnily enough, as though they had been taught by someone on what to say. By the end of the trip, I could recite their lines before they did. This certainly made it hard for me to determine whether someone was actually being genuine or not. But alas, it was a lesson in patience and judgement.
In saying this, there was an exception in the families of our casa particulares. During our time in Cuba, we stayed with families who rent out a room in their home. We certainly hit the jackpot here, and became part of the family on a number of occasions. The love we received from our Cuban mum, Juani, in Trinidad in particular, we will never forget. The unique smells of her cooking drifting through the house reminded me of something cooking in my own grandma’s kitchen growing up. Her stories of her illegally smuggled pet turtles and beautiful grandchildren filled our evenings, before we ventured out to witness the local salsa talent that night. The smile on her face when I appeared from my room after being ill for over 48 hours is one I will never forget. The love was indescribable. Pure, sweet and ever so compassionate.
Like most destinations, it is the people that make the biggest impact on you. Their hearts, their culture, their perspectives on this thing we call life - are what pull us in and stain our heart with memories that will either change us or remind us of our values. To me, cuba shone a bright light on a value I hold very dearly;
And what vivid contrast there is in that word, when it comes to Cuba. One day witnessing the pain and suffering that comes with having freedom stripped away; to the next day witnessing the joy, pride and passion in those who enjoy the freedom such independence brings.
Whilst my heart knows that the first is most prevalent, the contrast still left me with so many valuable insights I will never forget;
Freedom can mean anything you want it to mean.
My take on freedom may be your version of hell. Figure out what it means to you, and hold on to that. You cannot strive to feel something in it’s entirety without understanding first what it actually means to you. Map it out, visualise it - What does freedom mean to you?
Never underestimate the power of your ear. To listen, can be your greatest service to the world.
I’ve come to understand this deeper and deeper since Cuba, through my coaching work. Everyone on this planet just wants to be heard and understood. Gifting someone your undivided attention whilst they share their heart with you, is powerful beyond measure. Be generous.
Simplicity feels like home.
Food, water, shelter, connection, sunshine. The roots of our existence - uncomplicated, raw and real. Understanding that that is all we really ‘need’ is somewhat comforting and liberating. Strengthening and empowering. YES.
Self-expression is always an option.
You cannot hide behind your circumstance. You are already on show. Life is the only platform you need, and as long as you are alive, you have the ability to show this world who you are. Dance with wild passion if you desire. Speak your most daring truths. Touch people’s hearts in the way only you know how. If my friends in Cuba can do so, then so can you. Show this world what you’ve got. The world is waiting.
TELL ME // Do you have a desire to explore Cuba? Have you been to Cuba? What life lessons did you take away from this unique and amazing country? I'd love to hear in the comments below!
Big love wanderlusters,