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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Post-Cuba Reflections: Appreciation and Balance

As I sit here in the morning, listening to the rhythmic salsa of Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco, I am reflecting back on my 16 days in Cuba and all that I have experienced and learned.

My time in Cuba has been the single most interesting and amazing travel experience in my life so far - bar none. I have never jumped head first into a vastly different culture like this before, and it has, without exaggeration, been a head-twisting experience.

My favourite picture of the Capitolio

No doubt I fell in love with the city of Havana, I find it an amazing, beautiful and multi-faceted place. No doubt I had a really special experience with the people, and I made new friendships, with local Cubans as well as with a small crowd of international people who shared this language-learning experience with me at the University of Havana.

There is also no doubt that going to a totalitarian Communist country shifts your mindset just a little. Starting with the shortages (of food, of writing paper, toilet paper and toilet seats, gasoline, public transportation, consumer goods etc. etc.), to the constant presence of the police, to the palpable sense of guardedness, in some cases even paranoia, among the population. The watchful eyes of the authorities are everywhere and you have to be very careful about how you act and what you say.

Farm life in Vinales

You start to realize you have entered a totally different world. I was really careful not to try to reveal the sources of my information because I honestly did not want to jeopardize my friends and acquaintances in Cuba who were willing to share their candid opinions.

You have also entered a country where private property and private business are all but forbidden, but strangely enough, everybody has turned into an entrepreneur. Cuba is truly a country with a myriad of ironies and contradictions.

On the other hand, you see a people who are hospitable and very friendly once they know you (and once you get beyond the constant hustling directed at the tourists). Although you constantly hear about the daily struggle ("Hay que luchar"), you see a people that know how to celebrate and enjoy life in all forms. Cuba's sensual music is just one way of expressing that joy of life.

Peeking at the church in Vinales

But beyond my Cuban impressions I have learned a few more personal things. First and foremost, I have learned to enjoy what I have at home, right here in Toronto. (Believe me, I have never enjoyed the luxury of a toilet seat so much.....)

No doubt in my mind, through a fluke of immigrant fate , I have chosen one of the best countries in the world to live in: a safe country, a prosperous country, a free country with a good balance between individual freedoms and collective well-being, a pluralistic and tolerant country, free from repression, surveillance and dogma.

Classic cars...

Last but not least, I have also learned to appreciate my own life situation more: my comfortable life in Toronto, my freedom to be an entrepreneur, my freedoms as a woman. And most significantly, I have come to appreciate my personal relationships, my friendships and my marriage and even my physical health, which, in my anxious quest to build two businesses at the same time and to get this website up and running as quickly as possible, had been suffering for a while.

As a result of all these experiences, I have decided to slow things down a bit and to achieve more balance by dedicating more time to my husband and our home life, our friends, our sports activities and, in line with Cuban philosophy, to just enjoy and appreciate life a little more.

After all, as I saw in Cuba, life is not all about business, work and making money...


Interesting and useful books about Cuba:



Related Articles:
"Cuba is Calling - Why I selected Cuba as my language study destination"
"Hello from Cuba (1) - First Impressions"
"Hello from Cuba (2) - Rain in Vinales"
"Hello from Cuba (3) - Hiking Vinales and Exploring Nature"
"Hello from Cuba (4) - Bureaucracy Galore - The University of Havana"
"Hello from Cuba (5) - Another Mind-Twisting Experience"
"Hello from Cuba (6) - The Student Experience and Political Insights"
"Hello from Cuba (7) - Fun and Recreation"
"Hello from Cuba (8) - Bicycle Rides, Camellos and Cannon Shots"
"Hello from Cuba (9) - Havana Neighbourhoods"
"Hello from Cuba (10) - A Country Excursion"
"Hello from Cuba (11) - Inside a Cuban Home"
"Hello from Cuba (12) - Contrasts and Contradictions"
"Hello from Cuba (13) - Exploring Downtown Havana"
"Hello from Cuba (14) - Field Trips and Interviews"
"Hello from Cuba (15) - Getting ready to say 'Goodbye, Havana'..."
"Hello from Cuba (16) - The final day"



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