Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cuba Linda

"Cuba linda, Cuba hermosa, Cuba linda siempre te recordaré. Yo quisiera ver te ahora, como la primera vez. Cuba linda, Cuba hermosa, Cuba linda siempre te recordaré."

Translation: Beautiful Cuba, lovely Cuba, beautiful Cuba I will always remember you. I want to see you now, like it's the first time. Beautiful Cuba, lovely Cuba, beautiful Cuba I will always remember you.

So it is...Summer of 2008, despite the hypocritical decree of the Treasury Department of the United States of America ('Cuba is a socialist regime that denies its people freedom, so we must revoke your right to give them any money, and thus, to travel there), we made our way to the beautiful island of Cuba.

One of the most outstanding memories I have is that of singing. It seems that music spills out of the streets in Cuba. Everyone is a poet, a musician, a singer. And no one is shy about letting sounds of song fill the air, or dancing in the street at the drop of a hat. We met a man one night, el poeta (the poet). After a long, meaningful conversation, we slowly walked with him to his bus stop. As we strolled, he began to sing. One of his favorite songs, he said, made popular by one of America's great men, Louis Armstrong. What a Wonderful World. Indeed, it is. Gracias, Poeta.

Oh yeah, and COLOR! Colors are everywhere. Bright, bold, beautiful colors. Doors, clothes, buildings, cars, are all pastel blue, bright pink, ochre yellow. One must wonder if the soul of a people spawns such use of color or if the presence of colors inspire the soul of a people, but the probable truth is they are so intertwined that the line that separates the two eventually disappears.

The socio-economic reality Cuba is real and often grim. The cultural-emotional grit and brilliance is astounding. One must wonder, again, if these two partners are as inextricably dependent as the dance between color and soul. It certainly does seem so. In my experience, the times when I have witnessed the greatest richness of character and spirit, have most often been those times when financial and material are scarce, non-existent or of minimal importance.

One day we stopped for a quick bite at a restaurant that had a covered outdoor patio that sheltered us from the rain. As we sat there sipping our mojitos, a policeman holding an umbrella walked by. Coming from behind him was a young man walking rather quickly and getting quite wet. The young man gestured for the policeman to let him under the umbrella, which the policeman gladly did. I rarely see this kind of solidarity in the U.S., even in happy shining Santa Cruz, CA.

When nobody has anything (or, at most, very little) you are practically forced to share. You understand what it's like to go without luxuries, and even sometimes without necessities. I like to dub it 'soulidarity.' It is another outstanding Cuban quality that I feel blessed to have witnessed, and one that I deeply hope to be able to incorporate into my life without having to suffer from poverty.

"Si tu vecina quiere hacer arroz con pollo, y necesita que tu le prestes ingredientes, 'si yo lo tengo lo resuelto urgenetemente yo te lo di porque yo soy muy buena gente.'"..... "Y no te asombres si mis manos están vacías, pero que voy a hacer, si así son las manos mias."

--Juan Formell y Los Van Van

Translation: If your neighbor wants to make rice with chicken, and needs you to lend her ingredients, 'If I have them, I'll round them up right away and give them to you because I am good people.' .... Don't be surprised if my hands are empty, but what can I do, if that's the way my hands are.

Like a family feud, our relationship with Cuba seems distant due not to fundamental idealistic disparity as much as it does to ego and arrogance.

I met an Israeli ex-pat once who once told me that if ever met anyone who claimed that the practice of government, any government, was the greater good of the people, that they know not the truth and reality of the matter at hand. "Governments", he said, "are in the business of money and power, period." It was, for me, a sad but poignant observation, and a powerful that has yet to be disproved in my mind. His views on governance were brought on by my questioning his feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to which he began, "Look, Israelis and Palestinians get along fine."

Sad, but poignant observation...

Thank God I went to Cuba to see for myself. A flawed government, not unlike mine in some ways...a beautiful people, not unlike mine in many ways. For, even if the systems that govern a people only provide lip service to virtue, the footsteps of those people, must line up with their words. Gracias mi Cuba.

There is written on a wall by the Malecón in La Habana Vieja, words from the great poet and writer Jose Marti..."De la virtud se hacen los pueblos." From virtue, is made a people.

De la virtud.

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