….It’s January 2nd and yesterday I finished my vision board for 2016. In the middle of the board is the word PEACE, my mantra for the upcoming year. It is time for some in my life. But the kind of PEACE is that which is written in the words below.…
…it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
And so, on my first day of PEACE I woke up ready to write which, for me, is a sign of a calm heart. It means there is a space inside that can now fill with meaningful thought. And this morning, my thoughts are of Cuba because as I strive for the kind of peace that exists in my heart in the midst of noise, it makes me think exactly of Cuba and the strength of the Cuban heart to do precisely that.
But now I am frightened.
What am I frightened for?
The Cuban heart. El Corazón. The soul of a Cuban in Cuba is a huge, pure heart. I have developed friendships in Cuba like I have never developed anywhere in the world. My Cuban friends, no matter what they have or don’t have in their lives, have always found a place for me under their wing, a smile, a hug, and always besitos (little kisses). I am learning about the value of true friendship. I have experienced unconditional love here like no where else.
Cubans in Cuba, even when they first meet each other, use greetings like “mi corazón” and “mi amor”. I have become used to kissing everyone and I love it and I crave it. It feels real.
So why am I so frightened in a place where I feel so loved?
Change is coming
Because the rain is beginning to fall. There has been a drought in Cuba for more than half a century but the rain has begun. And Cubans will and should dance in the rain. They deserve to splash in the puddles. But the rain is going to turn into a tempest and I am scared that the flood will wash away the Cuban heart.
So, my advice to my Cuban friends is build an ark. Put your hearts, your values and your love of life on the ark. Protect them all from the flood. Ingrain your values into your children and hold strong.
And I realize that I have been a part of this change. I have been a pavement pounding ambassador for change by helping to bring Americans and Cuban together to learn from each other and understand each other. I have helped in my own way to open this floodgate. I want a better life for my Cuban friends in Cuba
…but…please, build an ark.
Americans are flocking to Cuba in order to see and experience it, “before it changes”. We talk about wanting something better for our southern friends but not wanting to lose the “Cuban-ness” of the place. On the surface, things will change. For example, tourists don’t want to see the disappearance of the old American cars, yet if you ask a Cuban, they would happily trade them in for a car that is dependable and one where spare parts actually exist. Cubans deserve this. They have lived without economic opportunity and they deserve the right to pursue it.
but…please…..don’t lose your Cuban heart…..build an ark.
When I first went to Cuba in 2013, I saw very few people on cell phones, no one was texting or downloading apps. They were talking to each other. On my last trip to Cuba, there were wifi hot spots in most major squares and the kids were doing what our kids do, text and email and download music while beginning to ignore their friends sitting right next to them. Wifi is bringing the world to Cuba and opportunities are growing. Soak it up, dance in the rain…
but…please….don’t lose your Cuban heart…build an ark.
In the 1990’s Cuba went through a time that Fidel Castro dubbed, “The Special Period”. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, came the collapse of the Cuban economy. Overnight, 85% of the Cuban economy disappeared. Soviet subsidies disappeared. Supplies disappeared. My Cuban friends tell me of bathing in flower petals because there was no soap. It was a time, more than ever, when Cubans banded together as families. Housing shortages meant that multiple generations lived together. This is still true today. Cubans banded together to weather this storm. They learned to get by, to help each other, to share what little anyone had. And this has become the core of the Cuban heart.
I have a friend in Cuba who lives with his family. He and his wife and children live with his in-laws and have for the past 25 years. I have learned that this is the norm in Cuba. What amazed me was when he told me that with the money he makes, he is building his father a home. He is not building himself and his family a home, that will come in time he hopes. He is building it for his father. THAT is the Cuban heart.
That is what I hope, with the change that is coming, can be preserved.
I used to become exasperated with one Cuban friend of mine. She works incredibly hard and is rewarded with good financial benefits. Then I would hear of how her cousins show up constantly to be fed and how her family drains her of what she earns. It isn’t malicious, it is how families work there but I can see the strain it puts on her. I try, often in vain to show her that she also deserves to benefit from her hard work, not just her family. But it is ingrained in her to share. She said no matter what she had as a child, she always gave half to her younger brother. One day, I laughed as I jokingly complained that I couldn’t have my normal pizza dinner at the hotel because they had run out of flour. That evening, she called and told me to meet her in the lobby of my hotel. She had gone out, bought me a pizza and had someone drive her to my hotel to present it to me. Any time I bring her a gift, she tries to share it with me. THAT is the Cuban heart.
Please, my dear friends, dance in the rain, end the drought, but build an ark around your hearts.
I was recently told that even though Americans are a small part of the tourism market in Cuba, that we understand Cubans better than people from any other country. I had never really thought about it but it’s true. The regulations under which we can travel to Cuba don’t give us the freedom to simply go to the beach. The regulations allow for us to have full days of People to People contact. The hand of our government “forced” us to interact and therefore to learn and begin to understand Cubans. And what a blessing that has been!
And so, for those Americans who have been to Cuba with me, as you too, have become ambassadors for change, I hope you keep the Cuban heart in your heart.
For those Americans who have yet to visit, who plan to invest, and who have big hopes for this tiny nation, please, take the time to get to know the people, understand the culture, know the heart of this place. For that is what will keep it special long after change has come.
For after the flood, the water will recede and level, and what will be left is the ark and it’s coveted cargo, the people, the values, the love of life……el corazón de Cuba.
Cuba….I will dance in the rain and splash in the puddles with you, mi corazón…
but please, please, please, build the ark.