First Impressions of Cuba – Caroline Olszewski

Right after arriving in Cuba, as we drove through the streets to our hotel, my brain was on sensory overload. Even though Cuba is just 90 miles away from Key West, it is a completely different from the United States. Instead of being bombarded with commercial advertising like at home, here billboards and signs are used to promote the government. They promote unity and nationalism, and it’s refreshing not to see constant pictures of products to buy. The people here are incredibly kind and conversational as well. Just by watching Cubans interact with each other, you would think complete strangers were good friends. There is a large sense of community and looking out for one another that just isn’t as prevalent back home.

It’s not just with other Cubans that they express this kindness either, it is with everyone they meet. I’ve met a couple who runs a churro stand a short distance from our hotel, and after talking with them only a couple times, I feel like they are my parents away from home. They are full of great information, and give caring advice about staying safe in Cuba that I feel like my own parents would give me back home. Everyone here is so genuine, too. On many occasions after only briefly speaking with a Cuban, they are already trying to make plans to meet up later so they can show me around Havana and get to know me better. This isn’t a non-committal, ambiguous attempt at making plans, either. Cubans are sincere in wanting to build relationships with new people, and are true to their word.

Another thing I’ve come to realize in my short time here how resourceful and frugal Cubans are. One of the many impressive parts of Cuban culture are their máquinas. These old American cars that Cuba is well known for are used as a type of carpooling transportation. It is incredible to me that they have kept so many of these cars in such good condition. If something breaks, they fix it. Cuba embodies the idea of making the best of what you have and not wasting anything. They come up with their own solutions to any problems they may encounter, and are very humble people. In continuation with this idea, Cubans are very hard working people. There are numerous fresh produce stands all along the streets of Cuba where people are selling fruits, vegetables, and sometimes eggs and meat. They put in the long hours and hard labor to produce these on their own. All the hard work and problem solving they do does not in any way deter their moods, either. Cubans are happy people as a whole, and a quick conversation with someone on the street can bring a smile to my face. Many have such an animated way of speaking and have no problem expressing their excitement about something. As I start to build relationships with Cubans here and see my new friends on a regular basis, they appear so excited to see me and openly express their happiness. This greeting in itself makes me want to see them as often as possible. I look forward to developing these relationships even further while I am here, and making many new ones. I know there is so much I can learn from the people here and I can’t wait to see what they have to teach me.