The 2010 version of Alabama-in-Cuba continues at an exciting pace. The nine students have finished their major projects (topics ranged from political billboards to dietary issues to the Jewish community in Havana) and are now finalizing papers and talks.
The classroom work has been balanced by a steady stream of excursions to various parts of the island. To the East we have traveled as far as Viñales and to the West we have made the long trip to Trinidad. Within those parameters we have also visited Santa Clara, Playa Girón, Soroa, Varadero, Santa María, Cojímar, and Guanabacoa. With respect to Havana, we have witnessed the ¨cañonazo¨, the book fair, the birthplace of Martí, the Martí Tower, various Santería venues, Havana Vieja, the national library, movies, the Hemingway House, the rum factory, the Partagás Tobaco Factory, a photo exhibition, and, of course, the famous Coppelia Icecream Shop. We also were able to take an exciting three-hour boat trip up and down the northern coast of Cuba that provided us with a unique and privileged view of Havana and the famous Morro Fort.
Life at the Montehabana aparthotel has been a curious up and down ride. We have experienced short blackouts, trouble with plumbing, and lack of hot water, but the staff, from top to bottom, has been exceedingly polite and accommodating during the entire time. Many of us have made a lot of friends here at Montehabana with whom we can talk about baseball, politics, and life in general. Come May 10, I am sure that everyone will miss these Cuban ¨amigos.¨
Students, of course, need to relax, to play sports, and to get away a bit from the daily academic grind. During our stay here we have the opportunity to spend time at the three splendid beaches: Santa María, Punta Perdiz, and Varadero. All three trips were made with bright Cuban sunshine (the Varadero sun was somewhat shy) and enjoyed in the beautiful greenish blue waters of the Caribbean. At Punta Perdiz the students had the added experience of eating crocodile for the first time. But the nine participants have also had the chance to play a lot of basketball against Cuban opponents, to swim in the nearby Occidental pool, to play tennis, to walk along Fifth Avenue, to run through the adjacent streets, and to participate along with Cuban friends in aerobic sessions offered in a building just behind the Montehabana.
One of the primary goals of this trip has always been to improve the linguistic skills of the participants. As we near the end of our trip much of what we do is in Spanish. The director frequently receives telephone calls from students in the target language; classes are all in Spanish; and students frequently speak ¨Cuban¨ among themselves. Students also have attended lectures, movies, concerts and other activities where the target language is an absolute must! Finally, the two diagnostic tests administered by the director (one at the beginning of the semester and one just recently) indicate a marked increase in linguistic ability and confidence with all nine students!
We still have a week and a half to go and many fun activities still on the schedule (the May Day Parade and the final supper are just two) but I think we can all say at this point that the trip has been a very good one, full of hard work, travel, new experiences and many, many new friends here in Cuba.