First Impressions of Cuba – Elizabeth Heeter
I have had many positive first impressions of Cuba. Firstly, the natural endowments of this island in terms of geography and climate are immediately evident. It is a very fertile land with beautiful natural scenery. It also contains the most unique and aesthetically pleasing architecture I have ever seen. I have already learned a bit about the combination of cultures, namely French, Spanish, and African, that has contributed to the unique expression of architecture here, as well as racial diversity of the population. The Cuban people are very collectivistic in their nature, and they have a lot of pride in their country. They seem to care for each other and look out for the well-being of their family and fellow citizen, but most will also happily go out of their way to help a foreigner. They are hard-working and optimistic, and they are also a very verbal people. I have noticed that a simple “hola” is usually enough to break the ice with a Cuban. In the United States, eye contact and a smile is considered friendly, but to win the respect of a Cuban you have to open your mouth. The willingness of Cubans to speak candidly about themselves and their lives, even to strangers and foreigners, is striking. They are eager to provide advice, directions, and warnings to make our lives easier.
It would be hard to talk about coming to Cuba for the first time without mentioning the dual currency. It perplexes me that the “tourist” currency is so much more valuable than the currency of the common people, but it is very convenient when it comes to buying fresh produce from the markets, which is easily one of my favorite things about living here. I love being able to walk for fifteen minutes and coming to a trove of beautiful fresh produce. The importance of walking, as well as the proliferate use of public transportation and collective transportation, is something I noticed as soon as I got here. Everywhere you look, there are people on foot, riding bikes and motorcycles, and using cars and buses together. It all goes back to their emphasis on collectivism and sense of duty to their fellow man. They know each other’s struggles and are therefore willing to help each other in any way possible. Women going to work can get in the car with a complete stranger and know that they will arrive close to, if not at their destination, unscathed. The first time I tried to ride a guagua, or bus, it was close to morning rush hour, so the bus was absolutely packed with people. As people scurried to get on, I had practically given up because there appeared to be no room left. There was a man on board who was willing to practically pull me onto the bus by my backpack before the doors closed. This event confirmed my notion that everyone in Cuba is concerned with the well-being of everyone else, and that is what has impressed me the most about Cuban life.