It didn’t take long after stepping off the plane at the José Martí International Airport to know that life in Cuba would be very different from life stateside, but that different doesn’t mean bad.
One thing that I have come to realize and appreciate over the past week is the general happiness and benevolence of the Cuban people. Everywhere we go people have been incredibly accommodating to the fact that we are still getting our bearings in the city, and that from time to time our Spanish is subpar. For example, on our first máquina ride I insisted that we were close to the university and tried to get out of the car, but our driver assured us that he knew exactly where we wanted to go and that we had not yet arrived.
The friendly atmosphere that permeates the city of Havana is electric. No matter where you go, if you want to have a conversation with someone, just say “hello”, and the Cuban will do the rest. I can’t even begin to say how many times I have been walking down the road, and said a simple “buenos dias” to someone that sparked a pleasant exchange. Nor can I stress the amount of information that I’ve gained from these exchanges. The Taxi drivers here are some of the biggest assets when it comes to information with whom I’ve come into contact since being here. They always have information about certain historical spots in town, places to eat, or markets to go to which has been a tremendous help.
Another aspect of Cuba that I have come to admire is Cuban ingenuity. In the States, if it’s broken, you buy a new one, but that’s not the case here. Walking through the streets of Miramar on any given day, you can see people tinkering with their cars with whatever they can find to get the job done. Cubans don’t seem to have the problem of functional fixedness that many Americans have; they truly are a culture of MacGyver’s. As an example of this, I’ve come to notice that the handrails in our hotel are made out of the exact same material that is used in America as home gutter guards. On the railings with exposed ends, you can even see the slots that would allow them to slide over a gutter. It is awesome to see a culture of individuals dedicated to making due with whatever they can find.
While at first, it was a bit shocking to realize how different Cuba and America truly are, I’ve come to embrace the differences, and hope to grow even more as an individual based on what I can learn from each culture.