How Cuba Changed Me

Photo Jul 09, 1 27 19 PM
The girls and I doing our “Cuba sorority” pose outside the University of Havana.

I always pictured Cuba in my mind as a tropical island stuck in time, with vintage cars beeping around on narrow streets. It turns out that Cuba met my expectations but also went beyond that in areas I never knew possible. To tell you the truth, besides my initial vision, I had no idea what to expect of that special country. The only glimpses I had were from stories my Cuban childhood friend would tell me while growing up in the Bahamas. He would tell me about the mountains and how there were cows and goats everywhere. He also told me that they had their own special beaver in Cuba. We actually ran into the animal he described while on the nature walk in Viñales. Turns out it was more like a capybara, but still in the beaver family. Seeing these descriptions come to life while in Cuba brought back these childhood memories. It was almost nostalgic although I’ve never been to Cuba before.

Photo Jun 26, 2 09 26 PM
Our first day in Havana!

The best experiences I had in Cuba were dancing, singing and enjoying the culture with local friends. However, it was the quiet conversations and interviews with people that stuck with me long after the trip. My favorite interview was with the writers of El Toque. The team of five worked in a tiny apartment with a living room that barely fit us all, yet the message that they share to the Cuban people daily is so big and powerful. The El Toque writers described it as “creating the space for change,” which got me thinking of how small acts can create a spiral effect towards something big. Their messages about what really goes on in Cuba, things that the government tries to cover up, shines a light on the reality of current Cuban society. With enough readers who are learning to think for themselves, this voice can grow louder and louder till Castro has no option but to address it. I thought this was brave of them to do considering the complications it can bring to their job if the government ever decided to take action against their magazine.

Photo Jul 09, 1 31 12 PM
Playing futbol with some local kids, shortly before I fell and skinned my knee.

We asked about what they thought of the embargo against Cuba. Of course, they don’t agree with it but for an additional reason than expected. Besides it limiting resources available for import and the number of Americans spending their money in Cuba, the embargo is a scapegoat for the Castro government. It allows the government to blame the embargo for lack of change rather than themselves. This seemed to be a common theme during my time in Cuba, which was part of the eye opening experience of witnessing the effects of communism for the first time. This made me realize that the privilege we have to be born in another country should not be taken for granted. As Americans we have a duty to practice our rights and hold the government accountable, as so many countries in the world do not have this luxury.

Photo Jul 07, 5 05 03 PM
This local Cuban loves the U.S. He jumped at the chance for a photo op.

Although this is my last blog post about Cuba, you can see more photos on my Instagram as I continue to post! Follow me @campfirestories.

Sierra Dawn

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