Today’s blog post comes to us from Berea College student & API alumni Jamar Yewitt, Jr. He studied abroad with us last summer in Havana, Cuba.
It’s hard to think of a typical day in Cuba.
I can tell you things that became routine, but even within those moments, sometimes were distinct. I quickly found the routine of going to breakfast in the morning, class, then doing something in between for free time and dinner in the evening. This brought a level of familiarity to me as I could use this mold to determine how my day was going to go.
Instead of a typical day, what I will do is tell you about a particular day that stands out to me. One afternoon we had scheduled to go on an old fashion car tour. You guessed it! We road in a classic car that has been maintained since the ’50s, the icon of what many US citizens consider the pinnacle of Cuban culture. However, on multiple occasions, I grew to understand that this was only a minor accessory on the body of Cuban culture. Emily, our program coordinator, arranged for two cars between five students. I would have fastened my seatbelt (metaphorically and literally), but they did not exist in the ’50s. Our driver Raul took us around the city.
While driving, he told us his car’s history.
It has been in his family for nearly three generations, a gift from his grandfather to his father and then to him. He told us how when he needed repairs for his engine he had ingenuity and luck to figure out the problem that otherwise could have put him in a bad financial situation. Raul made his living from driving tours like many other Cubans that have a car and can afford to do so. It is a very profitable business so much so that they are paid more than doctors are.
Our tour took us to the outskirts of Havana.
We stopped in a park where there was a Santeria (which is a syncretized religion of traditional African beliefs and Catholicism) ceremony taking place. I heard the bells and singing, to remain respectful we observed from a distance then left after a few minutes. On our way back to the city, Raul played some hits by Bruno Mars, which speaks to his success doing driving tours. Many Cubans who can pour into their cars do so since it is their business. And I was fortunate enough to have that experience.
Emily taking us on that tour showed me that many people who travel to Cuba only gain one perspective: the tourist.
Most people neglect the day to day and the average life for most people there because they are swept away by nostalgia. While I had many experiences that were typical, those same experiences allowed me to appreciate the uniqueness of Cuban culture as I saw it day to day. The people, land, and culture have so much to teach and if we only choose to listen for what’s appealing we miss out on the wealth that lies beneath the surface.