Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dos años

I feel like I've been talking about Cuba a lot recently, but it was such an awesome (as in the real, filling one with legitimate awe, sense) experience, and so unlike anything else I've ever done, that it's impossible to not think about. As I've mentioned, this is especially true in the months mirroring those that I was there, which leads to many "can you believe that two years ago I was..." moments. Today is especially bittersweet, because two years ago the semester was over and I was leaving Cuba. It's obviously always sad to leave a place you have been for a long time, and have truly come to love, but this departure was harder because we were experiencing the ultimate luxury unavailable to the people there: leaving freely. Additionally, we were leaving not knowing if or when we could go back, and what would have happened to the country in the interim. The possibilities are too numerous.

As part of the study abroad program at NU, it is required that you keep a journal to be submitted to the department upon your return. Cynically, I suspect this is to track the stages of "culture shock" as fodder for future orientations, but I have to admit that even though that suspicion is glaringly obvious through many of my entries, I'm glad I kept the record of my time there. I'm not sure I would have had I not been forced, as part of my resentment of the assignment came from having to waste time talking about my experiences, instead of being out experiencing more.

But anyway, in remembrance of the two year anniversary of my return, here's my original entry, written upon arrival back to the states:

March 29, 2009: Last Week...

So the last week was a blur. I spent it trying to fit in everything I hadn't done yet and buying all the souvenirs I needed and just soaking in the last little bit of Cuba before going back home.

I went to the Market in Old Havana a couple of days, ate my last Happy Place (Fabio)and had the best Mojito ever at the Hotel Nacional. I saw Hemingway's house and then went on an adventure to find Parque Lennon....and yes that is Lennon as in John Lennon of the Beatles. Castro felt that he was a fellow Revolutionary Spirit and so there is a little park that has a bronze statue of him sitting on a bench. Meg, Courtney and I went and posed with the statue ad were enchanted by a little boy, approximately 2, who could say John Lennon when asked who the statue was.

For one of our final (!) Music classes a group of rappers came in and they were so incredible and fierce. I went with Emma to Idalia's house and then we went to the Casa goodbye party. I went with Emma to the Havana Yacht Club out in Miramar and it was truly another playground for the rich and famous non-Cubans, a throwback to the days of Batista. I had to hand in my passport to even get though the main gates. I went to the beach one last time, had the most depressing goodbye party at the residencia, packed my things, got on a bus where we all sat sobbing, played my last game of Jose Marti, got on a little prop plane and here I am back in Miami.

Where did the last 3 months go?

I can't believe it's over. Cuba will definitely always be one of the best experiences of my life. To visit a country that no one else can go to, and speak a language I really couldn't speak before I got here has been amazing. I didn't know what to expect in Cuba and truly it defies expectations. Often I'm reminded of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Snow". The part that goes "The more I see the less I know, the more I have to let it go." Every time I thought I'd figured something out, I saw something else to completely throw off that conclusion. And the worst part is I don't want to let it go. I want to figure it out, but as we were so often told by Cubans, unless we were born there, and grew up there, we can't understand it. Even the people who did don't understand it.

So while I may not understand it I certainly won't forget it. I'll think more about the food I eat, the things I can buy, and I'll watch eagerly to see what Obama does and whether or not he opens up the borders. Which he should. I feel like I learned so much that I can't even begin to put it down here. Suffice to say that anyone who gets the change to have a similar experience should take it. It isn't easy. It's heartbreaking every day, but also uplifting and fascinating.

One of my favorite lessons? It doesn't matter what you wear. Wear anything. Wear stripes with polka dots. Wear plaids with flower print. Mix patters, mix colors, bedazzle it all and rock it. As long as you do it with confidence you can do anything. That lesson comes from the fabulous and fierce Cuban women who may not have a lot, but who can take on the world with what they've got.

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