Blogging has been very difficult, so below are my journal entries from the last few days:
June 24, 2016
A lot of pages of notes from Professor Roberto Zurbano who took great risks in his presentation on race and equality in Cuba. I’m actually going to have to spend a bit of time processing the presentation; I really want to find some of his scholarly work to read. I can’t quite talk about it all now other than to say that he mentioned an incredible women-led group of popular educators who work in the neighborhoods outside of Havana that I really have to get to know.
We had lunch at La Chucherría Sport Bar on the Malecón. Just light with a salad and such.
After that we went to the Casa de Africa where we learned about the cultural exchanges between Cuba and countries in Africa (Cuba, from what I understand, has the most African embassies of any country outside of the continent). I expected to learn about the depth of African influences on the Cuban culture, but the emphasis was on the history of slavery in Cuba and the persistence of religious traditions that came from Africa and became syncretic in Cuba, such as Palo Monte and Santería. It was strange to see representations of orishas in a museum, staged on mannequins with no exploration. It was an entrance into the culture and religion, but there was so much that remained surface. I have to note that it slightly unnerved me to hear questions that still revealed a surface investigation, a search for a pat answer to consume or share with others. After the museum tour, we went across the way to a building formerly owned by a Spanish slave owner but now used for cultural exhibits. There a predominately woman-led group of musicians, dancers, santeros introduced us to the dance. It’s so complicated for me. With chants and drums, they called out Elegguá, then Yemayá, then Ogún, and Oyá, and Oshún. Each called and danced in styles typical of their presences. Of course, this was a tourist presentation, this was not a true ceremony, but still, it had a sacred meaning. It was actually interesting to look at my pictures later and saw disjointed shadows on those dancers who I felt had most called spirit, even if it was a small revelation.
After the presentation, Mami and I attempted to get to the Museo del chocolate, but it seemed that everyone was there. We ended up going to the bar where Hemingway once hung out to meet Norma, Elizabeth (our site leader)’s long time friend and colleague who she was introducing to José because of her expertise in sociology (if I remember correctly), and then just to have a drink. Eventually, Elizabeth came over to sit with us, and we exchanged story after story after story.
After that, we found a restaurant by the first plaza of Old Havana. SO much food! I think this trip has solidified that the weight that I should lose will not be lost any time soon. The conversation was incredibly good. Religion, spirit, sacred art, conferences, information about the Cuban visa process, visits with world leaders and writers, etc. All was on the table. I need to find out more about the conference that Norma holds every few years, a women’s international conference. I would LOVE to return to Cuba. I am also interested in going back to Puerto Rico.
Tomorrow we go to Pinar del Rio and Las Terrazas; Sunday, we go to Matanzas and Varadero.
June 25, 2016
I’m a little tired today so I’m just going to do bullet points:
New driver (Reynaldo) and new guide, Irwin
Trip to Pinar del Rio and Las Terrazas
Lots of music and cocktails
Café María cofee (Café Las Terrazas, a patented drink)
gifts from local artisans
Time by the river and then the rain came
Tired tired tired
Chat with Silvia (who did so much work today to make our stay so comfortable)
Met her daughter who is very cute
A little rest
Dinner with Mami and José at Decameron
Drinks at the Riviera
Tried to contact Matteo with no connection
Lots of emails for work.
It was an early day again today. We forgot to update Silvia that we would be leaving at 8 and so could eat at 7am. Amazing woman that she is, she had breakfast ready at 6am and only knocked on my door around 6:40, worried that we would miss our 7am bus.
We had a short chat this morning, Micki, Mami and me. Just sharing stories about my wedding, food stories, stories about the best collard greens.
We made it down to the bus in time to learn that we would need our passports to enter the hotel. No one told us why until we were just about to arrive. We needed our passports because lunch was included as were drinks, full beach and pool access, at an all inclusive hotel in Varadero. Unfortunately, since none of us in the group knew about the passports many had to go back to get them, which added about an hour on to the trip with folks going to get what they needed.
I didn’t take much register of the way to Matanzas Province as I had taken a Benadryl. I’ve been bitten by plenty of mosquitoes while here. Two bites in particular have become quite red and swollen. I’m allergic to everything. I took the Benadryl to help … I haven’t been this exhausted by them in quite a while. I had to rest and sleep for most of the way, but by the time that we got to Varadero, I was back to myself.
The hotel was nice enough: place to change money, open bar, place to buy wifi cards, buffet for lunch (basic Cuban fare), and the most beautiful white sands and bright blue sea. Who cares about the rest when there was the sea that was perfect and warm, chilling only just a bit after walking to the depth of my neck. The waves were kind and not too unwieldy. I could lay back and float, wade with my sunglasses on, and chat with folk.
Will I try to plan a class to come to Cuba? For teachers in training or for writers to partner with NGOS as I am doing in Kenya? Will I pursue research in the motivation of teachers to teach (perhaps different depending on the generation in the inspiration in the profession)? What is the gender distribution in fields and professions? Who is in leadership? Who gets paid more and how? What is there to know of the conflict within public and private tourism, the colonialism of tourism and our participation within that system (as noted by one of the speakers, the “new plantation system”)? How do we unpack this participation in social inequity while trying to learn about social inequity?
All this, and yet, I had a good time with new friends and enjoyed seeing my mother wading in the waters a bit. I saw the goodness in scholars like Brandon, who carried drinks back to others on the beach. I saw walls come down in sun, sand, water. More natural smiles. Ease of conversation.
Later, there was commentary from some that there was disappointment with CIEE, that the trip today did not have the rigor that was desired … but this was said by someone who had stayed in the hotel lobby and used the internet. While the day was not structured formally for intense conversations, there were various moments when presentations were discussed and considered in terms of our own work. It was in one of those conversations that I even more deeply considered what it would be to do research here on the lives of teachers … or found myself returning to the idea of a setting up a DoDEA placement program to support troops transitioning to be teachers, one which has been on my mind since I left DoDEA 5 years ago. It saddened me to think that not everyone was able to find those moments and to relish them. Structure is good in a program, but I think we have to make our own ways as well. I just wish that we had, as a group, gotten a chance to more deeply get to know one another before coming to Cuba.
We left the hotel very early, around 4:30pm when all was said and done (had to turn in towels, retrieve passports, etc). There was a move to mobilze the group to go to Buenavista Social Club tonight but at 30 CUCs for the performance and 50 including dinner, it was too pricey for me. Mami and I ended up going to the Riviera for dinner (where no one came to serve us so we left), then just using the wifi briefly before going to Tablazos for a meal (I thought it would be light, but it ended up being quite heavy).
And then home along the Malecón.
Tomorrow there are two presentations: Cuban economy and Biotechnology in Cuba. I’m hoping to go to the center for writers after that on the way home. I think I’ll have an afternoon nap and then go out with Mami to La Fabrica for music.
Tuesday: public policy and social welfare (I’m actually really interested in learning more about how housing is assigned and how elders age in place here) and an afternoon lecture on the Cuban Health System
Wednesday: Work in Cuba today; lunch at a cooperative restaurant; visit at The Revolution Museum; dinner at home with our host family; salsa with José.
Thursday: “What Now” workshop with the seminar leader and certificate ceremony; lunch at Santa Barbara; and a free afternoon to buy souvenirs and pack.
Friday morning: Early morning departure to Miami and then two days there, before home home home to my amazing husband.
June 27, 2016
Today there were two lectures: Cuban economy with Dra. Dainelis Ojeda and Biotechnology with Dr. Manuel Raíces.
We started the morning in the first salon, the one where we have been for all of our time, but there was another university group coming today that was larger than ours. We were moved to another air-conditioned room, Salón 4, that had an extreme echo because of the tile and concrete in the room. Perhaps this normally wouldn’t be a problem, but for a group of Americans (we were excessively loud with seemingly no concern for modulating our volume to be less disruptive), that space was way too distracting. I was quickly overwhelmed by the bouncing sounds there and the desire of some within the group to ask questions, many unrelated to the topic of the first lecture, more so to hear themselves talk than to actually inquire into an area the speaker had identified. It was made worse by unofficial translators offering their alternate translations of the speaker who went back and forth between Spanish and English. Many kept asking questions that were off topic for which the speaker was not prepared. Though she was prepared to give a lecture in English, she ended up going back and forth in the first part of the section mostly because of the presumptive inquisition of the participants. This, the bouncing noise, the off-topic questions, etc. had me especially on edge as we went to lunch … a lunch to which I did not want to go.
With 25 people dining, it is always a drama, a long wait for food. While the food was good, the bathroom was a bit of a challenge (a roach sighting, one working sink, toilets that didn’t flush, no paper though the lack of toilet paper is a norm). I found myself participating in few conversations simply from being overwhelmed with the size of the group. There was so little time to decompress a bit.
After arriving late to a lecture – we are always late for the afternoon lecture or programming because of the size of the group – we were introduced to Dr. Manuel Raices, a scientist in Cuba in the biotechnology field. It was an incredible presentation that had all of us totally focused, particularly when he spoke of the advancements in Cuba in the field, particularly in care for diabetic patients. It was to the point that my mother, a diabetic, spoke of returning to Cuba, should the need arise, for care. I really have to share some of the notes, because it was really incredible some of the advancements. For example, in just a few years, Cuba has almost eliminated Hep B infections, with only 16 cases in this past year. They have even developed a therapeutic vaccine that cures 50% of cases. As Dr. Raices noted, controlling Hep B has a huge effect on controlling for liver cancer. His research into the implications on spending and health outcomes for diabetic patients who receive injections to eliminate the need for amputations was remarkable. He has a conference coming up that involves inviting scholars and doctors from all over the world. Seriously, I’m thinking about personally sponsoring the airfare of a scholar to attend the conference because of his passionate presentation and appeal for support on multiple levels (from conference sponsorship to appealing to US political representatives to allow for US-Cuba medical partnerships). It was an incredible presentation, one that definitely made me think of the impact that a socialist ideology can have on working towards the health of all people rather than our capitalist system, which looks at the primary goal of making money more so than the health of citizens.
After this session, we had another debriefing session in which participants were invited to talk about who they were and what they do again. It was strange as we are 7 days into the program and this was called for because some within the program don’t know names. It was an awkward exchange for me and one which seemed to be a waste of time. My thought is that if a person in the group does not feel connected to one or many then they should make the effort to get to know those persons in the group. It was frustrating to have time that I would have rather spent walking to a Cuban organization, UNEAC (a center for artists and writers), to connect there spent on connecting with some who were calling for the overture of connection (a list of names and qualifications in the 7th day of a program) rather than deep understanding. It was also frustrating that we were called together to capitulate to that aim, and even in sharing details of ourselves, not everyone was listening and some were using that opportunity to toot their own horns rather than connect.
I told Mami and José that I don’t think that I can do another group lunch. Even with Roberto, the scholar who shared his reflections on race, coming tomorrow for lunch, I don’t think that I can do it; I’m going to try to go to UNEAC at lunch and make it back to the lecture in the afternoon on time. I’ll probably ride ith the group to California Cafe on 19, between N and O, and just walk from there. From there I should have about 8 blocks of a walk rather than a taxi ride. I might just walk to the Cafe afterwards and ride with the group back. I am very much looking forward to the morning lecture on public policy and social welfare and the afternoon lecture on the Cuban Health System.
After today’s sessions, we took the bus home. I had a short rest before Mami and I went to meet José at 1830, a club for salsa dancing at 7:30 … unfortunately, it’s only open for dancing on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Since we were already out, we ended up going to a nearby bar for drinks and light fare, watching the locals dance and watching the sun go down. A little magic and release from all the extra noise and overwhelming amount of information.
Tomorrow: lecture on public policy and social welfare with Dr. Daybel Panellas; lunch time ride with the group and late lunch somewhere else; afternoon lecture on the Cuban Health System with Dra. Yoandra Adela. After that, I want to post these reflections and then head home for a little rest before meeting José for dance at 8:30pm at 1830 Club. We might head to La Fábrica del Arte (a place for music) afterwards. We will see.
I wish that I was staying in Cuba a few extra days to really get to go to the literary venues and also connect with teachers. I would have liked to do school visits.
June 29, 2016 12:15am
I just returned from a wonderful evening out with José at Club 1830 on the Malecón, which was lovely. I haven’t known someone as interested in dance, other than my in-laws, in quite a long time, so it was nice to just talk about style and connection from observation … and also just enjoy dancing ourselves.
The day started with a lecture at CEM on public policy, but really social policy. What I especially loved from the professor was the emphasis on using film as a way of understanding the contemporary and historical context and her research methodology of using drawings and the imagination as an indicator of perceptions of reality. So interesting in fact that I wanted to know more about her research with students as a social psychologists and the limits on her research.
After the lecture, I had intended on ditching the lunch, but I was convinced to stay on. I should have followed my first inclination and gone to UNEAC. I’m actually not sure when I will be able to head over now. One of the greatest opportunities for learning about the special period was had at the lunch, just listening to Ana Elena’s stories of her work as a professor and teacher. It was incredible to hear more about how she and her family persisted through that time. I also got a chance to give my poetry book, sombra, to Roberto who had come to the lunch with a representative from the women’s organization outside of Havana. Turns out that he knows many of the same writers that I do in the New York area. His wife is also a poet. I’m hoping that we might be able to connect more deeply through common interests and perhaps that he might consider coming to Saint Mary’s when next he is in the States.
The lunch itself was a horror in that we were again sat at large tables in a restaurant that was not prepared for such a large group and we as a group produced so much that I literally found myself going hoarse just trying to talk to those around me. Unfortunately, as I had sat at an inside table, I was unable to change my choice and go to another place. We also ended up being, of course, a half hour late for the afternoon lecture.
When we arrived, we found the professor waiting and José quietly playing the piano in the space, one that may very well have been played by José Martí himself or those in his family. Small joys.
The professor and presentation on healthcare in Cuba were both very interesting, particularly when she talked about aging in Cuba and the lack of preparedness in the country for the coming rise of elders in the population, particularly around the issues of accessibility and mobility. I told Mami that this is probably an immense opportunity for her and Papi, that she could be a consultant and Papi, a medical translator. I’d actually be interested in helping them to set such a relationship up with a university or healthcare partner. I really think that Cuba would be a great place to do a 3 month or so consultation. I don’t think that I could have a role in that work, but I think that both of my parents would very much enjoy being in the country. It would also be amazing for them to stay in a house stay again, perhaps one that is more like a separate apartment (as José has) and go from there. That way, they would have the structure of a host family, a built in local network, but also have some independence so as to maintain their lifestyle.
After the presentation, Mami and I came back to the house. Really, it was me that wanted the rest. We hung around until around 6:30, when we headed with Micki to the hotel to get some rum and cigars. After that, we dropped off that stuff and then headed out again to get dinner; unfortunately Mami felt ill so we never made it to dinner (it’s now 12:30am and I just realized that I never ate dinner). We ended up sitting on a bench. Eventually, Micki happened to be passing by and stopped to see us, which was very handy, as I was especially worried about my mother. She ended up just needing a place to sit, but I was worried about her being able to get to the house though it was less than a block’s walk away. I am really going to be bothering her about her health when we get back to the States.
After a little rest, we went back to the house, and Mami had a rest. I left her at around 8:20 to meet José. She was insistent that I should go out and not stay in to watch over her. This time I went out as she did look better.
I met José at CEM and after a brief wait for others we had invited, we headed out to the club, which was lovely. 5 CUCs to enter, free bag check, great music, and even a rumba show. Mostly younger crowd there (late teens to mid-20s), but ages up to mid-50s present and dancing. Definitely enjoyed the space, particularly being right by the sea. Drinks were around 3 CUCs (we only had mojitos) and a taxi for the both of us back was 8 CUC. All in all not bad on money and a great time over all.
Plan for tomorrow and Thursday:
Wednesday: Work in Cuba today; lunch at a cooperative restaurant; visit at The Revolution Museum; craft market; salsa with José (5-6pm); dinner at home with our host family (6:30 or so)
Thursday: “What Now” workshop with the seminar leader and certificate ceremony; lunch at Santa Barbara; and a free afternoon to buy souvenirs, go to UNEAC, and pack.
I wish I was going to be in Cuba for at least another month as there is really so much to see and do and so many potential partnerships … but I also really miss my husband and I am excited to talk to him on Friday and see him on Sunday. God willing, I get tenure and, when I apply, that I get a sabbatical. This would definitely be a great place to see again.
June 29, 2016 around 10:43pm
I had wanted to post my blog this evening but the day went too quickly.
It started with a lecture from Dr. Ricardo Torres on work and the economy. Very interesting to learn more about the current trends in the economy and his opinion on the need for the government to open up more opportunities for private businesses as a way of reversing the current decreasing trend of active involvement in the formal labor market. I definitely took a lot of notes on the session.
After that, we went to a cooperative restaurant in Old Havana that was definitely the best of the restaurants. We sat at smaller tables. The food was quick in arriving and good. There were musicians there, and because of the size of the venue, the people could be loud with voices and still not have to shout over one another.
The one thing, and really important, that I didn’t like was that the bus driver Rafael and our tour guide/translator Ana Elena were not considered part of the group and only got seats once Elizabeth, the CIEE representation/organizer, insisted. I was not pleased by that at all, and it’s another recommendation that I will make to CIEE to not separate the group in such a way.
After the lunch, we all had coffees, which for me was not a good idea. My stomach was not very happy after that, which persisted when we went to the Museum of the Revolution (lots of history there and a beautiful building). I ended up leaving the group a little early to return to the bus because of that. We ended up going to the artsesanos to see crafts people. I bought some dominoes and Mami bought a T-shirt for Papi. After that, we were done, because we were being called to a little too much. It was overwhelming. Luckily, the bus waited there for a bit, so we were able to take the bus back. Mami also wasn’t feeling very well and my stomach was still upset. The convenience of returning back in the bus definitely helped.
When we returned to the house, Mami and I chatted with Silvia, met her mom (Rosario who is also an academic), had a rest. At 6, we all gathered the items that we had assembled for the household. We then went out to chat with the family and have conversation: we talked about “Inside Out”, the Special Period, the neighborhood, lizards (Mami saw one in her bathroom), Sofia (Silvia’s daughter), cooking (there was a great dish they served, kind of a pumpkin puree, which was awesome), malanga, the sessions with CEM and CIEE, the difficulty of travel to the US and customs, emergency care here (one hospital is not so good, it seems), stray animals, one of the previous visitors who became a good friend of Silvia (Carly in Denver, who is trying to get back, though it is very expensive. She’s applying for a program that would have her here for something like 8 months). We talked about all the jobs Misael has had and his constant work on repairing cars, keeping an old car, a Frankenstein, running. We also shared stories of home and family. Over dinner we watched some TV shows and chatted over the series that they watch (many American and British: Saving Hope, Perception, Downtown Abbey, Forever. A Brazilian telenovela as well. On that note, I’ve been watching one, SOS mi hombre, which I haven’t understood totally). Unfortunately, the baby developed a fever and was not feeling well at all.
We ended up giving Silvia the items we brought: notebooks, pens, toilet papers, bath wash, shampoos and conditioners, a blue dress I gave her that I brought down that I had never worn, medical supplies/first aid kits, umbrellas, bug spray, sunblock, etc. Things that they can use. Definitely appreciated, as we appreciated the AMAZING meal that they made for dinner (carrot and green bean salad; congri; frituras de malanga; the pumpkin puree; chicken breast).
Tomorrow, I’m finally going to go to UNEAC after our work session. We have a discussion tomorrow morning at CEM to process our lessons and to think about next steps. After that, there is a lunch, but I’m not going. I’m going to just head to UNEAC and get some lunch around there. After spending a few hours, I’m going to head back, maybe to the local hotel to enjoy wifi for a bit. I really would like to post my blog entries, but who knows? I may have to wait until Miami.