Written by Aashna, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Cuba, Summer 2019
During my first few days in Havana, I was absolutely enthralled with the culture and vibrancy of the city. Sure, I was nervous about being in a new place with new people, but my complete adoration of my surroundings washed away any anxiety I held. I marveled at the tall, magnificent buildings that represented the influence of foreign countries, at the shimmering water beyond the Malecón, but most of all at the genuine joy and friendliness of the Cuban people. I was in awe; how could a nation that has undergone so much political and economical hardship have so many people that were this genuinely happy?
Truly, Cubans are some of the most joyous people I’ve met. One particular memory stands out in my head of an old man we encountered in a park outside of the Casa de los Abuelos we had visited. We had just finished our site visit for the day, and we stepped out of the building to the sound of singing accompanied by guitar. I turn my head to see the old man cheerfully belting his tune and skillfully playing his guitar. He had a rich, soulful voice that sounded absolutely beautiful, and the biggest, most jubilant smile, thoroughly enjoying himself as he sang. I couldn’t help but to smile as well as I watched him play, and when he caught my gaze, his smile became even bigger. I could see the sparkle in his eyes and the joy in his wrinkles, and I remember thinking to myself “That man is beautiful.” And really, he was! I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who just radiated positivity the way he did- even in that brief exchange my heart felt just a little more full, a little more cheerful.
I think being surrounded by this energy of joy during my month abroad will inspire me to spread the same in my own community. These brief but meaningful moments of happiness that the Cuban people shared with me; whether it be dancing with strangers of a different culture as we did in Chinatown, to having conversations with new people and forming that moment of connection, to even simply smiling at strangers on the street- they are moments I will carry in my heart for many years, and memories I will look to when I want to contribute the same joy to my community. If anything, my time in Cuba has taught me that even people that may seem your opposite can share a small moment of connection with you, and you may discover you have more in common than you thought.
Thank you to everyone- my peers, my teachers, my tour guide, and many others- who have helped me to to learn and grow during my time abroad. I truly couldn’t have done it without you.