So much about this trip, this country and this traveler is exactly as it was two years ago. I carry much of the same clothing, from my blue and orange dress to my running shoes, tinted pink from Cuba’s clay soil. I still thrive on books and music, and breaks to watch movies and television in order to feel grounded. I am constantly surrounded by people, which leads inevitably to crankiness as well as close friendships.
I cab everywhere now. In general, this trip is more expensive than the last, although I’m not always paying. It’s strange to me how rarely the students walk anywhere, and yet how often the complaints of heat and distance come. And yet, they barely drink their water.
We have an elevator, which has only broken a handful of times, and even then only for a couple of hours. We also only live on floors two, three and four, making the trek to the 14th floor penthouse seem unimaginable. And while we’re on the topic of the penthouse, it couldn’t have been more of a misnomer. Here the water is hot, there are no ants, and the lights work. Rooms are only shared by two people, and each has its own bathroom with shower. But then again, there is no balcony (the biggest crime in my book), and the bed and pillow situation is equally crummy.
While I have a much higher volume of food, more meat, and much more chicken, I still miss the good homemade touches. Fresh, homemade jugo de mango, guayava, pina or watermelon used to accompany every breakfast and most dinners. We also used to have access to a fridge, which meant leftovers were an option. I also miss black beans on the side, when they’re all soupy.
This group seems younger, but I think I’m just older. Mostly 19 or 20, with a couple over 21, they have about the same age spread as my group back in 2010. Only a couple of them have gone on dates with Cubans, but there are rumblings of various couples within the group, which is common on Dialogues. Unfortunately, so is breaking up wordlessly as soon as they return home. We’ll see how that goes.
The biggest difference is that the majority of this group patently does not care about Cuba and does not want to learn about it. That has been hard for me to see. I want to be a resource, and some ask me questions, seek out Cubans, and do their best to learn as much as they can. Many, though, didn’t complete the required reading, fall asleep in class and complain when they are expected to do anything other than take photos.
It’s been difficult for me to watch students drink and sleep their way through Havana, photographing foreigners who they think are Cuban, or Latin tourists who they assume are Cuban. But for the group that has really dug in, their photos are better, their connections stronger, and conversations more interesting.