Jan 7 – 14 2020
Our trip to Cuba had been in the works for about a year or two. My father and uncle were born in Cuba along with the rest of their family. My Mima, Papi, uncle and father came to the states when my dad was 9 and uncle was 13. Ever since they left, neither one of them went back to Cuba. There were many obstacles keeping them from returning such as laws, the administration, emotional trauma, and fear.
As time went by, my family decided enough was enough—it is time for us to experience the stories that were once lived by my family. It was time to see first hand what molded my family into who they are today. In preparation for the trip, it never sank in that we were really going. I was not optimistic that the travel to and from would be so smooth. By the grace of the Lord and His provision, travel was seamless.
As I was praying for the trip, I asked God to use and open our hearts, as a family and individually, and allow us to experience something different. I prayed that we would have a transformative week there – spiritually and just humanly – that we would take it all in and be present and enjoy every moment.
We spent two nights in Santa Clara, the beach and Havana. Santa Clara was my family’s hometown.The hotel that we stayed in Santa Clara was right across from the park that my dad grew up spending a lot of his free time in. Imagining my dad and uncle as kids running around playing soccer in that park was a moment I will forever imagine.
Our first night, my uncle and dad’s cousin, Carlos (who is a radio broadcaster and is very well known in the town and community), met us for dinner at the hotel. It was very touching to see them reunite after 50 years of being apart. I do not think I could describe in words what I felt and witnessed at that time. It was as if time stood still for a second. The hugs and smiles didn’t stop.
On our first full day in Santa Clara, we walked to my family’s old house that they grew up in, which is now occupied by another family. When we asked to enter, they happily guided us inside where they repurposed the living area into a barber shop and where my grandma’s rocking chair still sits. When we walked through the home, a blind lady was sitting in the kitchen. She knew my Mima growing up – another surreal planned moment by God. She held our hands as my uncle introduced us as the grandchild of her old friend and our grandmother. Her teary eyes were beautiful and my uncle’s demeanor was overflowing with awe.
The two bedroom / one bath home which used to (and still does) hold chickens and pigs was all the same besides some newer furniture, faded paint, broken tiles, and cleaner floors. Walking through that house, I pictured my dad and uncle, as kids, chasing each other around in a home that seemed like a mansion, enjoying a life that they would no longer have to live. It would have been more surreal to have Mima and Papi with us. They would have been able to share even clearer stories.
These moments made me put my life in perspective. The things this house lacked, I take for granted every day.
As we walked out of the house, across the street, my dad and uncle recognized their old neighbors and school peers still living next door. They hugged and cried tears of joy for finally being reunited after 50 years. They reminisced on what life once was for my family in Cuba and what still remains the same for many.
The Lord planned for the family to be home and for their neighbors to be walking outside just as we were. It was an out of body experience, yet my whole body was feeling every emotion. One moment that was my ultimate favorite was hugging my dad on the porch as he cried on my shoulder. It was a precious moment.
The rest of our time in Santa Clara included stopping by the local ice cream shop, visiting the building Papi helped build, walking through my uncle and dad’s childhood school, driving by the bus station Papi worked at and the prison Papi spent the night in, walking in the park, touring museums, eating lots and lots of carbs and petting stray dogs until my hands were chard and black.
[Fun fact: Papi drove Hemmingway and the Old Man.]
The next two nights we spent at the beach relaxing, resting and reminiscing about the last couple days. My uncle really wanted to make sure we had a place to go and decompress from the culture shock as well as time to reflect.
I learned that toilet paper and any sort of paper products was very hard to come by. I also learned that each family is only given a certain amount of food from the government such as salt, rice, beans, and coffee – the rest they have to purchase out of pocket. The average amount someone is paid is 3 – 15 dollars per month. Hence, working a job that allows tips is key to surviving a healthy lifestyle in Cuba. In order to get a job at a resort, employees have to be bilingual to communicate with the guests. Cubans are allowed to stay at the resort, but they cannot afford it.
We spent our last two nights in the city of Havana. It was completely different from Santa Clara. There were more tall buildings, more nightlife, more music, but less dogs. Some of the alleys and restaurants reminded me of Europe. Havana even has a path in the middle of the street just for pedestrians which also reminded me of Las Ramblas from Barcelona. We toured Hemingway’s home and walked through a giant gallery warehouse.
Each day was a really good day. We came home with 5 bottles of rum, box of cigars, paintings, pictures, and memories that I never want to forget.
Papi and Mima – this trip was for you.