Havana, Cuba Dec. 20 - Dec. 23

Thanks to newly organized direct flights from JFK to Havana, my brothers and I decided to embark on a holiday getaway to Cuba, a destination at the top of my wishlist.

The only word that comes to mind when describing our arrival is surreal. Very few places on earth share such an intriguing, and complicated relationship with the United States, and the overall simplicity of the trip was striking given the length of our metaphysical journey that seemingly transported us back in time.

Cuba Libre

When asked to summarize what I thought of Havana by a local, the immediate description that came to mind, was raw beauty. Commonly referred to as a living ruin, Havana to me, was much more. As complicated as the most eloquent literary device strewn with choppy phrasing, the city truly is one of a kind.

The photo above is by far my favorite photo from our trip. To me it means so much, and was the best encapsulation of what made Cuba so special, the people. From restaurants, to taxi drivers, to street musicians, to our AirBnB host, everyone displayed a genuine sense of welcome and warmth that can be viewed in this gentlemen's smile. A cynic, might brush this aside, instead, believing that we were just easy marks for skilled musicians, offering the same treatment to every passerby. To be honest, I would be that cynic and I would have been dead wrong. In Cuba, faced with daily adversity, and a lack of, well, pretty much everything. The people were fuller than many with much more.

One of the conversations that sticks with me the most from our brief stay, was when our host was lauding the coming boon in tourism, I paused, before stating half-jokingly, that he should be careful what he wished for, and that all Havana needed, was a large increase in infrastructure spending. "Hotels and tourists will ruin this place," I said. This was selfish. Of course, it was easy for me to say, I could simply jet off whenever I wished, back to grocery stores, electricity on demand, and many other comforts that are taken for granted. Comforts that many Cubans have yet to experience. However, it was also honest, and great care should be taken to balance the desperate economic needs, while continuing to maintain the genuine authenticity that was so plain to see after only three short days.

One last thing that took me by surprise, was how proud many of Cuba's citizens were of their government and way of life, and yet, those clear, and distinct ideological differences, did not shape one single interaction we had while visiting. After arriving back home in the United States in time for Christmas, a family member stated, "I bet they were all so happy, now that Fidel is dead." I remained silent, astonished, and tempted to point out the ignorance of this statement. So quick we are to assume that our way of living, is THE correct one, that we dismiss anything different. Yes, many Cubans were likely relieved when Fidel passed. Yet, many more were grieving, and you know what? That is okay! Differing viewpoints, and opinions, should be celebrated, not dismissed; and there is not only one acceptable way to live life. This line of thinking is needed here in the United States, more than ever, and in a time when Cuba will be looking to the U.S. to export our vast industry, we should not overlook the lessons that we could learn, from our younger sibling in the Atlantic.

Drew Millum

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