Week one and then some of Cuba is officially done! It’s hard to believe that I have only been here for nine days, and it is even harder to believe that I only have 12 days left. Being here has warped my sense of time so much. Most of the time I do not even know what time it is or how much time has or has not passed. It’s crazy.
My classes at the University started on Tuesday. For my program, we are taking a Spanish class and a Cuban culture class. My Spanish class is a lot of fun. Our professor, Laura, is cool and hysterical. She encourages conversation as a form of learning, and while we do read and write some, the class is predominantly spoken. She’ll pause the conversation to have teachable moments and then we’ll keep going. We have a variety of nationalities in the class: American, Russian, Austrian, Lebanese (she also has lived in France and China), South Korean, Brazilian, and Australian. There are three Russians and two of them are twins. And when I say twins, I mean twins. These guys are 22 years old and dress exactly alike. I’m talking same shirts, same pants, same shoes, same belts, and probably same underwear. They also admitted to liking the same girl but apparently she chose Gabriel over Daniil. These two also like to try to point out the many different ways Russia is supposedly superior to the US. They tried to bash American football yesterday but I was not having it. So, I guess this class also helped me realize my passion for American football. The other day we had to describe where we come from and I described the South. After I was done, they wasted no time in asking about racism (“Because in Mississippi, you all are racists” – actual quote from Daniil) and gay marriage. After I talked about the Supreme Court decision from a few weeks ago, they showed their obvious distaste of it. But other than those two trying to start Cold War 2.0, the class is wonderful. The culture class is interesting too, but Manuel just drones on and on and on for three hours straight with no breaks. The other day we went to the Museum of the Revolution and it was very interesting to see. It is located in the old Presidential Palace and you can still see the bullet holes in the wall from July 26, 1957 when Fidel and his army of revolutionaries stormed the palace to overthrow Batista. There was also a random bust of Abraham Lincoln – the second statue I have seen of him. It was also interesting because it was very Cuban-sided and heavily biased (I expected nothing less) and made no mention of the Special Period, which started in 1990 after the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a time of extreme poverty so I guess they didn’t include it for pride reasons. They also had some very…interesting depictions of George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan that would not please many Americans. The people here love Americans, but the government has a different sentiment.
Yesterday we visited Viñales, which is the large farming region of Cuba. We had a really cool hop on, hop off bus tour and our guide was awesome. We didn’t get to see a tobacco farm but that was because no tobacco was being grown right now. We did get to see an Indian cave and little markets set up. We also saw the “Prehistoric wall” which is this HUGE mural that a student of Diego Rivera painted. It was a little touristy, but I did not mind very much since I knew that that was the way these people made actual money. Farming in Cuba, while extremely important, does not pay well here since 90% of the crops grown (and profits turned in markets) has to go to the government, leaving little for the farmers.
Yesterday, I tried my first cigar and it was not that bad. It was not a life-changing experience, but I was proud that I figured it out quickly and never inhaled (which you do not do with a cigar). It was a little strange since many people, at least where I come from, find it unattractive when women smoke, but here it is very common to see women walking around with huge cigars just hanging from their mouth, with smoke lightly rising from the end (and yes, I am bringing back cigars).
One of my favorite things about Cuba so far is the dancing culture. Salsa is huge here. I already kind of knew how when I came here, but we have been taking lessons and those have been a huge help. We have been taking salsa lessons from a professional dancer who lives across the street from us. She is very strict and speaks no English, but she’s a great teacher and her classes are so fun. I didn’t realize salsa dancing could be so technical, but I’m ready to head back to 1830 (a super popular salsa club) tonight and show off my new moves (or maybe not because one of my dance partners from last time asked me to be his girlfriend, to which I politely declined. Then he proposed marriage, to which I declined also). Another great thing about Cuba are the Maquinas, the community shared taxis. They cost 10 pesos moneda nacional, which is roughly 50 cents. Incredible how cheap things are here.
The one thing that puts me off a little bit is the catcalling culture that exists. Men are always on the street saying “Oh, linda muy linda! Tú eres mi novia, boniiiiitttaaaaa” (Oh, beautiful very beautiful! You are my girlfriend pretttttyyyyy). I have even heard the phrase Laura told us about in class: “Si cocinas como caminas, me como hasta la cazuela” which roughly translates to “If you cook as nice as you walk, you can come cook in my pot” or something like that. Kind of gross, but it’s the norm here I guess. I’m enjoying talking to locals here and also meeting people from all over the world. And what was crazy was that I even met a boy who lives just an hour north of Greenville while I was at a bar the other night. It’s crazy how the world works sometimes, especially in Cuba. I am staying safe and having a blast. Until next time, ¡Hasta luego!