January 27, 2010
This is a blog that I am starting in Cancun, as I depart for 98 days in Cuba leading the Lewis & Clark College study program in Havana. I am not sure what the purpose of this blog is other than to force me, or encourage me to write down some observations about Cuba in 2010, and about the experience of being a leader of one of a handful of US study abroad programs.
Yesterday as I strolled the aisles of Office Depot where I was to buy toner for someone in Cuba, I kept thinking about all of the possible office supplies I might want in Cuba. Neon colored post-it notes, a small stapler, folders, pens, and highlighters all ended up in my basket because it was there, available and relatively cheap. The same story was true at Fred Meyer and Trader Joes where I loaded up on cliff bars, nuts, emergen-c, and other items that are impossible to come by on the island. The abundance of choice in the US versus the absence of choice in Cuba is one of the starkest differences that anyone who knows both places notices.
As I packed at night, Cubans from Portland who I know kept arriving with small packages for me to bring to their families: diabetes medicine, sunblock, $120. I had received a list of requests from my Cuban friends on the island: a hard drive, parmesan cheese, a shower curtain from Ikea, almonds, and vitamins. The random assortment of items requested from Cuba is as good a gauge as any as to the needs.
At the airport at 4:30 am in Portland, my assistant Brenda was not allowed on the plane because she is Peruvian and didn’t have a visa for Mexico. She headed for the consulate, and the rest of us took off on our journey, meeting up with students in Houston and then Cancun. The two guys sitting next to me on the plane were talking about how much they loved the all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica like Sandals, but one of them warned the other not to leave the resort or they would surely be mugged. I wondered what kinds of travel experiences these people had. Whatever it was, they loved it.
In Cancun, we checked into the Courtyard Marriot with its wifi, comfortable rooms and nice pool. The students and I took a public bus into town and ate a great meal at a Yucatecan restaurant. I kept thinking about how much food, ease of living and general luxury there was in a place like Cancun, and how that would mostly end once in Cuba. It is impossible to keep appreciating what we have when we have it. It is only once it is gone, that we really take notice.
The students all seem excited for this new adventure. I am also excited, but still wary of the tragic situation that Cuba finds itself in today. Cuba attracts me, and the students, but I always ask myself “what is it that I am being drawn to”?