The next day in Havana was relatively uneventful. I actually broke my mold and traveled with the group, I do try to be part of the reindeer games. First, a bar with, of course, another talented group of musicians, then on to the art market. I was expecting the usual market wares. Some art but mainly crafts and candles. I was wrong, very wrong. There in front of me was a half mile of little booths filled with actual art. Original works in every medium and style you could imagine. It was mind boggling. I had to walk up and down the path three times to even start to absorb the amount of talent I was witnessing. Pieces that would be hanging in galleries for thousands of dollars in America were just hanging on racks for forty dollars.
My first emotion was joy. I could afford a beautiful work of original art, a small twerk to my budget I could afford two. After the excitement passed the sense of something wrong started to settle in. Why? How could afford this? Cuba is such a beautiful and awe inspiring place the reality of it seeps in very slowly. In a way you don’t want to see it. You want to believe in this Mecca of art and beauty. That this place exists of music around every corner and feast for the eyes no matter where you look. As I walked the path the sadness started to seep through my joy. All these talented artists and musicians and they can’t do the one thing all artist strive for, to share their creations with the world. This sea of kind faces proudly showing me their amazing contributions to our dulled world. I could take these pieces home and share them with world but they can’t. They are stuck in this place only having access to us lucky few that make it to them. Cuba does support their arts, you are paid to just be an artist. Unfortunately, you are only paid a very small amount and you are confined to your area. Even if you never had the urge to leave your hometown imagine how it would feel if someone took away your freedom too? If your parents made sure you were educated and your creativity supported but locked you in your house and never allowing you to leave.
I don’t mean to put a damper on your excitement of traveling to this amazing country. You should see it and experience what it has to offer. I believe we need to see it all though. To try to see it through their eyes. Watching all of us fly in and fly out with bags full of their creations while they stumble back at the end of day lugging all their work home knowing that the there is a strong chance the only part of them that will ever leave is that rolled piece of canvas in the corner of my bag. Their hard work shoved between my shoes and underwear. I will go home and hang it on my wall and proudly show visitors my Cuban goodies. They will get up everyday and unpack and pack their pride hoping a tourist will appreciate it and provide them with some much needed extra income.
I could feel myself getting bogged down with these thoughts and knew I needed to try my hardest to not let the sad part erase all the pleasure that Cuba had to offer. Making myself remember that I could not single handily fix what was wrong but I could contribute to helping them live easier lives by going out and supporting them. Your tourist dollars are worth so much more to them. As they say I turned my frown upside down and put on my dancing shows. For a budget traveler like me Cuba is perfect. I could actually afford to go to a rooftop bar of glorious historic hotel and enjoy the sounds of cuban musicians while sipping a glass of wine. For a moment I could pretend I was a globe trotting trust fund baby. That moment was glorious and I should have held onto it longer.
As I watched the band and the dancers that weird sense of not belonging creeped its way in. I wish I had a come with a fun switch. A little flick and all other thoughts disappear and I would only be consumed by the joy of the moment. I don’t know if it was my personal struggles, the thoughts of people of Cuba or just pure irrational emotion but without any warning I just started to tear up. Here I was surrounded by joyful sounds and movements and I am crying. A important note if you want to feel less awkward in public situations breaking into tears is not how you do it. It especially does not help you get offers to dance. If their is one thing a man will avoid its an irrational woman crying at the bar. Who wouldn’t? Thats like going up to a hornets nest and poking it just to see what will happen.
A small solo walk later and my composure had returned. Most of our fellow travelers head back home, while us late night hooligans go out seeking another unique Cuban adventure. Luckily Kelli had gotten their before us so knew the lay of the land better and somehow found this hole in the wall bar with a one man show going on inside. As we sat outside at picnic tables watching a man with dance moves I could fathom ever getting my body to do, my peace set back in. Across form us was a park full of people. At home this park would be empty only with occasional homeless person finding a place to lay their head. This park was full. Full of people chatting, playing ball or just being. I had never seen a place that fit me so well. This lifestyle of late nights outside. Not partying just living. This was their freedom. The freedom to not live by 9-5 construct. To not spend your nights sitting on the couch watching Netflix. They go out into the world and experience each other. It is a beautiful sight to see, even if the reason can be seen as a sad one. Would they trade this for the creature comforts we all enjoy? I don’t know and I am sure they don’t either. I would like to believe if given the choice they would keep this community spirit and enjoy the freedoms we all take for granted. Cubans are people that should inspire us.
We ended our night driving through the Havana night in a classic convertible. The wind was refreshing and up lifting. This is it. This is what I need to do. I need to stop making their struggles my struggles. I need to enjoy this place they have built out of these struggles. No promises Cuba but I will try my damnedest to appreciate this gift you have kindly allowed me to peak into.