How can I possibly sum up a 5 day trip to Cuba, a country that up until recently was the “forbidden fruit” for US citizens. That in and of itself is what made me want to go there. My childhood impressions of Cuba came from seeing Ricky Ricardo on the “I Love Lucy” show and watching the Cuban Missile Crisis play out in my living room on our
TV set. What I saw as a child, was enticing with its music and its passion, and threatening, all at the same time.
I had an opportunity to join a group of travel writers who were traveling to Cuba, on a “people to people” program. The purpose of the trip was to make cultural connections with the people of the country through various planned interactions. As a “people shooter” and a photographer who is drawn to capturing the spirit of a place” through my visuals, I knew I had to go to Cuba at a time when the country was on the brink of change.
We had a lot of interesting experiences as a group and I had many more on my own exploring the streets of old Havana and walking along the Malecon. The people were open to being photographed, – that was my experience. When I’m street shooting and I come upon people that I want to photograph, initially I approach the situation in a candid way. After I take a few shots, I will engage the person and proceed to shoot more. Our interaction is usually natural and seamless, even though we don’t speak the same language. We communicate in another way.
One day we met with a student at the University of Havana. He spoke about the day that President Obama met with President Raoul Castro in Panama. He said that all around the University, students and professors stopped what they were doing to watch the event on TV. As he told the story, his eyes filled with tears. He spoke of hope for his family, his people and his country and looked forward to the “embargo” being lifted so that Cuba can move forward. But he was also mindful of the potential downsides that come with rapid change.
Early on in our trip, we were driving through one of Havana’s neighborhoods that had been built during the “American years” and our guide said; “These are the good buildings built by the bad people”. As I look back at my interactions with the Cuban people, I hope that I had an impact on how they perceive Americans.
The Cuban people give true meaning to the word “resolve”. They’ve had over a half a century of practice. I will surely return to Cuba and see what’s yet to come in this country’s story.