Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cuba: My First Reactions

We heard the pilot's voice come onto the intercom announcing that we would land in just a few minutes. I looked across my fellow student out the window of the plane and saw the green, flat land below. I took a picture of the agriculture, eager to interact with it.

Our first sight of land from the airplane.

Before putting everything back into my backpack, I reached for my Spanish dictionary one last time. I don't know if "dictionary" is the right word for it. It was called "Hide This Spanish Phrase Book" and my mom gave it to me when I first started learning Spanish. The book included useful things from simple greetings to phrases to use when flirting with someone to curse words to yell at people. Luckily, I never had the opportunity to use one of those sections to yell at someone. Nevertheless, I flipped through the pages, worried about the upcoming Spanish placement test that I would have to take once I arrived and whether I had forgotten my Spanish since my last Spanish class, which was six months ago.

Suddenly, I felt vibrations as the plane's wheels touched the ground. Everyone but the students in my group clapped and cheered. Haven't they ever been on a plane before?, a little voice asked in my head. And then it occurred to me. It must have been a while since they've been back. They must not have seen their families. I'm coming here for the first time, but they're coming home.

Someone in our group tells us to look out the window to our right. I reach across my neighbor again and see the big, blue words on the side of the José Martí Airport building: PATRIA ES HUMANIDAD. Homeland is humanity. This would be the first of many signs that we would see along streets and across buildings. That sign was a sort of wake-up call for all of us: we were not in the United States anymore.

"Patria es humanidad"
After going through the long lines of immigration and security and locating all of our bags, we walked out of the doors of the airport into the bright, hot street. It wasn't the bright sun that caught my attention, but the bright, red 1950's automobile parked across the street from us. There it sat, almost welcoming us to the culture and history of this new place. I promised a car-obsessed friend of mine that I would take pictures of any cars that I found fascinating. I knew then that I would not have a hard time finding them.

The first of many photos of classic cars.

We boarded our van and left the airport for a tour of the city. As we passed signs about the homeland, images of Fidel Castro and José Martí, and the local people going about their day, I knew this would be unlike any experience I have ever had.

All of my years of traveling to other countries was no longer applicable. Typically when I visited somewhere, there would be moments where I have seen something or gone through something similar. I knew how to deal with people. I knew how to detect when a situation wasn't right. I knew the best way to haggle. I knew the best ways to get around. There was something different about this place. As if all of my previous experience and knowledge that I picked up over the years suddenly vanished and I was starting out fresh. But I didn't cling to these experiences and beg them not to go. I felt a sort of satisfaction with this oblivion. That I was ready to experience this place with a clear mind. That I was ready for Cuba.

Stay tuned for more stories about Cuba!

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