Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Loving Life in Old Havana

Along the "Malecón", just outside of Old Havana.
Some of the most interesting experiences and interactions I witnessed were on the streets of Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. It would be difficult to walk through the district without smiling at least once. There are children chasing puppies around, men eating ice cream together on sidewalks, performers on stilts, vendors selling old books, outdoor orchestras, art, and music. The city is lively. People aren't rushing to get anywhere; they're just enjoying life.

One of the streets in Old Havana. 

Young boys go for a swim on the "Malecón".

A puppet show on one of the streets of Old Havana.
Churros outside the Chocolate Museum!
That seemed to be a consistent part of Cuban life, enjoying it. The Cuban people are some of the best people I've met. They want to know everything about you: where you came from, how long you'll be in Cuba, what your home country is like, what you think about Cuba. Some people even start conversations with you on the street. They welcome you. They offer to show you around. A couple of times, we were invited to parties. The best part about this was the genuine kindness that we witnessed and were a part of. Of course, you have to be careful of people who might be trying to sell you something or take you to a second location, but most of the time these people just wanted to get to know you; no second agenda.

Probably a big part of why they were so interested in us was because the country was only just starting to open up to tourists when we went. They were probably very curious about the differences between our countries and theirs, between our lives and theirs. But I think the very nature of their curiosity and genuine kindness was their culture and personalities. I loved learning about how many kids they had, what they did for a living, and their favorite artists that they listen to.

But along with these friendly interactions, were also heartbreaking ones. People were open to talking about their lives, but sometimes, if we weren't in a public place, they would reveal to us stories about their family members living in the United States that they haven't seen for years or their willingness to watch an NBA game. Of course, everyone is different. Some people love the United States, some are hostile towards it, but I think it was important for us to hear these stories.

Walking through the streets of Old Havana, I learned lessons about appreciating the little things, loving one another, and staying positive during tough times. The Cuban people have been through so much, but they continue to have an unbreakable spirit. I admire and I aspire.

Every Friday, an orchestra would play classic songs outside. Beautiful music!

Sculptures like this are all over the city. 

Love these dogs! Each one was unique and painted by a local artist.

We had to stop and play with this little one!

Outdoor book market, one of my favorite parts of the city.

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