I love people, who in spite of exceptionally difficult circumstances, choose to rise above their situation and live each day with zest. Even though the obstacles they face can be disheartening, fatiguing and seemingly endless, some folks choose to focus on the blessings they have been given instead of the ones they still wish to receive.
Despite a daunting environment they remain dauntless!
If you want a refresher course on how to manifest this behavior in your own life, head over to Cuba, they will show you what a joyous heart really looks like. Cubans live with a vibrant vitality I have rarely come across in all my travels. I will forever adore them for reminding me irrelevant of what happens throughout each day, I can still be enthusiastic and sweet when it comes to dealing with others.
Look, I am used to traveling in poor countries. As we say in the states, this isn’t my first rodeo! So much so it has fostered a keen awareness of how good life is for those of us living in developed countries versus underdeveloped countries. Being humbled when in the midst of poverty is not a new experience; nor one that I have ever grown immune to no matter how many times I immerse myself in it.
What never ceases to amaze me is how certain societies rise above the fray as a group; gather their collective energy and form an unwritten agreement to lift one another up by sheer collective will. And the weapons they use to wage this daily battle are warm smiles, sincere greetings, intimacy, laughter and acceptance. The simplest of tools to fight the most overwhelming of enemies!
Let’s face it – being poor sucks! Depending on what country you are poor in greatly changes how crappy “sucks” means. Trust me, being poor in a western country is a walk in the park compared to being poor in other countries. Conversely, sometimes being poor in certain underdeveloped countries is more tolerable due to the way in which all the residents interact. It’s all about support systems.
In particular, I found Cubans have this magical matrix of factors worked out to such a splendid degree of cooperation it was not just fascinating, but marvelously endearing. Further, it functions as the foundation for their entire society and why it works, even though they have been stuck in a time freeze for 50 years.
If you’re a college student studying business and you truly want to understand what the idea of networking is really all about you need to write an economic thesis on Cuban culture. At its basic level, networking is about finding others whom need your expertise, skill and/or service and subsequently working out a trade. Why are Cubans so good at it?
Because they can’t simply purchase their way through problems! Stores don’t carry very much of anything and Amazon doesn’t deliver. You have to fabricate it, or know someone who knows someone else who knows a guy who has a cousin who can. And you better be nice to every person serving as a connection between you and the cousin or your problem may not get solved very soon.
As they say, you get more bees with honey. Cash is indeed still King here, as it is in all lands. But when the majority of folks don’t have a lot of cash with which to barter, they better find another currency that brings value. Thus, kindness is often the best currency when cash is as elusive as air conditioning!
Did I say it’s hot here?
You never know who you will need to call upon down the road when a problem arises, so best not alienate anyone in town should an event arise wherein you need their help. Piss off the wrong person, or the relative of the wrong person, and even if you do have cash you still may find yourself without a solution to your problem. If only one guy in town can fabricate a certain type of metal part to retrofit your 1936 Ford Far lane you certainly don’t want to find out you refused to help his sister out one time long ago.
Throughout all my interactions with locals and the usual “it’s fascinating to watch people from other culture’s interact” time spent I noticed they not only network daily like champions, they have mastered doing so without guile. They are genuinely sincere in the way they greet one another on the streets. It’s such a delight to watch.
The way these folks exchanged pleasantries made me yearn for such endearing exhibitions to happen on my own soil more. I really mean that!
My girlfriend, Alison, and I watched as residents in one town after another would say “Hola!” with a kiss, a hug and then follow it up with an intimate conversation about their lives. By intimate I mean we were struck by how they would hold onto each other via some body part as they continued to talk, along with maintain a very close physical distance.
In most western countries, personalized space means three feet. In Cuba it means six inches, nose to nose!
Simply put, it is marvelous to witness so many close displays of affection amongst townspeople. Especially when it occurs between the sexes as much as with the same genders. What I mean is that men and women were intimate in their communications, men and men were intimate – the whole idea of boundaries because of sexual tension was not at play.
The concept of being close to your fellow man or woman and it meaning zero beyond being affectionate towards your fellow man is, well, natural, not weird. It builds stronger bonds, connects these folks in a very tangible, reassuring way.
It is as if they are passing on and/or ensuring all citizens are maintaining a high vibrational level. They act as power sources for one another.
The one other aspect that ties their whole culture together no matter what the political/economic environment they live under – humor! Everywhere we went we were almost routinely greeted with smiles, a friendly demeanor and laughter. Tragedy and comedy are known to hang out in the same places they tell me.
Whether it was Havana, Trinidad or Vinales – three distinctively different cities – the inhabitants of each showed joviality, a levity that lifted us each and every day. Cubans are quick with a joke, ever happy to break out some salsa moves on the sidewalk, playfully make light of the way things run on their island (“It’s Cuba, we make do!” is their motto), love to sing and are always happy to discuss all things rum.
Particularly the benefits of Mojitos, Cuban Libre’s Margherita’s and Canchanchara’s!
The best travel adventures afford you the opportunity to connect with the people who make up the places you visit. For numerous reasons, sometimes the people in these places are not necessarily ‘excited’ to deal with travelers, strangers in their land. Then there are those destinations where the people wholeheartedly embrace us, actively look to engage and broaden their own horizons.
We found Cubans not only willing participants in the exchange of ethos, but 100% earnest in their desire to reach out and connect, to really touch you and be touched by you!
Touch us they did indeed. The extended Cuban family greeted us with such warmth, compassion and humor we found ourselves smiling from ear-to-ear as we boarded the plane with an armful of Cubano cigars and rum.
Places like Cuba are why we travel. We came home with a bag full of dirty clothes and fresh memories. Upon washing the clothes the colors may fade over time, but the memories will only get brighter!
By Stan Crossland II