Hotel Habana Libre, Saturday, April 16, 2005, 9:51 am
So my stay in the Cuban capital is rapidly coming to a close. Even the good weather seems to have taken leave. This morning it clouded over, followed by an intense downpour and now the sky is grey and the wind is blowing strongly. Unless the weather improves, I think it´s going to be a day for a museum or a movie and for letting this Cuban adventure come to a slow and gentle close.
These last 2 or so weeks have truly been a defining experience. I have never before travelled to a developing country, and I have never travelled by myself in this way. Moreover, I have never consciously immersed myself in a foreign culture as I have here. I spent more than two weeks studying at a local university and spending time and interacting with Cuban people as much as possible. I have been reading Cuban books, listening to Cuban music, watching a little bit of Cuban TV (also an interesting experience) and immersed myself in Cuban life as much as I could.
I think in the 2 weeks that I´ve been here I´ve learned a tremendous amount about this strange and beautiful country. I have been exposed to its politics, its history, its architecture, landscape and music, its street life and its people. I have made a concerted effort to open myself up and pursue my curiosity and ask questions wherever possible. It´s been intense, to say the least, and it feels like I am going to need 2 or 3 solids days to reacclimatize myself when I get back to Toronto. The environment is so different from what I am used to that it has really rattled my brain.
New friendships have been formed, with professors from the university and with some of my language study colleagues from around the world. Last, but definitely not least, I have to thank my local friend Pedro for spending a lot of time with me, showing me the local sights, explaining the local culture to me (and also for protecting me from the continuous onslaught of male attention that female travellers are constantly exposed to). More appreciation goes out to Pedro´s family who have received me in their home like a long-lost friend or distant cousin.
Most importantly, I have gained an appreciation of the things that define Cuba (especially the Cuban enjoyment of life, their close family relationships and their ability to make do and be happy with very little), and at the same time I have gained a new appreciation of what I have at home.