Cuba: Day One

We started the fateful journey from Miami, Florida to Havana, Cuba at 5:45 in the morning. Fourteen groggy students arose from their luxurious Miami hotel rooms and continued towards what they had imagined as anywhere from a paradise to a third world country. We landed in Cuba at around 11:00am EST. Surprisingly, the customs and baggage process was fairly easy.

Once we left the airport, everyone stood in line outside to exchange funds which was a long wait, but a fairly straightforward process. The humidity hit us like a ton of bricks, it was as if one moment, you were content and right when you walked outside, you were covered in sweat, as if you had just finished a long, intense workout. You could feel the thick air run through your when moving your arms back and forth. We boarded a bus and got our first true look at what Cuba was like.

The land was beautiful; a constant mix of farmland and urban population. Along the way, one thing that stood out was the tremendous amount of nationalism. In fact, one of the most interesting signs I saw read along about fifty feet of highway: “SOCIALISMO O MUERTE” or “Socialism or death.” We then arrived at the houses that we would be staying at for the two weeks. Our hosts were Carlos and Claudia, as well as a second house hosted by a man named Hector. My group stayed with Hector who was a very nice man, but spoke no English, so finding ways to communicate presented a challenge for us to overcome. We then had lunch at Carlos’ house which was excellent.

Our group took a tour of the Vedado, our neighborhood in Havana where we stayed. Two of the most interesting parts of our tour had to be both the North Korean embassy as well as a statue honoring John Lennon of the Beatles. The Lennon statue sported his classic glasses which are guarded by a local man who makes sure the glasses are not stolen from his head.

At dinner, we went out to a restaurant had mixed apps, virgin mojitos, and a pork meal with rice and some sort of potato, which although I was unsure as to what some of the food was, it was still excellent. To wrap things up, the entire group went up and sat on roof top of Carlos’ house and exchanged stories until we called it a night. My goal for the next two weeks is to try hard to speak Spanish when possible, no matter how rough my skills are. I went to bed exhausted but at the same time I could not believe I was in Cuba- a country that less than one percent of living citizens of the United States have visited. This alone was enough to keep me up, but what truly wired me was the fact that we still had so much to experience. It all had just begun.

Cuba: January 4th


Cuba: January 4th

José Marti Lecture, José Marti Memorial, Old Havana

Lindsay MacDonald

     As we began our first full day in Cuba, we arrived at the CEM for a lecture on the life and works of José Marti. Prior to our arrival, we briefly discussed Marti as a figure in Cuban history, culture, and identity. After the lecture and our first tour of Old Havana, it became clear that one could not possibly explain the role that Marti plays in Cuban culture. The lecturer spoke with pride and admiration toward the historical figure and spoke about him as a thinker, writer, and political leader.   As a thinker, it seems as though he serves as a philosopher to the Cuban people, establishing a moral and ethical code. As a writer, he wrote as both a “reporter” and wrote literature. As a political leader, Marti had ideas of a Cuba that were independent and autonomous and fought for these ideas. He explained to us foreigners the difficulty in finding one person who can play all three roles that made Marti so important. Through the lecture, the role that Marti played and tbe importance of Marti to the Cuban people became more and more clear. One thing that struck me is that the lecturer noted that when people have upstanding ethical standards there is a word that, roughly translated, means that they are a follower of Marti. This is evidence that Marti continues to live through the Cuban people today.

After the lecture we arrived at the José Marti memorial. This memorial is dedicated to honoring the life and work of José Marti. The building serves no other purpose then to honor their great hero. It is important to note the placement of the memorial. In revolution square, the memorial remains one of the only buildings to not serve as a government building. Instead it is to remind the people of Marti, his work, and his beliefs. Every statue and painting make Marti out to be a strong figure. When looking at the artwork of Marti and his various statues around Havana, including those at the CEM and the memorial, the way people portray figures through art is often telling of their interpretation of the figure themselves. Marti, through art, is continuously portrayed as a strong heroic figure. It seems as though Marti is their hero of independence, while serving as a philosopher who established an ethical code that, ideally, all Cubans would attempt to adhere to.

When we toured old Havana we, once again, saw the influence that Marti had and continues to have in the identity of the Cuban people. As we walked through one of the plazas we saw a sea of booksellers encompassing the area. Every bookshelf was filled with books about major figures in Cuban history. Many of which were books about José Marti. The sellers also had many posters, many of which featured Marti. On signs, on posters, or on graffiti one can find images of Marti everywhere. As I saw these images I tried to make a comparison to a figure in the history of the United States. It was easier to instead combine figures in our history to represent what Marti represents to Cuba. José Marti is, in my opinion, our founding fathers, our Emerson, our Lincoln, and our Martin Luther King Jr all in one figure. It is hard in American history to find a figure that serves as a thinker/ philosopher, a writer, and a political leader.

Marti clearly is a recognized important figure to all Cubans but it appears as though he has been immortalized by the Cuban people, or at least by the academics. What is clear is that José Marti remains alive in much of Havana; on many street corners and walls and many more museums and memorials. One thing to note is that we have not heard the opinion of the general public on José Marti. What we have heard has been simply from academics at the CEM. It is always important to know and recognize what kind of possible bias that comes with the information we are receiving. This leaves me with the question: does the average Cuban feel as passionately toward Marti as the academics we have come in contact with? Another question that remains is whether Marti would have been such an important and significant figure in Cuban history and identity if he had survived his first battle. Perhaps our future time in Cuba will help answer that question.


About The Program
This course will use the Cuban experience as a backdrop for experiential learning, along with discussions with professionals in that particular field of study, and writing assignments designed to allow students tot reflect upon their experience studying and living in Cuba.

Topics covered by Professor Julian Zabalbeascoa and guest lecturers from the University of Havana will provide students with a multi-disciplinary overview of Cuban contemporary culture.

This is a Winter 2017 course that runs from January 2-16, 3 credits. Satisfies the H6 requirement for Honors students. Learn more.

Read about our 2016 group’s experiences in their study abroad travel blog.