First week in Havana

Greetings family, friends, and significant others! Week 8 has officially arrived and our next chapter begins in the beautiful colonial city of Havana. This week more than ever our misbegotten bandwagon of students has felt surprisingly adjacent to the United States we have begun to grow unfamiliar with. After nearly two months of travel in this tiny country it has taken progressively more and more unique and surprising events to knock us off of our toes. Cuba wasn’t ready to let us settle in however. Our week started with yet another surprise during our travel from Viñales to Havana. The back left wheel of our bus took a bit of a tussle and could not hold team Chango. But we had been there and done that and so panic was minimal and we completed our trip without further difficulty. No big deal!

As we arrived at the capital, we could feel the energy and excitement of the city illuminating around us. To our surprise it just so happened to be that our casa particulares were across the street from the US embassy. Coincidence I think not! Our accommodations were set up to evenly distribute us between the houses. One house had space for five students, another three and our last two houses were simply mundane double bedders. The final decision was to allow the five men of the group to assemble in a casa of their own. What could go wrong? I’ll answer that question for you. One word: fraternity. That’s right, all the bros got stuffed together into one, giant, love shack. As we stepped in the front door for our first meeting, the afternoon that we arrived, we were nearly blinded by some unexpected contingencies. Boys in underwear littered the room and signs requiring the removal of clothing items were crudely plastered to the wall opposite the door. An entry roster nearby required us to sign as official pledges of “delta psi” before the day’s festivities could begin. After our initial culture shock, things have started to cool down.

On our first full day in the city we traveled across town to the University of Havana where we were given an official tour of the campus. We learned about the history of the campus in relation to the politics of the last 80+ years and what the college is trying to do today. We will be taking Spanish courses at the university over the next two weeks while living in Havana. On the first day everyone also took a course placement test to decide which level of Spanish we would be in.

And now that we have our mornings covered with learning Spanish, it seems that it was the belief of our travel planners that we would need to learn some English as well. And, as they say, the best way to learn something is to teach it! We got the opportunity to do a language exchange class with some groups of Cubans who have been learning English. At our first meetings we were assembled into groups with each of us talking to one or two English students. We got to talk about differences between Cuba and the US as well as learn about all sorts of interesting tidbits about the lives of working folks in this country. After our long and difficult Spanish classes in the mornings, it feels nice to see the tables turn within the classroom environment. Instead of struggling to understand what our teachers are saying for two hours, we get to watch Cuban students struggle to understand what WE are saying. Life is good.

Transportation this week has been a big point of learning for us as a group. On Tuesday we were very intensely reminded of how we were all in a foreign Spanish speaking country. After a lot of difficulty in getting everyone to our first English exchange class we had a meeting about how our group is able to communicate and work as a team. We identified and worked through a lot of the places where we need to apply a little more oil to the group bicycle and are hoping to go forward with a lot more intention when traveling as a group. So far this has been going swimmingly.

Speaking of being in a foreign country, much has happened back at home since last Tuesday which we have all been effected by. On the night of November 8th we were a very scattered bunch. Some of us were taking an adventure to explore our new home for the next couple weeks, some of us were cuddling up in our beds nibbling on fresh Baracoa chocolate, and a small group of us hastily ventured to the wifi park awaiting news of the election. There were a lot of feelings of nervousness about the possible outcomes and we were a little stressed at such a monumental moment of change in our country. The next morning we heard the news about what had happened but it didn’t really feel real for the first few days. It was a very bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable experience to be in another country as so much intensity was going on back home. We are wishing everyone back in the states lots of love and compassion with all the fallout that has come from this big change in attitude within our culture. We hope you all can move forward with as much empathy as possible towards everyone else back at home in the coming weeks.

As our free time was quite limited throughout the week, while we weren’t studying Spanish or teaching English we ventured out into the city, seeking the unknown. In the mornings a few of us enjoyed watching the sunrise as we ran along the malecon. Between classes we explored the city, trying to find the best restaurants and dulcerias. On the weekend we made our way to Havana vieja where we visited the famous Mueso nacional de bela arte and got in some shopping. A few of us found some precious souvenirs for sale on the streets. Retails for 30 cuc! Don’t be too surprised if we come home with a couple puppies in our backpack! As the first week of Havana came to a close there is still so much to explore and learn. Sending love and positive vibes to everyone back at home. Seize the day people!

Hugs and kisses,