I was recently blessed with the opportunity to travel to Cuba, something few Americans have done yet. As a child all I knew about Cuba was that it had a lot of cigars and was a Communist country. I had zero interest in tobacco and didn’t really understand Communism or why people were so against it. So in my bubble I gave little thought to the country. However, as I grew older my world view expanded and I understood more. The quiet rebel in me became interested in visiting Cuba because it was banned. Turns out I didn’t have to be much of a rebel to get there but it was an unforgettable trip nonetheless and I learned (or relearned) many life lessons thanks to the Cuban people and their way of life.
There are many histories
Growing up in the U.S. I heard only one view of our history with Cuba. As I became more curious I heard other views. Still there’s nothing like listening to many individuals who lived it share their particular experience. It’s only then that you begin to get a more well-rounded version of historical events and the impact they had but you also realize there’s no one complete truth. This is important not only in the retelling of a large historical event, but also in every day discussions. We all see things from the accumulation and interpretation of our life experiences (aka point of view) and often get into arguments where there isn't a right or wrong. It would benefit all types of relationships to remain open to truly hearing others and even if you don't agree with them, recognize that their experience and interpretation is valid too.
Add some color to your life
Even though Cuba is in desperate need of a serious makeover you find brilliant colors everywhere. On the crumbling architecture, coating the classic cars, covering canvases, and even on the people themselves. It’s vibrant and lively and makes you want to smile and skip with every step. You don’t have to paint your house hot pink or even add a speck of it to your wardrobe but add some sort of spice to your life, things that make you smile and feel alive. Whether it’s actual color, a new spice to your cooking, or a different route through a park on your way home from work you will feel more alive as a result.
Creativity often spawns from necessity
I’ve never been anywhere where art, music, and innovation is so prolific, and of such a high quality. Due to the inability to receive many items to their island everyone reuses and repurposes everything they already have. All of the cars and electronics that are sitting in our landfills here in the U.S. are still in working order there. They fix things rather than throw them out when the latest gadget makes its rounds. We’re pillaging all of the natural resources that we have on this planet and those who are far sighted enough to realize that will not only protect our mother earth but also push forward technology and innovation as they figure out ways to reuse our resources over and over.
Art and music feed the soul
Living in a country where those are always on the chopping block it was refreshing to go somewhere where it is not only appreciated but the way of life. There are official galleries on every block, unofficial displays on every street, and musicians on every corner. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of jobs so there's more time to create or as stated above, necessity begats creativity. Whatever the reason, art and music are a necessary part of life, whether we’re creating it or enjoying another’s creation. They allow us the space to more thoroughly explore who we are in ways we can’t always do through language alone. Having these outlets for expression increase happiness and satisfaction in life, as well as provide expression for the more difficult emotions.
Happiness isn’t found in things
The Cubans smile a lot. And it’s not because they all have brand new cars or recently returned from a lavish vacation. Many barely own the clothes on their back or have ever left their small island. Yet they smile and enjoy what they do have, which is community, passion, and the basics of life. They gather with their family and friends and most offer a cheap room, meals, and conversations to the visitors to their country. They take the time to dance on a street corner before continuing on their way. It can be easy to forget all the blessings we have in life because what truly makes people happy is so small. It’s connection and trying new things and following your bliss and spending time outdoors, all of which can be free but deeply satisfying.
Disconnect to connect
The Internet barely exists in Cuba. You certainly can’t access it wherever you want whenever you want. Unless you have some sort of hookup you have to purchase an Internet card from the one Internet company in the entire country and then luck upon a wifi (wee-fee as they pronounce it) hotspot, which you can identify by the vast numbers of individuals with their cell phones out. Otherwise people keep their cell phones in their pockets and make eye contact with you.
In the U.S. the vast majority of us can access the world wide web pretty much whenever we want. This makes some things easier (As the Cubans noted, having an online business or doing research for school quickly is a challenge in their country.) but it also separates people. I’ve watched men and women in public places swiping left and right directly next to each other when all they had to do was look up from their screen and they might have made a love connection. This is simply one example of the overall lack of connection many people experience. Even if you aren’t looking to meet someone new, make eye contact and have a real conversation with your loved ones right in front of you. You'll notice immediately how much it improves your relationships and quality of life.
Ask for what you want but be okay with hearing no
The Cubans don’t seem to hesitate in asking for what they want. Whether it’s money or a date or a conversation they’re direct in their asking. There’s no beating around the bush. If you say no they accept that. They may ask a few more times-the persistence is admirable-but they will move on with a smile if you say no. Many of us don’t feel comfortable stating what we want but then complain when we don’t get it. Yet the only way anyone can know what we want is if we ask for it and we have the right to do so. We also have to remember that as much as we have the right to ask for what we want, everyone else has just as much of a right to say no. Accepting this and figuring out another way to get our needs met makes navigating life significantly easier.
There are a lot of complaints from visitors to this country that the customer service sucks. I’d say a more accurate representation of that is that it’s slow. The country is slow. Their technology is stuck in the 80s. Many don’t have cars. Many don’t have 9-5 jobs so nowhere to rush off to. They linger and gather and enjoy the small things. Many of us spend our lives rushing to and from one place to another, moving from one goal to the next, and we’re never properly in the moment experiencing it so we actually miss life. Slowing down is the only way to guarantee we don’t miss our lives.
Of course, Cuba isn't without its challenges (like any place) and we don't have to move there to incorporate these ways of being into our lives. Even if we live somewhere else and are part of a culture vastly different from Cuba, it's easy to make small changes that will lead to big results. The simple recognition that you want to live differently and choosing one thing to do differently will completely change your life.