By Courtney Brooks
I have now been back in the United States for two weeks. Some days I wake up and am still shocked to be in my bed at home and other days it feels like a dream that I went at all. I have never been in a country for so long and understood so little of what happens there.
It isn’t right that a country which is so educated can be so poor. It isn’t right that professors and doctors earn so little while taxi drivers and waiters earn significantly more. I don’t understand how there is still racism in a country which claims to be equal, and how there is sexism when Cuban women are clearly as capable as any Cuban man.
In other countries I have been to I have seen poverty. I have reported in refugee camps and townships, and the experience was both humbling and heart-breaking, even uplifting to see how resilient people were. But I was never able to relate to people like I was able to in Cuba.
My friends in Cuba are as educated as I am, if not more so. They studied the same subjects that I do and their parents have similar jobs to mine. There are many things I enjoy doing which are also accessible to them. They can go to the movies, go out for ice cream, or share a bottle of rum on the Malecon.
But their lives are stagnant. I will never know what it is like to live with your parents throughout your adulthood. I will never know what it is to have no privacy. And I will always have options, even if I don’t have a lot of money. It is amazing to me that Cubans can stay so resilient despite all of this.
What I do know is that Cubans, and Cuba, deserve a better shot than the one they have been given. And I do know that something has to change.
I have left friends behind in many places, but they have always been moving on to bigger and better things, as have I. This is the first time I have left people knowing that it is likely I will never see them again, knowing I gave them a glimpse of a life they might never know. I was devastated, wondering when I was going to find such good friends again and what I would feel like once I was back home.
One of my favorite photos from Cuba was taken by my friend while we were sitting on the Malecon. Three American friends sit with three Cuban friends, taking in the sunset together.
It looks faded, as if someone Photoshopped a sepia tone on to it, and that’s how Cuba is beginning to feel to me. For my brief three months there it felt more real than anywhere I had ever been.
The frustration and societal issues are real, but so is the love Cubans have for their family, friends and country. The culture and beauty of the country and the people are real. And the hope that tomorrow will finally bring change is also real.
As the days pass the trip begins to feel like the photo looks, a fairy tale life I had once upon a time. But the photo is not sepia-toned, it’s pure Havana sunset, and although my experiences there will fade in my memory over time, I will never forget Cuba.