By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, May 26 – Bill and Nora Ryan started coming to Cuba five years ago, and their four trips have brought them closer both to the country’s past and present.
The relationship led Bill to carve a specially engraved maple wood bat in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
The type of wood has a special meaning for Ryan. “During the 1996 ice storm we saw much of our local maple forest severally damaged. The ice literally stripped the trees from their branches.”
He identified with Cuba when it was hit by three powerful hurricanes in 2008. “The images of the storms reminded Nora and me of the destruction we witnessed at home.”
But then the next step was to figure out what to do with the bat, who to give it to?
Bill found the solution when he met Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban parliament, who spoke at an event in Kingston, Canada. “While the theme was the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, emphasis was placed on two of the greatest injustices Cuban continues to face: the US embargo and the imprisonment of the Cuban Five in the US,” said Ryan.
How the love affair began
“When we first considered visiting Cuba, our knowledge of the country was based on media reports, many of which were from the US. There were so many contradictions; all the negative images, and the reports were the opposite of stories told by people who had been there. We decided to give it a try and see for ourselves.
“Once we got to the island, we saw lots of old cars still on the road. We saw beautiful old buildings, some needing paint. Strangely, in the lines we saw smiles. Moreover, the police and military personnel were where they were supposed to be. Cuba was just like home.
“Our connection with Cuba began with one of the first people we met. Yusimi had a wonderful smile, a great sense of humor, a husband, one child and one on the way. Some days she liked her job, some days she didn’t. She worked hard, enjoyed her time off with her family and wondered what the future would bring. Just like me, except for the pregnant part.
“On the next trip we met Corvelio, a retired baseball player with a heart as big as the country itself, who shared a love of teaching kids baseball. And there was Roberto, a doctor who laughed at the notion of poverty in Cuba after spending two years working with the poor in Angola. There was also Noel, a server, who loves music and wants to learn to play guitar, just like me. The list goes on.”
Ryan went on to note: “Canada has been a supporter of Cuba throughout the embargo years. More importantly, Cuba has the support of average Canadians just like me. Like Cubans, average Canadians don’t understand why US politicians preach democracy and Christian values and yet they insist on punishing Cuba for having different political beliefs.”
The Canadian is hopeful that change will occur in US-Cuban relations with Barack Obama in the White House. Bill said he expects Cuba to change as well, but says he hopes that Cubans don’t. “I hope they stay just the way they are, just like me.”