Welcome to April in Cuba!

Hello, and welcome back!
Quick shout out to my Grandma and Mom, who sent the link of this blog to everyone in my family, including my Great-Grandma Nannie. Now, let’s talk about rum…(haha)

This past week my program took us to the National Rum Museum and we learned about how it’s made, why there are different colors, and the taste, smell, and texture differences between 3, 5, 7, 15 year old rum (we did not try the 25, 40, or 150 year old rum). Within the first 15 minutes of the tour, our guide put molasses on our hands so we could taste what is put in the rum and poured rum on our hands so we could feel the texture of rum that hasn’t aged enough. While on this tour I somehow felt somewhere between a 5 year old after eating sweets and a middle-aged man as we talked about pairing different rums with certain cigars (with our still super sticky hands).


Later in the month my friends and I posed as tourists (not hard to do when you kind of are a tourist), and visited the Hotel Nacional. Before the Revolution the Hotel Nacional was a space for North American gangsters and has a bunker where they used to meet and hide out. We tried to visit the bunker but were cut short by a fairly large deadbolt, so instead we sat near the Cuban flag pole and looked over the Malecon and man-made waterfall that is a large marker of the Hotel Nacional.


The rest of this month we have spent at the University. I am only grateful that I have an 8am for a single reason (maybe two because learning can sometimes be fun), it gives me reason to see the sun rise at the University and it can be absolutely beautiful.

I’ll end on a new spot we just found! It’s an amazing little bookstore that was founded by a former US citizen. She has a wonderful collection of books and an amazing area/garden for people to read and enjoy their coffees in the shade. It makes me miss my public library back home. I’m a little bit book deprived and I wish I had thought to bring more books before I had left.

Anyways, I have a ton more adventures planned in the latter part of this month, check back later for a post Spring Break update!

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March Throwback

Little late, but April Fools! Pretend this was posted in March haha. (I didn’t buy internet for a solid 2 weeks and it caught up with me) My host mom had to remind me that while I might live here right now, life is still moving back home, so I need to make sure to pay attention to dates. I’ll try to keep to my two posts per month in April, so keep an eye out for two more updates this month!
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My friends and I did a lot at the end of March. We went to Trinidad, Vinales, Casa de Africa, Casa de Yoruba, and the HU Culture Festival.

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The whole SSA crew together with an amazing speaker on race in Cuba

We took the Viazul bus to Trinidad, and started our journey at 5:30am by missing our guagua to the bus station, which turned out fine and we made the bus with 20 minutes to spare! We were promised that it would take 4 hours, it took 7.5 hours, so we didn’t have as much time in Trinidad on the first day as we had originally hoped. I had never been on a big bus like that before, so we made it an adventure. I read ‘One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest’ and listened to music on the way to Trinidad and then again on the 7 to 8 hour journey on the way back.

In Trinidad we went to the beach, partied at Las Cuevas, hiked, and rode bikes. If you can’t tell by that list, we tried to spend the least amount of money possible while in Trinidad, and many of our activities were free or at the very least super cheap.


In the Casa de Africa (which is in Old Havana), we learned about the original slave trade in Cuba and the syncretism of African and Spanish culture that created modern day Cuban Santeria. In the Casa de Yoruba (sits in front of the Capitolio) we learned about African religions in Cuba and the Spanish oppression of such religions. We learned the ‘equivalences’ of Spanish Catholic Saints and African Yoruban Orishas. In the Casa de Yoruba they had created statues to each of the Orishas along with plaques in Cuban Spanish, Spain Spanish, English, and French.

The University of Havana had their annual culture festival in March, and I was lucky enough to help organize the United States table! This was the first year that the US was represented in a few years, so we chose to get as many people involved as possible this year!


We had a hard time deciding how we wanted to represent the US because all of us agreed the US has a very imperialistic vibe that would ostracize people more than welcome them. So one program brought a bunch of different state flags and represented the different cultures of different states. Another group brought a bunch of country flags to represent the diverse immigrant population in the States. Someone brought a computer, and played Lemonade by Beyonce. Someone brought photos they had taken of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest and had them printed out all over our table. We served Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and giant marshmallows on sun-cooked s’mores, and we answered questions about the US, our states, and a lot of questions about our political ideas. My favorite part of the day was the flash cards someone had brought. We asked people to write their thoughts, questions, anything they wanted about the US. We put them all (negative, positive, random, every single one of them) on our table.

It could have gone terribly wrong, but it was absolutely amazing. People wrote sympathetic messages about our president, they wrote about family they had in the US, and messages of love for the people who were trying to work for a better US (both abroad and at home).

This month marked our half-way point, and I’m proud about everything I have learned and everything I will learn in the next month and a half.

March is Here and Gone!

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Casa de Yoruba en frente del Capitolio

Hi there It’s a little later in March than I intended to update you, but here I am! It’s just past the halfway point, and I’ve been in Cuba for almost 2 months now! I’ve done a lot since my last update, and I’ve made plans to do a lot more! So far I have toured the tobacco museum/factory outside of Old Havana, gone to the beach, visited the National Aquarium, seen Ernest Hemingway’s house, eaten delicious pizza, and celebrated international women’s day in Cuba!

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Entry of the Cigar Factory-Museum

We went on a tour of a tobacco factory recently and learned about how the cigars are made, the history of tobacco in Cuba, and many other things. While we were in the factory we learned about the lives of cigar rollers and other people in the factory. For many of the rollers, they can only work in that part of the factory for a maximum of 10 to 15 years because after that the tendonitis makes the job impossible. For many of the workers this means that they would be out of the job; however, in the factory they are moved to a different department or a different part of the cigar making process.

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Cigar Chart in the Cigar Factory-Museum

In the process of making cigars there are those that cut the leaves and tend to the tobacco plants, then take the stems out and separate the leaves by color. There are three colors in a tobacco plant’s leaves, the ones at the top, the ones in the middle, and the ones at the bottom. Each level of leaves has a different purpose in the cigar, ranging from how smoky, flammable or tasteful a combination the consumer is looking for in their cigar. After the stem has been removed and the leaves are organized, the rollers create the cigars. Cigars are rolled tightly so that the air is forced to push through the filter of leaves. Once they are rolled, then they are pressed for various amounts of time depending on the combination of leaves and the roller. Once all the cigars are rolled and pressed they are cut into shape and sent to get stickers. Stickers are all put on by hand and placed in boxes. The cigar boxes are made of balsa wood and are handmade in other rooms during the cigar making process. We all got a chance to walk around and look at the different types of cigars but no one bought cigars that day.

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At Santa Maria Beach

The weekend after the tobacco factory tour, we all went to the beach. We usually go to Santa Maria because it is close to Vedado. We rode in a jeep taxi on the way to Santa Maria instead of a maquina or the guagua. The water was completely clear and there were a lot of sand banks that we could swim to and hang out.


This past Wednesday, we visited the National Cuban Aquarium in Havana. I liked the dolphin show the best out of everything, but the sea that touches the aquarium is truly gorgeous! Is was my first time seeing a dolphin show and it was a little strange, we sang to a few of the kids who were there for their birthdays. Since we went in the middle of the week it was mostly little children and their parents. I was chosen as a volunteer to touch the dolphins and have them do a flip towards me. It was crazy!


That following weekend we went to Ernest Hemmingway’s house. No one but the staff is allowed to enter the house in order to better preserve the house as it originally sat; however, all of the windows and doors were open so you can walk along his porch and see all of the rooms. We could also visit his pool (where he apparently swam everyday), his old tennis court that now holds his boat, and the tower that overlooks his garden and central Havana.

At the beginning of March we had International Women’s Day and in Cuba it’s a huge deal! On the 7th of March there was a huge festival on the park in the middle of Avenida de Los Presidentes. There was sweets, ice cream, book sellers, games, and music!

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Statue on the Malecon

Catch me posting here before the end of March for another update about my trip to Trinidad! Besos!

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Los Juegos del Caribe

One Month Gone!

Hello! It’s the end of February and I have been in Cuba for just over a month! Since February is a short month I’m going to honor that with a short post here, but don’t worry, March is just around the corner! It has only been a week since my last post, and I haven’t gone on many adventures since last week.

We went to the movies on Friday and the ballet on Saturday. I don’t have any pictures of the movie but we were at the Fresa y Chocolate theater and saw Clandestines. At the ballet we saw Giselle. I had only been to a ballet once before with my grandmother when I was five years old (I still have my ticket stubs and poster!), so I was really excited to see the National Ballet. I bought a program (for one Moneda Nacional) and took as many pictures as possible before the ballet started. It was raining when we got to the taxis but it was alright because as soon as got in, our taxi driver played some songs by Marc Anthony and we were dancing and singing the whole way home.

Sorry for the short update, but that’s all I’ve got! I’ll have more updates and adventures to share in March! Talk to you soon!

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A Mid-February Update!

Hi! I wanted to send an update from after classes starting. Since my last post, I have visited cemetery Colon, the Jose Marti Monument, eaten at Copelia (quite a few times), volunteered at Muraleando, and much much more. Unfortunately I was really invested in the tour at the colonial cemetery and didn’t get a chance to take any photos. I have a lot of pictures from the Jose Marti Monument and because I’m a student I was able to get in for free! You have to pay for the museum part but I only really wanted to see the monument. It reminded me of the Washington Monument because it’s basically a tall obelisk. At the cemetery we learned that obelisks are a symbol of life and a lot of colonial or Spanish graves have obelisks covered in shrouds (either cloth or carved into the marble). At the Jose Marti Monument there is a large statue of him, along with the obelisk, and a few overhangs that sit above stadium seating. It looks over the parking lot where Fidel Castro gave a speech, and there are two images on the hotels opposite the monument and parking lot.

 

Over the weekend we visited Muraleando and volunteered a little bit. Muraleando is a community project started over a decade ago, and provides art, music, and dance programs/lessons for children and students in their neighborhood and surrounding areas. It was founded in an impoverished neighborhood that used to be an important train stop in Cuba. It was later bypassed and many people lost their jobs, and the train’s water tank became a trash heap. The heap grew until houses in the neighborhood were covered in trash and streets were full of garbage. The main structure of Muraleando is an old train water tank that was found years later by a small kid in the neighborhood. When founding Muraleando a member of the community paid for the excavation of the water tank. It was cleaned and much of the trash was turned into artwork or cleaned out. Cuban artists provided artwork for the program and much of their financing comes from the sale of professional artwork from their teachers and program leaders. These people volunteer during the day and provide childcare and lessons for the children and then sell their work for the financing of supplies and construction materials (50% of their profits go to Muraleando). Outside support comes from donations and the volunteers who come to view the art and support the cause.

 

On a different note we just started school! On Tuesday we took our Spanish placement test after lunch at a new cafeteria, and then visited Copelia. Ice cream and other sweets have become a daily norm and after that test and class prep was nice treat! I tried a few different classes this week: Cuban Culture, Cultural Realities of Cuba, Linguistic Studies, Spanish, and Cuban Literature. I’m really excited to get into classes and meet other students! The images below are from a weekend trip to Las Terrazas! We swam in a river, did minor hiking, some members of the group rode horses and went on a canopy zip-line!

Also we went to Old Havana! It was so beautiful and afterwards we went to the Revolution Museum.

I’ll update you all again soon, so much has been happening here and its hard to give you updates on all of it! Besos!

Hola from Havana!

Hey guys, I just arrived in Havana on January 25th. Everyday has been full of walking, orientation activities, and food… Lots of food. I’m a ‘pescatarian’, meaning I eat fish but no other meat. My host family (and the entire program) have been super kind about it and I’m never worried about food. About the semester, it started with a little bit of stress, my luggage didn’t get on the plane with me and so I looked around the airport for around 2 and a half hours while my program was calling me over the speaker. The airport sent it from the US the next day and brought it to my house. So it all worked out super fast!

In the first few days I’ve explored the Malecon, internet parks, Old Havana, and many other places in Havana. I’m excited to keep exploring and to start school! I’ll update this blog again after classes start. My first class is at 8am, so we’ll see how this goes, haha.

Hasta luego!

Predepature Adventure

In southern Virginia, I’m saying good-bye to warm(ish) weather and reaching the final weeks of my semester. I’ve completed my study abroad applications, January term plans, and I’ve just finished my translation of the Chilean constitution. I’m about to complete the Appalachian Regional Model Arab League, and then its Thanksgiving break!

The end of the semester and the beginning of January term means, I only have about three months until I’m in Cuba! I’m looking forward to studying and adventuring around Havana, but I’m nervous. Will my Spanish we good enough? Will I have saved enough money? What if I pack too much or not enough? The list of my stresses goes on and on, but to be completely honest I haven’t had the time to stress out about Spring semester. I accidentally over-committed this semester, and haven’t had much time to myself. I can’t wait for Fall semester to be over so that I can relax, get over my anxieties, and absorb the fact that I’m going to Cuba.

Only a few more weeks and the semester is over, only a few more months and I’ll be in Cuba. I can’t wait!! Check back in around January for updates on my first week!