• 4.11.16

    Thayer Allyson Gowdy Imports Lessons from Cuba

    Off the mainland coast of Cuba there's a small island called Varadero that is largely referred to as Fidel and Raul Castro's getaway. On this island there's a tiny hotel that's open to anyone who can get there, and a man for hire with a jeep to take you on safari. But there are no predators out there, no lions, no cheetahs, no poachers. Instead it's all prey animals happily multiplying to impressive numbers and if you want to drive by and gawk at them, they don't care. Thayer Allyson Gowdy recently had the opportunity to experience this micro safari for a Costal Living story on Cuba. She and the writer, Tracey Minkin, travelled together, a rare experience, and had a totally strange and lovely safari experience. “You jump in this jeep and you drive around on your own private island, and drive with herds of zebras and camels. It’s crazy," she says. "It’s like going to Africa but you’re in Cuba and it’s really small and it’s just yours. It was really surreal.”

    We have been separate from Cuba for so long that we've developed in different worlds. So little of our cultures have overlapped, culling the cross over of tradition and information. But with the recent easing of relations, we have so much to learn from one another, most notably for us is medical information. Cuba's medical research is some of the best in the world, and includes research we're far behind in. But as Thayer describes it, there's even more we can learn from Cuba. “Be happy with what you have," Thayer says. Because of decades of sanctions their access to technology and tech products is extraordinarily limited, and although it's no elective for them, we can still learn from it. "I don’t think that’s something that they want but it’s something that they have," she explains. "The saddest part is that’s not a choice they’re making but it’s something that we can learn from them and it’s not going to last very long. All they want to do is live a different life. At least the younger population. That was the most common question I was asked, 'When are they coming? When are the Americans coming?'” As soon as the Americans start coming in real numbers, Cuba will see changes. They will demand reliable and fast internet and cellphone service, and lifted sanctions will mean additional income, a more robust economy, and a freer exchange of goods that they don't have access to right now.

    At one point, Thayer and Tracey companion were walking through the streets of Santiago (Thayer's favorite Cuban city), and followed rumors to one of the most heartening discoveries of the whole trip. “There was a dance contest, and there were a bunch of neighborhoods that had dance groups," Thayer tells it. "There were so many people there watching, and I think one of the most amazing things was there wasn’t a single person in the entire audience with a phone. Not one. Not one person was taking a picture or rolling videotape, they were just watching and smiling and laughing. It was really beautiful. it was amazing to see that.” Maybe no one in that square had a phone out because they didn't have them, and they should have the right to acquire whatever kind of device they want to film a hundred town square dance competitions. But if they did have their phones and kept them in their pockets to be totally present with what was happening in the heart of their town, that's something we can learn from. And it's a lesson whose examples are disappearing by the day.

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