This is the Duece on Thunderbird 5 sailing past Cuba and desperately wishing we could anchor and have a quick visit!! OVER.
I had a heavy heart as we sailed south from the Bahamas and passed Cuba. I have been desperate to visit Cuba for many years now, and have on two occasions received a gift from my amazing family and friends of money to help me get there. Both times circumstances changed and I was not able to go. And here we were sailing within sight of the beautiful Cuban coastline, practically within swimming distance (as I threatened to prove) and yet I was not going to shore.
Crewmate Scottie asked me why I was so upset and what it was that interested me so much about Cuba in the first place. Immediately I replied, 'the music, the language, the history, the people.’
I want to see the architecture, the old fifties American cars. I want to walk through colourful yet dilapidated neighborhoods and see the smiles of the crinkley faced old men who hang out on their faded blue door steps smoking the finest cigars and listening to the old classics.
Do I have a romantic view of this conflicted country? Yes, I am guilty of that on many levels. But I am also obsessed with and intrigued by the more complicated political and social reality of Cuba; a country that lives in veritable poverty where even doctors often take on second jobs because they can't make ends meet. It’s a country that in many ways is silenced and censored, and even with recent passport laws being loosened, it is still incredibly hard for Cubans to leave the country.
But on the other hand Cuba acts as an example of the potential for socialism to succeed, with its outstanding education system and soaring literacy rates that increased remarkably since the revolution (now at 99.8%) a free health care system that arguably tops any in the world, and a forward thinking approach with urban agriculture, namely Organiponicos - the urban organic gardens that came about as a response to the food crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But most importantly for me, since the revolution Cuba has also had a strong sense of internationalism, often helping out other countries in times of disaster, something that western media consistently ignores.
Haiti, the country that I am on my way to instead, has experienced this help for many years now. Cuba had sent doctors to Haiti well before the 2010 earthquake and was the first country along with Venezuela to respond with more doctors after the earthquake hit. They helped to set up new facilities and hospitals amongst the debris, and it is said they worked non-stop day and night performing life saving surgery. Furthermore, while the current NGO situation in Haiti is proving controversial, Cuban doctors are still practicing there now 4 years after the earthquake and have saved hundred's of thousands of lives.
So while I am once again sailing past Cuba, I am very excited to be visiting another country I have never been to. Many NGO’s have been a part of the problem that Haiti continues to face, and not the solution, and I sincerely hope we can prove different.