Going To Cuba With God –Part 3
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
The weather has changed . Another hurricane is coming. The power goes out again in our hotel. This time it doesn’t come back on. I am on the eighteenth floor . Luckily I have flashlights and strong legs. We leave the next morning for Santa Clara in the pouring rain . The water comes over the malecon ( sea wall) as we leave Havana. Santa Clara is about eighty miles away. It is pouring – hopefully Valerie was praying. We are traveling with the Colombian Ballet Company. They don’t speak English and have good humor about traveling with the kids. (Kennedy Dancers, Columbian Ballet Dancers)
Santa Clara is most famous for being the city where the last battle of the revolution led by Che Guevara took place. It is the place where Batista’s government was toppled in 1958.
In the center of town is a park (Parque Vidal) and a statue of Marta Abrue. Marta was the sole financial sponsor of La Caridad (Charity) Theatre. It surrounds the square and is where the kids will be performing. The building is a national monument of Cuba and one of the seven big theatres from the Colonial era that is still standing. It has exquisite architecture and an amazing interior. The concept behind the theatre was that the proceeds were to support the two schools that Marta founded (One for boys and one for girls) for the poor children of the city.
Parque Vidal is probably one of the most typical places in Cuba. During the afternoons, people (especially singles) visit the park to meet others. Although not widely practiced in recent times, the custom was to walk the park around and around. The women walk the inner part of the park, while the men walk the outer side. Another lost custom was for the locals to set up a platform and offer improvisations with their guitars on late Sunday afternoons. They dressed in their guayaberas and highly polished shoes and played their music. A guayabera is a light open-necked cotton shirt, often with large pockets and pleats down the front, that is typically worn outside the pants.
On the other side of the square, is our hotel the Santa Clara Libre (formerly the Santa Clara Hilton). It still has the bullet holes inflicted by Batista’s forces. The rooms are small and the hallways are dark. There is nowhere to rehearse so the Spanish dancers are in the hall doing flamenco improv. They are tired of being upstaged by the tap kids. We all watch them and some of the kids dance as well. The dark hallway is transformed.
Everywhere we go there are Cuban kids waiting to meet the American tap kids – schools, clubs, camps etc. This time it is a Performing Arts School from Santa Clara. The children are always incredibly beautiful. A few of them speak a little English. They watch the rehearsal and hang out after the show. The kids are given sodas. The Cuban kids are very excited about the sodas. One of the boys plays the song from Titantic and dedicates it to my daughter. They are all having a great time and ideologies don’t seem very important.
We leave for Havana and stop at a mausoleum which houses the remains of Che Guevara and sixteen of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during the Bolivia campaign. There is also a reconstruction of Guevara derailing the train during the Battle of Santa Clara.
After tearful goodbyes to our new friends, Valerie and I go home a few days early because our kids were missing too much school. (Michael and Jamilla)
We had a long layover in Cancun and long flight. We had visas but we were advised not to say that we had been in Cuba unless they asked at customs. We were told that at this time if they knew we had been in Cuba, we would be there for a very long time. I asked Valerie what we should do. She said “I am going to pray.” We walked through in a few minutes.
“So are you a believer in prayer now?” she asked. I laughed and did not say anything. (Kennedy Tap company)
For the majority of Cubans life “no es facil.” (not easy). It’s a daily struggle to find food, toiletries and medicine. It is a totalitarian government -“nothing against the state , everything for the state”. Though there are no guns or drug trafficking, prostitution is on the rise and people can be arrested for anything. But still, they are proud, kind, resourceful and highly educated. The colors, sensuality, crumbling architecture, performing and visual arts, beautiful beaches and cultural heritage, make it a great place to visit. The hope is that the life will get better here. It was an amazing trip and an honor to have met these people.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Paul and Arlene Kennedy. They taught our kids dance and life lessons. Like the jazz music and tap dancing they loved- they taught them that in life, you never know what is going to happen next, practice leads to excellence, and it is always best if you improvise.
Fly Safe Paul and Arlene Kennedy,