This post originally appeared Jul 28, 2016
Just returned home from a 4-day trip to Havana to work with the wonderful Malpaso Dance Company. The day before my flight home I got up at 3:30am to watch a spectacular display of waves crashing against the sea wall (called the Malecon). My adventurous buddy Laura joined me to catch this spectacle I’d been hoping to see since my 1st trip to Cuba fifteen years ago. Thirty foot waves bashed against the sides and enveloped the roadway. Our street was a hurricane wind-tunnel and the chaos of air and noise and salty water was primal and inebriating. Like the dirty brush water that enables a magnificent painting.
We were woken up by our landlady a few hours later to say that flood-waters were rising in the neighborhood and we should probably make our escape. Everyone from our house gathered round to give moral support as I loaded Laura onto my back and waded across the now Venice-like street. I’m so tall, she looked like my pet monkey. A stranger from the neighborhood led us across to keep everyone from falling into a drain. It was maybe my favorite moment from the trip because it exemplified something special about Cuba: a community that will immediately come together to help out even a stranger and put individual concerns on hold to be present and kind.
I consider myself to be 100% all-American. Europe, for example, is a nice place to visit, but I am never quite able to adjust my rhythm to other cultures enough to feel “at home.” And even though America fails more and more to fulfill the promise of the American dream of success to anyone willing to work hard enough, I am personally fortified, in some ways even defined by its ethic.
However, as I sit waiting for a connecting flight in the Miami Airport, I am struck with the same feeling I have every time I leave Havana. It’s like I just took a bath, then had to go clean the garage. As couples and groups push their way to the ticket counter, to change flights because of winter storm 2016, I feel overwhelmed by the pervasive pasture of self-importance. Each person is more important than the next, more angry than the next. Each person isolated by their singular outrage that they want acknowledged, compensated, and healed by a gate agent. People literally shove past me to be ahead in line, blind to the presence of another human in the very same boat. The cell phones causing each person to obliterate others’ personal space and sound. A sea of individuals – mighty kings of a floating bubble, owning the airport, searching for gate agents and Starbucks baristas to rule over.
I am not saying that Cuba does not have its own challenges to surmount and I am certainly not saying that after a year of lightened embargo that Cubans are not starting to adopt some American habits (not to mention that there is still an embargo and while more and more Americans travel there to use resources, there is still not openness to supply resources. Problems ensue), but I am saying that getting a break from the relentless selfishness and lack of presence is wonderfully soul renewing. It gives me the perspective, for the few days this awareness will last, that we have a huge problem culturally. Our default right now on many levels is spiritually bankrupt, and not because Miley Cyrus showed you her boob, it is because we are greedy and are encouraged culturally to be greedy. I know in a few days I will be back immersed in my awesome iPhone and will wonder why my own impatience and entitlement are making me unhappy. But today I am happy in my mind to be wading in Cuban flood waters.
a trip to Cuba
Jul 28, 2016