Posted by: thebluemusicblog | February 27, 2015

30 DAYS THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN – CUBA 3

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As yesterday was a bit focused on Ernest Hemingway, today is a bit on the revolutionary side! I wanted to see the Museum of Revolution and then the National Gallery of Cuba. But first we went back to the YMCA in Calle Salud 222 in an extraordinarily delicious car from 1948, a brand I did not quite recognize. We were sailing again, and enjoying the luxury of the past.

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At the YMCA Hector and I had a meeting to discuss the YMCA in Cuba and its specific needs just now. The new initiatives from President Obama has certainly changed many perspectives, and the hopes are there for an ease in the embargo, maybe a normalization of the situation.

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There are many signs that the government may have been taken by surprise and probably feel quite confused. The embargo has done more to strengthen the revolution than to weaken it, and it has really basically made life for ordinary Cubans very difficult. For the regime it has been a consolidating source of strength and stability. Nothing functions as well as a common enemy to build a solid defence against the outside world and discipline inside. Changes will come on different levels of society, and there will most likely be new opportunities for the YMCA as well. In many ways this situation reminds me of my own start in the international YMCA, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the surprising opening of Eastern Europe and even Russia itself. The changes in China have certainly taken another course than what happened in the Soviet Union, and it is most likely that the future of Cuba will take yet another course and will have different characteristics. Anyway the YMCA is needed to strengthen communities, to build young leadership and to serve the people in daily need of support.

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One of the important programmes of Cuban YMCA is the Friendly Phone line, and this morning is set aside to an in depth conversation with the doctors and the psychologists working on the phone line every day. They divide the day in three shifts, and it is basically open from 8.00 in the morning till 8.00 in the evening. They answer calls from thousands of people and advise them on health issues, both physical health as well as mental health , but also family problems, issues around sexual identity and plain suicidal problems.

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The staff is extremely professional and very motivated for the work. In times when Hector has had problems to find resources to pay their wages, they have decided to stay on, and now this YMCA programme is supported by the limited funds of the Presbyterian Church.

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After a very inspirational morning at the YMCA, we drive in Hector’s Lada from 1986 to the Museum of Revolution. It is always important to get to know the specific history and culture of a country as you are visiting for the first time. Social meetings with people like yesterday are equally important to help you deeper into an understanding of the society and where people find themselves compared to other cultures and societies.

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The museum is interesting, but reminds me a bit of an old photo album with black and white photos from a distant past, an album that people are not too eager to open and use. As a historically interested person I would have liked to see more than photos and text mostly in Spanish. But I find an interesting book about the friendship between Che and Fidel, a book I look forward to read when I have finished my excellent book on the modern history of Nicaragua, with the Sandinista revolution and the following Contras war, President Reagan’s almost personal war against Nicaragua after the fall of the brutal dictator Somoza.

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Sometimes it seems that people in power prefer mafia rule to the legally elected government of a leftish orientation. The boom I am reading is an excellent book written by an American journalist from New York Times, Stephen Kinzer. The name of the book is “Blood of Brothers – Life and War in Nicaragua”.

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We are walking across the street to the National Gallery and find a top modern, state of the art building with cutting edge architecture. Wow! The collection of classical art is Cuban, and the department for Modern and Contemporary art is also Cuban predominantly, and a good number of splendid works.

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We are fascinated, impressed, and as we are walking through the three huge floors the colors and shapes and compositions are almost overwhelming me, and as always in these top galleries, I find myself regenerated and filled with joy.

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We enter the street and search for another special car to take us back to the YMCA.

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We are on our way to the outskirts of Havana, where people are living in real poverty. The kids from this area are come together once a week and they have a splendid time together with the YMCA.

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They are singing and shouting and dancing and shouting again, I can still hear them, hours after we left them. I am invited to speak to the children. This is difficult, to speak to 3-5 years kids though translation. I tell them how it is to live not in a fridge, but in a deep freezer, and use a lot of body language. Somehow that works with them and when we start throwing imaginary snowballs at one another, we really have contact for a while!

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It is already time to say goodbye to Hector and his almost mystical YMCA. It is a very special atmosphere connected to the YMCA, a happy, joyful, sensitive and beautiful YMCA, and they seem to feed on smiles and friendship and volunteerism. We hug Hector and start packing. we need to get up at 02.00 in the morning to go to the airport for a 05.00 flight. A rather stupid idea from our travel agency, but we are probably saving a couple of dollars. Especially funny is that I set the alarm wrongly, so that I find myself in the shower at 01.00 instead of 02.00. Fantastic!

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We are full of impressions and tastes and sounds and smells and smiles. What a place, what a people!

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Coming back to the hotel to send away this blog post, I need to pay 20 US for two hours of internet. The only source of internet available. Only 5% of the population has access to internet at all. The staff at the telephone desk smiles and serves me one of the most typical situations in a communist system: “No internet available, and I do not know when it will be available, I also do not know why there is a problem, or if there is a solution to it. Come back in an hour.” In an hour I am deeply asleep, and feeling bad that I was not able to deliver a blogpost a day for 30 days. But when there is no road, you cannot drive! But let me try again to leave you with some fabulous rhythms from Cuba:


Responses

  1. !Excellent! Wonderful to learn so much about the ‘Y’ in Cuba, and to see all of these exciting, colorful photos. I’ve been enjoying all of your posts. Please offer my ‘saludos’ to our companeros de la YMCA Cuba!

  2. That gratifying that YMCA has a presence on the island, wonderful place, full of hope and great example for humanity, without esconomico resources but human, makes life maravillosa.Gran example for many.

    Ivanoba Pardo H
    YMCA Cali – Colombia


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