Thursday, May 30, 2013



Christine Rushton
May 15, 2013

Walking toward the stairwell one morning after breakfast, a graying woman tilted her head in a greeting nod as she held the door open out of courtesy. I stepped through and smiling, opened my mouth to thank her. Silence filled the doorframe as I my mind fumbled to find a language. Gracias, thank you, merci, grazi, spasibo; we had met so many non-Cuban foreigners during the trip that my mind had started to think in French, make decisions in English, and speak in Spanish.

On my flight from Los Angeles to Miami, I had met a professor from Lima, Peru who provided me with a slice of wisdom from his own travels to countries like Korea and China: Learn a few words in their language, but learn them well. My second language, which I by no means speak fluently, is French, but by my fifth day in Cuba my attempts at Spanish words such as ‘Gracias,’ ‘Buenos dias,’ and ‘Lo siento,’ elicited responding nods of understanding and even a few smiles at my surprising success.

Mangoes at a Havana food market. Christine Rushton/Murrow College
Later that day my immersion into the Spanish culture again surprised me. I stood in a roadside market filled with red, white and black grains, mangoes with browning spots of slight rot, women waving money to get the attention of the Cuban boy throwing produce into bags, and plantains hanging from the wicker beams.
A local food market in Havana.     Christine Rushton/Murrow College
My roommate Katie had come to interview the market owner about agriculture and began to speak to the Cuban boy. In a moment of panic, she turned to me, eyes wide. She needed the boy’s name and could not remember the correct Spanish words.

 Beans and legumes at a local Havana market.         Christine Rushton/Murrow College
“¿Cómo te llamas?” The words came from my own vocal chords and without hesitation. She obtained her source’s name for the interview and I walked away with my lips teasing slightly at the corners, soaking in the power of cultural immersion on communication development.

I realized then that the embargo may weld bars between Cuba and the United States, but no governmental body can close the open space between the iron. With smiles, hand gestures, and a few key words, humans can and will share. As a journalist, I can connect with people regardless of language.

The woman who held the door open for me spoke French. Although she was simply a visitor like me, if I were to see her again, I would thank her for more than just her gesture of courtesy; I would thank her for sharing her culture and would do so with one word: merci.

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