Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Real Havana

Thomas Pankau
Reporting from Havana

My academic work for the day was done: I had just finished helping fellow students, Claudia and Jasmine with their news pieces when we began to head back to our hotel from the middle of Havana. We passed by stray animals, musicians playing money for tips on the streets, and children playing soccer with a deflated ball and shoes that were falling apart. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't clean, but it was Havana as the average Cuban knows it.

I enjoyed getting a non-tourist perspective and breaking free from the schedule of daily events. Of course we stuck out as foreigners and eventually were stopped briefly by a Cuban couple who were fascinated the idea of conversing with Americans. They spoke little English (not that our Spanish was any better) but still managed to communicate with us until Claudia, who spoke fluent Spanish, arrived and had a whole conversation with them for several minutes. My high school Spanish vocabulary came back to me for a few brief moments as I tried to understand what they were speaking about, but I soon gave up trying to keep up with them. In his accented English, the man turned to me and said, "I know there are lots of problems between our two countries, but that is only between the governments and not with the people." Before we left, he gave me a hug and spoke to me in Spanish. I was confused as to what he was saying, but I was touched by the gesture regardless and embraced him for a short moment as we all made our ways back to the hotel. On the way, Claudia translated for me what he was saying: I don't have anything to give you, but take this hug back to the U.S. with you.

Yes, it felt good to see Havana as the average Cuban sees it.

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