Culture Shock

Hola y un pequeño regalo del sol de Cuba!! Hello and a little gift of sun from Cuba! Yes, the reason I have not written for the past couple of weeks was a glorious writing trip to Cuba. Nothing like getting on a plane and travelling to a hot Spanish speaking country with a group of writers to inspire life-work harmony☺ Nothing like waking every morning, one week with a view of the ocean, the next with a view of the countryside, journal in hand, finishing the last chapter of my book The Beauty of Disaster☺ Nothing like taking a chance and just going for it.

Last August I learned of a trip to Cuba with a group of Canadian Writers who had an alliance with Cuban writers. This group, the CCLA – the Canadian Cuban Literary Alliance – was celebrating their 10th anniversary of travel and connection with Cuban writers, launching books in Cuba and doing cultural exchanges with Cuban writers. The price tag for the two-week Cuba trip made the traveller in me jump for glee. The time frame, the last week in January and the first week in February – right around exams and semester two turn around – made my stomach do uneasy rolls. To commit to the trip truly meant committing to a full year off work with no income potentials in sight, and that felt scary. The tipping point? Travelling with publishers and the guarantee of getting work written in Cuba published.

So last August I took the proverbial plunge, committed to the pursuit of my dreams, and found myself in Cuba chasing euphoria. What an incredible experience!!! I fell in love with Cuba and Cuban culture. I fell in love with their passion for life; their generous hearts and their love of family. I fell in love with their ingenuity and positive energy, with their smiles, their music and their dance with life. It was their spirit, their joy, their pride, their love of life that embraced me for the entirety of the trip. And it is precisely the lack of spirit, joy, pride and love of life that has hit me since I have been home.

Granted, I came home to -25°C weather and it is difficult to feel bouncy with energy and spirit when one is bundled up beyond recognition, but it was more in the interactions and exchanges between people from the time I got off the plane to now that I noticed just how negative we are in how we interact and speak with each other. For the first time in my life I acutely noticed how much we complain, how much we criticize, and how much we judge everything. It is like we don’t know how else to speak except to put ourselves and each other down. It has struck me hard how very little is said with enthusiasm and passion, with a zest for life and a positive perspective.

I expected to experience culture shock when I went to Cuba. I expected poverty and a lack of resources. I expected old cars and dilapidated buildings. And I got what I expected. Cuban lifestyle and means is humble at best. While in Cuba I met an incredible family, both parents university professors with one son. The CCLA group was treated to supper in their home. They hosted 22 people in their humble three-room home (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen). A space that some Canadians would shudder to invite people into as guests, let alone 22 guests!! It was the most incredible example of the connectedness between family and friends that I have experienced in a very long time.

It was also one of many experiences that highlighted just how abundant and fortunate our lives are in Canada. While walking the other day, I realized that every house we have, even the poorest of the poor, would be considered a mansion in Cuba. All of the amenities we have, including good washrooms, are considered a luxury. (The university professors that hosted us for dinner had their washroom put in with the help of Canadian friends, because they could not afford it themselves.) The internet has recently arrived to Cuba, but much is monitored by the Cuban government. Basic items that we take for granted, like razors and deodorant are difficult to find. The tour representative joked with us explaining that the country is out of deodorant and is waiting for the supply to come in by cargo ship from China. “It should arrive in a few months time,” he said.

Yes it was a cultural shock to go to Cuba, but it has been an even greater cultural shock to come home. To come home to a country that has more material wealth than the wildest dreams of any Cuban. To come home to a country that has it all, yet the looks on the faces don’t correlate to people who have everything. The conversations are not reflective of people who live in abundance. The spirit does not coincide with all the incredible amenities that we enjoy.

And I wonder, which is the first world country – Canada with its immense material wealth or Cuba with its passion, fire and joy for life?

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One Response to Culture Shock

  1. Kelvin Mann says:

    Culture Shock! Indeed, the truly sad part of it is that you don’t even have to leave Canada to see it. Just travel around Ontario and compare lifestyles. Every day I deal with seniors that live alone and I watch them slip into dementia and Alzheimer’s, where are the family members?
    How can they not notice what is happening? All the while I try to contact the proper organization to get them help, only to be told that once the paper work is completed we can help, or we need the families consent to get involved. Paper work, money and fear of being sued seem to be the new order.

    I think it would be better to live in a poor country. Or at least one with more emotional
    attachment to family and right and wrong. I honestly believe that if you took the investing, the credit system and the whole monitory system in general and threw it in the trash and took the world back to times when people helping people was the way things got done the world would be a better place. Sorry I’m ranting, but I get so frustrated, however it is these moments that make my problems feel so insignificant and it makes me feel better knowing that at least I tried to help. I would choose Passion, Fire and Joy for Life over material wealth any day.

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