The People of Cuba
Hola Amigos, After two weeks in Cuba, where I captured many unique experiences with my camera, my head and heart are flush with soul-filled stories about the local people I met there.
I traveled with Professor Ron Herman, photographer extraordinaire and super nice guy, along with ten fun-loving people. We explored El Oriente, the towns and roads less traveled on the Eastern side of Cuba. After my first trip in 2012, I was eager to return, primarily to pursue a deeper experience and gain an appreciation for the Cuban people by digging more deeply into their lives and documenting these relationships with my camera. With politics set aside, I wanted to connect on a more meaningful level, so that I could have a better understanding of this unique culture, where people live under a frequently criticized government system.
My fearless approach begins with a warm smile and a simple greeting in Spanish. Sadly, I know only a few basic words, none of which can be strung together comprehensibly to create a sentence, but facial expressions and body language seem to help give a good first impression, at least enough for me to be welcomed into some people’s homes. The first heartwarming experience I had was meeting a family in the beautiful town of Baracoa.
After some time wandering the town by myself, it was getting late, so I looked for a side street that would lead me to the steps up to my hillside hotel. That’s when I noticed an older man and his daughter sitting on the stoop in a doorway. I was close enough for them to see me smile, and happily they returned my silent greeting with kind faces and smiles of their own. “Buenos Tardes,” I said, and as I crouched down to shake their hands, I noticed the girl, probably in her early twenties, was physically and possibly mentally disabled. They watched me remove my backpack and search for what I thought would be the perfect gift for this nice looking man. Among the myriad of stuff I’d brought from home was a set of small tools — four allen wrenches, a couple of screwdrivers, and a small hammer — all encased in clear plastic. Unfortunately, the only other gift in my backpack was a package of socks for a young child, so I felt bad that I didn’t have anything appropriate for the daughter.
With a smile the man nodded in appreciation as he checked out the tools and showed them to his daughter and then to a neighbor sitting on the stoop next to his. He expressed his gratitude in rapid Spanish, to which I responded “No Hable Españole, Hable Inglís.” Then I pointed to myself and stretched out my hand and said, “My name is “PaMELa,” with emphasis on the second syllable because I’ve learned it’s easier for non-English speakers to hear your name if you pronounce it this way. For example, David would be DaVEED and Susan would be SuSANNah. I pointed to the doorway and with raised eyebrows said “Casa?” The father and daughter stood up promptly and welcomed me through their front door.
Sensing their warmth and receptivity to a complete stranger whose name they couldn’t pronounce, I pointed to my camera and asked if I could take pictures. The daughter giggled nervously, but she and her father posed for me as they showed off their colorful but simple house decorated with large pink tiles and walls painted blue.
Beyond the kitchen was a small room with cement rubble and debris on the floor. Since this room was partially open to the sky, I wondered whether Hurricane Irma had torn off the roof when it made a direct hit on Cuba in 2017. When the father, eagerly posing for another picture, pulled back a curtain, all three of us squeezed into an already cramped bedroom with two beds and a dresser all close together.
With no other adults present, I asked about “MaMA.” With a stone-faced expression, the man pointed to a framed picture on the bedroom wall that was covered with a piece of cardboard. He took down the frame and gently removed the cardboard so that I could see a portrait of MaMA. The daughter, trying to explain the situation, took her index finger and in a throat-slitting gesture indicated that MaMA was no longer alive. Although it wasn’t entirely clear to me how MaMA had died, I don’t think she was murdered. However, It did make me wonder about the cardboard.
Just as I was about to say good-bye and head up the hill to my hotel, a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, wearing her school uniform entered the house with her mother walking right behind her. Although I had no idea what the father said to them in Spanish, the two greeted me with smiles and hugs like I was a long-lost relative. I’m sure this was an older daughter and maybe his grandchild.
The family stood together in the doorway and happily posed, so I could take more pictures. Then I remembered the package of kids’ socks I had in my backpack.
As I walked up the hill I reflected on the openness of this family, their sense of pride in showing me their humble home, and their warmth as they shared themselves with me. These are the personal encounters I yearn for when I travel. Cuba gave me what I hoped for and so much more.
The adventure continues……………….
John CardozaDecember 28, 2018 at 4:12 pm
Remember the “ugly American?” You are just the opposite. You are a good will ambassador for America, Pam. Always very interested in your blogs and my virtual travel avatar.
Pam PerkinsDecember 28, 2018 at 4:22 pm
Oh, John, thank you and what a nice thing for you to say and for me to hear. My biggest regret is not being able to speak Spanish. Imagine the stories I would hear.
Ron HermanDecember 28, 2018 at 4:25 pm
Warms my heart to see how you connected with the Cuban people and that you share your experience with others through your blog. Looking forward to seeing the next installment.
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:52 pm
Thank you, Ron. This trip was one of my best, and you were one of the reasons why.
SusanaDecember 28, 2018 at 4:27 pm
You more than made up for your limited Spanish with your friendly open approach to everyone we met! Your sincere interest in dropping below the surface level with people was so inviting. Your photos show the patience and time you invested. Beautiful!
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:50 pm
Spending time with you added immensely to what made this trip so special. Thank you so much for your beautiful words.
HELEN PAGEDecember 28, 2018 at 9:49 pm
Such a beautiful story, Pam. Thank you so much. I needed this tonight, as much as I needed our phone call.
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:48 pm
Thank you, Helen. I needed to hear your voice too. xoxoxox
Jim PrestonDecember 29, 2018 at 6:28 am
Very expressive description of living conditions. It provides a stark appreciation of all the blessings we enjoy in our country.
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:54 pm
Yes, we are truly fortunate, but the Cubans are fortunate too because they know how to live life to its fullest despite many hardships. Their zest for life is contagious.
Bill ArdisDecember 29, 2018 at 3:54 pm
Amazing, wonderful, as always, Pam. I’m with Brother Cardoza, You’re truly a goodwill ambassador wherever you go. You’re majorly brave as well. Lotsa folks wouldn’t wander about taking pictures in an unknown environment. Bless your very brave heart!!! If your site offered emojis I’d shower hearts upon you.
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:47 pm
Dearest Bill – You are a true mensch. In Yiddish that means that you are very special. Thank you for your support in all that I do. xoxox
Christine SilverDecember 29, 2018 at 10:07 pm
I envy your ability to reach out and then your heart warming receptivity
Pam PerkinsDecember 29, 2018 at 10:46 pm
Thank you, Chris. It’s nice to hear from you, and I hope you are well. I miss you. Pam
carla newtonDecember 30, 2018 at 8:13 am
What a perfect memory of the natural goodwill of the Cuban people! Your family seemed to have more room than the homes I wandered through in Havana even though the aesthetics were about the same. With such a lowly stipend, the non taxi-driving Cubans have little discretionary income to spend on paint or new furniture. It’s a true testament to the Cubans’ fabulous spirit and love for their family and friends that they remain hopeful. I am greatly looking forward to more of your fab photos and writing. You plop me right there in Cuba again!
Pam PerkinsDecember 30, 2018 at 2:12 pm
I was amazed at how much Cuba has changed in the six years since I was there, and some of my traveling friends saw the big change even in two years. The Cubans have learned to live life to the fullest regardless of their means.
Andrew HillDecember 31, 2018 at 2:02 pm
Another beautiful post, Pam. I love the way you connected with these people. You may not be fluent in Spanish, but you are blessed with a multilingual heart. And an artist’s eye. Thanks so much for sharing this memorable experience. Onward!
Pam PerkinsJanuary 2, 2019 at 9:02 am
Thank you, Andrew. I love the expression of a a “multilingual heart”. The People of Cuba kept giving over and over. Unforgettable.
LuRhe StrebJanuary 2, 2019 at 3:49 pm
I too like the “multilingual heart” and that fits you to a T! Did they know you’re from California? I know the language barrier is always difficult. I wonder what they thought when you left? Wouldn’t you have loved to hear their comments? We have visited people in their homes in China and India and come home with a whole new appreciation of the things we take for granted! I love traveling with you vicariously in your blogs! Keep it up ‼️
Pam PerkinsJanuary 2, 2019 at 4:18 pm
You really made my day, LuRhe, after reading thoughtful comments on three of my stories. I had several incredible experiences getting close to the Cuban people, but each needs their own story. So stay tuned. In the meantime, just know that I truly appreciate your comments. And yes, I’d really love to hear their comments. Happy New Year.
Phyllis WhitingJanuary 2, 2019 at 9:10 pm
You’ve become a first rate photographer and writer. Thanks for keeping me on the list of recipients. Im still hoping to visit Cuba and your blog makes me even more eager. Perhaps 2019 will be the year. Also hope it will be the year to celebrate our January birthdays together. So much catching up to do. Big hugs to you and Bruce.
Phyllis WhitingJanuary 2, 2019 at 9:12 pm
You’ve become a first rate photographer and writer. Kudos. Im still hoping to visit Cuba and your blog makes me even more eager. Perhaps 2019 will be the year. Also hope it will be the year to celebrate our January birthdays together. So much catching up to do. Big hugs to you and Bruce.
Phyllis WhitingJanuary 2, 2019 at 9:14 pm
You’ve become a first rate photographer and writer. Kudos. Im still hoping to visit Cuba. Perhaps 2019 will be the year. Also hope it will be the year to celebrate our January birthdays together. So much catching up to do. Big hugs to you and Bruce.
Jacquelyn BrownJanuary 4, 2019 at 2:03 pm
Love the photos and the insights! Thanks for reaching out on behalf of your fellow Americans.