In general, I feel free when I travel. Traveling, especially alone, offers me the chance to escape my daily life, to see a new place and the mobility involved makes me feel like I grew wings and took off into the unknown. I have traveled to many places where I felt free but the most free I ever felt was during the week I spent in Cuba last year. I realize that sounds strange considering Cuba is far from a free country when it comes to many things but for me, a foreigner, in a place so vastly different from my home country, many of the things that Cubans feel are limitations on their freedoms were in fact very liberating to me.
As you are probably already aware, Cuba is a communist country which means there are limitations on the people who live there. Having to use ration cards to obtain necessary goods and lack of freedom of speech are just a couple of the things Cubans have to deal with on a day-to-basis but when compared to my day-to-day life, the way of life in Cuba is much better than the day-to-life here at home in Canada. I know Canada is known for being one of the freest countries in the world, when you really look at how we live our lives in the more developed countries, you realize that we are not as free as we think.
One of the things I learned about Cuba is that our perceptions about their political system are slightly skewed.
We have always been told that Communism in every form and even speaking the word is pure evil but I learned that, although a lot of the Communist ideals in Cuba are not ideal for the people, a lot of other things are actually better than I have it here in Canada, at least based on the way I look at the world and the direction we are headed. With this newfound knowledge, I came to the conclusion that Communism, if done right, can be a wonderful system that benefits everyone. Imagine if we all rationed what we ate and just ate what we needed; no one would go hungry and maybe there would be enough food for every single person on the planet. Everyone eats, no one is homeless, education is free, healthcare is free and among the best in the world and, as one will notice while interacting with the Cuban people, they are always smiling and always cheerful. They may be controlled by their government but the rest of us are also controlled by our governments in ways we not see and we are also controlled by large corporations which are almost non-existent in Cuba.
Other things I noticed about the Cuban people include their lack of material possessions, their devotion to family and their knack for being very social.
And by social, I am not talking about chatting it up with someone they will never meet face-to-face on an online dating site or chat-line. You see, the average Cuban does not own a computer and rarely has access to the internet. When I drive or walk around my neighborhood here in Canada, I rarely see people sitting outside on their steps. Even beaches and parks are empty on beautiful sunny days and the only time I see children is when they are walking to and from school. While walking around the streets of Havana, there were people everywhere. Adults sitting on stoops talking to their neighbors, vendors chatting it up on the sidewalk to anyone who will lend an ear and children playing games in the street and well, being children. It was like I went back in time to when the world valued things like family and living life to the fullest.
If I could have ten minutes with a Cuban whose dream it is to immigrate to another country so they can have all the “luxuries” that we have, I would remind him that the grass always seems greener on the other side. While material wealth and opportunity are easier to acquire on the other side, there is always a price to pay and sacrifices to be made. I would tell him that not all that glitters is gold and the way of life we have in the “free” world is not always free. The price that we pay may not be noticeable to the average person but one only needs to turn off the television, the computer and the video game system and take a real look around them and they may be quite surprised to see that the price we pay to live the lives we live in the “developed” world are proving to be high as our cultures disappear, our lives become overrun with trivial things, our health fails, morals take a steep nosedive and children no longer know how to be children.
In this regard, the Cuban people who fight to keep their culture intact, who continue to instill morals in their children, who get to know and love their neighbors, who make every attempt to be happy with what they have despite adversity are many steps ahead of the rest of us and that is why I feel so free whenever I visit Cuba.
About the Author: Andrea MacEachern: I am a freelance writer and photographer currently living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I grew up in an area so rich with culture history and tradition, it only seemed natural for me to do what came naturally to me and so many around me. Be an artist. I tried my hand at music, acting, and various technical roles on local TV and film sets but none suited me. It wasn’t until I was asked to write a script for a 30-minute short film that I realized my passion was for the written word and I’ve been writing ever since! I studied Media Communications at Lawrence College in St. John’s, NL and as well, I have a diploma in Business and certificates in Creative Writing, Scriptwriting and Public Speaking. My work has been featured in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Beach Lover’s Soul, Cats and Kittens, Simple Pleasures of the Kitchen (anthology), and Fate Magazine.