A Ray of Hope with Canadian Tourists Arriving
When my friends from Havana call me on Video Chat, they often will take a walk with me through the streets of their barrio. I often have to fight back the tears. My cherished memories of Havana recall the streets filled with people, music and energy. If I close my eyes, I can hear the laughter, see the children running through the streets of Centro Habana playing soccer, hear the calls of “Oye” echoing across the old crumbling facades. Everywhere in Havana, there is life happening. Now, however, when my friends take me on walks through the streets, it is empty. There is no one. The streets are clean, but totally empty, void of all human life. It is surreal and spooky. There is no sound, no music, not even a voice echoing. I always ask them if they feel afraid being the only one in the street. The answer is always a solid “No, afraid of what? Todo bien mami.”
Havana is closed down again for another 15 days of strong curfews and quarantines after another small spike in cases. Cuba’s response is swift and strong in trying to control what seems to be an uncontrollable virus. However, there is also a little glimmer of hope.
On Friday, September 4, Cuba welcomed the first plane of Canadian visitors to Cayo Coco in many months. Many are hopeful that more can follow and that Cuba can start to re-open for travelers to visit. Thousands of Cubans are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get back to work. Artists, musicians, dancers, travel industry workers, taxi drivers, casa owners, restaurant owners, tour guides, travel companies, and all things travel related make up the backbone of the Cuban economy. Cuba has been hit hard, deep and tragically by CoVid 19 and all of us want a return to normalcy there as soon as possible. “Canada has long been Cuba’s most important tourist provider, accounting for 1.1 million of the 4.2 million arrivals in 2019, according to the government. Industry revenues were $2.6 billion last year.” (Source: Global News)
The CoVid 19 world pandemic crisis has left the entire world in a sort of PTSD on almost all levels. Psychologically people are now almost afraid of each other. Many people do not want to leave their homes, they are afraid of exposure, afraid of getting it and passing it someone they love, and in those with already marginalized health, afraid of even death. The mental impacts of isolation, disconnection from normal human interaction, physical touch, and community connections are far greater than the impacts of the virus itself and have affected almost everyone in some way or another. Economically the hits have been beyond our ability to fully comprehend yet. Entire businesses and systems have failed, millions of people in both developed and undeveloped nations are struggling in ways that we have not seen for many many years.
The country has reported nearly 4,300 COVID-19 cases to date and 100 deaths. Some of the lowest stats to be found anywhere in the world. Of course, there is always the question of accuracy of reporting, the same as with the USA or any country. It is virtually impossible for ANY country to know the true accurate numbers in this crisis.
Cuba has had unique challenges and some unique success as well. Cuban culture is a very social and communal one. Cubans are always touching, hugging, kissing, dancing, and sharing food and space intimately. It is what makes the culture such a warm and loving one and what makes Cuba such a magical place. They too have been forced into quarantines and isolation and the impacts there have been similar, and maybe worse, than in the more developed countries. Imagine being stuck in quarantine in sweltering heat without air conditioning, or fans in concrete homes, without the internet or access to social media for months on end. Add to that low food supplies, long lines of angry, frustrated people trying to get chicken, cooking oil or very basic necessities like soap and detergents, or clothes. Imagine having less than $10 a month to take care of all of your needs on when a pound of rice spikes up to $1/pound from the normal .20c a pound. Then ad onto those hardships all of the other psychological and social impacts and you’ll have a very tiny glimpse into what CoVid 19 has been like for our friends in Cuba.
If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of a Cuban family, please consider joining the Cuban PenPal Project and make a new friend in Cuba.
The United States bans residents from making tourist trips to Cuba as part of its decades-old trade embargo, but U.S. citizens can still travel to the Caribbean island for purposes including education