La fruta prohibida

By Michael Hernandez, Public Health in Cuba, Summer 2012

As the 19 of us sat in the small, air-conditioned classroom at Casas de las Americas, surrounded by our professors for the next two months, the term coined by Professor Geraldo to describe the country sunk in. “The forbidden fruit.” We were finally in Cuba, after months of eager and somewhat restless anticipation. I recall the vibrant colors of the island coming to life as we first left the airport terminal, the golden sun beating down warm rays in the Caribbean air. It was just like the photos depicted it to be: tropical trees, exotic flowers, and most striking of all, the antique cars that made you feel as though you had just stepped back in time.

Unfortunately, the serenity of it all was met with a bitter reminder of the current state of affairs between our countries, as we boarded our bus and departed from the airport, driving through traffic on the way to our apartments. Billboards lined the streets with messages promoting Cuba’s socialist government, with many more condemning the United States for its actions against the country: “End the injustice!” and “Blockade: The largest genocide in history” were among the propaganda that rang out on every street corner. We sat on our bus, silent as the driver played Spanish music, absorbing the sights and sounds of our new home.

It’s amazing that we’ve already been here for five days. We’re constantly asking each other what day of the week it is, as each person exchanges confused glances until someone with a digital watch answers (struggles of not having a cell phone). Since our time here, we’ve bounced around at a lot of good restaurants as our program director, Adrian, helps us get acclimated to the safe places to eat in Havana. We’ve gone on museum tours in Old Havana, which is rich in history and culture. We’ve even managed to stumble upon an old cigar-making shop hidden in the upper alcoves of an ancient, castle-like structure, where we all bonded over choking on/successfully conquering the infamous Cuban cigar.

Yet, it seems all of these culturally-immersing experiences have only exacerbated the fact that I acutally know little about Cuba. I came into this country with a general jist of things, but as Professor Geraldo led our tour through one of the city’s history museums, I quickly realized I had more questions than answers. As we moved from room to room in the dimly-lit corridors of the museum, I struggled to keep track of the island’s intricate history, of the semi-familiar names being thrown out and the significant dates rushing by. In a way, I think it’s a good thing. I’m glad that there is so much for me to still learn, and I am looking forward to the next seven weeks of classes and outings, in hopes that I may get these questions answered, while discovering new things to start thinking about.