Until recently, we, as Americans, have generally had a very limited and select knowledge of Cuba. What we hear most of all about the people specifically, is Cubans leaving Cuba. And that’s why I wanted to spend my first blog in Cuba talking about a woman I have met on this trip, not a Cuban woman, but a foreigner who did the exact opposite.
I met Jamila through a new friend on this trip, Miriam. She went to a church in Panama growing up that had sister churches in Chicago, Florida where she lives now, and coincidentally, Havana, Cuba. Miriam was able to get in contact with the leaders of the church and tell them that we were coming. Come Sunday, Miriam and I met Jamila at our building to take us to church.
On the way there, walking, taking a taxi, and then walking again, we learned all about Jamila and how she got to where she is today in Havana. Jamila is Ghanaian. Born and raised in Ghana until she was 19 years old. After that, her family moved to Canada where she finished her undergraduate education and lived for some years thereafter. She knew she wanted to go to medical school and was intrigued by Havana University when exploring her options. She had heard, like many of the students on this trip, about the quality of the public health system in Cuba and the large number of doctors that the country turns out every year. Nonetheless, the process to enter the country and go the medical school as a foreigner was very mysterious and unclear which intrigued her even more. In 2011, Jamila was able to apply and entered the medical school.
Upon arriving, Jamila did not speak a word of Spanish and learned through a rigorous year-long course in the medical school. She quickly found a church to be a part of which she said helped her drastic transition. At the end of two and half years she found herself engaged to a man that she had met at the church. They married in 2014 and now have a 1 ½ year old son. Due to certain circumstances she had to stop her medical schooling but now she and her husband lead a small but vibrant church. She was telling us that she would have never expected her life to turn out the way that it has, living permanently in Cuba with her husband and their son. They are a beautiful family, and despite some difficulties, they live their lives in Havana with so much love and joy in their hearts. Jamila’s story really struck me because it is a flip of the narrative that we often hear of people escaping the island.
Though this is only one singular story, it made me think about how Cuba might transform in a relatively short amount of time. What I’m curious to see are the changes in Cuba’s population and overall dynamic with less and less restrictions and more open relations with the U.S. Perhaps with better access to more and better resources, Cuba will become more desirable for outsiders, not just for tourism but as a place for them to start business and immerse themselves in the culture and atmosphere. Perhaps in the future, the world will see Cuba as a place to live and thrive rather than a country to flee.