Traveling to Cuba
Back in October of 1962, I was a mere child attending Riley Elementary School in my home town of Michigan City, Indiana. My only worry as an eight-grader was what soul singer Stevie Wonder would say "for Christmas what would be my toy." Meanwhile in the real world of adult grown up politics there was something going on called "The Cuban Missile Crisis." It seemed United States surveillance had discovered the Soviet Union had some serious weapons in Cuba pointed in the direction of major cities in the United States. As an 8 year old I remember thinking it was fun when school would have emergency drills where students were told to get under their desks and cover our heads. Also families were encouraged to build bomb shelters, or at the very least know where the nearest shelter was located.. Needless to say it was a very confusing time for young child who knew nothing about missiles, or Cuba. Well, no one was bombed, President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev managed to reach face saving agreements to not blow up the world. However, the details included what Americans would commonly call " The Cuban Embargo" which included but was not limited to diplomatic and economic sanctions banning any relationship with the island/nation of Cuba. It is an embargo that is still in effect. Although in recent years, thanks to efforts by President Obama a path way to normal relations with Cuba has become a possibility.
Fast-forward 54 years and I find myself the career counselor at the SAE School just outside of Atlanta, Georgia charged with planning an educational/cultural trip for our middle school students to the island-nation of Cuba, scheduled for 2017. What an incredible turn of events and opportunity for all of us who are able to make this journey. The island of Cuba still has it's natural beauty , but it's almost as if time has stood still. I am told restored vintage old cars from as far back as the 1950's still rule the worn and torn roadways.
Bridging the gap through goodwill?
After the many decades of distrust and bad feelings. can relationships be restored? Only 90 miles separate Cuba from the United States. American business and corporations are waiting patiently to see if Cuba honestly wants to join the modern ages.
So I ask myself. How can I best prepare my students for such a trip? A trip that I am almost certain will be mentioned in the first thirty seconds of any future conversation they might have about travel. I figured it would be important they know that at this point in time there are only twelve purposes an American citizen can visit Cuba. Included among them are the following:
- Professional Research
- Journalistic or Religious Activities
- Public Performances or Sports Activities
- Record Music-Create Art (With Government Approval)
- Film or produce TV Shows (With Government Approval)
- Academic Programs Educational-Cultural Exchanges
It is the latter category in which we would fall. It is also important they knew that this is not a vacation, or tourist trip. We would have a full time schedule of activities and a very strict itinerary, which would be monitored closely by our tour guide, a Government official, and I am sure many others whom we would not see or meet. In short our young people would be unofficial United States Ambassadors.
A fascinating adventure awaits us.
So as we meticulously prepare our plans for this trip which from all accounts will be unlike any others most of us will ever take. I keep reminding students, staff, administrators, and others not to expect a vacation type adventure. This is an educational-culture exchange, not designed to entertain, but designed to inspire, provoke thought and educate those who choose to participate. The water may not always look or taste very good. The food may or may not satisfy your palate. And you certainly should not expect to have the comfortable freedoms we enjoy at home. As the old saying goes, "When in Rome do as the Romans do." In our case it will be- " When in Cuba, do as the Cubans do." Or risk an international incident, which we will do all in our power to avoid. Keep an eye on this space for updates on our progress of traveling to Cuba. There are a lot of moving parts to make this happen, financial and otherwise. So wish us luck.