My mother, grandfather, and I flew to Cuba near the end of June. When we arrived in Havana, our taxi driver took us to the Panorama Hotel located in the Municipio Playa province. We discovered that only the hotel room is air-conditioned, not the entire hotel. Once we had unpacked we went to visit our cousins, Gustavo and his wife, Marta who live in the Santiago de las Vegas province of Havana. We went to their house and were greeted by a tiny woman with white hair. Marta never received my mother’s letter notifying her of our visit so she was not expecting us. Once my mom told her who we were, Marta began to cry, because she was so happy to see us.
Afterwards, we spoke to Gustavo. He was confined to his bed because he is dying of prostate cancer and cannot walk. Marta bathes him, feeds him, and makes sure he is as comfortable as possible. We spoke to them for awhile then said our goodbyes and left with the knowledge that we will most likely never see them again.
After a few days in Havana, we took an eight hour trip to visit a city on the other side of the island, Camaguey. While staying at the Gran Hotel in Camaguey, we were able to see the city with the help of our bellhop, Mario. Mario took us everywhere we needed to go and we soon found out that he is distantly related to us. We made friends with him and before we left he asked for help to escape Cuba.
Many Cuban citizens with Spanish ancestors apply for dual citizenship in Spain. After they have been granted citizenship, they travel to Spain and take a flight from Spain to another country, never returning to Cuba. Mario asked for two thousand dollars to order his documentation to become a citizen of Spain. He wants to leave Cuba with his family to have a better life. Many Cuban citizens share this dream, but many are never able to leave.
My trip to Cuba not only taught me about my heritage but it taught me about love, hope, and compassion. I have never seen a better example of love than in that small house in Havana. I know Marta will soon be alone in Havana, but for right now she does not think about that. Right now she only thinks about taking care of Gustavo and she has hope that he will soon be well. Hope seems to be a universal trait of the Cuban citizens. They all hope that one day they will have a better life and will not have to live in poverty anymore. However, the most important lesson I learned in Cuba was compassion. When I think back to Marta, Mario, and all the other Cuban citizens living in poverty and desperation I am overcome with sadness, but simultaneously thankful for the life I live. I can only hope and pray that one day they will be free, just like me.
If you would like to know more about the Panorama or Gran Hotel you can see reviews about them at Tripadvisor.com. The taxi services on the island cost about ten dollars to take you from your hotel to another location and most of them do not have air-conditioning. When converting your money to their Cuban currency you are charged a twenty percent fee. Therefore, every one American dollar is only worth eighty cents in Cuba.
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