It’s taken me 16 years to make the journey to Cuba. Not because I was attempting to walk all the way from Australia but because during my first attempt I was in New Orleans, en route to Mexico City and then on to Havana, when I was called home because my mother was gravely ill.
Back then you couldn’t fly direct from the US to Cuba, now you can, so things are changing fast in a country held in economic suspension by isolation and animosity with its powerful neighbour. So I am one of the lucky ones to experience Cuba before it is globalised and, selfishly I hope when it happens, it’s at a glacial speed.
Understandably, many of the poor there might not share my view but, for the outsider, the charm and unique openness and sincerity of the Cubans seems preserved by this lack of exposure to the outside world, to conglomerates and hordes of tourism dollars sloshing into the country.
Development is a finely balanced process which has been mucked up in many third world countries by global agencies and corporates, so Cuba has a chance to learn from this. How do you allow the world in without being culturally hijacked, diminishing the spirit and character of the people via obsessions for empty first world values and consumer goods?
What I experienced was a country brimming over with community and connection – real and not virtual – and with so much to offer.
I adored Cuba and its people. I saw the flaws but I also felt inspired. I experienced so much decency, joy, warmth and open-armed love that I could only imagine a rosy future for this amazing country – but please let it be on its terms.