International Ministries

Four Letter Words, Part 1: Cuba Journal Entry #4

July 3, 2015 Journal
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La Dama (The Lady)

Ninety-four miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, the island of Cuba is one of the emerald jewels of the Caribbean.  Lush foliage, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters were first inhabited by the Taino, people indigenous to the island.  In 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba for Spain, and she did not gain her independence until 410 years later, in 1902. Under socialist rule since the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959 led by Fidel and Raúl Castro, Cuba has navigated a historical and political landscape with a dexterity that still amazes. Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante said, “To be Cuban is to go with Cuba everywhere.  Cuba is a paradise from which we flee by trying to return.”

Wandering Habana Antigua (Old Havana) I understand why some people call it “The island where time stands still.”  The buildings are muted with refined age, their colors faded like a favorite T-shirt washed one too many times.  The plazas are reminiscent of old European cities with stone and iron-grille work popular at the height of colonialism.  The streets are cobblestone, the outdoor cafés smudged Renaissance paintings, the beauty marred by the slight stench of decay.

I am reminded of an elderly aristocratic lady fitted from head to toe in expensive black silk with her mantilla, her long lace veil, held in place by her tortoise shell comb, her peineta.  She walks with dignity and grace, her steps slow and distinct.  She is forbidding, elegant, mysterious.  Some believe she is no longer a threat.  But when you glimpse her in the flesh, you know she is a force to be reckoned with.  Her Caribbean blood simmers with passion, and steamy secrets.  And when I walk her streets, I hear the echo of whispers from centuries past.

El Moro (The Fort)

Across the inlet from Havana are the La Cabana and El Moro Fortresses.  They were constructed by the Spanish in the 17th century to protect the city from pirates, privateers, and the French & British naval fleets.  During that time period, a canon was fired at dawn and sunset each day to announce the opening and closing of the city gates.  The tradition of firing the canon in the evening continues to this day.  Our group joins hundreds of other tourists from across the globe for the 9:00 p.m. event.

Standing on the ramparts of the fort, I have a view of Havana that is postcard perfect in the softened twilight.  As I wait for the ceremony to begin, I find it somewhat ironic that I am experiencing a tradition that was built on safe-keeping the city’s inhabitants.  Why?  Because one of the frequent questions I heard before leaving on this trip was, “Is it safe?”  I suppose that question arises after years of conditioning against communism, socialism, and the U.S.’s particular relationship with Cuba.  But I can say with all honesty, that of all 7 countries I’ve visited so far, I have felt safest in Cuba.  Violent crime is almost non-existent on the island.  One needs to be wary of the usual snatch & grab often found in tourist areas.  Following common sense safety, I never felt threatened or ill at ease.  In fact, Cubans are some of the most gracious, hospitable people I’ve ever met.

When the canon goes off at 9pm, the crowd is startled despite the fact we know what’s coming.  Canons are not demure and unassuming.  The people of Cuba say you’re not a real Cuban until you’ve attended this ceremony at least once.  And when an inhabitant of Havana wants to express that he/she maintains vitality and good health, one says, “I’m like the canon shot ceremony.”  Longevity with a sonorous boom!

(This article will continue tomorrow with Part 2)