By Georgene Pilling ’04M, Director of Stewardship
In March 2012, the first cadre of 20 students traveled to Cuba for Arcadia’s week-long Preview program. One year later, in April 2013, alumni followed their footsteps and experienced Cuba culturally and historically with Pam Martin-Molina ’73, ’03M as our guide.
The connections she has forged over the years through her business, Molimar Export Consultants, Inc., opened many doors for us to meet Cubans in all walks of life: breakfast with Dr. Sergio Santana, physician and nutritionist at the Almegeras Hospital in Havana; studio visit with José Fuster, the “Picasso of Cuba;” garden lunch at Carmen’s B&B (she herself a poet); history lesson with Dr. Olga Rosa Gonzales at the Center for Hemispheric Studies; conversation with Dr. Olga Fernandez, teacher and researcher at the Institute of Science and Philosophy; tour and espresso with Tony, President of the Art Association in Matanzas; mojitos with Majel Reyes, professional translator (for Fidel, on one occasion); tour of the Clinic for Children with Neurological Disabilities by Dr. Rodriguez (and more espresso!); and the impromptu delight afforded by an open rehearsal of the youth orchestra, Camarata Romeau, at Basilica San Francisco.
And as we walked along the cobblestoned streets of Old Havana and strolled down the Malecón, the broad esplanade that stretches along the seawall, we met a diverse community of Cubans, proud of their culture and optimistic about the future.
Sonya Pekar ’07 writes, “I went into the experience with an open mind, having read a few internet articles and having a vague memory of learning about the Cuban missile crisis in high school. I took back more knowledge than I ever expected about the culture, the people, and the current political issues. I was surprised to learn that the food was so delicious, that Mario, our Cuban guide, had a love for American movies, and that Majel, a professional interpreter, was business savvy in spite of economic adversity. I have a deeper understanding of what Dr. Gonzalez spoke of when she said the sun is different in Cuba. Even though Cuba may be filled with decay, it has managed to keep its beauty and elegance. Seeing the streets as well as buildings being rebuilt one by one, brick by brick, is a symbol of their perseverance, resilience, and pride.”
“What an awesome experience!” writes Loli Jaeger Lindstrom ’59. “Cuba is a beautiful island living in a time warp. So many lovely old homes crumbling and broken up into tiny apartments, with laundry hanging on the balcony railings. There seems to be a glimmer of hope in the entrepreneurial spirit with homes being opened up as paladars (small restaurants run by self-employers) and guest houses.”
“Cuba and its people have won my heart,” says Mike Spoganetz ’08. “I was uncertain what to expect before arriving in Havana. American students seem to have a very bleak and decrepit picture of Cuba painted for them in school. My knowledge of its history capped at involvement in the Cold War and Missile Crisis. What I came to find was a country whose beauty shone through its disrepair and a people with indomitable spirit. I found our excursion to the Clinic to be especially memorable. To see the dedication and innovative spirit of Dr. Rodriguez and his team, even with very limited resources and technology, was inspiring. Meeting Pam’s friends and business acquaintances, and visiting sites off the beaten path provided a unique opportunity for us to gain a more thorough understanding of Cuban culture and the pride, warmth and profound nationalism of the Cuban people. Not to mention, we experienced firsthand how incredible the food is!’
Loretta Parker Liljestrand ’54 had been to Cuba in 1959 and had much to ponder. She writes, “Everything in Cuba changed in 1959, which was 54 years ago. Consequently, all Cubans who were under school age then have no experience with a life style other than the one they now know. Now in 2013, we met Cubans who were experimenting with capitalism and trying to figure out how to live in a socialist society while competing in a global world, using what limited resources they can find to earn a living. Fuster, the artist, had a studio decorated with pieces of tiles that made unique artwork and he reached out to change a neighborhood. Carmen, owner of a lovely home, turned it into a B&B and served us a special lunch while selling books of her poetry. A group of string musicians gathered in a basilica to rehearse for a concert and allowed us to listen after a small contribution. Men and women produced hand-made books with carefully cut-out figures and flowing script. We met the owners, the chefs, and the wait staff of various paladars, who were proud of their Cuban cuisine, which was just as I remembered it from my visit in 1959 – seafood, black beans and rice, plantains, flan and espresso. And the vintage cars, too, were just as I remembered – a passing parade of two-tone paint jobs on cars from the 50s – a ’49 Pontiac and a ’57 Plymouth with tailfins. The struggling but moving caravan of cars warranted our applause for the mechanics – the transfer of knowledge from grandfather to father to grandson – who make-do without Detroit’s parts.”