Only two states have the survived the 20th Century’s experiment with Communism in its purest form: North Korea and Cuba. One is on most people’s radar as a place of curiosity and even a potential holiday destination, the other is most certainly not. Whereas North Korea exudes a pretty unmistakable vibe of hostility, Cuba greets visitors from the west with a broad, welcoming smile.
That’s not to say visiting Cuba isn’t a challenge. In my short life, I’ve never had to grapple with the notion of freedom. The freedom to thrive and to fail; to truly play the game of life as you choose without restriction. Our grandparents were forced to contemplate and measure the value of freedom in times of war, but thanks to their choices my generation has been fortunate enough to take freedom for granted. Visiting Cuba provoked me to reflect on the sanctity of freedom and for that I’m grateful.
However it’s not a clear cut case of freedom is good and therefore communism is bad. Cuba is a country of contradictions. Economically poor, but culturally rich. Visibly decaying, yet strangely beautiful. Infuriating and inspiring at the same time. In a single moment, you will encounter both heartbreaking poverty and exuberant passion for life.
A country suspended in time and to a large extent cut off from the outside world, Cuba is a place of low aspirations, but a natural zeal for the simple pleasures life can offer. It’s culture remains strong because it has not been diluted by foreign influences, nor by media or materialism. There may be relentless oppression, but there is also salsa and plenty of it! There are colourful, mid-century american cars and brightly painted houses. There are kids playing together safely on the street without a care in the world. There is music oozing from every doorway. There is family and there is community. And more often than not, there is sunshine!
As I left Havana bound for home, I had a sense that Cuba was on the verge of change and I am so glad to have experienced this unique island as it is now. I’m not sure I’ll ever visit more intriguing and thought-provoking country.
Captured on Kodak Portra Film | Order Prints Here