Trapped In Paradise

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Trapped In Paradise


I know some how, some way, my soul knows of this place on a level not easily explained in words. The deep resonance that speaks to my heart, whispers to me secrets of a past here so sweet, so pure. One of beauty, sincerity and grace.

I have a theory that perhaps, in a past life - I too once felt the warmth of the Cuban sun on my face and the rich soil beneath my feet, reached over, picked a guava off of a nearby tree, inhaled and known this place to be home.

And even though the youth of this place has long passed it’s peak, there is still an overwhelming sense of life and vitality that Cuba, and it’s people continue to exude. It’s as if they’re saying, let the rain fall, and we will celebrate anyway until the sun shines again once more. The buildings may be falling to ruins but there is still life growing from the cracks in the concrete. The people may be oppressed by outdated economic ideals and the unfair laws and systems in which they find themselves; but they choose to smile anyway. The spirit of the Cuban people says to me -

I choose to laugh, to love, to give with open arms and an open heart ANYWAY, because you can take away my money and you can take away my freedoms but you cannot take away the love in my heart, the joy that is my spirit or the profound sense of connection that we share with one another.

The words I have to explain this feeling fall short, but essentially, in the short time that i have been here, Cuba has taught me more things about myself and about the human spirit than I could have ever anticipated.

I have come face to face with what resilience and the strength of the human spirit really looks like. I have looked actual struggle in the eye and seen it for what it is in the light of day. No filters, no illusions, just simply, what it is.

I have seen the lengths that people will go to in order to survive in a place that does not have their best interest at heart, and the raw emotion and vulnerability that lies in the eyes of those who call this place home.

I have also come to know human connection and a love so raw, so genuine, and so pure, from the very same eyes of those who seem to know struggle as well as they do their own names.

I came here to better understand the relationship that Cuba has always had with America, but I am leaving here with a better understanding of what it truly means to be alive.

I have always had a deep underlying resentment for the country in which i was born and it’s values of which I could never fully understand, let alone relate to. Granted, material things and the “freedom” we are given here to do the things we want with relatively minimal regulation - is a beautiful thing; and after seeing what i’ve seen in Cuba, never again will I be able take such privileges for granted.

But even with all of the perceived “freedoms” that we are given and the opportunities we have in America to truly find what makes our heart sing, there are still a lot of us who, when given the choice, have chosen a life of materialism and practicality, over one of gusto and vehemence.

In other words, American society, or perhaps all of those influenced by capitalist ideals in general, are encouraged to choose careers or paths in life that systematically make a lot of sense - go to school, learn the basics, get a job, keep said job until you die or retire because that’s how it’s always been done. We are told that having financial stability to buy more things like the latest iPhone perhaps, or a newer house or nicer car - is what matters the most. And while I’m not one to judge what makes one happy because maybe that is what truly brings you joy, I understand that we are all approaching life from a different perspective. But I can’t help but be curious… at the end of the day is that what genuinely brings you joy? Is that what truly makes you feel alive? And if so, why is your need to consume more and more of those things so insatiable? Will you ever be satisfied with what you do have? Or will your incessant need to acquire more and more be what inevitably transforms you from the consumer- into the consumed?

I suppose I’m asking you as much as I am asking myself.


In Cuba, it’s incredibly difficult to do many of the things we here in the states, consider trivial. Like taking a short road trip with friends, or moving away from the city of which you were born in. And yet, despite the blatant similarities between Cuba and a minimum security prison, everywhere you look you’ll see cuban flags on cars, on houses, hanging from windows; there is an overwhelming sense of pride the people of Cuba posses for the very box that entraps them.

It makes one think, at the end of the day, is my country really that much different? A box that looks pretty on the outside and has a few more holes for ventilation is still a box at the end of the day, right?

Though we do not find ourselves trapped in a physical sense like a majority of Cuban citizens can say they do, we do in fact, still find our selves in a cage of sorts. The values that our society has attempted to instill in each of us, has enslaved our minds into believing in certain ideals and practices that go against our very nature as human beings. Why is it that we ascribe so easily to the idea that paper or material objects are more valuable than another human life? Who told us that one person who looks a certain way or who makes a certain amount annually is more valuable than some body who does not? Who told us to teach our children that it’s more important to get a good job when you grow up, than to be a good person? To embody kindness in all that they do, or to carry compassion in their hearts?

It’s as if we as a collective society have been so dead set on proving that we were “the greatest” that somewhere along the way who we really are, got lost. And to be completely honest, I think somewhere deep down in each of our hearts we all know this to be true. This is not new information. And yet, generally speaking we as American people are typically pretty proud of the country in which we find ourselves in as well. Or at least proud enough not to leave.

Why is that? What exactly are we so proud of? Is it the racism? The gender inequality? Or perhaps is it the values we hold as a country that are rooted in overall dissolution and materialism?

I once read that “Cuba is the best definition of Paradox that anyone has ever come to know.” But aren’t we in America that as well?

Seeing how easily the Cuban people ascribe to their own oppression makes me think.. How many differences are there really, between my country and this one? Propaganda to further a political agenda that is not necessarily in the best interest of its people, is one hell of a drug - one that both America and Cuba it seems, are on the verge of an over dose on.

To be fair, neither Cuba or the place I’ve come to call home are entirely good or bad - both in fact live somewhere on the middle of the spectrum and are at any given moment, both sides of the coin at once. I must say, as a Libra and a woman of mixed decent I do appreciate a good grey area scenario. Because realistically speaking, nothing is ever truly black OR white, more often than not it’s black AND white.. But I digress, that’s a conversation for another post.

If we’re considering a much bigger picture here however, perhaps the souls of those who now call Cuba home, and the souls of those who now reside in the states, have both come here for a reason. To learn some specific lesson about themselves or about the world that neither me or them can quite understand yet because we aren’t ready to.

I’m a firm believer that all things that happen, are on some level, deliberate. And in every way, for a reason specific to the experiencer.

So whatever that reason may be- It is our work in this lifetime to let things play out as they are meant to. And to do our part to help aid in the evolution of our people and our planet as we are called to it in perfect time. If my work is to help the people of Cuba in someway, it will be clear and not at all forced. And the same goes for the country in which I now call home, perhaps I’m here - eyes wide open aware of the things that I’m aware of, for some specific reason unbeknownst to me at this time. But in any case, I owe it to myself and to the world to let things play out as they may and when it is imperative that I understand why things are they way they are, It will be clear and there will no longer be any misunderstanding.

That’s just the way things go, I guess.

In any case, Havana has shown me that this misunderstood little town is so much more than your average tourist destination or an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for your photographs. It is in fact, a city of dreamers, one of beauty, resourcefulness and strength.

Cuba, oh how I will miss you so. I have not ever known connection like I have come to know it in this place. You have given me purpose. You have introduced me to what love truly feels like, and what it really means to be resilient in the face of that which tries to get in the way of my joy. You, Cuba, have shown me what it means to truly be alive.

For you, I am forever grateful.

Gracias Por Todo.


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Iman LewisComment