I have been thinking about today for ten years. Visualizing it in my head. Wondering how I would feel to be back in Cuba with the same people I lived and worked with ten years ago. When I was here in 2005 and 2006, I had a love-hate relationship with this island. Every day presented a new challenge; a new, often exhausting, contradiction. I couldn’t wait to get back home; away from the daily frustrations, the scarcity, the blackouts. But once I was away, I found myself missing it once I was gone.
I relived all those experiences from before in my head the last few weeks leading up to this trip and throughout the day today as I reunited with mi familia Cubana and settled back into post-Revolutionary Cuba. I was so eager to discover what has changed and what has stayed the same.
During lunch today, Mama Carmita walked into the room and said “Vane, ten years ago you came her a girl. Today you have come as a woman.” She could not have summed it up any better and it was in that moment that I understood. Cuba had been a right of passage for me. It opened me up to a whole new world. It made me uncomfortable. It challenged me every single day. I was green when I was here ten years ago. But this island also grew my heart. It gave me purpose. And it taught me patience. Those experiences helped shape me into the woman I am today.
I could have come back sooner, but I didn’t. Even though many of my days here ten years ago felt meaningful and poetic, I couldn’t quite bring myself to make a trip back. I never felt ready. But this year I knew it was time. I committed to returning. I wanted to see the family that took care of me like I was one of their own and the campesinos that embraced my work and welcomed me into their homes.
I’ve held onto Cuba in my heart for ten years. I’ve never publicly shared these photos taken during my six month stay in 2005-2006. I haven’t been ready to tell the story. Until now.
In just one day, I can feel the ways in which Cuba has changed. And the ways in which Cuba has stayed the same.
Today was all about settling in. I passed the hours eating some of my favorite foods (casquitos de guayaba and arroz con frijoles), hunting for cervezas, trying to get the damn internet to work, and watching South American novellas. It was like old times. But it also felt very different. What surprised me most was how incredibly comfortable I felt to be back. It felt like coming home. It felt like my home. I found myself stumbling right back into conversations using rusty, clumsy Spanish. And it was like time had never passed. Today was filled with reunions, tears of joy, and lots and lots of laughter.
Tomorrow we are off to Habana Vieja and Vedado to re-visit my old stomping grounds. Thursday I return to the field to visit some of the farmers. I can’t wait to see how these families have grown and changed.
It has taken so much work, effort, and time to get here. Por supuesto. Siempre. But it was worth it. If we’re lucky, there are those times in our lives when we feel like we are exactly where we are supposed to be. Like we are doing meaningful work and are connected to every second of every day. They are rare - far and few between - and should be cherished. En este momento estoy exactamente donde estoy destinado a ser.