Dispatches from Cuba: Shantytowns and Vintage Cars

November 04, 2010

This is the first in a series of blog posts from Cordy Galligan detailing AAUW’s trip to research gender issues in Cuba.

Forty-eight AAUW members and staff excitedly gather in Miami International Airport, each with different expectations, but all eager to see firsthand a country we’ve only read about or seen in movies. Cuba does not disappoint. We land and disembark, feeling the hot, humid air soaking into our too-warm-for-Cuba attire, and we make our way through passport control. Once everyone is through, we exit into the “real” Cuba. Hundreds are gathered around the fence screaming out names of never-before-seen or years-absent relatives.

By Henryk Kotowski [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

On the roads, beautiful old vintage Chevys, Packards, Pontiacs, and other American cars jockey for space (lanes appear to be nonexistent), and the calls of the cab drivers add to the general cacophony that greets our ears. Our guides warmly welcome us, and within minutes we feel like we’ve known them all our lives. Their welcome is genuine, and their desire to make friends is evident!

As we drive from the airport, we’re immediately struck by the fact that Cuba is a land of distinct contrasts. The shantytown surrounding the airport quickly sobers our enthusiasm. Are children being raised here? many of us wonder. As we enter the outskirts of Havana, the former interior designer in me mourns the stunning architecture, now decimated by years of neglect in a maritime climate. With thoughts of the Havana of Guys and Dolls in my head, I was unprepared for the Cuba of today.

We arrive at the hotel to find the U.S. flag proudly flying out front and a marquee inside welcoming the American Association of University Women. We did it! Aside from universities, AAUW is the first nongovernmental organization approved by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control — the agency that issues licenses for travel — to visit Cuba (the American Bar Association will follow in our footsteps, arriving later in November). We’re whisked away to our rooms and have a leisurely lunch and later a lovely reception and a dinner at a famous restaurant.

We crash into bed, exhausted but excited to start the task at hand: to find out what life is like for women in Cuba. Find out in my next post!

This post is by Cordy Galligan, Director of Corporate Relations at AAUW.

By:   |   November 04, 2010

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