Tuesday, August 31, 2010

International Inspirations: An Introduction to Cuba

It was my friend's Israeli beau whose comment reminded me of the urgency of all things relevant. "Once I left Cuba, it was gone for me." Experiences go by so quickly - and some linger beyond their time - so if I'm to provide timely insight, I better get on the ball.

Here is the first installment in a series that will discuss my time and observations while on an official research delegation to Cuba in June 2010: "Cuba: A Paradox in Paradise"

I. Introdution: Cuba-ism

When Picasso experimented with cubism, the form did not develop overnight. Rather, he made technical geometric sketches to lay the groundwork for creating his paintings that depicted many images from one central figure. The mystifying glory was that one could see the same face from many different angles. Thus, I relate cubism to Cuba; not only because of the similarity of the words, but also because Cuba is multi-faceted, designed to create certain perceptions, yet cannot be contained to one explanation. It is, in this sense, a modern work of art as a country sculpted from classic principles and the vulnerable instincts of a shunned genius.

Cuba is as brave and ambitious as Picasso, as time and effort has led to its multi-faceted culture of Socialist secularism. The result is what I am calling Cuba-ism, which means that many worlds exist within one. It is a complexity that represents both optimism and uncertainty. Where one smile glows, another face grimaces, thus presenting to the world a magnificent puzzle that will be crafted by its opportunities to showcase domestic accomplishments and carefully tap into international market potential.

The party line is a sharp edge, softened only by the warmth and intellectual capacity of its people. It has a meticulous design that pulls many parts into one in order to function as an advancing society. Everyone has to work together in solidarity to support not only the status quo, but also the peace it ultimately seeks to maintain. Cuba, as we were reminded, is a country that is not at war with anybody.

Incidentally, the Cuban government regulates almost all aspects of life, and descent from the party line of the central government is dangerous territory. Despite the revival of many domestic food sources and international bartering, many go without having their basic needs met. Being denied access to the American market is only one hurdle that prohibits Cubans from having access to everyday goods. There are two currencies – one for the Cubans and one for the tourists – that create a vast disparity between hard work and reward. They also hear a lot of rumors and truths from those who defected to become refugees in America. Without the freedom to question the powers that be, many mouths turn down as they go hungry.

This warm and well-educated population is optimistic about opportunities inspired by domestic accomplishments and international market potential. The government has succeeded in securing certain favorability from and promises to its people – by way of free education and health care – but its strength still depends on the work ethic of the population and the help of international players who see it as an ally. Until it can better refine its role in the world, Cuba will continue to lack definition. No matter which face is pointing forward, there is always another side to the coin.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Peace Alliance visits Lauren's House for Positive Change

On Monday, August 23, 2010, three of us from the Peace Alliance visited Lauren's House for Positive Change in East Palo Alto. The group included myself, Nancy Merritt (Director of the Northern California Peace Alliance)and Nancy Kivette (San Francisco leader for the Peace Alliance).

Lauren's House is a group operated by one woman who realized that she wanted to help some of the children in her community to thrive in a safe space. The kids range from 7-18 years old, and the several that we met on Monday were breathtakingly smart and wonderful kids. Many of them were starting school the next day, so we only got a couple of hours to interact with them.

I led a civics lesson, replete with a hand-out that every single child completed. I taught them about the different levels of government and how it is vital to know that you can contact any elected representative to have your voice be heard. Three of them had already written letters to the President and had gotten responses back. They seemed very interested in learning how to participiate in government, and one child had been selected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the upcoming first day of school.

After the civics lesson, Nancy and Nancy talked about the legislation that the Peace Alliance is trying to promote; namely, HR808 to create a U.S. Department of Peace, and HR1064/S434, the Youth PROMISE Act. All the students, and their illustrious leader, were enthusiastic about trying to find peaceful solutions to the violence that plagues so many communities in the country. The evening rounded out with some postcard writing to Senators Feinstein and Boxer.

For more information on these pieces of legislation and the goals of The Peace Alliance, visit: www.ThePeaceAlliance.org and www.youthpromiseaction.org

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Remembering Family & Honoring Life

On August 14, 2010, my family and I hosted a Memorial to commemorate the 20 years since my father died at the too-young-age of 54. We held it on his birthday (he would have been 75) because - with so much water having flowed under the bridge - we wanted it to be a celebration of life.

When my brother stood up to welcome everybody to the party, he touched on a note that made the event much more personal to those - including myself - who didn't necessarily know my dad very well. He mentioned that my dad wasn't the only person missing, but rather that all of us had someone who couldn't be there. No one, except maybe the youngest of the young, has gone without the loss of a loved one. We all recognized those passed with a collective moment of silence.

In that silence, I could hear a hundred different prayers, salutations, and calls of love. There were a hundred people who wanted to feel the embrace of those who can no longer embrace; hear the voice, witness the smile, and feel the presence of those who are now so tangibly absent. I'm quite certain that all those to whom we were calling could feel our pull.

The greater testament to death is life. We often think about loss associated with its effects on us - the living, the remaining legacy - and how it hurts. Some people experience guilt, others anger, abandonment, confusion, hardship...but we can also experience peace, strength, solace, solidarity, gratitude or even relief. We have no power over what has gone, but we do have the will to proceed with our lives. We are left to grow, to learn, to experience new things, to love others, to change our circumstances and to recognize how each breathing day we have is a gift.

Even though it was my father's passing that had prompted us to bring the family together, it was the surviving life-force that prompted everyone to show up. We all wanted to be together, to reconnect, to share memories and to make new ones. It was wonderful to see all the smiling, beautiful faces of family members from 8-months to 80-years old. We were surrounding each other with love...which is the most life-affirming force that any of us can describe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Critical Cuba - Castro Returns

In June, I was a part of a research delegation to Cuba, during which time we visited oraganic farmers, medical doctors and holisitc researchers, agricultural professors, environmental scientists, and historical preservationists. These visits were all set amid the backdrop of Havana - the infamous capital city - as well as the tropical mountains of the Sierra d'Escambray, and the beaches of Santa Cruz del Norte. Needless to say, it was an amazing and moving experience that we got to absorb for the ten days of our professional tour.

Sometimes, traveling to a foreign land where not too many others have been, makes it difficult to return to the U.S. It is not always hard to describe, but it can be quite the challenge to convey the essence of a place, its people, and the various surroundings. When speaking of Cuba, it is especially challenging to convey its political climate for two main reasons. One, Americans tend to have many preconceived notions about what life must be like in a Communist/Socialist country. The second reason is that there is not a clear answer that can explain why Cuba is the way it is today, much less what it will be like in a few years from now.

After hearing both the party-line and the subversive low-talk about the government, one thing can be said for certain: Fidel Castro reigns, and has since the last day of 1959. His recent return to the public eye is shocking to many who thought that he may not have survived this last health bout that forced him to cede power to his brother, Raul, four years ago. Nevertheless, the fearless leader is back in action, making more claims about the uncertain future of international security. Thus, it is a critical time to speak about the essence of Cuba. The world may not have a unanimous opinion about Fidel Castro, but the unanimous and ominous opinion is that no one quite knows what Cuba will be like after he officially expires.

*Stay tuned for updated reports on our visits, as well as further commentary on the state of Cuban affairs, its courageous people, and the successes and failures of a 52-years-and-counting Revolution.

*Also, as the reports start flowing, be sure to chime in to ask questions or request a topic.

Some topics on the rise include:
- Cuba-ism: A Paradox in Paradise
- Ladybugs: A Boon for Organic Farming from California to Cuba
- Successes of the Cuban Revolution: Health Care & Education
- and more!