I am determined to go on the immersion experience with or without my luggage (which was “MIA” upon my arrival yesterday from Dallas via St. Louis to the airport known as MIA — Miami, although the airline indicates that it will arrive this morning before we depart for Havana).
If I have to travel light, I can make do. I have learned that there are state-run stores (often with limited stock) as well as the beginnings of some private enterprise in Cuba – both state-licensed ventures and informal individual businesses that are tolerated by the government. Beyond that, shopping in Cuba – how many stores will be available, what items they may or may not stock – remains a mystery to me.
While the rest of the group plans to leave the hotel in Miami about 11 a.m., I take an early shuttle and arrive a little after 9 a.m. To my relief, the issuers of the “Property Irregularity Receipt” confirm that my luggage was scanned and loaded in Dallas and is indeed set to arrive about 9:45 a.m.
Upon retrieving it, I find a corner in the airport lobby and begin liberating the items that TSA helpfully bagged and secured with profligate amounts of plastic and tape. I plug in my hot water heater (filled with bottled water that costs about 25 cents per ounce), and enjoy a nice long break for morning tea.
About four hours later, the group makes it through interminable lines where passports and visas are checked and double-checked, baggage is weighed and costs assessed, and security scrutinizes shoes, belts, the carry-on laptop bag, and so forth.
I am sitting at Terminal F10 in Miami International Airport, awaiting the departure of our flight – originally scheduled to depart at 5 p.m., but delayed a half-hour. This almost certainly will be my last convenient opportunity for Internet access. Notwithstanding the long lines and delayed luggage, the process has gone smoothly – evidence of ample preparation (and more than a little experience) on the part of the Perkins School of Theology Global Theological Education program and our immersion experience leader, Dr. Cardoza-Orlandi.
The flight from Miami to Havana (more accurately, La Habana), Cuba, took less than an hour. Upon arrival, we were delayed slightly as Cuban airport officials scrutinized our visas. But the paperwork we carefully filled out was perfunctorily accepted without review and added to a large and messy stack of similar forms. Our gracious hosts awaited us outside the airport, on time and with warm greetings.
A boy – probably about eight years old – is lined up with a crowd pressing against cordons that allow room for new arrivals to exit the airport building. He shouts a question at me in Spanish, and has to repeat it three times before I can make out what he means. “What time did your flight depart the United States?” After telling him that ours was the 5 p.m. flight (which didn’t actually take off until 5:30 p.m.), another bystander takes pity on my visible puzzlement and explains to me that they have been waiting several hours for a flight that was scheduled to depart at 1:30 p.m. I feel better about our half-hour delay.
A stop by the hotel is followed by a lovely dinner in a local restaurant at 8 p.m., complete with live music and flamenco dancers. Later, a few of us wander about to enjoy more live jazz and local color. A trip to the beautiful gardens about two blocks away at the Hotel Nacionál affords a beautiful overlook of the ocean. Although it is now midnight, we estimate there are at least a thousand people gathered on the sidewalk by the sea wall. Closer investigation reveals hundreds upon hundreds of young people singing, talking, occasionally dancing.
As we process this novel experience later, several thoughts come to mind. First, where discretionary spending is limited, there likely is no better place to gather on a Saturday night in such a pleasant climate. Second, the absence of electronic devices – none of the youths appears to have cell phones or tablets – contributes to a much higher level of social interaction. The people crowded together on the sidewalk seem to take little or no notice of us as we walk around in astonishment. We see one or two (unarmed) police officers, but they are scarcely noticeable amid the teeming masses. There is no real disruptive behavior, just a massive emanation of youthful energy seething amongst the huge crowd of teens. The skin colors assembled together here cover the whole spectrum from light to dark. Couples here seem indifferent to the color of their partner’s complexion.
As the day comes to a close, I reflect long into the early morning hours about the many pedestrians we saw on the streets wherever we went. It is invigorating and completely non-threatening. I feel comfortable and, I confess, a little surprised not to have been bothered by anyone.
Cuba is an hour ahead of Dallas; turning the clocks ahead yet another hour tonight means 2 a.m. here feels somewhat equivalent to what my body would have interpreted as midnight in Dallas a couple of days ago. Either way, it’s past my bedtime.