Patrick Bryant on Cuba’s Simple Gifts

Patrick Bryant – I have the privilege of writing a Thanksgiving Day blog post for the second consecutive year. Last year I wrote my piece in Grantham, England, nursing a full stomach from the great meal prepared by our kind hosts at Harlixton College. Today, I write to you from Miami Beach, Florida, nursing a full stomach after receiving the great hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hollander, parents of Professor Ethan Hollander. Today we reluctantly returned to the U.S. after spending three days in a country that stimulated our senses, in some ways challenged our beliefs, and in other ways affirmed them. Our view on history, comparative politics, the bias of Cubans and those sympathetic with the Communist party has been tremendously affected in the past view days. On the surface it sounds like brainwashing, but in truth, the effect occurs when we as students act as deliberate, thoughtful observers of the people we meet, the things we see, and the conversations we have.

Wabash students learn about Afro-Cuban art, religion, and culture

As one of our last stops before returning to Havana’s José Martí International Airport, named for the 19th century Cuban who is regarded as the national hero, we had the opportunity to visit a street in a poorer part of Havana that was known as the epicenter of the Santería religion. It’s best described as a mixture of Catholicism and appreciation for the saints, mixed with the more tribal, African-influenced voodoo religions. We had the opportunity to look at some paintings done by a local artist in that neighborhood who had led a number of community-minded art projects in this particular area of Havana. Along with more talk on the sorts of gods and goddesses and energies of Santería, we viewed a dance and traditional singing and percussion concert. These kinds of first-hand interactions, and the ability to be immersed in the Cuban culture made it very difficult to not find a way to miss this afternoon’s plane back to Miami.

Patrick Bryant questions Jaime Suchlicki

Though I mentioned it earlier, I want to again express my thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Hollander, for hosting myself and 13 of my friends and classmates for Thanksgiving dinner. This great American holiday overlaps with the great Jewish holiday of Hannukah for the first time in 700 years and for the last time in the next 70,000 years because it is observed in relation to the lunar calendar. On behalf of my classmates, thank you Mr. and Mrs. Hollander for making our Thanksgiving a very special one

Professor Hollander has gone to great lengths to make this class as much of the learning experience at it has been. Furthermore, he’s gone to great lengths to ensure that the ways in which we have been immersed in the Cuban political system and culture have been so fruitful. As some of my classmates have described in blog posts prior to this one, we as student travelers have had opportunities to see the political system (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, interactions with the U.S. Interest Section, etc.), but we’ve also experienced first-hand the sorts of ebbs and flows in Cuban culture and the sorts of concessions and rickety infrastructure that have presented itself since the groundwork was laid in 1959. This blog serves as a transition of sorts now that we prepare to spend our remaining days in Miami, looking at the embargo on Cuba and the system that exists under Fidel and Raúl Castro through a very different lens. Thank you, Dr. Hollander, for your efforts in organizing this effort.

I would also be remiss to not thank Dr. Dan Rogers and Mr. Jim Amidon for their guidance and administrative efforts these past few days. They’ve made travel for an American in communist Cuba seem almost seamless and I admire them for that. I’d also like to thank the alumni and friends of the College who make such travel possible. Often this time of year we as students can be found complaining about the papers and exams that await us in the coming weeks, but on a day of gratitude, we must thank the men who took those same exams and wrote those same papers, but through their generosity, allowed us a greater more wholesome form of education. All is on us to thank them and follow their example

If you noticed my title, and my reference to Cuba’s “simple gifts,” you may recall the name from President Hess’ inauguration earlier this semester. That message and theme has transcended country, transcended climate, and transcended political ideology. As some of my classmates have described to you, our greatest memories can be found in the local people we met and conversed with. We appreciate those very simple, yet fruitful gifts. Likewise, as we broke bread with the Hollander’s last night, what a joyous thing it was to enjoy the simple gifts of fellowship and friendship.

We wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving and a joyful holiday season.