Back in 2011, I was lucky enough to be invited to go to Cuba for a fortnight with Cuba Solidarity Campaign and my trade union, Unite. This post is my second in a three part series telling you all about what we got up to.
The idea behind the trip was to send a group of Young Members (in Unite that means you are under 30, some other unions this means you are under 27) to Cuba, to learn about the country-how it runs, what their problems are, what’s good about them and what we can do to help-. The plan was that you then come home and do what you can to help, including telling other people about the trip. The trip was organised and run by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, who took great care of us before and during the trip. Thanks, Dan and Natasha!
Because I did so many amazing things when I was there, the trip will be spread over 3 posts-otherwise you’ll be here all day reading this. This post will focus on the first three days of the trip.
I got up very early to travel by train down to London. I met Steven, Lisa and Vikki on the train (having previously met them at a planning meeting, it was far less scary to travel down there with someone else and have someone to talk to!) Steven worked for the train company and so upgraded us to first class-our last bit of luxury for a few weeks!
On arrival at Gatwick Airport we met the rest of our group (there was 27 of us in total!) we were all wearing matching t-shirts, which were advertising the Brigade (and were also a very useful way for us to find each other!) We went for a McDonalds together and had a mooch around Duty Free, before boarding our flight.
The 9 hour, 4,500 mile flight we took was with Air Cubana, a Cuban airline-which was certainly an experience! No TV sets in the seat backs for us, from the moment we got onto the plane I felt like I’d stepped back 50 years. Luckily adreneline, excitement and our t-shirts (which encouraged strangers to talk to us) got me through the flight. And the bottles of Havana Club Rum which were around £4 each. For the FULL BOTTLE. Amazing.
*Matching t-shirts for the win*
Once we’d arrived at Jose Marti Airport in Havana, and exchanged our currency (you can only get Cuban currency in Cuba) we headed by coach to Julio Antonio Mella International Camp, about 50 kilometres away from Havana, to meet the rest of the Brigadistas and to get some sleep. On arrival we were given sandwiches and cocktails-both of which were much needed-and then shown to our rooms.
Rooms were single sex dormitories of up to 8 people, in blocks. Because our group arrived later than most (there were groups there from all sorts of countries including Canada, Australia, South Korea and many many more) we were told that our group couldn’t all go on the same block, so me and 4 other girls volunteered to be on a different block-sharing a room with a Turkish lady and 2 Canadian girls. Instead of British neighbours we were surrounded by Canadians and New Zealanders, which was great. I definitely chose well volunteering to be in that room!
On our first day in Cuba we were woken by the camp’s alarm-the noise of a Cockerel through the speakers, then Guantanamera being played. Quite nice really, although not as the days went on and we had less and less sleep!We were lucky with day two-as everyone on camp followed the same timetable mostly, it worked out well for us that our first full day there was a lazy day. We had a group meeting (unlike any I’ve ever had, this was sat on beach towels on the grass in the gorgeous warm sunshine!) then headed to the big meeting room on camp.
Once there we heard from some speakers telling us about the Cuban Five, five Cuban men who had been sent to Miami by the government to uncover terrorist plots against Cuba-but instead were arrested and charged with terrorist offence against America. The five were not given a trial, they were simply found guilty and jailed, for different amounts of time-but all of them long. Not allowed to see their families often, if at all, and spending a lot of time in solitary confinement, life was not easy for the five. In Cuba, the five were heroes, and everywhere we went we saw their photographs and messages of support for them. *The five started to be released in the few years since I was in Cuba, thanks to a global outcry about their unfair treatment. The final three were released and allowed back to their families in Cuba in December 2014 and one of them, Gerado, has since had a baby daughter, Gema, with his wife-the baby was conceived because the USA struck a deal over the release of one of their prisoners Cuba was holding, to allow Gerado and his wife to undergo IVF-his wife’s pregnancy was then hidden from the work, and luckily Gerado was released from prison before Gema was born.
That evening was Cultural Night. Every country on the camp had a stall to decorate with flags and things from their country, as well as food, drink, postcards and photos, and other things they’d brought. Each country also had to do a performance from their country too. Our group ended up doing a cross between the Spice Girls and Take That-Spice That! You can see our performance on YouTube. Note the dancing around our handbags and the swigging rum on stage-typical Britain, then!
We spent our morning working in the fields, helping a local farmer to prepare his field for the next crop. When they’ve finished with one crop they set fire to them, and once the fire is out they pull up the roots and plough (as in metal, horse drawn plough) the field. After a morning of pulling up roots (hard work in the hot sun!) the farmer gave us all fresh Guava he’d grown to say thank you. Yum!
After a lovely (cold, but much needed!) shower and lunch (rice, beans, and meat-which we had for every meal) back at camp, we headed off by coach to Havana. We visited the Museum of the Revolution, which was fascinating. We then went to see a children’s theatre group, their performance told the story of the Cuban Five and they were very very good-making us cry. Once we’d finished there we went to a dinner held by ICAP-who were involved with getting us all to Cuba in the first place. We were SO PLEASED that the meal was a bit like a Sunday lunch-involving potatoes and different vegetables, and ICE CREAM for pudding. Never have we been so pleased so see Ice Cream. After the meal we drank rum and danced and had fun, before heading back to camp.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the post on the first three days of the trip. Have you ever been to Cuba? What did you think?