I recently returned from a weeklong holiday in Cuba with my family. We stayed at an all inclusive resort for the wedding of my wife’s cousin. Just before we left I read an article posted by my friend and weightlifting coach, Tyler Touchette about his own trip to Cuba. It was called Pigs at the Trough and can be viewed by clicking HERE. I always enjoy Tyler’s candid and passionate articles and in this one he highlighted the gluttony of our wealthy North American ways and how perhaps we are worse off than the resource poor Cubans who are happy, hard-working and always ready to serve.
Agree to Disagree
This having been my first trip to Cuba, I arrived with Tyler’s article in mind. I must say that while my experience matched Tyler’s in many ways, I left with a very different outlook on how happy and hardworking the Cubans truly were. Since we have a mutual respect that allows us to agree to disagree I thought I would share the lessons I learned on the trip.
First, I must say that our trips were not identical. Yes, we both stayed in high end all-inclusive resorts. Like Tyler I was in bed early every night except one. I walked on the beach and worked out every day. I read lots and I ate mostly food that was good for my body. I did treat myself however, drank some drinks and was surrounded by family for most of the trip. I also did not get to experience Havana as our location would have required a minimum overnight stay away from my family.
People are People
The main lesson I learned – and this is a lesson I have learned in all of my travels – is that people are people. Regardless of where we are from or what the politics of our country are, we all have the same needs and desires. Some of us are jerks about it and some of us are saints. This is true of both Cubans and Canadians and I witnessed all of these combinations during my week.
Part of this lesson was also that when I was able to relate to the resort workers as human beings instead of Cubans I tended to see more of the saintliness. Isn’t this true of everyone? Tyler has an incredible ability to see people as just that which is my guess why he had such a great experience with the locals he met. Having labelled the tourists as people he is around everyday perhaps brought out more of the jerks in them.
New Perspective – New Wisdom
The next lesson I learned was one of perspective. It is so valuable to encounter people who live differently from us. The contrast certainly highlighted how gluttonous we can be and how caught up we can become with money, possessions and my own favourite – addiction to a constant flow of information. This perspective really forces us question what it is we really need and want. This is a great thing.
On the other hand, I left feeling lucky for what I have and where come from. Money, possessions and abundance do not make us unhappy – becoming obsessed with them does. Smiling at rude tourists hoping for a dollar (that Fidel takes 75 cents of) hardly seems like freedom to me.
There are no Free Lunches
Finally, I learned that nothing is free. The gym attendant that I came to know fairly well (I was usually the only one there) loved to boast about how university education was “free” in Cuba. He had a masters degree and his job was to watch me workout. This to me is a cost that I certainly would not be willing to pay. Perhaps calling it free made him feel better about the fact that his obvious knowledge and intellect were being wasted. Somehow I doubt this is what Che gave his life for.
This reminded me of how Canadians proudly boast about our “free” healthcare as they watch their health decline while paying huge tax bills for the privelidge. If we stopped calling it “free” would we be willing to live with the cost?
I apologize (a little) for this being a rant responding to a rant. I think the take home message is to recognize that while we don’t all live the same way, we still really are all the same. When we can learn to relate to people this way it opens the door to us being able to learn so much about ourselves and in doing so, choose a different path if necessary. Vacations are a great tool to doing so, but are not the only way.
Start really listening to people. Anybody and everybody. Dive into their worlds. Then make every choice you make about your own life a conscious one. Take nothing for granted and know that every ounce of energy you invest is important.
Thorin Gault, D.C
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