Global Leadership: Kindness in Cuba
In December of 2014, the United States opened the doors to Cuba after a 56-year travel restriction. Though traveling the 90 miles would still prove difficult in terms of obtaining the proper visa, it would no longer be impossible. After hearing this, I immediately thought, “challenge accepted.” And now, I’ve just returned from my first (and probably not last) trip to Cuba.
Upon arrival, the colorful streets and old cars instantly mesmerized me, as if I was in a 1950’s movie. Walking down the streets, everyone says ¡hola! with a smile on their face, genuinely showing interest and care for their neighbors and aimless wanderers, alike. There is a kind of “open door” policy where people’s homes are wide open. Locals love to sit in rocking chairs on the porch, engaging with neighbors and passers-by. They were eager to practice their English and show me the beauty and fullness of their country.
I was in Cuba for 10 days and I had a list of things that I wanted to see and places I wanted to go; everything from a baseball museum and a boxing gym, to an ancient cathedral and a salsa club. As we tried to navigate from place to place, everyone stopped to talk. I found myself simply unable to get from one point to another, which at first, frustrated me to no end. I wanted to see what made Cuba unique and its rich underlying cultural history. I wanted to see the sports, hear the music, practice my dancing, and experience everything for myself. What I didn’t realize then, was that I was better able to experience, learn, and relish in the magic of Cuba from these personal exchanges on the streets.
I was urgent and rushed when I had nowhere else to be, nothing else to do but see the true heart of Cuba. I had a choice; be a tourist or be immersed in the culture. In different words: cross of to-do lists or have meaningful conversations? Be perfect or be present? I chose to surrender to the ebb and flow of the world’s free and magical rhythm, which doesn’t require anything of us except an open, receiving, and giving heart. Letting go of my plans allowed the music and the dancing to keep me up all night and the hiking and nature to sustain the days. It gave me hope when it wasn’t always easy. There were days we didn’t know where we would sleep and knocked on homes to ask if we could stay. There were nights we didn’t know what was for dinner, so we cleaned the pizzeria floors for a meal. And some mornings, we just showed up at the bus stop and asked where we should go. It’s amazing to me when you surrender to the world how the universe responds. When we knocked, people showed up.
Wandering the country with only a backpack was an incredibly humbling and simplifying experience. Everything that I needed I could carry on my back: a toothbrush, some soap, toilet paper, my passport, and a few articles of clothing. All the ~excess~ was left at home. Luckily for me, I didn’t need much because I was surrounded by the most generous people. More than the horses, cigars, coffee, hikes, or anything else, I will remember the people of Cuba that we met during our trip. Gizette, who invited us into her home to meet her family. Ina, who let us visit her school classroom to watch the raising of the flag. Frankie, who taught us salsa dancing even when we looked like fools. Mindi, who gave me half of her sandwich and shared her story. These acts of kindness prove that love is the universal language, and it knows no boundaries. When we strip away the excess, all we have are the relationships that we hold with others. Traveling has an amazing way of shrinking the world while simultaneously expanding it (the juxtaposition of globalization) and now I understand what it means to look into the hearts of people. I can feel the pride, culture, and stories of Cuba, which showed me the true meaning of appreciating similarities and differences. I will carry these relationships and experiences with me indefinitely, forever ingraining my heart with the wisdom and love of the souls we share in this vast, mysterious, and magical world.
- Identify a person in your life who you don’t know much about. Have a cup of tea and ask them questions, allowing them to open up about their life. Acknowledge and affirm their sharing; truly see them and let yourself be seen. Do not diminish the value of showing up.
- Practice patience. Where could you take a minute to relish in the beauty of where you are? To let someone guide you and follow their path? Hear them out?
*Meet the Author*
Kati Simpson is a student at Chapman University. She is a travel enthusiast, coffee fanatic and NFL fan, but mostly a firm believer in the irreplaceable value of human connection.