We’re back. Gail and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a one-week cruise around Cuba, stopping for a day at each of five different ports. It was a Canadian-Greek ship, the Louis Cristal, making its last Cuba Cruise of the season, probably the first to include a small but significant number of passengers from the United States.
We’re so glad we did it, even though the heat and long, slow lines at immigration were pretty taxing for this old man. I’ve always wanted to set foot in brave “little” Cuba, to feel its legendary warmth, creativity, and musicality. It was only a week, but one of the joys of a lifetime.
I’m not tempted to expand this eye-blink of a trip into an “expert” commentary on Cuba. Our interaction with Cubans on the ship and in a couple of the towns was more than we anticipated. It was friendly, frank and relaxed. Frustration was openly expressed, especially with restricted Internet access and arbitrary authority over permission to travel. There was deep pride in culture and country, and in the fact that government cares about people, about education, health, and making sure that food supplies are available to the poor.
What shines through all the negative propaganda in our country about Cuba is the miracle of its survival and its remarkable record of humanitarian contributions. Most recently, Cuban doctors and health personnel led the world in direct response to Ebola in the most ravished African countries.
A personal little side-story added to my experience on this trip. Way back around 1950, when I was chair of the Labor Youth League, I met the leader of the Cuban youth movement at a meeting in Mexico City. It was only for a few days, but we hit it off and shared a lot of exciting conversation about our hopes for a better world. His name was Flavio Bravo. We were never to meet again.
I Googled Flavio before the cruise and found that he had been a leader in Cuba’s mission to save Angola’s independence against a contra-style mercenary war. He later became the head of the Cuban National Assembly. As far as I could tell he was still alive, although he had to be a nonagenarian like me. I was hopeful, and I wrote him a letter that a tour leader said she would try to have delivered.
A couple of days later, a guide in Santiago de Cuba mentioned having served in Angola. We talked. He said he served with “our leader”, Flavio Bravo. He described him in the warmest terms, the way I remembered him so many years past. He told me Flavio’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, among those who brought ideas of Socialism to the Americas.
Sadly, Google’s story was incomplete. Flavio died a few years ago. My new Cuban friend took my sympathy note to give to Flavio’s family.