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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Hey, Lucy, I'm Home!
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Monday, April 10,2017

Hey, Lucy, I'm Home!

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE / by Jonna Shutowick, M.S. Ed. Jonna Shutowick, M.S. Ed. is a high school history teacher for the Palm Beach County

school district. She has created a character named Rosey Shades TM , whose philosophy teaches students about the importance of choosing optimism over pessimism by asking, “What color are the clouds in your world? For more information, visit http://roseyshadesonthebrightside.blogspot.com/

There are very few places you can go today where the internet is not available at least in a local cafe and everyone, regardless of social class, has a cell phone. I’ve traveled enough to know that, even in some of the least developed cities, the internet is often better than the water. Except in Cuba.

Cuba sits squarely on the cusp between two centuries. The cars famously remain from the preembargo heyday of American auto manufacturing, and they are a sight to behold. Almost all of the taxis are some version of 1950s Chevy. And while tourists are apt to seek the perfect selfie, locals are virtually cellfree! No internet cafes, no GPS… just friendly people always willing to direct you or even show you how to get to where you want to go. Of course, everybody “knows a guy” who can get you what you are looking for, but that is the spirit in an emerging marketplace creeping ever so gingerly away from a command economy to a free market (think China in the early 1980’s). Maybe Cuba can learn from the mistakes of the “Asian Tigers” during their rapid industrialization and move into the 21st century more mindfully. What’s the hurry? They’ve waited this long. Why not be very deliberate in how they choose to engage with the modern world?

The people we met seem to agree.

I spoke to many locals in Havana who just “don’t get” why foreigners are always looking down at their phones and looking for internet service. “Why not just enjoy the dancing?” they said. And it was true. My phone dropped to the bottom of my purse and I forgot about it for the entire weekend. What did I do instead? Canto y bailo and walked for miles through “Old Town” engaging with a culture that was brimming with excitement to show us their wares.

Within the last two decades, selfemployment became legal adding street vendors to the mix. Aside from mass produced tchotchkes, independent vendors sold old books, vinyl records, and other types of memorabilia like something out of a time machine. A collector’s paradise, for sure, but again - again, between two worlds. Not a single commercial chain of any kind to be seen.

And this is what makes Cuba so special. They are potentially coming of age in a post-Mcdonaldized world. The people I spoke to seem very hesitant to dive right into having chain retailers and resorts overdeveloping their beachfronts. On the other hand, the only thing lining the beaches now, in Havana at least, are dilapidated buildings and stray cats. Once you begin to open your markets, progress becomes inevitable - social, political and economic. This explains why one-party governments so urgently resist such things.

In Cuba the doors are opening and change is coming. But from what I’ve read, it has already changed dramatically in just the past five years.

Cuba’s unique position, between what was and what could be; between allowing foreign investment and maintaining the quaint time capsule allure that tourists seek could make Cuba a very special tourist destination for years to come. Could they develop in such a way that they capitalize on how “undeveloped” they are? If I can drive around in a ‘57 Chevy, but still ask Siri to guide me to the nearest local Cuban coffee joint, I might just be in heaven. My sense, however, is that if you want to experience Cuba, you should probably go sooner than later. I’m neither an economist nor an urban planner, but if history dictates (and no one says it has to), get there before we ruin it.

 

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