Almost Family! How Cuba And Assam Could Be Estranged Siblings
In the summer of 2018, I went to Cuba - a small country located in the Carribbean Sea - for a month as part of an international reporting crew from my university. It was a team of 17 students, including myself, one teaching assistant and two professors.
Before my departure to the island country (which would be my home for two fortnights), I had many notions about how it would be - loud, brimming with people, colourful, exotic. But what I did not expect was that it would be so similar to my home state of Assam.
It’s true that I was expecting it to resemble Indian culture somewhat, as Cuba is also a third world country and an Afro-Latino one at that. Thus, all the aforementioned qualities seemed a given, but the similarity to Assam was the aspect that was most surprising.
As soon as we landed in Havana, the capital city of Cuba, their José Martí International Airport immediately reminded me of our beloved Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International (LGBI) Airport, albeit 10 or so years ago.
Now, naysayers may chalk this resemblance up to the fact that I had been a little homesick and thus everything seemed to remind me of home. But the similarities were uncanny to me. The same kind of people, same kind of service and most importantly, they seemed to be following the lahey lahey culture quite adeptly. So, could anything else hit closer to home? I think not.
For the entire duration of our trip, my fellow international reporters/college mates and I resided in a home-stay of sorts which is very popular in Cuba, called Casa Particulares. It is very similar to living in an Airbnb but so much better because one can get the most authentic experience of the place.
It was also the best decision because we were taken care of like kings and queens, to say the least. In our Casa Particular, the mujer or woman who owned the house had employed a handful of staff, mostly other mujeres - the kindest souls on earth who would address us girls as Princessas (how’s that for making one feel special!). They cooked breakfast and dinner for us, did our laundry, made our beds and did just about anything to make our stay as comfortable as possible. After a week, it felt like I was living with a long-lost family of sorts. Again, resemblance and yes, this one might be a bit of a stretch, but at the risk of sounding like an absolute spoilt brat, where else would I get this kind of treatment, if not at home?
Also, speaking of home and why the experience in Cuba reminded me of it, our daily life there was reminiscent of little facts and experiences that felt like episodes of déjà vu. For example, sometimes we would not have hot water to bathe after a long day’s reporting activities or worse, not have water at all; clothes would only dry in the sun - no washer or dryer available; everyone had to sit together and eat together like a family ; there was bad internet connection or rather more appropriately; no internet connection at all, frequent power cuts; and then we ate rice for lunch everyday among other things.
Now, while these experiences were most bizzare for my fellow American reporters who had never seen or experienced this kind of a life before, it was most familiar to me. It did not feel like home, it was home. Eating rice daily? The part Axomiya in me could not be happier as it was a welcome change from surviving on sandwiches and pasta. Power cuts? We have that everyday, sometimes for several hours a day. Slow internet connection? Please tell me about it because nothing is more familiar to this northeastern state’s millennial population than this very fact. No washer or dryer? Rule of life/mother: clothes in these technologically advanced equipments do not last long and thus, they are if at all, the last variable option.
Apart from these experiences, the land and terrain of Cuba was also identical. Similar lush green mountains, greenery and of course, the pot-holed calles or roads. Every weekend, our professor had arranged for us to take road trips to nearby destinations and the journey would resemble that of travelling within Assam or Meghalaya.
However, even though I’ve listed numerous things in Cuba that reminded me of home, it was also a brand new experience because as much as the island country was the same, it was also just as much different. The culture, the people, the heritage, the language, the breathtaking ocean view from the Malecón and the sunsets over it, it’s all an experience of pure bliss.
I was lucky to call that place my home, travel by its roads, be mistaken for a local, but most of all, leave a part of my heart there. This experience was unlike any other and something that will stay with me forever. If teleportation was at all possible, I would be there in a heartbeat. So, here’s hoping that Elon Musk can figure that out as soon as possible.