I was always a history buff, so Cuba held a place in my heart as a country that’s exotic, culturally rich, and frequently fought over. As an aspiring pirate myself, I also admired a deep water port and a decent bluff to guard the entrance. No Caribbean nation has the history and culture that Cuba is blessed with and it always fascinating to me that something so close and interesting was off-limits.
That history comes with downsides. Riding into Havana and looking at the streets, thought “Oh, wow, there’s a lot of work to do here.” While the island is blessed with so many things—culture, climate, people and proximity to the US—and deeply devoid of others, including food and basic necessities.
As a result, the country faces many challenges. Cuba is changing rapidly compared to the last 50 years of history, but it will take a long, concerted effort to bring it up to the pace of the rest of the world. They’ll need to balance progress, expectations, and the emotional and physically capacity to handle these changes.
What’s incredible is that people who have ready access to so little but have already created so much. Since the US embargo, obtaining basic goods has been a challenge for Cubans. The vintage cars over which so many Americans lust are restored and maintained out of necessity, and by some very resourceful and creative Cubans. This is but one illustration of the Cuban resourcefulness and determination, but it goes much further, from innovative offline apps to fantastic ceviche at their newest restaurants.
Cubans are talented, intelligent and, in many ways, just like us. They’re innovating like McGuiver, at an amazing level, and every hour of every day. They made me rethink what I thought I knew about the country. I’ve seen this around the world—in Saudi, Syria, Kenya, Egypt, Peru, Ecuador, Thailand—while governments may not align, or even disagree, what I enjoy most is my access with real people, doing real work. It’s so moving, and so thought provoking.
I witnessed the last year of excitement and trepidation in Cuba, and it’s rewarding to see the capabilities of Cubans come alive. The young people, in particular, know what problems can be solved through technology. They’re absorbing information like a sponge, but they’ll need to focus on one big problem that resonates with most Cubans and go solve it with technology.
And if they get bored, they can try to teach an American to dance salsa—we are terrible.
Read more from Miles on his blog Miles to Go.