I’ve found it difficult to describe my first trip to the island, albeit a quick work one that lasted only a couple of days. I did my research, as most do before traveling anywhere new, but felt as if it was hardly enough.
It’s now Sunday and I’ve been home since Tuesday, yet there’s this disconnect. Usually there’s a sense of having seen something more in a place than what feels like Havana kept hidden.
I thought I’d be able to scratch the surface of the city within a couple of days of being there, but Havana was different. Havana felt like a city of secrets. Not the bad kind, but the kind waiting to be uncovered to reveal something unexpectedly spectacular — a wonderful mystery I haven’t quite yet cracked.
Piña coladas and mojitos, Cohibas and Havana Club, old cars and even older buildings. On that level, Cuba was just about everything I expected, yet, on another, not at all.
Contrary to the clichés, this isn’t a place stuck in time. Sure, you’ll see a lot of vintage cars and architecture and be given an idea of what the city looked like 60+ years ago, but the people are still very much in the loop. I think that’s just part of the unfortunate picture that has been painted for many individuals here in the States.
The obstacles Cuba has faced, and is still facing, are obvious, but the pride, strength and resilience of this country is even more obvious in its people — and that might be what I found most beautiful.
On May 3rd, some colleagues and I will be taking a group of students from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications to Cuba as part of an immersive multimedia storytelling program — an intensive, hands-on, 10-day workshop.
Five small groups will each be creating a multi-platform story package consisting of at least one short film, a photo essay and a long-form narrative piece. Students also have the option of pursuing smaller passion projects to include and expand on their group’s primary story.
My hope is that the students’ experiences and the stories they tell aren’t only personally insightful, but provide a similar awareness to others abroad.
With the help of a few friends, we’ve managed to lean on the expertise of professionals who’ve been working to tell this island’s stories for decades, the Miami Herald’s Cuba team and CBS’s Havana bureau chief among them.
I’m grateful for these folks on the outside who know both sides of the stories so well, and who are able to pass along the knowledge to our team and students.
I am so excited to go back — but, even more than that, I’m looking forward to seeing what the students produce and what they take away from their time in Cuba.