Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Cuba 2012 – Love Songs Written on My Heart: Cuban Gold

In Cuba children receive an education from kindergarten into their college years as a gift of the state. Children who have talent and a desire to learn about the arts go to specialized schools. On another glorious sunny day we visited the Beny More Art School for children ages nine to fifteen to attend a musical concert. We filed into the Assembly Hall, no different from assembly halls remembered from our childhood. We were seated with a few teachers, other students and proud, smiling parents like those the world over come to see their children perform. What happened on the stage was nothing like the band concerts my sons played in, or my grandson just last fall.The young pianist sat down at the piano back held erect, adjusted the seat, shot the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and played with the mastery of a symphony orchestra soloist. He didn’t quite sound like one yet but he knew where he was going – at age fifteen. A group of girls and boys playing string instruments with an accompaniment of brass and drums played very properly a few classical pieces. The tempo changed and they swung into contemporary music with a Latin beat – the kind of music where your body can’t keep still. My face broke into a huge grin to see the little girls had the same hip movement as the dancers at the Senior Center. I think they are born with it.

In the afternoon we went to a city square in Old Havana to visit the book sellers. There were stalls after stalls set up selling second-hand books. The titles ranged from old classics and encyclopedias in hard cover to modern best sellers of many categories mostly in paper back. All were in Spanish or English. With the country’s total literacy scored at 99.8 according to UNESCO – a result of their education system – it is no surprise that Cuban book sellers are not likely to run out of business.

Wandering in the town square where there were bound to be tourists were people begging. Many of them were older women who wanted cosmetics and hand lotion because Cuban ration books were not designed to cover such frivolous purchases. They were the most courteous and pleasant begging folk I had ever encountered. We learned that they prized any old thing we carried in our handbags – used lipsticks, hotel-sized hand lotion, mouthwash, hand sanitizer. We gladly cleaned out our purses. Getting replacements was no problem for us. We had not noticed how rich we are. These Cuban begging ladies are distinguished from other beggars I have met in the noticeable health care they receive. According to Cuba’s health care system no one is denied medical care. The women we met sported shining white casts, canes in good working order, eye glasses, Ace bandages and whatever else was appropriate to their needs.

At the end of the day I reflected that no matter what the people suffered living in the political and economic climate of Cuba, they are given two of the three things that enrich human life. With health and a good education the people have seeds to sow for a different future. What they lack is freedom. And I believe in my deepest heart that freedom is on the horizon.