Friday, November 10, 2017

Cuba Chronicles: My Trip In Photos

My two weeks in Cuba were an exercise in catch and release. I caught glimpses of architectural and cultural beauty beyond compare. And I released myself to the experience completely.

Here are some of my highlights - in photos.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cuba Chronicles: Relearning Patience with Dial-Up Internet

So I’ve never been a particularly patient person. I know that I like the fast life precisely because it is exactly that: fast. No tedious hours of waiting and waiting and oh so boring waiting. So. Imagine with me the agony I feel even as I type this blog post, and wait patiently for the characters to appear on the screen long after I have typed them. Imagine what I feel when I cannot make a WhatsApp call and stay on the phone all night with my beloved because - well - that's just not how it's done here. 

To be honest, the Internet in Cuba is not bad. It's just slower than what I'm used to. And they say you never know what you've got till it's gone - even temporarily.

I have taken deep breaths, messaged my people to let them know I will be more out of than in touch with them for the next two weeks, and come to terms with the fact that old-world charm is not always all that charming.

Funny thing is, I knew that I would not have Internet for most of my time here. I just hadn't stopped to truly appreciate the full implications of that thought. I somehow still expected to be able to WhatsApp and Insta and tweet and blog to my heart's content. I hadn't formed a concrete concept of what 'no Internet' or very little Internet would look and feel like.

There's so much to learn from this revelation. I realise I'm probably as spoilt as any other millenial. And even though I have prided myself on not being attached to all my worldly trappings, apparently I still have more than a passing love affair with some. Cuba is proving that - and showing me some heretofore obscured aspects of myself.

I almost got miserable at the prospect of no readily accessible Internet yesterday. I wanted to share moments from my day with others and couldn't. I wanted to do a blog and post immediately, but couldn't. Eventually, I put down the phone and opened my ears and eyes to the beautiful wonders of this foreign land. 

Cuba is aesthetically amazing. Its rich architectural history has been painstakingly preserved. It's reputation for revolution and rebellion is heralded in every story tourists are fed. They are a simple people, and yet they are a proud people. They have an identity forged through separation from the rest of the Americanised world that has also manifested in a sense of national pride. I like that. I'm enjoying hearing about that. And seeing the relics of times I have only read about.

And I can't help thinking, thank goodness there is no phone or Internet to distract me from absorbing and fully engaging all this marvelous country has to offer. There is a calm that can come with disconnection. Funny. I'm just learning something the Cubans already know.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Cuba Chronicles: COPA and the Jamaican Prayer Warrior

She was sitting on the opposite side of the aisle two rows up from me. I could see her, not because I got an aisle seat, or because of the bright yellow sweater she was wearing, but because of the furtive rocking back and forth that went on pretty much the entire flight.

And I do mean the entire flight. From the minute she stowed away her carry-on and sat down, this woman began to rock and mutter under her breath. At first I couldn’t catch what she was saying, but as the intensity increased, and the volume along with it, I realised that she was praying. She must have been praying. That is the only logical explanation for phrases like “rout the enemy”, “put the devil’s plans to flight”, “grant us safe passage, oh God”.

When she was finished, I whispered ‘amen’ too. Couldn’t hurt. My parents raised me to reverence and fear God and the godly, in all their various manifestations.

But it wasn’t over. The flight took off, and everyone settled down, and I got into the novel I had brought along. Then the muttering started again. My Jamaican prayer warrior had decided to have her own little prayer and worship session right there on the plane in her seat. The rocking resumed, and for much of the flight to Panama, she was a mass of bobbing jherri curls and upraised hands.

Her eyes were tightly shut the entire time. I know her eyes were shut because one of her legs was in the passage, and when the air hostess was trying to pass her with the serving tray, the man sitting beside her had to tap her on the shoulder and point out that she needed to move the obstructing foot so the air hostess could pass.

She obliged, closed her eyes, and the rocking and head-bobbing and chants resumed: “Jeeeeee-suuuuuus! Jeeeee-suuuuus!” She was whispering. But I could hear.

When the plane touched down and we were taxi-ing to our final stop, my prayer warrior lifted her hands (fully, up to this point they had been at half-mast) and said, “Thank you, Puppa Jesus! Mighty deliverer! Yuh do it again!” And clapped. Then looked to her neighbour and pumped a fist, as if to say, ‘Yes, our team won!’

It made me smile. Because Jamaican quirks are what they are no matter where on the planet we are. While we were exiting the plane, I watched the jherri curls and yellow shirt disappear into the crowd of disembarking passengers. Who is to say that beyond the bright yellow of her blouse, that prayer warrior hadn’t, in the way she knew how, just added a little light to all our lives?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cuba Chronicles: Bienvenida a Cuba!!

Every time I take a trip out of Jamaica and fly off to somewhere, it represents a personal conquest. For the entire trip, I sit in planes and airports with an inanely gargantuan grin plastered across my face. And nothing (except maybe gas masks falling in the plane) can get that smile off.

So I'm off again. This time to a close Caribbean neighbour. I've been curious about Cuba for longer than I can say. Maybe especially since high school, when a dramatic influx of Cuban teachers to Jamaica left me with four of eight classes being taught by Cuban natives. Two became instant favourites who have permanent soft spots in my heart. Another - my grade eight form teacher Mrs Douglas - was the subject of a juicy scandal that rocked the school for months after she and her husband disappeared and were declared wanted by police in connection to a work-travel scam that fleeced hundreds of money and personal documents.

Now that I think of it, that's probably not the best backdrop from which to develop a curiosity about a country. I'm not particularly curious about what it feels like to be scammed. But the memory stands out as my earliest encounter with Cubans (and to be honest, at the time, for my little rural high school where nothing ever happened, it was all scandalously scintillating).

Crooks and crookedness aside, there have been Cuban lecturers at university, as well as various doctors and nurses over the years, who have helped to pique my interest in this country. Then there was that course I did on Cuban literature which revolutionised my perspective of El Lider - Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. I was so engrossed with the history of that country and the way their authors used literature to express their struggles - plus Mr Jo Pereira was a fantastic facilitator - I easily aced that course.

Lately, the urge to go somewhere has kept my feet more in mid-air than on the ground. And then there are friends who've been to Cuba who know I'm possessed by the travel bug; they keep telling me to visit Cuba now, before it changes from a romantic throwback paradise into 'just another modernised developing nation'.

All of that and two weeks of vacation time - and a little extra change in my pocket - have led to this trip. I'm psyched out of my mind. I'm ready for this. And I can't wait to see what secrets Cuba has to tell me. For now, I'll sit in a plane with a permanent Cheshire cat grin waiting to touch down to a new adventure.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Have a BIG WIN Year (Or What I Learned in 2016)

First of all, big breakthroughs are precipitated by years of hard work and developing good habits. None of it happens by chance. I live with the intention to be better than I was yesterday, to learn from every situation, and to mature into the best possible version of myself. This is the basis of my beliefs and actions. So even when I seem to make drastic changes to my beliefs and actions, the underlying motivation remains constant (someone needed to hear that).

At the end of last year, I decided to engage people. That was it. I decided to have a people-centric year. I set the intentions of (1) more effectively and consistently serving the ones I love, and (2) forming more meaningful connections with people of like passions. The result was a BIG WIN year. Here are the principles that stood out most:

1. Spend time with people you love and who love you. 

I spent 2016 giving more TIME to people whose company infused me with energy, who I was sure genuinely cared for me, who consistently made time for me, and with whom I shared similar passions and interests. I just gave them the lion's share of my time and consistently chose to be with them. The result was that I spent less time with people who didn't meet that criteria, and had many more moments of joy and genuine connection, and much less awkwardness, discomfort and angst. I had unwittingly found and chosen to be with MY TRIBE! These were the people to whom and with whom I truly belonged. It gave me loads of energy and encouragement and peace. There was less dissent and doubt and fear. These people believed with me and sometimes FOR me, and pushed me when I was just drained and exhausted, because they love me (for real reals).

2. Look for connection.

This is so important. I chose to just trust my gut and go after the people with whom I felt deep connections. It worked. I would go to events, talk with lots of people, and follow up closely with the ones with whom I'd felt some kind of spark. I ended up making lots of new friends with whom I share plenty of common interest. And I ended up strengthening relationships that had been casual for years. I found people I could help, and who could help me, and who were running in the same direction as me and were willing to join me on the journey. My people knowledge database expanded drastically in one short year. It was great!

3. Do what you love.

Because it's your life, and if you don't enjoy it, who will? I just threw out the burdensome, tedious tasks I had felt obligated to do and, as often as I could, did the things I was really interested in and excited about. I went to more art exhibits, book readings and launches, parties, self-improvement seminars, dance concerts - anything I already knew I loved to do that filled me with zest and joy, I pursued that. The result was more connections with people of like passion, and plenty bliss. Pure bliss.

4. Express self less and listen more.

When I made the decision to engage people more, I chose to be an active listener and encourager. My focus became: 'how can I be present for this person right now?' I made serving others a priority, and I learned something from that: people want to be heard. Often, lunch and a listening ear was all it took to turn a casual friendship into something more solid and intimate. I just listened and let them know that I really cared (because I really did). That was a definite game-changer. People appreciate honesty and genuine concern. But if you think about it, of course they do! We all want that.

Listening more also gave me many nuggets and insights that I had missed before. I re-learnt a lot of my friends last year. I heard them. You can't become a better listener without also becoming more observant overall. So I picked up on certain cues and expressions. I heard the story beneath the words. And I learned to appreciate these people, and love them so much more.

5. Learn to let go.

I didn't realise it at the time, but deciding to more actively engage people I felt strong connections to automatically meant less engagement with those I didn't. Some friendships just faded. When I went after connection, I realised how many people were sorta just there ... in my life because I had picked them up at some point, and they just kinda stuck over the years. We no longer shared common interests or passions, we just had common history. But this history was no longer relevant to where or who I was. And I had to learn to let those go. When a friendship no longer has a certain kind of intensity, allow it to become casual. Don't be afraid to let go of the people you've known all your life who you no longer relate to. If you've grown apart, admit it, love them, but don't stress about it. Allow the relationship to grow where it's growing. Don't see it as loss. See it as evolving.

6. Get the good exhausted. 

The kind of exhaustion that comes from doing so much of something you love with people you love and thoroughly enjoy, that you are just all worn out. What's the point of agonising over things that do not serve you at all? Why get tired doing things you despise with people you really don't belong with? Find your tribe. Find your passion. And then go for it with all you've got. Take the risk. Work superhard! And get the exhaustion that fills you with joy and satisfaction and fulfillment. Get the good exhausted.

Monday, February 20, 2017


I use the Sagicor SIGMA Run to gage my aging process each year. My time, how I feel when I'm running, how many young whippersnappers breeze past me ... All of these are the non-scientific indicators I use to determine whether or not my body is still up to the fitness challenge.

This year, I saw a proliferation of tiny primary schoolers whizzing past me, my calves were on fire, my stomach was churning bile, my breathing was very halted, and I felt like a very tired 50. Meanwhile, some little upstarts were just blazing past me with all their hype and energy, and I realised that my not-yet-30-year-old body was threatening to jump into the nearest AmbuCare ambulance and just stay put.

A thought occurred to me this year, though, that had me chuckling and crafting a poem in my head while I walk-ran. It was after seeing a madman standing on the side of the road watching the passers by, and the women in particular. He inspired this poem:

SIGMA 2017

Mad man standing at half mast
Eyes bump-a-bumping
To rhythmic rotund rumps
Jouncing down the street
Drumming time

To the patter of running feet