by Tammi Arrender, KNOE-TV Monroe
I was up before dawn to see the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico, which is one of my favorite things to do on the planet, albeit usually from the angle of Gulf Shores. Remember, Cuba is an island surrounded by the Gulf on one side and Caribbean on the other.
When the sun’s rays start to illuminate the town of Havana, you’re reminded once again that it’s the city that’s locked in the 1950’s. So its buildings and infrastructure are dilapidated. But strangely enough there’s still a beauty here. It’s got a ghostly resemblance of the New Orleans French Quarter, if the Quarter had been completely neglected over the last 80 years.
Dabbled in between the decaying high rises and apartment buildings, is lush greenery. One of the most intriguing places we visited today, an organic farm about 20 minutes outside of Havana. Our Louisiana delegation was fascinated by the primitive agriculture operation. Man-guided oxen still till the land. Sunflowers grow next to corn to encourage organic insect control.
Now, when I say they grow corn, I’m talking about maybe two rows in what we’d call a backyard garden. They also grow basil, oregano, and sugarcane, among other things. For Havana, it’s a huge community garden and one of their main local food sources. And speaking of food, when we stop for lunch, we’re greeted with a hello, or Hola`, and a Mojito (or Rum and Coke).
Rum to Cuba is what Crawfish is to Louisiana. It’s part of their culinary DNA. Our meals always consist of rice and black beans, and a vegetable, that so far has not been immediately recognizable but somewhat tasty. They also serve shredded beef or pork. I’ve not been impressed with the meals but I also have not left hungry. And yes, for those who know me, my stash of ketchup packets made the trip, so I can doctor any dish with what I call a country girl’s tomato sauce, and make it edible!
The most important thing about lunch today was our dialogue with local entrepreneurs. Relatively new, private sector business owners in Cuba who’re looking to do trade with Louisiana, when the paperwork on the US-Cuba trade deal is actually inked. It’s a country hungry for commerce. Our table guest is trying to launch his own computer technology business. He wants to repair laptops and give/sell to this community. Remember, they just barely have their toe in technology pool here.
There are still some real challenges to overcome as they struggle to come into the 21st century but they’re working toward that. I think Louisianians and Cubans could benefit from working relationship. No matter what you think of their country, their government or their lifestyle, they’re still people. Human beings who are trying to make it in this world despite their leadership or lot in life. I admire that.