We will all be in Cuba next week.
This will actually be my second trip to Cuba. In 1997 I was invited to present at an “international” conference on industrial engineering at a university in Santa Clara, Cuba. This was back in the days when I was a university dean and organizational consultant and researcher. When I arrived, with my wife and two Spanish-speaking graduate students in tow, I realized that I was the only international attendee, other than a graduate student at the host university who was from Columbia.
Despite a number of mishaps and miscommunications (they were not expecting me to show up since they never received my emails), it was a great week. We were wined and dined and treated like VIPs. They even gave my wife and the two students bouquets right before I was scheduled to present to conclude the conference.
The end of the conference was celebrated with a luncheon and dance party for all attendees, including the students at the university. I couldn’t help but note that engineering students in Cuba can dance a hell of a lot better than engineering students in the US.
During lunch I was seated at the table with the university bigwigs, including my counterpart, the dean of the school of engineering. He spoke little English (the second language for most of the faculty, students, and administrators was Russian). I spoke even less Spanish. But we somehow managed. The bottle of Decano (“dean”) rum that he gave me helped. Realizing that I probably couldn’t take it back to the US, I opened the bottle at the table and offered it around. The two deans drank most of it.
The lunch and the trip ended with the two flushed, bleary-eyed, slack-faced (i.e., drunk) deans with our arms around each other slurring a mutual desire for reconciliation between our two countries. At least that is what I assumed he was saying, since the rum hadn’t improved my Spanish-speaking skills.
I assume that next week’s trip will be different. We will be kayaking the Bay of Pigs, Zapata NP, and other areas. But at least half the trip will be devoted to people-to-people interactions — the only option available to us at this time for legal travel to Cuba — so I may get a chance to imbibe some rum with the locals after all.
Internet connections in Cuba are still very iffy. I will post when I can, but I may have to wait until I get back to the US to tell you about the trip.