A Lesson in Happiness from the People of Havana
In 2015, I decided to embark on a trip to Cuba over the Christmas holidays with a few friends. This time around, we decided not to stay in an all-inclusive resort. This was not a decision my dad was particularly excited about. Having travelled only to Holguin and having seen the accommodation outside of the resorts, he was a bit surprised and worried. I mentioned to him "I'm going to Havana, it's a different story." Plus, how will I ever experience the essence of Cuban culture, and really see what it is like to live life in Havana? Isn't that the point of travel? We travel because we are curious about what other countries are like, what the people are like, what kind of food they eat, what they do for fun, how they live their lives.
This decision was made easier due to the fact that one of my best friends was born in Havana, and his mother still lived there. So off we went, and stayed in the suburb called La Lisa, about 20 minutes from downtown Havana.
The single, biggest lesson I learned from the people I encountered: happiness is not about having more. Happiness is about wanting and appreciating what you ALREADY have. And by our Canadian standards, they don't have much. But whatever little they have, they are perfectly fine to share with strangers. They also don't seem like the likely people to suffer from anxiety and depression. Everyone is friendly, open and always smiling. Sense of privacy is pretty much non-existent.
Everyone's front door is always open, salsa and reggaeton blasting, the neighbours come in and out of your house like it’s their own. If your music is loud, they will not ask you to turn it down. They will ask you to turn it up, because that's their jam and they wanna party too! We spent a lot of time in La Lisa, just hanging out, walking around, dancing, you know, not using our phones, talking to people. By the end of the week I was putting together sentences in Spanish and communicating with my hands, whatever, we understood each other. The friendliness and openness reminded me of my old neighbourhood in Serbia where I grew up. I even left my watch at home. On any given day I had no clue what time it was. How very non-virgo of me.
New Year’s eve was interesting. It's a big thing in Cuba!! A bunch of us went outside at midnight and ran around the neighbourhood with our empty suitcases. It is supposed to signify good luck and make all your travel dreams come true. So off we went and the whole neighbourhood was hanging out on the street, cheering us on.
On my last day one of the neighbour's kids came to me out of the blue and said "te voy a extrañar" (I will miss you) and got me a present. Of course, I cried. He said "Come back because we are family". Like my favourite salsa song goes, Volvereeeee por que te quiero! ❤