05 Oct 2017

Within minutes of stepping through the door after returning from a life-changing home from a trip to Cuba, I donned my rattiest pyjamas and was devouring an entire pizza while getting teary-eyed while watching Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. The post-vacation blues hit me hard.

It wasn't the reality of working nine-to-five or the return to routine that had me depressed because after running around a foreign country nonstop, the familiarity can be comforting.

Despite the countless hardships of the country’s past that has continued on to this day, the people are still so full of infectious joy and passion. That resilient enthusiasm for life crystallized for me what was really important in life, liberating me from the trivial worries that cluttered my day-to-day. I loved how Cuba made me feel free.

Here are 7 Ways Cuba Made Me Feel Free:

The morning after I arrived in Cuba where access to internet and wifi is extremely limited, I nervously ventured from the casa I was staying at. Without the security of Google maps, I was certain to get irrevocably lost in the crumbling streets of Old Havana. While I still got a little lost, being cut off from the internet and the deluge of information from being connected with the rest of the world let me be more present in MY life.

While I sat in a plant-filled haven off of a main street in Old Havana with a book, I was taken aback when a local struck up a conversation with me. I realized that without the distraction of being "connected" all the time, Cubans valued real-life conversations over being shackled to their phones. It was refreshing to chat with friendly locals about their favourite spots versus Googling top ten lists.

When it comes to beauty, it's easier to ask Cubans what they DON'T like (as with me and food). With limited access to media and internet, Cubans don't have a standardized ideal of beauty so their appreciation is all-inclusive and they are not afraid to voice it! Generous with their compliments, I understood why Cuban women were so confident, no matter their shape or size.

“Hello! You're beautiful. I want to be your boyfriend.” That is the Cuban version of flirting – straightforward, genuine and no games or guile. It was a welcome change from the culture of dating apps and ghosting that you can't help but respond in kind. Not interested? No worries, their friendly nature relieved me of pressure, allowing us to part ways without any hard feelings.

In a tiny rhumba club in old Havana, the locals that filled the room threw their entire beings into moving with the music. Witnessing the raw passion they felt, expressed in every shimmy and swivel of their hips, I could feel my anxiety at being perceived to be dancing too vulgar, evaporate. The lead weight of worry lifted from my limbs and I let myself instinctively respond to the beats and revelling in it!

Part of why people love to travel so much is that is liberates us from the idea we have of ourselves. Away from the people who know us, who act as mirrors reflecting back their perception of who they think we are – a daughter, risk-averse, a workaholic, etc…when we’re much too complex to be categorized so simply. Cuba gave me that freedom to play around with the concept I had of myself and be whoever I was in that moment.

Saying that life ain’t no picnic in Cuba is a gross understatement. Their history is wrought with political turbulence and their present is heavy with restrictions and limitations that make daily life a struggle. Despite having so much less – money, freedom, opportunity – the people shine with an irrepressible passion and joy. The comparison gave me perspective on how inconsequential my problems were in the grand scheme of life, allowing me to just be happy.

ETC is the overflow of thoughts in the mind of Teri Yeung. It’s a place full of stories of travel adventures, imparted lessons learned from life’s achievements and failures, behind-the-scenes of projects and experiments, and anything else that inspires excitement and joy.

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