Cuba, Spring Break 2016

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This trip was a dream come true. After many years of dealing with the travel restrictions for Americans created by The Embargo (an itinerary thoroughly questioned by both the Cuban Ministry of Tourism and the US Department of State), 26 Educational Permits and Travel Visas were issued for The Winsor School. Unfortunately, those permits arrived 6 months late, so we missed our chance to travel in 2014 and had to request an extension to be able travel in Spring Break 2016. It was a four year long process, but it worked! On March 22nd of 2016, Winsor students and chaperones landed in Havana full of expectations.

There were many moments that I treasure from the trip: the Cuban and Winsor students sitting around the table discussing The Embargo in Spanish, English and Spanglish, learning about Cuba’s history, music and dances, the Rumba/Hip-Hop student face-off with the Afro-Cuban teen dancers in Matanzas, hearing the students question and reflect on the information that we were receiving about how Cuba works, ice-cream in Coppelia after standing in a long line for whatever was the flavor of the hour, hunting for those rare güifi hot-spots, watching people in the Plaza de Santa Clara in the evenings, embargo breakfasts in ICAP, Ms. Taillacq’s Rumba trance on the drums, the impromptu evening fiestas in La Casa de Odalis, our guide Beatriz’s unpopular whistle-call and finally, after a very, very, nasty missed connecting flight, watching The Game in Miami’s Little Havana Cuban restaurant over jugo de mamey.

“Thank you Ms. Stettler and Mr. Didier for your support and encouragement throughout these years of planning this extraordinary trip to Cuba that seemed at times like a Chimera.

It was a wonderful coincidence that President Obama also believed that the time had come for a change in international relations with Cuba, and that Winsor was able to literally cross paths with history in Avenida 17 of El Vedado neighborhood, in La Vieja Habana.”

Laura Bravo Melguizo, Spanish Teacher, World Language Department

Cuba, Spring Break 2016

Trinidad, ceramics and the history of slavery and sugar cane

During the Spanish colonization of Cuba, Trinidad was known for its sugar cane production and slave trade. The architecture in Trinidad is somewhat older than that found in other parts of Cuba and reflects the 18th and 19th centuries during which Cuba was under Spanish rule. The buildings were some of the most colorful I have ever seen and just walking around Trinidad was an amazing experience in itself. While we were there, we visited a museum that held information about the slave trade and daily lives of people living there in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sam Plante, Class VIII

 

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Trinidad, ceramics and the history of slavery and sugar cane

Trinidad

The colonial city of Trinidad was beautiful.

We visited the Plaza Mayor and main Holy Trinity Church where we learned about the history of one of the most important cities in Cuba during the time of the Spanish colony. The Plaza Mayor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Most buildings surrounding the Plaza Mayor are from the 18th and 19th centuries when this was a blooming sugar cane and slavery hub. The Holy Trinity Church was completed in 1892 and is famous for its wood altar and the Christ of Veracruz.

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Trinidad

Che Memorial in Santa Clara

Che, the Man and the Myth

When people in America think of Cuba, usually the first figure that comes to mind is Fidel or Raúl Castro, it seems that they would be the representatives of what Cuba is, but there are other figures that make up more of the country’s culture. One of these famous figures, that is known around the world, is Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Che is by far one of the most popular figures in Cuba, with the amount of statues and memorabilia that rival even Jose Martí’s. Known as being one of the youthful faces of the revolution, Che is a martyr that the public will remember for time to come.

Born in Argentina, Che became a doctor and traveled around the Central and South Americas, writing his bestselling book, the motorcycle diaries. During this time Che saw poverty and injustice that turned him onto the path of the revolution and communism. In June 1955, Che came to meet Fidel Castro and the two became fast friends together in their quest for a free Cuba. With his gift for tactics and guerilla warfare strategy, Che quickly rose in the ranks becoming the commander of the second army column. Che’s most famous moment in the revolution was on New Year’s Eve in 1958-1959 during the attack on Santa Clara. There had been a shipment of soldiers that had been sent from the other side of Cuba to assist the previous dictator, Batista, in Havana. Che, along with his men, diverted the armored train carrying the soldiers with the use of a bulldozer and kept the 350 soldiers from reaching Havana. The capture of the train is known as a turning point in the revolution because many of the men from the train would join the revolution, and it was carrying guns and weapons that the revolution could use. That armored train is now a museum that stands in Santa Clara and attracts many tourists.

After the revolution, Che remained in the public eye, he became an integral part of the government. He led the national bank, became the Cuban ambassador, and instituted national literacy campaign. One reason why the opinion on Che is so controversial is because one of these duties of his in the government after the revolution. Che was put in charge of “reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals.”Che was also in charge of the “export of revolution” which meant that he encouraged other countries to convert to socialism and rise up against unjust dictator. This eventually led to him leaving Cuba in 1965 to actively participate in revolutions in the Congo Kinshasa and later Bolivia where he was killed in 1967 by CIA-assisted Bolivian Forces.

Some of the most beautiful places in Cuba carry Che as a theme. He’s known as a hero, a martyr of revolution and you’ll see him everywhere. Almost every tourist shop has at least one painting of his or a magnet, or something. The famous beret of his is sold en masse. The largest of these is probably the Che Guevara Mausoleum, which holds Che’s body along with the bodies of the comrades that died with him in Bolivia and a museum of his life. On the top is a huge complex of statues which commemorate his life and work along with a 22-foot tall statue of a bronze Che. Another famous site of Che is at the Plaza de la Revolución, the largest city square in the world. Next to the obligatory memorial dedicated to Jose Martí stands a building with the famous outline of Che, with his most famous words. These words will live on in the hearts of the Cuban people, where they are celebrated and kept as a reminder of what the people stand for. “Hasta la victoria siempre,” or “Until the everlasting victory, always.”

 Antonia Januszewicz, Class V

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Che Memorial in Santa Clara

Creating choreographies together with the students of the Profesional Arts School

During our visit in Santa Clara we stayed at the ICAP (Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos, or the Cuban Friendship Institution with the People) delegation. Their goal is essentially to help tourists understand how the Cuban government works. This lodging felt more like a hotel or a hostel than the Casas Particulares where we stayed in Havana. My favorite day in Santa Clara was when we visited two local schools and interacted with the students who were our age. The first school we visited was a fine arts school where we saw three dance performances. Afterwards, we mixed in with the performing arts students and split into three groups to make dances together. From my own experience and what I heard from others, this was an amazing activity because when we couldn’t communicate with each other in words, we just danced!

Sam Plante, Class VIII

 

Cuban Music

The musical encounters and performances that we saw in Cuba were some of the most incredible and enlightening parts of our trip to Cuba. We traveled to many sites where musicians put on performances and allowed us to interact and learn about Afro-Caribbean music. Three of the sites we traveled to, Hamel’s Alley, the jazz club, and Callejon de las Tradiciones had some of the most memorable and intriguing performances and encounters.

We traveled to Hamel’s Alley, a street famous for Afro-Caribbean culture in music, religion, and dance, on the second day of our trip. There, we watched a traditional Afro-Caribbean dance performance accompanied by live Afro-Caribbean music. Musicians played rhythms on African drums along with the sounds of claves, shekeres, and bongos, while singing to the beat and rhythm of the music. We were enticed by the intricacy and ear of the musicians, who were able to stray from the beats of the music and establish their own rhythms, while keeping up with the rhythms of the band as a whole. The music at Hamel’s Alley gave our group an intricate glimpse into Afro-Caribbean music.

On the third day of our trip, we went to a jazz club. The entrance was marked by a red telephone booth with “Jazz Club” in gold lettering, and we went inside the telephone booth to go underground to the club. The interior of the club was lit with fluorescent blue lights and on the stage was a Latin jazz band consisting of four people, each playing a different instrument: drums, electric guitar, saxophone, and piano. After a brief introduction by the leader of the band, they began to play. The four instruments’ music combined to form an impeccable homogeneity. Both the drum player and the piano player, who both had solos, were simply sensational and had amazing talent, skill, and precision in their performance. After the performance, when we were able to ask each of the band members’ questions, we learned that both the piano player and the drum player, ages nineteen and eighteen respectively, had been students of a music school in Cuba, where they had studied from ten-years old to eighteen. We also learned that students search for job opportunities directly after graduating from the music schools which added to our knowledge of the arts school system in Cuba.

On the fifth day of our trip, we traveled to Callejon de las Tradiciones or The Alley of the Traditions. The alley, mostly used for street theatre performances, is part of a community project called Matanzas AfroAtenas. The members of the project displayed for us a sample of Afro-Caribbean dance and music. The dancers wore colorful outfits embroidered with colorful fabric, and the musicians played claves, bongos, shekeres, and cajónes and accompanied the dancers with vibrant rhythms. At the end of the performance, the musicians offered members of our group the opportunity to play some of the rhythms. One by one each member of our group attempted to play the rhythms that the musicians showed them, proving challenging for some, but proving easier for others. Everyone enjoyed the music and each mini performance ended in laughter.

Our adventures to some of the musical hotspots of Cuba brought us great interaction with musicians as well as exposure to Afro-Caribbean music and influences. The remarkable performances we saw added excitement to our trip and made the overall Cuban experience unforgettable.

Alison Poussain, Class VI

Creating choreographies together with the students of the Profesional Arts School

Visit to Escuela Profesional de Arte Samuel Feijoo, Santa Clara

“What an amazing experience! I have never felt so welcomed and embraced by a country. I learned so much about Cuba’s fascinating history and rich culture. What an honor to share this trip with our students, who never ceased to impress me with their enthusiasm, thought-provoking questions, and of course, their Latin dance moves. Thank you, Laura Bravo, for your perseverance to make this trip a reality!”

Lauren Martin, Health Teacher

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Visit to Escuela Profesional de Arte Samuel Feijoo, Santa Clara