Two weeks after returning from Cuba, I just can't get her out of my head. Like it says in the article here, my main reason for flying to Cuba was to see how the country has survived the peak oil crisis and turned it's horticultural self around to a point where it can now actually feed all of her people.
Can Ireland do that at this point? We all know the answer is no. When we import 90% of our fruit and vegetables, Ireland would have enough food to eat for about two weeks if our fuels were cut off and we suddenly had to fend for ourselves. Cubans don't have the luxury of emigrating when times get tough, they simply don't have the money or freedom to do it like we do.
The trip I went on is called a solidarity brigade, it's organised by ICAP, the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples which was founded on December 30 1960, as a result of the heat, enthusiasm and solidarity arose everywhere in the world after the victory of the Cuban Revolution.
The brigade was made up mostly of Scandinavians and British, then there was me, the token Irish. We stayed in a lovely camp outside Havana and shared small dorms of four beds. Showers were cold and toilets communal. The purpose of the trip is to see how Cubans live. I learned fast that the best way to shake off the late nights was a 6am cold shower and hair wash, nothing like it. After our early morning call we went off to work in the fields doing agricultural work, weeding mango saplings, pulling up yukka plants and general horse manure shovelling. I snuk off as much as I could to hang out with the workers and learn a few dance moves, much to their amusement. There's nothing like acting the clown to make friends.
My co-worker/dance teacher
After the farm work we piled back into the truck to trundle through lazy towns and back to camp where we filled our faces hungrily with a lunch of rice n beans, maybe a tasty ham chop, some cassava, lots of salad and fresh fruit and juice made from the oranges growing in the surrounding fields. A shower was always in order to wash away the terracotta earth from us and, as my luggage never arrived I had only one pair of shoes for everything so these had to be scraped and scrubbed every day. Cubans are meticulously clean and scruffiness is frowned upon, understandably when a pair of trainers costs a months salary.
David tells us how it's done, no lunch till we weed thousands of plants!
I pestered Carlos from the cuban delegation to show me an urban garden in Havana and he brought me to a farm on the outskirts of the city that uses oxen as it's machinery and where all the produce is sold dirctly to customers from a roadside kiosk. The farmer was away in the pub at the time so I waited with the lovely woman who ran the shop and she taught me the names of everything in Spanish and had me weighing out oranges and chillis for customers. When the farmer arrived he was a bit suspicious of me, assuming I was reporter from CNN looking for him to diss Fidel and Raul Castro but he was adamant that he was a supporter and was saying nothing against communism. I tried to tell him I was more interested in his compost heap that his political leanings but my non existent Spanish and his being a bit sozzled I just let it go. He plucked a ripe guava from a tree and handed it to me to eat, pink and juicy with the sun setting on the city, it was a perfect moment. He gave me a bag of salad and pak choi to take away and told me that his house is my house, a common occurance in Cuba if you take the time to engage with people. Carlos was mucho embarrassed at my carrying a bag of vegetables and eating them "like a rabbit" on the bus. Seems the yoof aren't as impressed by all this horticulture as I am.
Afternoons were taken up with various talks with representatives from the communist party, the Cuban Women's Federation (NOT the Women's Federation of Cuba!!!) and a speaker about the affect of the US press gave an insight as to the damage that is done on a regular basis to Cuba's reputation in the media. It wasn't all school work, we also took trips into Havana to see some of the endless cool stuff, crumbly buildings and relaxed locals. All those images you see in the movies are true, music wafts out of every doorway, ancient American cars, glide gleaming through the streets. It seems that every Cuban is born with rhythm in their hips and the hips don't lie as they shimmy their way through their daily chores.
One of many battered but working old cars in Cuba
We made our way from the camp for a few days to the beautiful Pinar Del Rio province and saw many lovely sights along the way. This area is lush with vegetation and I craned my neck out of the bus to see the countless allotment plots along the road. We visited an artist who was into permaculture with his solar panels, rare breed pigs and turkey chicks while he whittled marvellous shapes from materials he found. A cigar factory where everything was done by hand was a joy to see, the ice cream factory was a welcome treat and the rum factory made for many souveniers.
Roadside lunch in Pinar del Rio
We enjoyed endless excursions, learned so much and made many many new friends and even enjoyed a few dips in the pool. I had to leave before the full brigade programme was over, family and Christmas holidays were calling back home. Despite this I lived every minute to the full and am already aching to go back. If this sounds like a trip you might enjoy, and many would then log onto the Cuba Ireland Support Group for info on upcoming brigades.