Friday, 29 April 2016:
This was the last full day of our trip to Cuba, and it turned out to be the busiest by far.
The day was scheduled to begin with a visit to ELAM, the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, but before we got there, our guides were able to fit in one more stop of interest along the way. We visited a beautiful small section of houses and businesses that a local artist had spent years decorating with colorful tiles. While there we stopped the shop of the ceramicist who appeared to be at the center of the project. His studio was also his home. I purchased a tile that he had designed as one of my souvenirs of this trip to Cuba.
ELAM is one of Cuba's fifteen medical schools, and it is designated for the training of foreign students. Many of the young people who go there are from Latin America and Africa, and there are currently twenty-two enrolled from the United States. After listening to a presentation by one of the medical school's administrators, we were provided the opportunity to visit with one of the American students - a young man who had graduated from the University of California at Berkley. He was in his first year of school at ELAM. The young man was very interesting and answered all of our questions. Summer break is approaching, and he said that he plans to return to California and work in a hospital during his time off from school.
The school is located in a beautiful old naval facility near the Hemingway Marina. The curriculum is taught in Spanish, however students do not have to know Spanish in order to enroll. The first year of the six-year program is focused on acculturating students to Cuba and teaching them Spanish. They refer to it as a "leveling" year, one in which all students are brought to a more-or-less common level - getting them ready for the more difficult and focused years that follow.
The education that medical students receive in Cuba is basically free, but they pay the nation back through service. The education of some of the foreign students is subsidized by scholarships and assistance from their governments. Students begin working almost immediately as assistants in local clinics, and they also do research on various medical issues within the communities. During the embargo Cuba was cut off from access to American medicines, a situation which resulted in researchers in Cuba developing many medicines on their own.
After our visit to ELAM we had lunch at the Paladar San Cristobal, one of the places where the Obama family dined while they were in Cuba. The restaurant's owner brought out a large photograph of him greeting the Obama's - it was a very proud moment for him.
I skipped a planned lecture by Peter Kornbluh in the afternoon in order to have a few minutes to pack and prepare for tomorrow's departure. Having already read Peter's book, Back Chanel to Cuba, and having visited with him throughout the week, I thought that was one I could miss - although I hated missing anything.
This evening we went to an astounding dance performance at the Lizt Alfonso Academy, which was described on our agenda as a "women-led dance company and school for local youth." The students were almost entirely female, ranging in age from six or seven to adult. The younger kids went to school on the premises after their daily dance instruction was finished. The type of dancing that the students do is a "fusion" between ballet and flamenco, with graceful ballet moves highlighted with flamenco stomping. The overall effect of forty or so girls and a few boys doing that type of dancing in large, choreographed numbers is absolutely amazing!
Dinner, another very noisy late-night affair, was on the roof garden of the Paladar Atelier, a place which Michelle Obama and her mother and daughters also visited. It was a beautiful night with soft breezes - perfect for dining outside under the stars. The two groups, Green and Yellow, got together for this final meal, something the guides called "the last supper," and that gave us a chance to visit with people whom we really hadn't gotten to know during the trip.
But I did get to know quite a few people very well. They are friends and I will miss them when we all go our separate ways tomorrow.
It is now after midnight, I am packed - and ready to board the bus for the airport at seven tomorrow morning.
Buenos noches, mis amigos.