When I was a kid I had , for some reason, the following quote from the Czech historian Konstantin Jireček written on the back of my door:
“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
That quote was running through my mind during my recent trip to Cuba. In May 2016 I spent nearly three weeks traveling through the Caribbean island on a photography assignment with New Hampshire-based Espiritu Travel. Starting off in Havana, my route took me south to the Bay of Pigs and Trinidad then to Camaguey and Bayamo in the center of the country. After that I made my way to the extreme east of the island to Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba and finally the colorful little town of Baracoa, tucked up against the Atlantic Ocean and closer to Haiti than to Havana.
Cubans simply do not have access to most of the daily items the majority of the Western world takes for granted. They’ve had to improvise. They’ve had to adapt. In the 40-some countries I’ve visited over the years I have never met a more resourceful group of people. It is a creativity borne of forced frugality and the opposite of our throwaway culture in the West. It is fascinating and inspiring and grossly unjust.