Why I Went to Cuba

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I went to Cuba because I never saw Dbrovnik. When I was young my father’s professional organization, the American Society of Highway Engineers, used to organize trips and advertise them in their newsletter. There were the usual excursions to Disney World, New York City, Atlantic City and one year someone organized a trip to Dbrovnik.

My father read the description of a lovely, popular seaside resort in Yugoslavia and it sort of captured our imaginations. Whenever we’d plan a family trip Dbrovnik was always a tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

I guess I had many opportunities to see Dbrovnik. I traveled to Europe a number of times, but it never fit in the itinerary. By this time I had learned more about the rich cultural history of the city and the heritage in its architecture.

On one of my European trips I rushed to Czechoslovakia just after Vacslev Havel took office after the fall of communism. As a Slovak-American I had always wanted to visit Slovakia but our Parish priest escaped communism as a young seminarian and my grandmother was convinced they would keep me. So off I went the first chance I got.

What I saw was a country that didn’t yet realize it wasn’t communist. Empty stores, toppled statues, awful food. I can go back to Prague now and look at the hip city that has reclaimed its historic role as the jewel of Central Europe and be able to say: "I saw it then."

When Yugoslavia imploded into a bloody pulp, I cried when I saw the footage of the ruin of Dbrovnik. I cried for a place I would never see. I might go there someday for some reason, but it won’t be that place.

I think one of our weaknesses is that we don’t often appreciate how places can change in swift ways. We understand our childhood home will look smaller and shabbier after 10 years away. We appreciate the effects of a new shopping mall or new freeway on familiar places. But we never think about how an entire city or an entire country can be transformed very quickly.

I think Cuba will be transformed. I think it will be relatively soon and happen relatively quickly. I went to Cuba because I want to be able to say "I saw Cuba then" because I never saw Dbrovnik.

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