Reflections from the Field: Pt. 1

I’ve been in Cuba for about a week and a half, and honestly I am really taken a back that I’m actually doing it.  I’m actually doing fieldwork on a topic that I love and that people find interesting for my dissertation that will hopefully be turned into a book one day.  Coño! Around this time in 2011, I was returning back to the states from my first trip to Cuba.  It was a 3 month-anthropology focused study abroad program in coordination with Casa de Las Americas.  Walking streets that my 20-year-old self once walked and hanging out with people that knew me back then is really humbling and affirms that life can really unfold in unexpected and beautiful ways.  Before my departure, I oscillated between indifference and resistance, but my feelings are changing.  Now that I’m here (and things are going relatively well), I’m starting to embrace the fact that this is an amazing opportunity for personal and professional growth.

So, here’s the good, the not so good and the interesting of my first few days of fieldwork.

Me at Ediciones Vigia, Matanzas Cuba in 2011

The good

Reconnissance trips paying off. I’m really grateful for the three reconnaissance trips I made in 2016, 2017 and 2018 because they really helped me to hit the ground running when it comes to research especially since my topic hasn’t changed that much.  I arrived on Wednesday and was in the archives on Thursday.  My previous trips have also helped me to feel relatively comfortable.  I already know the neighborhood, and I have a few really strong personal and professional contacts.  Surely, I have a lot to learn, but I’m extremely grateful for what I already have under my belt.

Internet. You can now download mobile data plans on your phone, which means that I don’t have to walk 3 blocks to the Wi-Fi park in order to check my email.  Game changer!

The weather. It’s actually not that hot.  It’s been hovering around high 80 F/ 30 C. This will eventually be moved to the not so good.

Food and cooking for myself. Earlier this week. I went to the market and bought food for myself for the first time ever.  Hence, I’ve been eating a lot of cabbage and tomatoes. This will like eventually be moved to the not so good as well, but for now it’s fine.  A while ago I wrote a post worrying about what I was going to eat, but as of yet, I’m not really missing anything.  I found oatmeal and olive oil so that made me really happy.  I’m enjoying the unlimited amounts of guava and pineapple.

This only cost me 60 MN or 2.50 CUC!
(pictured: Cabbage, banana, guava, onion, boniato, black beans (all pre-wash))

The not so good

Impending economic downturn. There’s talks that there could be another Special Period on the horizon.  The fact that there is rationing in place for even things sold in CUC (the tourist currency), political instability in Venezuela and a rolling back of the progress made during the Obama administration especially with talks of implementing the Helms Burton Act, things are not looking good. 

My language skills. This pales in comparison, but I’m frustrated with myself for not understanding as much as I would like.  I’m obviously functional and have improved a lot, but I wish that it was more fluid in my comprehension.  I know that this takes time, but it’s a struggle pero yo sigo luchando.

The interesting

Being a Black woman with locs in Havana. One thing that has always intrigued me is when/if/how I’m interpolated usually as either Cuban, an African medical student or a tourist.  Over the years, I’ve kind of come to think about it as a game by changing my clothes (my shoes especially), wearing my hair in a certain way and walking with a water bottle to see how people react.  I bought Birkenstocks for this trip and those scream tourist to me, but when I wear them no one seems to care.  I was a bit apprehensive that having mature locs would mark me as a tourist because it’s not super common to see Cuban women with such a hairstyle, but that’s not the case.  When I wear my hair twisted or in a pony tail no one really seems to pay me any attention.  However, the one day I decided to just wear my hair down, it was a completely different story—“Americana, Haiti, Jamaica, Alemania.” The whole gamut. I was pretty exhausted and annoyed by the time I made it back to my house.

So yeah, this is just the beginning of my fieldwork adventures.  Stay tuned!

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