by Kate Collins
As a part time resident of Key West, I can tell you that people in the Conch Republic are excited about the recent news on opening relations with Cuba. There's a ferry dock just waiting for an opportunity to transport vacationers across the short 90 mile stretch of water.
Two years ago I was fortunate enough to make a "humanitarian" visit to Cuba through the Key West Botanical Garden Society. We took boxes and boxes of clothing to sister botanical gardens to be stored for hurricane emergencies. The people have so little, these stores of clothing help.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I got there. Military men hovering around us with AK47s? Roped off areas? Video surveillance? People afraid to say "Peep?"
None of that. I saw a lush, beautiful country where people from England, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada were vacationing at luxurious oceanside resorts, restaurants serving delicious food, spotless, comfy hotels, tours that took us everywhere we wanted to go, and a few police. The people we met were happy to talk to us, didn't appear undernourished or diseased, and generally seemed satisfied with the little they had because they knew nothing else. And boy could they dance. And took every opportunity to do it. I saw flamenco dancers that knocked my socks off -- well, sandals.
They had instant medical care and no one was homeless, although that often means several families living together in the mansions that were confiscated in the take-over. Life was definitely substandard when compared with ours. For instance, a bottle of shaving cream or a tube of toothpaste might cost a week's wage, and the offerings at the separate stores where they had to shop were slim.
Yet they expressed doubt about opening up to the US. Many were, and probably are still, afraid that they'd be faced again with the same problems that started the revolution -- outside control of their country. And they don't want fast food or the medical issues that come from it.
But Cuba will open up and they will get fast food and our diseases, and everyone here will wonder what the heck took so long. We face much greater dangers from the middle east, yet travel there isn't banned.
From my perspective, it'll be interesting to watch, especially with a Key West view. I will say prayers for all the kind Cuban people I met there, however, and hope this will work out in their favor.
Would you take a 1 1/2 hour ferry boat to Cuba?