Cuba: an interview with Kendra, a solar-powered dancer

Hola! October is almost here but the sun is still shining 🙂 I met this lovely woman at my buddy, Shane’s, Birthday BBQ a few weeks ago.  That afternoon, we talked at length about our travel experiences. I asked her to share some details from her most recent stay in Cuba with us!
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Detroit, MI and now I live in Brooklyn, NY

Are you under 30 years of age or older?

No, 25

When did you first leave your country and describe that experience?
Well, Detroit is 10 min from Canada, and my parents used to travel there often to shop (when the USD was double the Canadian dollar) but I don’t really count that.

I really left when I was 12 years old going to Cuba.  I went with my dance teacher whom I had been studying Afro-Cuban dance with for a year and a half.  It was amazing.  I remember everything being so beautiful to me.  It was my first time in the Caribbean and I was fascinated by all the bright colors.  The houses were yellow, pink, turquoise.  The cars were old, like I had seen in history books and just as colorful.  And the people exuded as much brilliance and color as the atmosphere.  They were warm and welcoming, but still full of fire.  I had my first kiss there in Cuba!

Do you have any fears? If so, please describe.
I have fear of failure.  I come from a community of unfulfilled dreams.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, because me and my personality were developed as a result.  However, I never want to have to say, I once wanted to do _____ and not be able to do it.

Although things have not been as expedient as I would have liked, I have been pretty good at accomplishing the things I have wanted to do. Dance and Travel have been the top two, and 2010 has been fruitful for both!

How do you spend most of your days? Working? Studying? Etc?
I spend my days either working like crazy or having nothing to do.  That’s been a semi-personal choice and I enjoy it sometimes.  I am in the nothing to do phase and I wish I was working more.  When I am in one state I always seem to crave the other.

How was your last trip funded?
By myself.  I work as a teaching artist and I worked my ass off last school year to pay for my trip and be able to not work for the summer.  I am also blessed by God and the financial angel that when I need it, it always comes from somewhere and right on time

Why do you travel? What do you enjoy most about it?
I mostly travel to dance.  I love dance, and I am committed to learning as much about dance as possible.  I may travel for other reasons superficial, but I’m always looking for dance where ever I go.

But along with dance I love to learn about other ways of life.  Art and culture and reflections of each other, and if you can engage someone through art, specifically dance for me, I can often get them to open up about culture and the reality of how they live.

So I enjoy seeing the beautiful works of nature and culture in the places I go and exploring how people really live; in my mind, I always juxtapose it to how I live in the US.

How many languages do you speak? or do you plan to speak?
Now I speak english and pretty good spanish, not quite fluent, but getting there.  I want to learn portuguese and possibly french and creole.

List 5 things you MUST bring with you when you travel.

1. Book to write in (even if I don’t use it)
2. A nice dress
3. Money
4. Open mind, eyes, and heart
5. Bug repellent

What is your earliest memory of traveling?
Driving to Florida from Detroit, MI in my Dad’s black Explorer. It was a 17 hours drive and I slept 11 hours.  I went to visit my grandmother who is one of the lights of my life, so I was excited.  I spent the time laughing and joking with her, shopping, and bowling with my family. Heaven for a 9 year old.

Tell me about your last trip. Where did you go, how long did you stay and what was the purpose of your trip?
I went to Cuba.  I stayed 38 days total, I was in Havana for 1 day, Mantanzas 1 day, Traveled by bus for 1 day, then stayed 28 days in Santiago de Cuba, and 7 more days in Havana.  I went to Cuba to study dance.
During this trip, tell us about your most memorable conversation and with whom?
I had a conversation with a woman and her daughter whom I had met a bar with live music the night before.  Funny story, I had in mind that this woman was a jinetera, Cubans who seek out tourists to hang out with while the tourist is in town with hopes the tourist would take them out to restaurants and buy them things.  I was supposed to meet the woman in a plaza, but decided I didn’t want to meet her to I went to a store a few blocks away to try to avoid the area we were to meet.  And  ran smack dab into her! Destiny.

Anyway, to my surprise, I ended up having a conversation about life in Cuba and the health care system.  She is a dance teacher just like me, and she was describing how on her salary, it is impossible to care for her two daughters (without help of their father, also one who had chronic asthma) so she had to do hair and nails, and sell knick knacks, and other hussles to survive.  We talked about the inaccessibility of medicines in the free clinic and how people had to pay a whole month’s salary for medicine in the international clinic.  We talked about the lack of means to show any dissent to the government policies and what was happening in the country.  We tried to explain to her the concept of health insurance and how for the poor in the US, out situation was not much different from those of Cubans, and in some cases worse.  I ended up buying her sodas and chips and went along my way with a wealth of new information.
What did you learn during this last experience or stay?
I kind of answered this question in the previous question, but in summary, I learned about Cuban dance and historical culture, which I already knew something about, but I newly learned about the reality about life in Cuba.  In the program I attended, I got to see the hospitality and good side of Cuban life.  But staying longer and really sitting down to have conversations with people, I learned about how it is to really live there.  I got the good and the bad.  I went to people’s homes, with 5 or 6 people living in house with 4 small rooms.  I visited a home with more space but with a dirt floor and roosters running through the house (but still had the latest jams bumping from the dvd player and tv).  I used to wish I was Cuban.  I now appreciate being American a bit more, but still have gained a desire to learn even more about Cuban culture.
Would you return? and why?
YES! I am trying to figure out how and when I can return now.  I need to learn more.  I want to take more dance classes and possibly do my own (or maybe through a university one day) anthropological studies of Cuba.

What and/or who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who can do many things but find the balance between work, friends, and play. I am also inspired by beautiful, soul filled music.

How would you describe your relationship with the sun.
I say that I am solar powered.  I love the sun! It’s color and how it illuminates the world.  Although it is very bright early in the morning, I hate to wear sunglasses it creates a barrier between me and being able to experience the sun and the true colors of the world. The sun gives me energy, and just like it comes everyday, reminds me to rise and go experience the world.

When the sun is not out I always feel completely drained and often a bit sad.

Are you happy?
SO happy!  I am alive and just got back from an amazing, inspiring journey, and feel better after having step throat for 2 weeks, I’m elated. But mostly I am happy because life is good and I choose to be happy.

Kendra is a Dancer, Teaching Artist, and Choreographer
Her email signature reads: Dance, Live, Love, Feel!!

I’ll post a few pics from Le Fooding in the eat or be eaten section later this week.

Until then, Be Happy!

*Lala*

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