Author Archives: jarrodgrabham12

That’s All Folks!

Standard

Well this is it: my time at GW has come to an end. And how soon it ended! These past weeks, winter has not ceased howling, desperate to remain a while longer. And like a Shakespearian play, the weather has been a reliable barometer for mood around Foggy Bottom campus.With the onset of finals, the best adjective to describe most students’ faces would be howling. Not for me: I’m finished. Bring on Spring and Summer I say! So far the harvest of my academic labour has been pleasing. I got an A in Naval History, Hebrew Scriptures and a B+ in History for the American Presidency class I took. Spanish was a big disappointment, the reason being: I couldn’t take a test when I visited Cuba. Therefore, as the GW Language department views cultural immersion as a carnal sin, my final Spanish grade suffered as a result. My fluency in the language increased, and my grades went down. I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

My favorite subject at GW was by far An Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures with Professor Christopher Rolloston. Rolloston is a teaching genius. What is his secret? Repetition. It’s the way he does it that is so skillful. When he is approaching an important fact whilst speaking, he will suddenly pause, his inquisitive eyebrows will tilt slightly, and then the audience will respond accordingly: the first temple period ended in ______? (586/587 BCE). By the end of the semester everybody in the class knew all the books of the Old Testament, quite literally hundreds of names and significant dates. Moreover, students knew the context behind all the data. What is the point in learning facts and figures of yesteryear you may ask? The key to the future is the past. And Rolloston surely helped us to get a grip of the past. It was fascinating to learn how the Empires of neo-Assyria, Babylon, Medes, Persia and Greece were once mighty fortresses: the epitome of human strength. And they fell like a deck of cards. All of them. Which causes me to ask the question: how long will the USA last? It has only been the leading regional hegemon since 1945. That’s barely seventy years. The Kingdom of Persia, on the other hand, lasted for 220 years. Professor Rollston’s class truly helped put 2016 into the grander scheme of things!

                                                                                                                         

My favorite Professor at the GW, Christopher Rollston.

I feel like I could write a thesis on my experience in America; there are so many interesting observations to make. The short version is that these past few months have been life changing, as clichéd as that sounds. Doing an exchange semester truly tests you on so many levels. You have to be patient as you become accustomed to the humour, habits, and mentality of a place very far from your own home town. DC is an amalgamation of countless cultures, yet somehow it all works. Although I’m sure the cold winters, support for the Nationals baseball team and a love of politics gossip all play there respective part, the thing that ultimately binds Americans is the continued belief that America is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Racism exists in America, more than I realized. Poverty exists. Ignorance exists. But these qualities are outmatched by overwhelming generosity, altruism and optimism for a better tomorrow. Whilst there is no such thing as a perfect country, there can always be a better infrastructure that creates a more comfortable, more fair and considerate country. Progress is being made in that direction I believe. I sure hope the 2016 does not sour that progress. If Trump gets in it may do just that.

George Washington, that respectable man, once said that we should “labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience”. Rather than return to Australia Americanized, I will return as someone whose ‘conscience’ still burns. America has a lot of glow and glitter, a lot of pomp and pageantry. It is not those things that have really spoken to me. Hollywood, the White House, New York City, these are all commendable achievements of man’s might, but they can be dreadfully impersonal. What I will take with me when I go to Australia are the memories of the people I met. People, not places, are the important ones. Whether it be my professors, my class mates, room mates, work colleagues at Gelman library, church friends or the man sitting next to me on the metro who smells of old people and soap: each one left a lasting impression that has impacted upon me as a person. Thanks for the memories! And, as a certain chubby pig once said…

                                        

Choir rehearsals!

My fantastic teacher for U.S. Naval History- Harvard educated Professor Thomas Long.

“American cultural” evening dinner.

Margaret and John Gonglewski, the great hosts of the exchange dinner.

Los Tres Amigos! Sam Mayerson, Chris Chan and I, at the end of semester choir performance.

The wonderful Smith Family, thanks for all your support!

Gordon and Julie Thomas, a.k.a. my Virginian mum and dad!

Gelman Library selfies! -I worked there for 2 months. It was a great experience.

A sneaky moment at the library, late at night!

Advertisements

A.N.Z.A.C. Day in Washington, D.C.

Standard

Yesterday several of us Australians and Kiwis woke up early to attend the dawn ANZAC Day service. For those of you who don’t know, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Every April 25th there is national holiday in both countries to remember our war dead. The acronym was given during World War One because Australians and New Zealanders trained together in Egypt before seeing action in various campaigns. The first campaign that the ANZACS saw significant action was the ‘Gallipoli Campaign’. Essentially, the allied commanders, including Winston Churchill, had concocted a Grand Strategy to destroy Germany and this included aiding Russia. To aid Russia, the plan went, the allied troops would knock Turkey out of the war, which was allied with Germany. As bizarre as that sounds, that’s the reason that young men from nations far away, where the eucalyptus and the silver fern grow a plenty, were sent to lay down their lives in Turkey.

The Gallipoli campaign was a complete shambles. In just 8 months, 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Some Grand Plan, hey? Why do we commemorate this day then, April the 25th, the first day that they landed at the infamous ANZAC Cove? Well, for both Australia and New Zealand the whole ANZAC experience was a coming of age experience. These two burgeoning nations were seen  by other nations as being insignificant islands of the Empire where ‘the sun never set’. When the young men dressed in khaki uniform, with their fixed bayonets, charged up the steep, steep Turkish hills, with unearthly screams and grunts, they made their presence known to the world. Sadly, the Turkish were well equipped with Maxim MG08 machine guns and ripped hundreds of the ANZACS to shreds. This baptism of blood, however, somehow announced to the world that Australia and New Zealand were real players. They were fair dinkum about fighting for what they believed in; they would not sit on their backsides while sadistic militants like the Kaiser bullied and bashed his way to Paris.

 

I grew up attending ANZAC services in my home town of Bathurst. Even 101 years after the first the ANZACS stormed ashore, the ceremony still pulls a large crowd. People come to cheer the old ‘diggers’, men and women who fought in WWII, in Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,  amongst others. A pipes and drums marching band usually leads the march. People wave Australian flags. Some shed a little tear for their lost loved ones of long ago. Some people cheer as the veterans pass by, many so frail they are pushed. Here in D.C. there were no ‘veterans’ as such. The Australian and New Zealand expat communities are made up of professionals and their families mostly. Nevertheless, when we joined the crowd of about 700 people, it was an altogether familiar feeling of respect and admiration for those fallen servicemen and women. The bugle played. The flags were present, carried by soldiers with their traditional slouch hats. The Ambassador to Australia was present and read Laurence Binyon’s ‘Ode of Rembrance’ :

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

There was a minutes silence. After, the awakening reveille was played. Soldiers saluted. Diplomats puffed their chests out as their beloved flags passed by. And then it was all over. The experience stayed with me for the rest of the day. I had been reminded of a very important part of Australia’s history, and therefore, an important part of my Australian identity. From the ANZAC legend we can extract some lessons applicable to today. To help out other people when they are need. To lend a helping hand, without being asked (considering all of the original ANZACs had been volunteers). To be proactive.

With the rising sun on our necks as we sauntered past the Washington Monument, we spoke about how glad we were we had made the effort to attend. With the backdrop of Lincoln’s memorial, the pool of reflection and the American Korean War Memorial, ANZAC day had had a distinctly ‘Yanky’ overtone. Nevertheless, the message that these memorials impart are one and the same with the ANZAC story. The American struggle for Civil Rights and the ANZAC story are just two different chapters from the book of freedom. Lincoln hoped that the lamp of liberty would ‘burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal’. And far away on the shores of ANZAC cove many a lamp still burns. Lest we forget.

The highest ranking New Zealand (left) and Australian (right) military officers in the Americas.

 

Make Australmerica Great Again!

Standard

 Did you hear the one about the Clown, the Chairman, the Cuban-Canadian, the First Lady and the Socialist?

Yeah I did- it was called the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

There are currently five real candidates for President left: On the one side there is Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both white haired, veteran Democrats. On the other side of the political gulf there stands Donald Trump and Ted Cruz: the Clown and the Cuban. Yes John Kasich is still in the race. But he only has 144 delegates compared to Trumps 744 and Cruz’ 559. His resignation is expected any day. Now, to business. For many people the 2016 election is a convoluted process. For me it’s easy. It’s just a process of elimination. In fact, I already know who the next President is going to be:

           

Donald Trump’s name has become a byword for comedy, arrogance and racism. His attitude to women, the disabled and to foreigners is despicable. His comments about CNN host Megyn Kelly last August were sickening.”You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes”, Trump spewed out in another moment of verbal diarrhea, “…blood coming out of her wherever.” This utterly inappropriate statement makes Trump a candidate for the world’s biggest misogynist, not the President of the world’s richest country. And although he has apologized and water has gone under the proverbial bridge, when will Trump strike again? He is a loose cannon. He is a big bombastic, bigoted, big-mouthed brawler. He will not be President of the United States.

                                                  

Hillary, Hillary, Hillary. She is the most experienced woman in the world in American politics  to be running for the Presidency. A First Lady, a Senator, a Secretary of State. She has held some of the highest offices in the land and done a remarkable job. But being married to a former President of the United States (Bill Clinton) makes Hillary part of the establishment, whether she likes it or not. The 2016 Presidential campaign has already demonstrated that it doesn’t want a member of the establishment back in the Oval office. Look at what happened to poor old Jebby Bush. For the son and brother of former Presidents, you’d expect it to have been an easy race for him. Not at all. American voters are more informed than in the past. More skeptical. More alert. When it comes to Hillary they are aware that she has many positives. But they are also aware that she has done shady, secret deals in the past. We would run out of time to tell all the intricacies of Chinagate, of the Travelgate Scandal (when Hillary fired seven employees from the United States travel office to replace them with associates from Arkansas including Catherine Cornelius, a 25-year-old cousin of Bill’s), of the Whitewater Scandal or of the Filegate Scandal. None would like to see a woman become President more than I but…. I highly doubt that Hillary is the one.

  

Ted is Cruz’in for a bruising. Yes he is a political fighting machine. Yes his popularity has increased significantly  since his campaign began. Yes he is eloquent, highly, highly educated (Harvard Law School), more ambitious than a room full of Napoleons and, well, Southern. But at the end of the day Cruz does not represent the America of tomorrow. He just doesn’t. Times are changing, whether we like it or not. Cruz is stuck in the past. He is dealing with guns rights issues, abortion, anti-immigration laws and American exceptionalism. With an increasingly edgy Russia, poised to carve out new portions of old sovereignty, the US needs somebody with a cool head. Cruz is a hot head. He once stood for 21 hours and 19 minutes filibustering an Obama Bill on the floor of the U.S. Congress. How pugnacious and stubborn can you get? What’s more, Cruz is a gun head. His youtube video entitled ‘making machine-gun bacon’ has been viewed 1.4 million times. That’s even more warped then watching ‘silly cat’ videos. What’s more, Cruz is a Cuban-Canadian-American and was actually born in Calgary. Sensationalism surrounding his dual citizenship will surely cost him some votes. The best thing Cruz could do on inauguration day next year is to line up for a lead role in forthcoming Terminator movies.

                                                                                                                The minute that Bernie Sanders came out of the closet as a ‘Democratic Socialist’ his campaign for President was over. Let’s not forget, from 1945 until 1991 the U.S. was locked in a fierce ideological rivalry with Russia, then known as the U.S.S.R. The Cold War, in a nutshell, was Capitalists Vs. the Socialists. Day after day, year after year, the U.S. came to resent that word like off blue cheese. Socialism = the enemy. Although times have changed, some things never change and in the U.S. the meaning of socialism has retained its negative connotation. I actually think many of Bernie Sanders’ ideas are great, better education and welfare systems for Americans alla Scandinavia or my own country Australia is fantastic. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful plans and schemes he has to save America from itself, however, at the end of the day, by branding himself a ‘Socialist’, Sanders has as much chance at being the next President of America as Fidel Castro.

And so there is only one choice left. That’s right: I’m officially running for the President of the United States of Australmerica. You see, in the future war with Russia that Cruz is predicting, America and Australia are going to have to join together. United, the Pacific Ocean will be more secure under the watchful eye of Australmerica. Recently, a policy adviser of mine informed me of the top problems facing Australmerica. Firstly, the Chinese are building more aircraft carriers. Secondly, Canada has increased its goods and services tax on imported Australmerican goods. Thirdly, ISIS has increased its attacks in Europe. Lastly, economic growth in Texas and New Mexico has drastically decreased, thanks to big business going to Mexico, where workers are paid lower wages.

Today I announce my Key Action Plan (KAP). We are going to build a wall. We are going to build a wall on the Californian, Canadian, Eastern and Mexico borders and make China, Canada, ISIS and Mexico pay for that wall. I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall. We’re going to have a big, fat beautiful door on the wall; we’re going to have people come in, but they’re going to come in legally. You see I love all these people; I respect the Canadian leaders, but their leaders are much sharper, much smarter and more cunning than our leader. When they send immigrants over to decrease our maple syrup intake, they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing hockey sticks and polar bears. They’re bringing maple syrup addicts. They’re criminals. And some, I assume, are good people.

I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And we won’t be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no concept of negotiation, who’s making a horrible and laughable deal, who’s just being tapped along as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old, and falls and breaks his leg. I won’t be doing that. And I promise I will never be in a bicycle race. That I can tell you.

Another reason to vote for me is I’ll reduce our $18 trillion in debt, because, believe me, we’re in a bubble. We have artificially low interest rates. We have a stock market that, frankly, has been good to me, but I still hate to see what’s happening. We have a stock market that is so bloated. Be careful of a bubble because what you’ve seen in the past might be small Vegemite sandwiches compared to what happens. So be very, very careful. And strengthen our military and take care of our vets. So, so important.

Sadly, the Australmerican  dream is dead.

But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make Australmerica great again.

                   

The Cree Triumph

Standard

At Rupert’s, Montreal, I came in contact with a North American First Nation’s person for the first time. It was a wonderful experience. The night had started rather normally. Fellow exchange student Louise Bicknese (The Netherlands) and I were enjoying our first poutine, a typical French Canadian dish consisting of French fries, cheese, gravy and shaved meat. It is the kind of food you avoid if your dieting. Big time. One bowl of that deliciously deadly consistency and you could knock 6 months off your life. Easy. It was Friday night, however, and I was not dieting, so poutine it was.

louise

It all started when the lady next to us inquired about our accents. After some chit chat, we had asked where she was from. “My name is Patrica George and I’m Cree” she said. The first thought that came to mind at that point was me as a young boy encountering the concept of American Indians for the first time in the 1990 film Dancing With Wolves, you know the one with Kevin Costner? Since that time, I had always wanted to meet a First Nations person.

As Patricia kindly proceeded to tell us the story of her life, I listened intently with a burning curiosity to learn more about what it is like for a First Nations Person in the 21st century. The images that first developed in my mind as she spoke were that of a bucolic paradise. She spoke of the human interaction and connection that Cree people have on a day to day basis. They hunt, cook, share and live together by the atmospheric wonder that is the Great Whale River in far northern Quebec. It sounded like a real community lifestyle. As she continued to share, however, I stared deep into her hazelnut eyes and a saw a flicker of the emotional abuse she and her fellow tribesmen had experienced for generations. In a nut shell: the Majority has tried to crush the Minority, but the minority has not been crushed because it refuses to surrender.

Something really special that Patricia shared with us has remained with me. She told us how in 1990 the Quebec Government announced the construction of the Great Whale Hydroelectric project which was to divert eight large rivers and affect an ecosystem the size of France. Patricia’s people felt that enough was enough. So, the James Bay Cree in the far north of Quebec joined with the Inuit Indians in the area to build a special canoe. In the spring of that same year a mixed team of both Cree and Inuit Indians paddled their ‘odeyake’ canoe from Whapmagoostui, Quebec, all the way to New York City. It was a momentous task: 2000km in just 5 weeks. By dogsled over frozen lakes, by dusty abandoned road, by rapid river. These brave descendants of some of the earliest North American people’s came united: to protest the proposed Great Whale Hydroelectric project. And you wouldn’t believe it. The project was cancelled. The $12.6 billion Great Whale project was ripped to shreds in front of the greedy eyes of Wall Street stock brokers. I bet Bernie Sanders cheered that day. The mammoth Odeyak canoe journey had not been in vain. The Cree and Inuit triumph sent a message of hope for all minority indigenous groups-not just the First Nation People in North America-but right throughout the globe.  Were the Cree to have resisted singing their song and sharing their own special identity, an enormously ugly dam would have flooded ancient camping grounds with eons of history.

These are the kind of things that should be taught more in our schools. The triumph of the minority over the majority deserves a more prominent place on history’s page.

So I’d like to say thanks to Patricia for taking the time to share her personal story with us! I hope that this blog entry encourages others to research more into this incredible modern-day David vs. Goliath story.

In 1990 Cree and Inuit from Northern Quebec travelled more than 2000 km over five weeks, by dogsled on the frozen bay, by road and by river, all the way to downtown Manhattan in a campaign against the proposed damming of the Great Whale River.

 

The location of Great Whale River, the Cree community Patricia comes from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image attained from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/northern-quebec-cree-community-celebrates-25th-anniversary-of-odeyak-voyage-1.3044078, accessed April 11, 2016.)

See you in Montreal

Standard

I’m standing in a now deserted Montreal metro station, captivated. It is a woman’s voice I hear, echoing confidently through the labyrinth. The words are meaningless for she sings in Québécois, the unique French spoken in the Canadian province Quebec. Somehow the voice’s tone imparts its own message, of life, of love, of the endurance of the human spirit. I follow the voice. In my mind I have conjured up an image of the owner of the voice. I do not know what French Canadian people look like, as I have just arrived here. Yet, I am certain that, just as her voice is high, strong and empowering, so must she be tall, confident and beautiful. I am certain of that. I walk with curiosity; to see if my assumption is correct. I turn the corner of the metro, and there she stands. Yes she is as empowering as her song. Tall and elegant like a princess. But something is not quite right. I watch for a while and listen. It is not her voice that is the problem. As my mind takes a while to register what it is seeing, with that it is hearing, it suddenly computes: our singer is completely blind. 

Standing next to her is a man. Well, now he is crouching. No, he is crawling. His hands are outstretched in front of him, waving the empty air. I know what he is looking for. It is his jacket that lays outstretched before him. It all makes sense now. She is a busker, and he is her attendant. He is looking for the jacket to see if they have collected cash to eat. Finally he reaches the jacket and, instead of money, he finds an open hand.

“Hi…”, I say, rather unsure of how he will take my intrusion.

“Hello” he responds, turning his head to look in the direction of my voice. He looks to where the metro departs. He is looking in the wrong direction. I am right above him. Then, it hits me and I can’t believe it: he is also blind.

“Mae nem ez Denis  Harting”, he speaks, with his exquisite Québécois accent. “…end thiz”, he gestures  towards the singing siren, ” iz mae daughtur Lauviah”. I can’t believe it. Denis is not the attendant, he is the father! Lauviah stops singing, aware that there is somebody interrupting the show. She comes over and we meet. Then, for the next five minutes these two blind, wandering minstrels share with me the exceptional story of their lives. Born 2 months premature, Denis had been placed into an incubator. Somehow, the oxygen level was too high in that incubator and it burst both his optic nerves. Lauviah’s story was just as tragic, born with a rare eye disorder, completely unrelated to Denis’ condition. Together they try to make a living by singing in Montreal’s metro stations. Denis could sing too, as he later demonstrated after we stopped chatting. It was clear to me where Lauviah got her majestic voice from.

Then it was time depart. I thanked them for making my day. And up I went up the escalator, with the distinctive sound of Lauviah’s voice wooing me back to learn more.

As I exited the metro I saw in my peripheral’s a woman walking rather strangely, with a large white stick pointed out. Tap. Tap. Tap. She attempted to enter the metro entrance, once, twice. Finally she made it on the fifth. It was all too coincidental for me… I couldn’t resist…

“Excuse me…”. The tapping was momentarily paused.

“Do you…do you know those two wonderful singers down there…?”

Before I could finish, she let out a laugh, smiled and then turned her weary head to where she thought I was standing:

“Mae Lauvy and Dennie are gud, no?”

                            

Lauviah Harting, Peggy Roux and Denis Harting (daughter, mum and dad).

This excellent photo-video about this exceptional Montreal family was made by SesamePreet’s channel, if you have time, check it out!

Cuba 101

Standard

1

Before we begin our excursion to Havana this morning, grab your headphones, open a new web page and please enter the following address:

Cuba cannot be experienced fully without some music in the background!

6

Havana, Cuba. Retro cars in dazzling blues and rumpus reds sail by beaches filled with fat tourists. There are Plymouths, Chevrolet Bel Airs and Ford Fairlane’s aplenty.Be careful not to strain your neck as that illustrious Cadillac canters by. Jazz musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club sing a melody which could soothe the soul of a Guantanamo Bay inmate. Idyllic, cloudless weather. Cobbled streets filled with the clip clop of horses. The Capitol building arched high above, rivaling Washington’s. The old abuelo taking a siesta under the shady palm 3with the cheeky smile blows a puff of his cohiba cigar in your direction. 9He winks at you, or more likely, at the twenty something brunette behind you, as she rushes home for cena with the extended family. You turn the corner and reach Plaza Vieja where a fountain bubbles forth. Happy children in uniform bicker and bicker about this, that and the other. Over there between the palms, beyond the marble statue of the poet Jose Marti, can you make out that young pair of star-crossed sixteen somethings? They are hiding from the awakening call of their padres

4Love is in the air. And all the while you hear the enchanting sound of Guantanamera, the old tune that speaks of a region in Cuba where a truthful man wishes to coin the verses of his life before he dies in the land of the palms. And who wouldn’t want to? You have made it to paradise, or so you are led to believe. Crossing the street you pass by Hotel Inglaterra, a suave spot where lunch is served on silver platters. Here history breathes its sigh in every corner; Winston Churchill himself visited in 1895.

Should you care to, for less than one US cent you can purchase a ride to some of the most idyllic beaches the Caribbean has to offer: Santa Maria and Playa de Este. Returning with a pleasant tan and sand between your toes, now would be as good a time as any for a stroll down Havana’s majestic sea side walkway alla sunset boulevard. Pass by the old fort Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña where every day at 9 sharp a cannon is fired in memory of Cuba’s colonial past. Climb the sweeping rock stairs to the Hotel Nacional, newly restored in all its neo-colonial splendour. Pause.  Close your eyes. Take a breath. Open them. Before you the sun dims its grand yolky eye. It is spectacular. Woken by the strong  wave that splashes its salty foam far below, bashing against the boulevard, you look out over the city. You have come to admire this city for its 1950s charm and slower paced living. People have time to think, to breathe, to live. The internet is barely existent here, and is that a bad thing? You see families walking together down the ocean walkway, or sitting outside after a satisfying meal of arroz and frijoles (rice and beans), engrossed in abuelo and abuela‘s chess game. For many, like me, who have traveled from the US, we crossed just 90 miles of sea to get to Cuba. 90 miles away but 90 years in the past. It is difficult for the novelty of the calmer life to wear off. To Hanavarians, it is another day in Cuba. In the distance a street quartet crackles out the all too familiar tune… 

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

1110

 

 

2
5

Cuba 202

Standard

1

2

Cuba is an immensely intriguing state. It exists as a living anachronism from the Cold War era, controversial, captivating, complex. Beyond the façade of the idyllic island paradise described in Cuba 101 is a whole new world. If you were to be so bold as to take a different way back to your hotel in Havana, for example, you would be quite startled. Dilapidated palace-like buildings. Hungry people. People with no or little pesos in their pockets to satisfy that very same hunger. The amount of times I was stopped and randomly asked for money was embarrassing. Almost embarrassing enough for someone to write a letter to el commandante Fidel.

                              Dear Fidel,

                               Many of your people are hungry and frustrated.

                               Thought I’d let you know,

                                  Yours sincerely,

                                                                   Hope.

9

10

Whilst 90 miles away fresh water comes at the effortless turn of a tap, here it must be sourced, boiled, chlorine added, filtered and finally poured into a mouth thirsty for change. What would I know about change in Cuba? I was only there for 15 days. True. However, in those 15 days I made an effort to speak to as many locals as I could. My method was simple. After I had been small talking to the person for a while, I would raise the controversial subject, if it was appropriate to do so. I would say, Obama? I would then clench my fist keeping only my thumb extended and then raise it firstly up, and then down. I was giving them the universal signage of two options, si o no, just as the Roman emperor’s once did to spare or end a weary gladiator’s life. They understood the gesture. I never got a downward pointing thumb. This is big stuff. Just think, for the past 56 years the US has imposed a trade embargo on the island state of Cuba as a result of Cuba becoming a communist state. Cuba fiercely opposed the US henceforth, allowing the Soviet Union to place ballistic missiles and military personnel on its shores. Now, in 2016, thumbs up here and there and everywhere.

3

4

Although it is difficult to know exactly what a thumbs up means, I do not believe they were necessarily saying yes to Obama and no to Castro. They were not saying yes to so called “liberal democratic capitalism” and no to Castro’s communism. You see Castro did manage to create a society with incredible healthcare.

5

6

I believe that when I said Obama and the thumbs went up, it was a silent but clear expression for change. The people of Cuba want change. It doesn’t have to be huge change. Just some change. They want to be able to travel freely throughout the world. They want free, unrestricted internet. They want to have the opportunity to be able to discuss politics on the streets without being afraid of being heard. Imagine if you peered into a class of third grader’s at a primary school and instead of finding small pre-adolescent bodies, adults ready to face the world were sitting awkwardly in those silly school seats, crowded and overgrown, yet restricted from leaving the classroom or progressing to the next grade. That’s how I perceive Cubans to feel. Many feel frustrated. They are ready now, Castro. Communism was a good school master in some ways. It has taught the people patience. They know how to queue for food, for rations, for buses, for supplies. They even now know how to queue for life. But now the queue is getting edgy. Frisky as a tom cat. Cuba has been caught in a time warp for too long. As Obama said, it is time to bury this relic of the Cold War.

7

8

In the year 1446 BC a certain man climbed steps of stubbornness to plead with Pharaoh Ramesses II regarding the future of the Children of Israel. In 2016, the same plea can still be heard: Castro, won’t you let your people go?

11

12