Last month, a group of WKU students and faculty left the icy roads and fields of Kentucky to study in Havana, Cuba, for two weeks. The trip was a credited course taught by Professor Walker Rutledge, a long-standing and highly respected professor at WKU. The English department was wonderfully represented, with over six English majors packing their bags and heading to Cuba. The English majors include: Meghan Kennedy, Tracy Jo Ingram, Hilary Harlan, Mia Jackson, Lyndsey Miller, and Abby Rudolph.
Before the trip, Ingram and Kennedy spent weeks seeking donations for the Cuban woman– donations that, for most Americans, sound strange: they asked for bras. In Cuba, bras and other under garments are actually extremely expensive and hard to come by. Below is an excerpt from Ingram’s essay “Bras4Cuba…With Visions of Sugarplums Dancing in My Head,” highlighting the journey of their donation:
“Dragging 150 bras around Cuba wasn’t exactly a cup of tea. In fact, I have to report it was actually quite a pain. For the last ten days, from the United States to Mexico to Cuba, from city to city, and from hotel to hotel, Meg and I (along with the helping totes of several other classmates) have lugged about the donations we’d collected in conjunction with our DELO scholarships in hopes of finding them new Cuban homes.
Prior to this evening we were 3/4ths of the way through the trip with no bites and no clues for delivery. Previous experience told us that taking items to the streets caused swarming, expectation, and sometimes aggression. We preferred not to take our chances with that approach.
Our tour guide thought on it for a few days with few suggestions (which much later we came to understand), so in the meantime we left a handful of bras and feminine products in each hotel room we stayed in hoping the service women would be pleased to find them.
However, we’d brought much more than what could appropriately be left in hotel rooms every few days, and besides, we were hoping for them to get to a place where they might assuredly be useful. We’d collected over 300 bras at home—every size color, form, and structure imaginable. Picking out a wide range of sizes and sorting to accommodate for those that were newest or in the best shape, we finagled as many as we could pack into our luggage, focusing primarily on sizes that may best fit developing adolescent girls. In conjunction with the tampons, we’d hoped to supply a growing gal with a few of the items she would need (and are incredibly expensive to purchase in Cuba).
This morning our guide finally explained the situation: “I know you do this from the kindness of your hearts, but Cuba has a lot of bureaucratic tangles.” She called her superior for suggestions, who, upon hearing we were Americans, refused to seek out any options, primarily, we were told, because we could bring new diseases. (Judging by the number of us in our group that came down with the flu, he probably wasn’t too far off base.)
Half an hour later, somewhere deep in my meditation, wallowing in frustration and the desire to give it up, a voice came to me: “Look. I have this idea. It may not work, but it’s my last thought.” It was our guide, Martina. A series of phone calls led her to our last ditch effort, and boy, was it ever…”
(If you’d like to read the end of Ingram’s essay, feel free to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cuba, a country full of opportunities, is where Harlan discovered a new-found passion: snorkeling. Below is an excerpt from Harlan’s journal, a comical yet wonderfully descriptive narrative about her oceanic adventures in Cuba:
Journal Entry: 13 January 2012 – Club Amigo Hotel in Trinidad, Cuba
This morning, around 9AM, a few of us paid 45 Cuban Convertible Pesos to ride nine miles off shore to an island called the Iguana Island. We arrived to find only a beach and crappy snorkeling hear, but I tell you now that I’ve never done anything so addicting as this. No drug or drink could ever compare. It was my first time snorkeling, and I couldn’t keep myself out of the water. First, the island was covered in hermit crabs. Huge to medium to tiny and every size in between. Millions of them. They lived beneath the platform of the bar. By the way, there’s a bar at every place ever in Cuba. Then, there were the iguanas, as long as my arm and two times as thick. They came up to our feet as we ate lunch as if they were puppies instead of dragons. At one point, there were two going for the same table. THAT did not last long at all, and they had a scuffle, and not surprisingly, the lizard with the whole tail won. The other narrowly escaped with his newly growing stub of a tail.
Iguanas and crabs aside, snorkeling is going to have to be a new passion for me. I didn’t see much coral because the coral was very far out, and in Cuba life guards don’t exist. I got about three-fourths of the way to the sticks parking the reefs before I came up to unfog my goggles, and I noticed that I was VERY far offshore, and there was not a soul around me. Very suddenly, I began to have my first panic attack as the waves crashed over me, into my snorkel. I was sure that I would be drawn into the undertow and would drown. I couldn’t breathe, and I wasn’t used to the flippers. I made a decision that I was going to have to calm down if I wanted to be able to swim back to shore, so I put the snorkel back into my mouth and made myself take deep breaths through it until I had calmed down. Then, I swam back to shore and decided to stay there. Most of the rocks close to the shore were dead coral that had been bleached and turned into rock by the sun. Tiny fish, the length of my pinky, swam in and out of these fossilized plants. There was one sort of plant that I kept seeing that was a light pink lace sort that flowed to and fro with the tendencies of the ocean.
I’ll tell you now something that you won’t believe because I know that no one else did, and I’m even beginning to doubt it, though it scared me so fully that I couldn’t get to shore fast enough and scraped my leg trying. I was swimming along, checking out all of the colorful fishes and plants and the rock formations, and I saw a bright pink tube. Thinking it was a piece of live coral, I swam towards it. It was beautiful beneath the rock that created a sort of cave where it sat. I leaned my face in closer and thought it looked oddly familiar, like the coral on Spongebob. It seemed to be a darker pink tube with lighter pink circles. My face was very close now, noticing the way that it moved but not like the other plants and not with the current. Then, suddenly, the tube shifted to the side, and I was face to face with the eyeball of a baby squid! I have no idea why it was so close to shore, but I freaked out when I realized what it was. I pictured it swimming out of the cave and wrapping its tentacles around my face. It’s eyeball must have been the size of an oreo. It was a magical experience.
Though this is just two students’ experiences, it shows how vastly different– but equally fulfilling and intriguing– studying abroad can be. If you’d like to read more about the trip and its particulars, visit the WKU Honors College Blog. If you’re a student curious about studying abroad, click here.
Wishing we were all at the beach right now instead of freezing in Kentucky,
Your dependable intern,