A while back, I came upon the following quote by the late Anthony Bourdain;
‘Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it evens breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.’
I have spent the past three years living abroad in Cuba. It was a wonderful experience that not only reminded me of how lucky we are but also that our world is so much larger than what we are accustomed to. Having been back for a few months has allowed me to reflect on my time abroad and it is now, in the present, that I am actually able to best describe in words what I learned from living abroad.
Mindfulness refers to a state of being fully present in the present moment, with acceptance and without judgment. I never learned this better than while living in Cuba. Cubans taught me that I could not focus on the future, because the future for them was uncertain, so why bother. Every moment outside, inside, on the streets, on the porch were enjoyed. No one bothered talking about what we were going to do in the future or how much money we would save. The only thing that was important was focusing on the ‘now’ of time and of the moment and enjoying that ‘now’ with loved ones.
Never have I felt more humble and grateful for what I have than my time living in Cuba. I have learned that we have too much, that we waste too much, that we buy way too much and the list goes on. I have gone weeks without water, sometimes days without electricity. Buying simple pleasures like milk and bread were at times difficult. Toilet paper was a luxury. I remember coming back to Canada, and walking into a Walmart only to feel overwhelmed with the excess of ‘products and things.’ We don’t need much to live, we only think we do.
Cubans can do a lot with little. They reuse, recycle and renew anything that is old and laying around. There are 1950 Chevy’s running on refurbished pieces and Russian fridges on their last legs still rattling on. Nothing gets thrown out! Us on the other hand, throw things out as soon as they stop working. We don’t try to fix it, or fiddle around with it or look for ways to keep it going. Being creative and inventive can teach us so many skills that neither a computer nor a T.V will ever be able to do.
Resilience Cuba has taught me resilience like no other life event has. I was continually faced with situations that were out of my comfort zone or not what I was accustomed to. I was able to test myself and explore other ways of doing and looking at things. Not everything is black and white. There are some grey areas in between and sometimes you need to tread into this zone to see how you will react far outside your comfort zones.
Patience The fast-paced lifestyle is ingrained in all of us. We are not accustomed to waiting for anything. But in other countries, and particularly for me in Cuba, I had to wait everywhere, and not for minutes but hours. In fact, Cubans have a fantastic way of queuing up that I have never seen anywhere before; you arrive at a queue, you ask for the last spot in the queue and then you are free to walk away, all you need to remember is who is in front of you and in back of you, and your spot will be respected. Plans change. Flights get cancelled. Planes break (well in Cuba they did). Stuff happens and sometimes being patient and flexible is the only way to cope with the way things work in other countries.
Living abroad can enrich your life in more ways than you can imagine. Experiencing a country will open your eyes to the world around you and yourself. Not only does it teach you about another country and culture, but it also allows you to learn about yourself.