Thank you Jason for delivering this suitcase in Havana, Cuba! [NJT Toronto]
“So here’s how it played out: Flew out of YYZ in the afternoon. Just paid the baggage charge as it was Air Canada and I heard they don’t offer a discount on humanitarian aid. Got to Havana after midnight and our group’s greeter railroaded us through the airport and customs and into our taxis. So my experience may differ from others- there was a box I ticked on the customs form that pretty much guaranteed I would have to talk to someone, but with our handler just pushing the customs forms at the agent and essentially told her we were all good, we breezed through. I’d highly recommend a handler, it made a foreign airport experience so much easier to navigate.
The next day we set out to find the clinic close to our hotel. My plan was to use my phone’s GPS but Cuba is no longer included in Roger’s Roam Like Home so we did it the old fashioned way of looking it up on a map. That creates a scene of a pasty white guy with a suitcase looking at a map, trying to get his bearings. It didn’t take long for a woman to, um, offer assistance. Once, through her broken English and my wife’s limited Spanish (and me standing around, useless), she realized it was for “hospital” she insisted on taking us to “hospital” and I don’t think she understood I wanted to go to a specific clinic.
We were in Cuba for the first time and it was the first time we had seen Havana in the daylight. It is a startling contrast to what I am used to. What seemed almost an alleyway was a road I used several times during our time there. Our “guide” kept insisting “hospital” was only three blocks, two blocks and then one block. And then I saw a the park I was using as a landmark and across from the park (but not quite where GPS said) I saw the large sign identifying it as the clinic I had intended to deliver to.
Our “guide” ushered us past what I assume was reception and a waiting room, down a hall, through a door, through another room into a room with two women in hospital uniforms. She quickly explained in Spanish that we had a suitcase for the clinic. Eventually we all got on the same page and my wife snapped a picture and hands were shook and thanks were given and I could say just about the only conversational Spanish I know- “ de nada.”
So mission completed. From leaving the hotel to this moment was probably a half hour. And La Bodeguita was just down the street…
I’ve included the picture of the nurse, our “guide”, the suitcase and myself at the clinic.
The clinic? It would be unfair to compare it to one here, but we did end up visiting one in Cayo Largo on a “US Compliant excursion.” The one in Old Havana was dark- there were no lights on in the waiting room (if anywhere, come think of it), confining – rooms were very small, sparse- in both furnishings and equipment, but also smelled clean. I think if I were to use one word to describe the clinic, it would be “dilapidated.”
And I guess that’s why I took the suitcase. They need it. Maybe not the contents of my suitcase, but they need our help. And the fact that NJT has the infrastructure to supply me the the contents, container and- just as important- choices of locations, all for free make it an obvious choice should it align with future travel plans. I will consult the map the next time I travel to see if I can participate again.
Thank you for the certificate. And thank you for the opportunity. And thank you for your personal efforts on such a worthy cause.