I will be traveling to Cuba this year, my first trip to that small island nation just 90 miles from Florida.
For more than 50 years, American citizens were allowed to visit Cuba, if at all, only under the guise of educational or cultural exchanges. With the improvement in relations begun by former President Barack Obama, travel is now a bit easier, and commercial flights between Miami and Havana have started.
The pre-trip information packet sent to each participant on my trip includes a list of suggested items to donate to the people of Cuba for those who wish to do so. The trip leader will collect everything and donate the items to the appropriate organizations or youth centers. I am glad the leader will distribute the items, so they get to those who most need them.
So today I made a shopping list and headed off to purchase some items to take along on my trip. I bought a collection of things, as we were advised to avoid bringing a large amount of any one thing. So I bought crayons, colored pencils and markers, regular pencils, erasers and a pencil sharpener. Moving to the personal care aisle, I got small bottles of shampoo, small deodorants, baby wipes, bars of soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, adhesive bandages and antibiotic ointment. I added a sketch pad and writing pens, plus a package of disposable razors and some tie-backs for long hair.
I love doing things like this, and the requested items for this trip served as a powerful reminder of how good we in the US have it. I know our country is horribly divided politically right now, and the future is uncertain, but what is certain is that we Americans don't have difficulty obtaining the items I purchased.
Imagine not having access to essentials such as shampoo, bath soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant. In all I spent around $50 for these items. But more than pencils and soap, I left with a new realization of how fortunate we are to live in a country where, for the most part, basic needs can be met easily.
When I was younger and stronger, I used to go backpacking. I remember well how dirty I felt when I was unable to shower or wash my hair for a few days. Now think what it must be like to live like this day after day, particularly in a hot and humid country. I would think that human dignity suffers when people are unable to clean themselves clean.
I have read articles online that say either that these items are in short supply or that they are expensive. I don't know what the situation is, but I trust the organization with which I am traveling that the suggested items are needed and welcomed by the Cuban people. Other items on the list that I am not purchasing include sports equipment, baseballs and gloves, and things such as leotards and tank tops.
If there is room in my suitcase once I finish most of my packing, I will pick up a few more items. Regardless of the reason why these items are needed, if I and other visitors can make the lives of the average Cuban more enjoyable, spending a few dollars for things we take for granted is a small price to pay. And for me, the reminder that things we take for granted may be precious commodities to those in other countries is a priceless gift.