Unfortunately it rained again today. I hope that this weekend it doesn't rain because I went to add my pictures to my computer and it made me sad--I don't have many and not really any good ones. I'm hoping to change that this weekend. I'll be bringing along my big camera for some "serious photography". But of course it will help out a lot if it doesn't rain.
[EDIT: Based on these journal entries I'm translating back into English, my Spanish actually did get worse after four days in intermediate class.]
After class the other girls and Pepe went to a restaurant but I set off for a giant Monument that I had seen towards the end of Avenida de los Presidentes. When I arrived it was very strange because I was the only person there. It's a large and elaborate monument and it seemed strange to me that no one was sitting on the steps there or looking at it.
Later, when I arrived at the conference a little early I was talking to today's professor and he told me that it's a monument to nadie importante in Cuba's history. It's of the second president of Cuba and he built it for himself using the people's money, so to the Cubans it symbolizes the government corruption. So that also explains all of the graffiti I saw on it! He also said that people often do "dirty things" there. Cuba is such a strange country, and I love it.
The professor today was really good. He spoke English, which helped a lot, and talked about US-Cuba relations. I didn't realize how important the meeting between President Obama and Raul Castro in December was so important to the Cubans, and the presenter also said he thought it was one of the best-kept secrets in international relations.
It was, again, really really interesting to hear the Cuban perspective on the topic. I learned that Cuba can't use the internet cables that run through the Caribbean because of the embargo and that they actually want people to use the internet--there's been talk of making it a right of the people, just as education and health care are seen as basic rights by the government. In the US we have this idea that they "don't let their people use the internet", but that isn't true. Plenty of Cubans even have facebook. It's actually the US that is inhibiting the people's internet access. The details about the Cuban Five, the Platt Amendment, and the strategies to cut relations with Cuba during the embargo were fascinating. The Friday before we left for Cuba, the country was taken off of the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. I didn't know that the countries on the list (now just Iran, Syria and Sudan) couldn't use Google Earth.
I've always thought that the embargo was ridiculous and hypocritical when we do a lot of business with China, another Communist country. Our presenter said the Cubans don't understand why the embargo is in place when we don't even have trade bans with countries we are at war with! The United States also has a travel ban on Cuba, but not on countries like North Korea!
We also learned that there's a group of legislators, mostly from Florida, who only work to maintain the embargo with Cuba. They are usually from families that were very rich during Fulgencio Batista's reign. They even have a terrorism group against Cuba! It's horrible. The conference was definitely the most interesting so far, and I really loved getting to hear the Cuban side of the whole embargo story.
After the conference we went to the CIEE Study Center. I just went because I wanted to call Madison and see if she could still go out tonight. She isn't better, so we decided to visit the Hotel Nacional, which is famous for all the US mafia guys who hung out there in the 50's. The other girls went with me and we stopped in some stores in the process of going to the hotel. We also stopped at Hotel Habana Libre and looked at cigar prices. We found Duane there. The other girls didn't go with us when Duane and I left to keep walking to Hotel Nacional, so it was just me and him.
The hotel is really pretty and we took pictures of the peacocks, the fountain, and the pool in front of the hotel. Then we went inside and had drinks in the bar called Salon de la Historia--a piña colada for me and a mojito for Duane. A band of three members came over and played a song for us. It was a very pretty, sad song that we heard many other times in Cuba--Quizas Quizas Quizas. (Quizas means perhaps or maybe in Spanish). After our drinks we went to walk a little along the Malecon and see the USS Maine memorial before I had to go back home for dinner.
It was probably the most fun I've had so far in Cuba, and tomorrow I want to explore more. I think it will be a good day--I can finally change to the other class, we have a tour of the city instead of a conference, and free time on a Friday night! Hasta mañana.
PS - Oh, I almost forgot. After dinner we were talking with Lute and she told us about prices and things like that. She told us that she (and others) actually pay someone to wait in the lines for them to get the items from the libretas (ration books--items like bread, coffee, sugar, etc.). These people are called mensajeros (messengers). Once again, Cuba is such a strange place!