Tonganoxie residents journey into Cuba
Bill Grant says a recent trip to Cuba changed his life.
"It was indescribable," Grant said. "It was awesome. It's been hard to get it off my mind."
Grant, along with Damon New, in early October traveled with a group of about 30 Americans to Cuba. Grant and New both work at First State Bank and Trust of Tonganoxie.
"We went with a group called People to People," Grant said. "It's a cultural exchange type of program. They take groups all over the world."
This specific delegation was agricultural related, said Grant, an attorney who works for First State Bank and Trust. Participants looked at the Cuban agricultural system and studied how the nation is working to supplement agricultural production.
For instance, in Havana, the government is trying to develop an urban farming program.
"That's where they're allowing people within the cities who have green space available to put in organic gardens," Grant said. "They call them farms, but they're really not a lot more than big vegetable gardens."
The purpose of the urban farm program, Grant said, is to provide an incentive to people to begin producing food for the country.
The differences within the country struck Grant, he said.
For instance, the group visited a mountain resort that had been built in the 1950s. Grant said it looked as if nothing had changed since that time.
Under the regime of Fidel Castro and the Communist government, aesthetics became less important, he said.
"As a result, everything is dated, really dated. That was a constant throughout the whole trip," Grant said. "It was in a way basically like the clock had stopped."
On the other hand, he noted that the population in general seemed to be educated.
"Because of their socialism there, people are all educated," Grant said. "And most people are healthy because of their access to socialized health care."
This creates an ambiguous experience, Grant said.
"You look around and you talk to the people and they seem relatively content," Grant said. "Of course they don't have anything material at all, but yet they seem to be going about their day-to-day lives much like we do."
The average salary in Cuba is between 250 and 350 pesos a month. Grant said this translates into about $13 American dollars. Above that, citizens receive food rations.
Grant said that for several years he'd wanted to go to Cuba.
"Of course there's restrictions on American travel to go there," he said. "It's legal for an American to travel there, but it's technically illegal for an American to spend any money there."
However, Grant said, the government sanctions groups such as People to People, but participants are restricted on the amount of money they can spend while there.
He's hopeful that eventually the Cuban government will change and that more American travel will be allowed.
"Fidel Castro's getting up there in age, and I think he has plans in place to perpetuate the government he's created," Grant said. "His charisma and heroic status have maintained things, but I wouldn't be surprised to see after he dies some pretty drastic changes down there. Hopefully, they'll decide democracy is the way to go, and you'll see more people traveling there.