Two cities that have such differences yet so many similarities:
We woke up early on December 14, 2016, had our breakfast and took a taxi to the Cancun International Airport in Mexico to fly to Havana, Cuba. It was our first trip to the tiny island of Cuba, a country of many good living human beings, who are still separated from the rest of the world like Tibetans in Tibet.
I left the city of Havana on January 5, 2017 and imagined how the city of Lhasa is dwelling in the past and still lingering in the present. I felt that I was in a time machine or traveling in some kind of twilight-zone. Right now, I can imagine sitting alone in Central Park where I can clearly see in front of me the replica of the “Capitol Hill” in Washington D.C. in U.S.A. This square was crowded with tourists with people driving old American vehicles of the 1950s and 1960s in various colors.
I felt that I was in another time zone as I sat there surrounded by many strangers. I could hardly communicate with them so I asked myself if I was in some kind of a day time Bardo state, an experience of intermediate state after death. I tried to communicate with Cuban people just sitting near me. Despite our language barrier and other various gaps, at first, we shared smiles and then friendly gestures by joking with our hands and some strange noises. While on my right side, watching a young woman from abroad communicating to a poor Cuban lady, I thought to myself that knowledge is the key to connect friendship and open doors to other possibilities. Sitting in Central Park, I met some of the many tourist groups from various countries including America, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Israel, Japan, China, Taiwan, India, and Switzerland.
I also met many Cuba citizens who seemed irrational as they were talking or mumbling to themselves. I pretended that I was one of them but received no reaction from them at all. I acted as if I was one of them, mumbling and reciting the few words in their language that I could repeat. Then, I recited “Om mani padme hung” quite loudly and suddenly they reacted! They mumbled a lot of strange words from their mouths and we were now simultaneously connected, singing together happily and carrying away in another time zone.
It was impossible to have a normal connection with these human beings because of the their mental state of mind, like a vacuum or another world of mental disorders. Everything happens in Central Park. Both good and bad businesses exist there, such as hiring old cars from the 1950-60 or horse carriages and other hidden business.
Life in Havana is not easy at all for ordinary Cubans, but they do their best for themselves. I met many interesting people there. Among them, young Cubans dream to escape and live in Canada and the U.S.A. The elderly have no dreams, but their hope is to educate the youth and wish better lives for them. In the night time by the beautiful seaside, I met a few of them who spoke so badly about Fidel Castro and his Government.
Nevertheless, the early 1960s were marked by a number of subversive, top-secret U.S. attempts to topple the the Cuban Government. The Bay of Pigs resulted in the CIA’s botched attempt to overthrow Castro by training Cuban exiles for a ground attack, followed by operation Mongoose, a year-long series of preparations to rid of Castro’s life. Between 1961 – 1963 there were at least five plots to injure, kill or humiliate the Cuban leader, using everything from exploding seashells to shoes dusted with chemicals to make his beard fall out. The get smart like plans never worked, and Castro’s Cuba soldiered on angry as ever at the United States.
Around this time of era, 20 Tibetan boys, including myself, were sent to Denmark to study by the 14th Dalai Lama. We were all 15-18 year old teenagers and and learned new things about Denmark and the history and geography of the world. We were all young and innocent and enjoyed everything around us. We studied, played football, bicycled and chased Danish girls. We lived like other young kids and never worried about anything, because we were provided with everything at the school. While we were in Denmark we consistently heard from our teachers and others that something horrible might happen to us all, because of the Russian and American political issues in connection with Cuba and that it would affect the whole World. Even the III World War might be created from this huge issue. I recall us being terrified and worried about the war almost every day and night.
Actually, on the morning of October 15, 1961, the U.S spy planes discovered evidence that the Soviet Union was building missiles bases in Cuba. President Kennedy learned of the threat the following morning while still in pajamas and for the next 12 days, the U.S. and Russia were locked in a white – knuckled nuclear face-off – the Cuban Missiles Crisis – that ended only when Nikola Khrushchev accepted Kennedy’s secret proposal to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the de-arming of Cuba. The Soviet missiles were gone within six months, but it would take a long time for the U.S. to forgive the nation and allow them to be placed so close to the American mainland.
Because of the above reasons and thanks to President Barack Obama, I made up my mind to visit Cuba with my wife to see and experience the whole situation after the revolution and to study the land and her people. I was so amazed that this tiny island fought for what they believed in, for what was right and that they stood against two superpowers, Russia and the U.S.A.. At last the land was free from these two countries and now Cuba is in the United Nations. What is wrong with the Tibetan struggle? Are we too passive or lazy? Or are we just so stupid to give away all of our rights? I leave these questions to our leaders in Dharamsala and I hope they have the answers.
We visited many cities in Cuba, stayed at El Casa homes and spent time with Cubans. It was very interesting to have people to people connection, instead of staying at hotels built by the Cuban Government. When you spend time with people, you become closer and can express our feelings and share our dreams with each other. Most of the taxi drivers and El Casa owners are very educated and nice people, but they experience a lack of jobs with no alternatives. If they find employment and work for the State, their salaries are extremely low and they can not survive at all from it. Therefore, most people who are educated are self employed in business such as in El Casa, taxi service and other small businesses.
The good thing is they have free medical care and free education from the State, however, there is no freedom of speech and movement. Most of the Cubans I met are thirsty to see the world, to meet and talk freely with other human beings. If one makes a comparison with Tibetans in Tibet, Cubans do have better facilities and possibilities, yet both nations are restricted to develop one’s own intellect and they can not fight for their own justices and others. I hope slowly and surely the Cuban people and leaders will realize that freedom is the most important when we are living in this wonderful world.
The country is open today for the rest of the world to visit the land and meet the people, thanks to the new leaders in Cuba and President Barack Obama’s initiation of meaningful dialogue between the two countries. The result of this is that we can have people to people relations and can help each other, whereas in the case of Tibet, the land is completely closed/isolated from the rest of the world. Tibet is the biggest jail on this Earth yet the rest of the world does not act to free Tibetans living in Tibet. If you do not act to free Tibetans from China, then you are supporting the Chinese Government policy. I understand most of the citizens of the world do not understand the Roof of the World, Tibet because of China’s huge global economic pressure. The rest of the world are blended by their powers and the world forgets human rights issues in Tibet. In conclusion I wish very soon the Chinese and the Tibetans can bring together a solution and solve Sino – Tibet issues like in Cuba and bring everlasting happiness for both sides. When Cuba and U.S.A can do it, why can’t China and Tibet absolutely learn something from it?