Review of Patrick Kellens

Patrick Kellens, Nursing student – Thomas More Hogeschool Mechelen 

A Cuban adventure

The announcement of the study trip to Cuba at our university was very at last minute, about 2 weeks before the start, but I didn’t hesitate for a moment to register for this: this was a real opportunity for a globetrotter as the undersigned. That same day I made an appointment with the population service of the city of Mechelen to apply for an international passport, hoping that this could be made in time. I was assured that this should work, so I could start looking forward to a cheap flight and a nice casa particular in Havana. There was little time for preparation, but I felt completely ready to immerse myself in a Cuban bath.

Via AirB & B I could easily find a place to stay. A stay in a casa particular is really advisable and not expensive, you stay in people’s homes and you can easily meet the locals. They can earn a little more with it and I was pampered as if I were a king. Every morning there was a super nice breakfast with lots of fruit, eggs, tasty Cuban coffee and a large jug of freshly squeezed juice, delicious! 

During the week that the course took place, I was able to walk half an hour from my casa particular to our meeting point at the Capitol, which gave me the opportunity to observe the real life of the Havanese. People doing morning gymnastics on the street, nurses who go to work in uniform, street sweepers, children rushing to school with their parents, bicycle taxis looking for work. I walked through neighborhoods that sometimes seemed run-down and tired, not the kind of neighborhoods where you would step through it with confidence in the West. But at no point in time did I feel a hint of insecurity. I was often asked to buy cigars – an opportunity because it was just the festival of cigars today (I heard that excuse every day) – but just as often just out of curiosity, to be able to have a chat with a Westerner . Then people were curious to know what I came to do in Cuba and

Cuba has always fascinated me with its history and its refusal to bow to the American imperialists. The revolution is still alive and pervasive in everyday life: everywhere you see the images of Ché Guévara, Fidél and other heroes of the revolution. You see the old American sledges everywhere in the streets, they have been beautifully restored and are well maintained, mainly to be able to earn some money as a blingbling taxi for tourists.

As a volunteer at the World Shop, I had already attended a lecture on Cuba, highlighting the benefits of the socialist system. Now, during the course, I was able to determine with my own eyes what the great qualities of Cuban healthcare were: free, accessible and well organized. The numbers are of course not wrong: for a developing country, the health indicators are about the same as those in the supposedly developed countries, sometimes even better. I thought it was great how people in every neighborhood have a house for the doctor and nurse, the primary care is very accessible. It is imbued with a holistic vision that looks more broadly than merely the physical but also gives the social and mental attention. It was also easy to go to the consultorios, for more specialized care or imaging. Everywhere are porters on prevention of, for example, diabetes, obesity, the dangers of smoking 

Remarkable were the posters on which the costs of treatments and interventions are mentioned: this is how they try to point out to Cubans that they can enjoy free health care but that this of course costs money the state. In this way people want to make people aware of the costs for society so that they have less tendency to over-consume. The conversations with patients who received psychiatric day treatment were really super interesting: there I found that the problems they experienced did not differ much from ours: mourning, difficult relationships with family or neighbors.

At each of our visits I had something like this: I would like to stay here for hours for more extensive and in-depth conversations with ordinary Cubans and also with health workers. The encounters and exchanges were very fascinating and educational.

After my return flight to Belgium, my university asked if I would like to give a presentation to the first-year nursing students in order to encourage them to go on a foreign adventure themselves. I have given a little background about the history and told about the fascinating and interesting visits and encounters we had in Havana. Because I also stayed in Viñales for a few days, I had no other option than to tell about my visit: about the wonderful day trip on horseback through the tobacco fields, about my very first cigar ever. Cuba also has a lot to do and experience in terms of tourism. I already convinced one of my colleagues to discover Cuba, she definitely wants to do an internship next year. 

Mission accomplished 🙂

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