Destitute but rich, antiquated but lively- Havana is a city of indescribable allure. Old Havana is filled with neoclassical monuments and private houses, influenced by Spanish colonial architecture. Walking through this colorful city, you can’t help but notice the fusion of the African drum and the Spanish guitar in the music pouring from every window. The streets are filled with Ladas and classic 1950’s American made cars that have become synonymous with perceptions of the country.
My first introduction to Spanish was through the vibrant and sonorous voice of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. As a child living in Addis Ababa, I would sit on the veranda of our house and listen to a special program on the radio that featured music from all around the world. I will never forget hearing Celia’s rendition of “Guantanamera” on the radio and wondering what foreign language this singer was singing in. It wasn’t until I asked my mom who Celia Cruz was; that I found out she was Cuban. At the time, my only knowledge of Cuba was that my relative lived in Havana. She married a Cuban man she met during the Ethio-Somali War, which took place during Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime, and later moved to Cuba with him. Mengistu was a leader who practiced Marxism-Leninism: a political philosophy that seeks to establish socialist states and develop them further. As the war began, his socialist allies, Cuba and the Soviet Union, came to aid Ethiopia.
Prior to my trip, my knowledge of socialism and the past socialist Ethiopian government was very limited. Since my relative has lived in Cuba for nearly 40 years, it is safe to say she has become a native. For myself, this was tremendous because it allowed me to indulge in the rich culture and history of Havana in my native tongue. She also did a phenomenal job bridging my historical gap between pre-socialist and post-socialist Ethiopia, along with the role Cuba played within Ethiopia’s history. It took years of searching to connect with my relative, but it was all worth it! My voyage to Havana was everything I could of dreamed of and so much more.