Follow along for the Busboys and Poets Travel Tribe’s Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba (July 6-13, 2022)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

1. Heading to Cuba – The Charter Flight

By Andy Shallal (@andyshallal CEO/Founder, Busboys and Poets)

It is 5:30am. I am at the recently renovated National Airport. AKA Reagan. But for the name, this is my favorite airport. A quick 15 minute Uber ride from home. To my surprise, it is crowded at this early hour. Past the entrance the security check line snakes endlessly. The TSA Pre-check is much shorter. I don’t qualify. It takes 30 minutes to get through the “standard passengers” line. Still plenty of time to the gate. Past the checkpoint I spot the Dunkin’ Donuts. I resist the temptation. I am making good time. I am at gate C29. Waiting. Checking emails and flipping through my Instagram. Next to me is an elderly woman. She likes to talk. She is from Trinidad. She is visiting her son in Miami. He’s a dentist with 3 “beautiful” children. I have 3 grandchildren. She affirms. She tells me all about the island. The music (do you like Calypso? She doesn’t wait for the answer). The food (lots of curry and jerk. Do you like curry she asks? I respond with “of course, who doesn’t”). The beaches (you can see Venezuela. We like to steal their fish. She laughs). I am originally from India. She continues. I have never been to Trinidad I tell her. You must go for Calypso she chortles. I smile and nod affirmatively. I get back to my emails.

Out the window, I see the plane parked at the gate. I am relieved. I am heading to Cuba by way of Miami. My connecting charter flight to Cuba is very tight. In fact so tight that my plane lands in Miami 10 minutes after the scheduled charter is supposed to leave. Don’t worry I am told. They will hold the flight. In this post 9/11 world its hard to imagine. But I am willing to play along. Leave it to the experts.

This is my third visit to Cuba. And I can’t wait to get there. It is unlike any other place on earth. It is un-burnished. Untainted. Unspoiled. There are no billboards in Havana. No stores. No Starbucks or McDonalds. Not even a CVS. It is raw and worn and joyful and gritty and dignified. And it is under siege. And it’s been that way for decades.

Things began to look up when Obama became president. He and Michelle visited the island and restored diplomatic relations. Even Beyonce and JayZ paid a visit. A few years later Trump undid what Obama started. He closed the embassy. Ended commercial travel to Cuba. And placed Cuba on the dreaded list of countries that aid terrorism. Red meat to the Miami Cuban exiles. This designation put an end to remittances and effectively froze all Cuban assets across the globe overnight. Then came Biden who has been reluctant or unwilling to undo Trump’s policy

It is now 6:30 am. Moments before boarding. The announcer at the gate just informed us that there is a computer glitch. Our flight will be delayed by at least 15 minutes. No worries she adds. They have a manual backup. I am slightly worried. More importantly, I am now uncertain that I’ll make the connecting flight. Which apparently must leave Miami no later than 10:15 am.

It is now 7:40am and boarding is finally complete. Exactly 41 minutes later than scheduled. My fingers are crossed as the plane pulls away from the gate. I settle into my seat. Look out the window. And wonder whether I’ll make my connecting flight while watching the world below turn into a lego set.

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