Our morning started today with an interchange with members of the Asamblea del Poder Popular (Popular Power Assembly—part of the government) to get to know the work that this assembly does and how the Cuban government works. It was a very interesting experience and it was clear that what they were going to talk about was well-rehearsed. Two members of the assembly came—a man and a woman—and they talked to us about how the government works, including elections, assemblies, etc. The man did most of the talking and it was very clear that he wanted us to have a very specific picture of the Cuban government.
The woman hardly got a chance to speak because the man was talking the whole time and didn’t really let her have a chance. After he was done giving us his talk about the government, we were allowed to ask questions. There were several about women in the assembly and how it is for them, but the questions often got dodged or were not completely answered. We also didn’t ask very many questions because we were afraid that they wouldn’t be taken well and just didn’t feel comfortable asking.
After the interchange with the assembly members, we had a couple hours of free time to eat and shop and do as we pleased.
I should quickly explain the currency situation. There are two currencies in Cuba: the Cuban peso and the CUC (convertible pesos). The Cuban citizens use the peso, while foreigners use the CUC. The exchange rate from US$ à CUC$ is about 0.87, so the .13 cents lost on every dollar is basically a tax. Cuban currency has no validity outside of Cuba and it can only be obtained in Cuba, so we had to bring money in cash to exchange once we got here. American credit/debit cards also don’t work, so cash is the only option.
When our free time was up, we headed back to ICAP to meet our group after shopping for a little bit. We got on the bus and headed to our next destination: a music school/conservatory. When we got there, we were brought to a room where 5 or 6 boys were waiting with their instruments in hand. First, we listened to an older student who played the guitar. It was amazing—he has a lot of talent and will go far. Next, we listened to a violin/cello duet that was equally as good. They were 16 years old and were quite talented.
After the duet, a fifteen year-old boy played a flute/piano duet with a sixteen year-old. It was all improvisation—no music for either of them—and it was one of the most incredible things I have seen in my life. They were so perfectly together and it was all made up on the spot! Both of them have incredible talent—it is clear to see why they are at that school. Finally, we heard a piano trio—violin, cello, and piano—with the three boys that had already performed. Music is truly a universal language and even though we can understand Spanish, we don’t need to say anything to appreciate and understand music.
To get into the school, they are all tested in their individual provinces and if they do well enough, they are brought to the school and that is where they go to school. They have academic classes in addition to all their music classes and lessons, and many of them live in the dorms at the school. All the education in Cuba is free and this conservatory is no exception. They don’t have to pay anything to attend this school.
After our visit at the conservatory, we headed back to the hotel. We had the afternoon and night off, so most of us went and took a nap before dinner because we were all so exhausted. It was really refreshing to get some more sleep. At night, most of us hung out together in the hotel and just talked for a while before going to bed.