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  • It’s easy to savor the quaintness of a country when it has been a forbidden fruit for so long.

    Cuba’s vintage automobiles, revolution graffiti and cigar-puffing characters satisfy the travel itch, but they can upstage reality as they did on my first trip there in 2012. On a return visit in December, I wanted to better understand Cuban life as I traveled deeper into the country where stories fill the time-washed neighborhoods of worn turquoise, faded pink and yellows that have seen better days.

    In Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Holguin, Camaguey, Remedies, Santa Clara and communities, people invited you into their homes or stopped on the sidewalk to ask “American?”

    Conversations ended with unanswered questions: “What will happen? Will things change?”

    People waiting. That’s what I saw on the streets where they live.
  • It is difficult to capture the essence of a country with just a few photographs. An image is merely a story in progress – life halted for a split second in a digital narration that tacked together might – just might – shed natural light on what life is like there.

    There are always unanswered questions that time or translation steals, and you spend hours hunched over a computer screen looking for the meaning of them all.

    My internal monologue goes something like this:

    “Hate that one."
    "Really hate that one."
    "Where did all the good ones go?"
    " Why did I take that one?"
    "I shouldn't be trusted with a camera."
    " Why am I even here?"
    " That one’s OK."
    " I like that one."
    " I need to go back.”

    Often I feel like I’ve let down the people who shared their lives with me or my friends and family interested in learning about a country that they might only visit through photographs. Then I relax my self-doubt and remind myself that in the brief seconds that pass between a photographer and the subject, one of life’s greatest cultural exchanges takes place.

    And the monologue goes something like this:

    “I see you, and you see me in this shared moment that we have created.”
  • At the same time of my visit, a United States delegation, including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a longtime advocate for improved Cuba-United States relations, landed in Havana. The delegation returned home on our same flight, and we talked with Lee in the coffee shop at the Havana airport. She was investigating a Cuban diabetes drug that drastically reduces amputations, she said, but there was a happiness lingering around the group that was noticeable.

    As soon as I got to Miami, I looked on her website and learned this was her 20th trip to the country. In 2009, she visited both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro. For years, Lee has worked toward the prison release of American Alan Gross and improved relations.

    The next day, President Barack Obama announced the release of Gross in a prisoner-swap and new plans to ease restrictions on Cuba.

    It feels as if we’ve invited our unpredictable great uncle back to the family reunion because we realize his people shouldn’t be punished for his bad behavior. Still, the last time we hung out, he wrecked the place. Everyone is going to be on edge for a while to see whether we all get along or someone starts throwing things.

    “What will happen?” we wonder. “Will things change?”
  • Every evening as the sun eased up, I watched domino players set up their tables on street corners and worn beach paths. Considered Cuba’s second national game falling only to baseball, domino games can escalate into a contact sport as fierce rivalries exist in neighborhoods.

    Strategy and courage win most games. You need to play smart especially when rum-drinking old men are at the table. A suggestion: Ask the rules before you drink the rum, and be wary of rule-shifting old men. They can be a real game changer.
  • In many ways the diplomatic moves around the domino tables of Cuba echo what is happening between our two countries.

    Everyone wants in on the game.

    Settling on the rules is where things are going to get tricky.
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