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A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day 2 Part 1: Visit to Museum of Revolution & a brief Review of Political-Military History of Cuba.


(What I am narrating is the story I have heard from multiple Cubans. If only the stories were ever told by the lions and not hunters, they would tell a different story).
Disclaimer: I am no student of history. I am just a storyteller. 😃

Cuba was first exposed to an outside invasion when Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492. This led to Spain colonize Cuba and they appointed Spanish governor generals in Habana. A few failed attempts by different Cubans, including Maximo Gomez in 18th century led to loss of thousands of Cuban lives but not independence. Then in 1898, Spanish-American war drove the Spaniards out of Cuba while US thought they had the moral right to control Cuba.

However in 1902, in just 3 and a half years, Cuba finally gained independence. Post independence the Cuban Republic saw good economic growth but slowly fell into the trap of greedy and corrupt leadership. Last of whom was Military General Flugencio Batista. He ruled from 1940 to 1944. And was them ousted due to corruption. However since he was an US ally, the CIA reinstated him again as a dictator in a military Coup against Scarres 1952. He suspended the 1940 constitution and civil liberties and rights of Cubans to strike or protest.

This irked a young lawyer, Fidel Castro barely 24, and he led protests but since constitution and all rights were suspended, Fidel Castro snd his brother Raul Castro were sent to prison in 1953. However since theirs was a popular protest, Batista was forced to release them and they both left Cuba to Mexico to plan an armed struggle against the dictator.

In Mexico, they were joined by other revolutionaries including Argentine Che Guevara, recieved military training to plan a revolution in Cuba. In November 1956, Fidel and 82 other revolutionaries sailed from Mexico on a cool yatch( yes yes 😃 ) called Granma Yacht to land in Cuba. After a lot of travails and tribulations like sea sickness, lack of supplies, leaking overloaded yatch( it could only house 12 people ideally) they landed in Niquero. This is the same place their hero and poet Jose Marti had chose to land almost 60 years before them. The landing instantly did not lead to their success and many of their companions from the yatch were killed by Batista forces. As fate would have it, only 20 out of 82, including Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos survived and disappeared in the jungles. They then reorganized themselves to continue their guerilla war.

To cut story short, the struggle that started on 26 July 1953 ended in success on Dec 1 1959- 5years snd 5 months later. Batista was ousted and revolutionary govt lead by Fidel Castro was established. Most rich corrupt Cubans fled to Florida. The granma yatch was brought as a mark of revolution to Havana. Ofcourse US was pissed off and it put an embargo against Cuba in 1960 for goods except food and medicines. That embargo was extended to ALL GOODS in 1962.it remains till date. As if this was not all. In 1961 the CIA in coalition with rich corrupt Cubans who had fled to US after Batista was removed planned an air attack on Cuba. Americans concocted the story that these were Cuban pilots who has planned mutiny against Fidel regime. But smart journalists in Miami during a JFK pressor asked hard questions and proved this was not a revolt by Cubans but an attack led by the Americans. So JFK smartly withdrew his story. An American fighter pilot Rudolf Anderson died as his plane B-24 bomber was shot down by Cubans. But since JFK was telling a false story of Cuban revolt, Americans never admitted to his death. As a result his body remained in Cuba for 19 years until in 1979 it was returned to his widow Jane.

The wreckage of his plane is in display in the Museum of Revolution in Habana, along with Granma Yatcht, that we saw today.There is another interesting story I heard today.

In 1962 when the US embargo was total Che Guevara asked Fidel Castro, “how long do you think this will go on?”
Fidel replied, “Until US has a Black President and Rome has a Latino Pope.”
Our Cadillac driver told us, “His prophesy was proven when Pope Francis ( an Argemtinian) visited in 2015 and he worked to get President Barack Obama to visit Cuba in 20q6. That was the best Cuba-US relations have been. But then rich Cubans in Florida worked to get Trump.in power and relations are back to old state.”

2 years after the revolution, Che Guevara left Cuba to work for revolution in Angola and Columbia. He died in Columbia.

The pictures below are from Museum of Revolution. If interested in details do read the plaques too.

A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day 1, Part 2: Cuban Music


Cuba’s second language is Spanish.
Yes. You read it right ! 😃

First language of Cubans is music.
They speak music, they walk music, they breath music, they live music. If you have any doubts, you need to visit Cuba.
Every few hundred meters, just as you find Tim Hortons in Canada, you will find music bands in Havana. Cuban music is influenced by European and African music mostly brought along by people from Spain as conquerors and West Africans as slaves. Am no technical expert on music so i quote from elsewhere:

“SHORT HISTORY OF CUBAN MUSIC:
The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves brought to the island. Cabildos preserved African cultural traditions, even after the Emancipation in 1886 forced them to unite with the Roman Catholic church. At the same time, a religion called Santería was developing and had soon spread throughout Cuba, Haiti and other nearby islands. Santería influenced Cuba’s music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion. Each orisha, or deity, is associated with colors, emotions, Roman Catholic saints and drum patterns called toques. By the 20th century, elements of Santería music had appeared in popular and folk forms. Cuban music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica. Reciprocally, Cuban music has been immensely influenti
al in other countries, contributing not only to the development of jazz and salsa, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish “nuevo flamenco”.
FOLK MUSIC: The nati
ves of Cuba were the Taíno, Arawak and Ciboney people, known for a style of music called areito. Large numbers of African slaves and European immigrants brought their own forms of music to the island. European dances and folk musics included zapateo, fandango, zampado, retambico and canción. Later, northern European forms like waltz, minuet, gavotte and mazurka appeared among urban whites.Fernando Ortíz, a Cuban folklorist, described Cuba’s musical innovations as arising from the interplay between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms, the most important instruments being the clave, the congas and batá drums. Chinese immigrants have contributed the cornetín chino (“Chinese cornet”), a Chinese wind instrument still played in the comparsas, or carnival groups, of Santiago of Cuba.”


Below are two beautiful videos I have recorded from live performance by an all girl band in the hotel we are staying. Its absolutely phenomenal.

Cha cha cha

A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day #1 Part #1: First Impression !




A city and a country frozen in time.
It jaw-droppingly transports you back to times your weren’t even born…in the 1950s and at places to even 400 years back. And leaves you stunned and mesmerized at the same time.

What a marvelous kaleidoscope of colors Havana, Cuba is in every sense of the word- from people to places to music to artwork to landscapes, to cuisine.

My first impression is of two Havanas- one for the tourists and the other for the local Cubans. The tourist areas mainly in the City centre are pristine, chic and modern. The old colonial and baroque buildings that now house museums, and some hotels have been restored to their fullest glory.

In aesthetics and class they beat any North American city. The residential quarters which mostly have the influence of French and Spanish architecture even in their derelict state leave you awestruck. With their receding glamour they still stand tall with beauty and grace, as if patiently awaiting for good times to restore them to their old glory. Most of these old quarters of Havana have been declared a Heritage site by UNESCO, so are being slowly preserved and looked after. Thankfully.

What matches beautifully with these colonial architecture are the vintage cars from 50s and earlier. That was the time of prosperity in Cuba when these cars were imported in large numbers. Once embargoes pushed them against the walls, little or no new cars can be 9mported. There are Dodges, Cadillacs, Chryslers, Buick, Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagen and even Ladas(from Russia) from yesteryears plying on the road. Lada mostly used as personal vehicle by above average locals, I am told, is a status symbol for their, and their spare parts are imported from Russia and Panama.

Like the tourist-local divide in buildings, the old luxury cars have also been either refurbished and repainted into bright neon colors to cater to the tourists, while the austere Ladas or Volkswagens remain in old form, and used by locals for personal use.

Damned are these embargoes by the US and the Western countries, that Cubans remains stuck in mid 20th C with economic challenges.
What these wretched imperialist bullies could not put an embargo on is the zest for life and happiness of ordinary Cubans.
No Cuban child has delayed their childhood, waiting to play with American brand of plastic toys ‘Made in China’. LOL. Their playfulness finds simple, yet creative ways to make the best of their childhood.
No Cuban youth have waited to for flashing brand new Lexus, Toyotas, Mercedes Benz or even Hyundais to impress their prospective girlfriends and take them ‘for a ride’- both in letter and in spirit. Their old, 1950 models Volkswagen or Ladas, are enough to do the job.
No Cuban lover has waited for good economic times to take his beloved for a date in Western chain of restaurants (LOL), nor has a single one of them waited for deeper pockets to propose to their girlfriend with a DeBeers Diamond ring or gift her with an exotic Herme’s Birkin or a Prada handbag.
No Cuban woman has waited for Chanel or MAC cosmetics to make themselves look pretty (LOL). They still manage to carry themselves gorgeously, with minimal resources. I personally found every single young Cuban woman very well groomed and stylish. ❤
No Cuban foodie has awaited franchises like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFCs LOL to load themselves with massive calories from comfort fast foods or colas. Their own cuisine is exotic and authentic enough to not miss these useless calorie bombs that we in rest of the world have got hooked on to happily.
The obesity in youngsters here is hardly visible(though am not sure of stats). Just second day here, and we have enjoyed their seafood especially Shrimp caserrole, local black bread, Cuban coffee, guarapo( sugarcane juice) and Cuban ice cream. Since we don’t eat Pork, our choices remain limited. Locally produced Bacardis flow in abundance almost every few hundred meters.

Cubans 🇨🇺 are welcoming and warm. I am sure it is far more than just because they are a tourist economy. Not one single request to take pictures or ask them questions was turned down. And for sure, they open their hearts if they come to know you are a Canadian. 🇨🇦 Couples walk hand in hand in the open streets, kiss more freely than Americans get free healthcare. 🤣🤣🤣

We walked into barber shop to click picture, made video of kids playing football, walked to a wine bar to watch live music. And we were received with smiles. Being pushed against the wall and isolated by the world does hurt ones self esteem. But they have learned to live with dignity despite all the isolation. Embargo has done zilch to the spirits of Cubans.
Bravo these people with a heart ❤ larger that the size of their enemy country United States of America.

Contrary to the ignorant advices we got from those who never visited Cubs, it is an extremely safe place with only minor crimes that may impact the tourists.

We roam in day light and in the dark, and feel no major risk. Yet being a super cautious person, Ismail is making sure we stay in safe limits and keeping a check on, “Ammi don’t give out too much information in your interaction with locals.” My boy he is.
Every moment here is beautiful, but Ismail and I often talk of how much Fasih would have enjoyed if he was with us too. May you be happy wherever you are, you are being badly missed Babloo.
Missing my Fatima, Abdullah and Rahma too.
This was just the first impression..

Lots more on Cuban history, revolution, cigars, their art, music, museums, Earnest Hemingway home, its exemplary healthcare, human stories, need to be explored and shared in days to come.

Farewell To My Friend Dr. Syed Fasihuddin


Aah it was a 36 years of friendship in total with 30 years of marital association of two people of opposite personalities.
Fasih was quiet, gentle yet nerves of steel, living in the moment and a fearless risk taker. And despite being not too talkative, he was a people’s person, and a helper.
I am, as always expressive, explosive, yet a loner, super cautious bordering to being fearful, never living or enjoying the present, mind always planning 5 years ahead.
Yet for some weird reason we clicked very well. And clicked so much that both of us did not need to change our personalities. I learned from Fasih how to give space to the other partner. He let me be me and certainly wanted me to let him be him.
But the fearless risktaker that he was, I tried my best to be a check on him. But I always failed. And he always proved me wrong.

Whether it was his decision to marry an Indian and the practical challenges related to it. (This is another story, that deserves another memoir).
Or refusing to hand over his wallet on gunpoint at Sharei Faisal( Karachi) traffick jam in rain and handing that boy a brown envelope with patties saying, “I don’t keep wallet, eat this it must be hard work as there are so many cars.”
T
he guy remarked, “Fauji lagtey ho is liye itni himmat dikha rahe ho.”(You look an armed forces man and hence being so daring). And the boy walked to the next car.
Or whenever we travelled, which were very frequent, he would leave at the nick of time, despite my cries to keep some margin of time, speeding to reach on time. Once when we were travelling from Makkah to Jeddah airport to catch PIA flight for Karachi, the car’s tyre burst and we ended up reaching airport 2 hours late when the counter was closed and they were wrapping the list.
Fasih went straight to the manager desk, who was Manzoor Junior ( A Pakistani Hockey Olympian). He was very angry.
Fasih said, “Sir tyre got burst.”
He replied, “Yes this is an old excuse.”
He was not in a mood to listen to Fasih’s pleas. He then touched the chin of Manzoor Sb, “Sir aap hockey bahut achi kheltey the.” (Sir you played awesome hockey.)
Manzoor SB got even angrier and yet said, “No. Sorry.”
Fasih them told him, “Sir aap tou 1984 olympic team ke captain they. Sir, gold medal bhi mila tha….” (Sir you were the captain of 1984 Olympic Team. You even got the Gold Medal).
Manzoor Junior laughed and told his staff….“Inko toilet ke pass wali jo khali seat hai woh issue ker do. Family for peeche wali row de dou.”
(Give him the empty seat near toilet and the row behind to the family).

I wanted to travel Egypt, as it from his Egyptian experience and stay that inspired my father to name me Ilmana. Fasih suggested we drive by car all along River Nile from Luxor to Alexandria in Egypt, even though there were some news Muslim Brotherhood’s recent surgence in Upper Egypt in 1996/1997. I dreaded and he said, “With two toddlers car journey is the safest journey.”
In the area of Asyut, half way through, the Egyptian Army stopped us. “Pakistani?What are you doing here?”
Fasih replied, “Long drive along Nile al Gameel.” (River Nile, the beautiful)
The armed forces guys were so cordial, they drove ahead of us all along 1200km or more, proudly stopping to show us the historical points. And Fasih said, “See we have free guides. You just fear for no reason.”



Or when he gave up his lucrative job abroad to build a hospital in Karachi Pakistan, when target killing of doctors were at its peak in the city. I lived those years with my heart in my throat. I owe this to one of his politician friends who suggested to him, “Fasih bhai at least in haalaat mein bachon ko tou mut Karachi laao.” (Fasih bhai at least in these risky times dont bring your kids to Karachi). So my kids and I came to Canada in 2009.

In the middle or all forms of corruption and bribery in Pakistan he wanted to do good work. So for approval of his hospital plan, confronting the Director General of Karachi Building Control Authority, KBCA (who is now a fugitive for corruption) in his polite affirmness Fasih demanded, “I want to make a quality healthcare setup that provides honest and ethical care in Karachi but I dont have any money to give bribe. I am a salaried man, not a builder.”
And imagine the miracle, the man famous for not sparing a penny of bribe relented saying, “Pray for me in Haram”.
Fasih then took out a box of Ajwa dates as a reward for him. With his mild sense of humor, he came out smiling from the Director’s office saying, “This ajwa dates will control his hypoglycemia for not have got any bribe.”
He was famous in Building Control( KBCA) that, “ye doctor tou kangla hai.” (This doctor is a pauper). And Fasih enjoyed his nickname.

When we inaugurated the dream of his life, Taj Clinics( now Taj Consultants Clinics) he named after his mother Tajunnisa, and realized the hard work wasn’t yet over and it was now a 14 hour per day job, with no vacations, no salary, not even a car for first 2 years of the startup.
I often joked to him, “Deewane tou pehle hi the, ab aur tarah ki deewangi hai.” (Crazy you were already, now this is another level of craziness).
He just laughed and retorted, “Zindagi kya hai jaanne ke liye, Karachi mein rehna bahut zaroori hai.” (To know what living means, you must experience living in Karachi).
He did not regret for a single minute the U-turn his life had taken from a high salaried Consultant luxurious life in the Middle East, to a life in Karachi far from family, with no rest, no money and loads of sweat, loadshedding, manipulations, navigating a thororughly corrupt system for every paperwork, and most of all never ending expenses in newly begun Taj Consultants Clinics.

At our inauguration of Taj Consultants Clinics on April 5, 2015

In 30 years there must have been 100s of such incidents when I feared but he just kept taking risks but with a belief that he is not doing anything unfair or unjust. And that this is the right way and nothing good happens by being fearful. He kept proving my fears wrong.

Last pic together near Niagara Falls on May 11, 2020

He came for a 2 week spring break to us in Mississauga on March 1, 2020. With blessing in disguise due to lockdown and no flights he got stranded here with us for 10 weeks. He travelled back to Pakistan on May 15, 2020, despite our pleas to not go, as I feared he will risk his life in COVID 19 as a Pulmonologist in a madhouse called Karachi. He said he has his patients, his staff that needs to be paid salary before Eid ( May 23, 2020) and,
“I can’t hide from what I am trained to do. My patients will die. I promise I will be safe.”
He started his Chest Clinic at Taj Consultants Clinics on May 25 and saw tens of patients each day with at least a quarter of them were clinically COVID 19. He used to tell me with frustration that many of them are negative on tests and they refuse to accept and to be referred to COVID Centres. On asked to be tested from a relaible lab one man even said, “Sir I have 3 daughters. How can I label myself COVID 19.”
And I kept worrying yet praying and nagging him across oceans, as usual, to follow strict precautions, PPE and SOPs knowing this time too I will be proven wrong.
But this was not meant to be. And as I always told him, “If any risk goes wrong, we wont get a second chance
Last he saw on Friday 19 after which he developed fever and isolated himself. He was admitted on Sunday. Alas, Fasih lost his battle to COVID 19 on Friday 26 June 2020.

Hisaab e umr ka buss itnaa sa goshwaara hai,
Tumhein nikaal ker dekha tou buss khasara hai
.
(This is the mere calculation in the ledger of my life,
If I see excluding you, it is nothing but a total loss).

Farewell My Friend

For Manila with Love


“Hello Ma’am your seat is 47E. Not good. Can I give you an aisle or a window seat at a better location?”
Me: “Oh that would be so kind of you for going extra mile even though I had booked online and this is the seat I could book last minute.”
Him: “Maam here is 17A. Window and front seat with extra leg space.”
Me: “You guys are amazing. I loved every day of my stay here.”

As I check out at immigration after a 45 day stay in Manila, this favour without even asking for one makes me overwhelmed with gratitude and would love to pay tribute to Phillipines and its lovely, hospitable people aloud on social media.

Right from the moment my husband and I landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at Manila till exit today, and from immigration officers to taxi drivers to house nannies to senior executives in MNCs to doctors to nurses to porters to managers to ordinary street vendors to jeepney drivers to tricycle drivers to kids playing on streets Phillipinos are an epitome of politeness, etiquettes and culture. Please, thank you, sorry, are spoken with as fluency as our desis hurl gaalis.

It’s not that their lives are easy or comfortable but they have the exemplary patience to stay calm and sane, without honking horns or getting jittery in hours of traffic jams.
Most Philipinos are extremely sincere, hardworking and professional in their work.
Another huge quality in mostly all Philipinos I met is humility. They are also wonderful at enjoying their life the most with whatever is available to them.

Talking to a CEO of a company in a party she asked me how i found Manila.
I replied, “It is very similar to Delhi in terms of rich poor divide, high density population and horrid traffic, but Manila and Philipinos are way ahead in cleanliness. I did not see any litter even in poor localities.”
The lady smiled with pride and replied, “Yes that is true. We feel shame in littering. But let me tell you it was not like this 35 years ago. Manila was dirty. I remember in my youth there was a huge campaign against littering all over from city govt to schools. It took us almost 20 years to get here.”

Another interesting fact I learned about Philipines is that it was a matriarchal society before it was colonized by Spain and patriarchy was imposed. However, it is still known as a country of strong women. Two of past Presidents have been women. Even though still under colonial patriarchal influence to a great extent, one third of businesses are owned and run by women.

Below are some of the scenes from the old district of Quiapo in Manila which houses the largest and oldest Quiapo Church and the largest mosque Golden Mosque and a huge vegetable market in between.

I am extremely thankful to my daughter Fatima Fasih and her husband Abdullah because of whom we could visit Manila and learn so much more about these wonderful people.
I know Phillipines is not a common choice for tourism, but if one gets a chance please do visit to see their level of exceptional humility, politeness and hospitality.
I know I am going to come again to explore less metropolitan areas especially Mindanao and other islands in coming years.
Thank you Metro Manila for a wonderful experience !


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