A Streetlife Juxtaposition

recent trip to small-town Cuba begs comparison to Eau Claire

What’s the difference between the streets of Eau Claire and those of small-town Cuba?

I found out as part of a Quaker folk dance peace ministry to Cuba for two weeks last fall. The group, called the Friendly FolkDancers, was from across the USA with Sandra and me from Eau Claire. Equipped with licenses from the US Treasury Department, we flew from Toronto to Holguin, a small city in eastern Cuba – along with a big plane-load of Canadian tourists who love the beach scene in Cuba. Only the USA requires a license to go to Cuba.

Some things about Cuban streets are strikingly different from those of Eau Claire. There’s the lack of ice and snow, of course, with early November highs averaging maybe 85 degrees at midday. It’s hell, I’m sure, in July or August.

Transportation was way different from the Chippewa Valley, including lots of people on foot or bicycle, but I found the “motorized” options most interesting. My impression was that cars were third in popularity (about half of them pre-1960 vintage), horse-drawn carriages second most common, with first place going to bicycle taxis. Just lately I’ve seen some here in Eau Claire – hurray for us, catching up with Cuban technology!

I love our local farmers market, but I expected it to pale in comparison to Cuba’s tropical abundance. Not so. We win hands down over what I saw there! I was there as a religious peace builder, not to critique their economic system, but it sure looks like communism has not helped their agricultural system at all. The farmers market and stands that I saw were paltry and puny compared to our “fiesta of food.”

Our local Hmong are a big part of our dynamic farmers market. Which brings me to another visible difference between our streets – the hues of the people traveling the roads. Eau Claire is pretty pale, enriched somewhat by the Hmong plus is a growing presence of blacks and browns. Every group of Cubans was a delightful mix of Anglo, Hispanic, African, and Native skins. In comparison Eau Claire looks monotonous and bland. Our loss ...

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