During a normal semester at school, you absolutely will not find me without my planner either in my hand or in my backpack and at least 1-2 to-do lists on my phone, my desk, or even written on my hand. Keeping close track of my schedule has always brought a level of control to an otherwise crazy life. Even on vacation, I will typically have an itinerary planned with the goal of making the most of every hour of every day, seeing and doing as many things as I possibly can.
Enter Cuba. I knew coming in that I had to be prepared to be flexible due to the nature of the country, and I was confident that I would have no problem doing so, completely ignoring my daily need for a meticulously planned schedule. Having introduced this post with a description of my Type-A-ness, I imagine that any reader is not surprised that I was very wrong about my readiness to be flexible. It began with little changes to our schedule. Day 1: we were unable to get the SIM cards we needed for our phones during the time we had scheduled—no big deal, it’s just a phone card. Day 2: a surprise tropical rainstorm extinguished my plans to walk around the city—again no big deal, rain happens. Day 4: our walking tour of Old Havana is canceled due to a miscommunication with our taxi driver—not the end of the world, but disappointment and frustration are slowly starting to accumulate. Day 5: we’re unable to get our student ID’s for the university (which will allow us to visit free museums around the city, use university facilities, etc.) and we cannot seem to find the time to exchange our money from the currency typically used by tourists to the national currency/Cuban peso. By this point, I am completely frustrated and exhausted with all of the little changes and inconveniences, and even more frustrated with myself for getting so bent out of shape over such minor things while I’m in one of the most amazing cities in the world having the time of my life.
Finally, I began to realize how inflexible I really was (am). I was unable to release my desire for concrete plans and even less willing to release my desire to just start making my own plans. Several more realizations came to me rapidly as I realized I absolutely had to release my control (which I never actually had) on my schedule.
First, all of these challenges are part of the deal I made when I chose to come to Cuba. Here in Havana, restaurants run out of menu items daily, plans change without notice due to the difficulty of communicating by any means other than face-to-face conversation, rainstorms happen in the middle of a beautiful afternoon. Second, although these challenges are exacerbated by certain circumstances in Cuba, they still occur in my daily life at home. Until now, I had not realized how easily I allowed these inconveniences to derail an entire day. Third, and most importantly, these changes bring about some of the best and most unexpected opportunities. A rainstorm turns into a much-needed afternoon nap. A canceled walking tour becomes a night spent with friends watching the sunset over the ocean before walking to a quaint restaurant for music and conversation. The things that weren’t scheduled (and would never have been scheduled if left to my own devices) become the most incredible moments.
Have I mastered letting go of my need for consistency and control? Absolutely not—I’ve only been here for a week, after all. However, the frustrations, schedule changes, and inconveniences that this incredible island has brought me have opened my eyes to the beauty of allowing myself to truly go with the flow. I’m still learning to take these in stride, but I’m starting with putting away the planner and closing the calendar on my phone. Cuba makes its own schedule for me, and I’ll be left in the dust if I don’t go with it.