In October 2012 I traveled to Cuba under a special license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). Three days into the trip I found myself barricading the windows of the hotel room in Santiago de Cuba against Hurricane Sandy when the eye made landfall at 1 am.
With winds gusting to 110 mph, the hurricane devastated the city I had explored the day before. High winds and rain blew down power lines, ripped corrugated tin roofs off buildings and sent them flying through the streets like mobile guillotines and left this city of 500,000 without power, potable water and homes and businesses.
By 4 am the storm had abated and I went out to explore the damage. Physically, everything was in chaos. There was destruction everywhere, yet there was organized cooperation to clear streets, remove fallen trees and begin repairs immediately. I noticed that no curfews were imposed, no looting seen. I spoke to many people in the streets and in their devastated homes, and was deeply moved by their solidarity and their absolute faith that the government would take care of them.
Our media portrays Cuba as a rogue state, and it is the only country in the world U.S. Citizens need a special license from our government to visit. While the Cuba is by no means perfect, my experience with Hurricane Sandy again reminded me that people transcend stereotypes and that governments are not necessarily as they are simplistically portrayed in the media.