Over winter break this year, I joined the ranks of people who’ve traveled outside of the country. (Finally, ha!) I went to Cuba. It was amazing. Tropical. Warm. Filled with vibrant music. The ruinous architecture, the grit and pride of the people, the humble simplicity—it all filled me up.
Since there’s no internet access in Cuba, I decided to go technology-free on this trip. For weeks, I was looking forward to being so disconnected from technology that I was actually connected to the world around me.
I worried I’d feel antsy and bored with only my pen and pad to keep me company. There’d be no screen to zone out on, no internet to jump on to look up something random, no wasting time with the bubble shooter game. Most of all—there’d be no hiding behind something to disengage. Nope. It was just me and the world around me. And for the first time in a very long time, I was forced to move through it and experience it purposefully, intentionally, thoughtfully.
My psyche must have been aching for it. I fell into the role all too easily. The only technology I used was a camera. But I loved being without technology so much that I only took seven photographs. Seven. The whole time. (Of course, I must admit that my husband is an amazing photographer, and I was more than happy to trust he’d get some awesome shots.)
But it’s funny how not anxiety-provoking it was to only have seven of my own photographs. Everyone thought I was crazy. But while they were seeing Havana, the countryside, and the beaches of Trinidad through a viewfinder and tiny LCD screen, I was soaking in the tiniest little details. Like, the way the wrinkles of the man sleeping on the steps of the Cathedral stacked across his forehead like scaffolding. The way the women didn’t walk, but swayed their hips as if dancing. The way the dogs in the street never opened their eyes, but their bellies swelled like blowfish when they breathed in.
When I looked around at my travel group (unfortunately, there’s no other way for an American to experience Cuba right now), I always felt at a distance. There was always a device between us acting as a shield. Whether it was the camera they held up or the phone they checked obsessively (yes, despite having no service) or the iPads or computers—it kept feeling like there was always something between us that kept us from connecting to each other fully.
Cuba’s arms felt wide open and walking into them, I felt really connected. I’m glad I got to stay a while. Maybe I can borrow the idea of the kids in This American Life’s “Kid Politics” episode of declaring a “No Screens Week” every now and then. Maybe then, I can keep learning how to disconnect in order to connect.