Permaculture: Steps Toward A Sustainable World

By Hannah Shami

Throughout my week stay in Cuba, I had the opportunity to learn about and tour agricultural farms both within the city of Havana as well in rural Soroa. I spoke with the farmers and scholars through the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation. 


At the Foundation, I was taught about the development and integration of permaculture into Cubans’ every day lives. The purpose behind permaculture is to be a sustainable resource for growing the things necessary to survive. From produce, to raising livestock, this method is designed to be a reliable resource where the farmers use readily available resources to produce what they need.


I learned about the use of a dry toilet to fertilize the soil in the farms. By separating the wet and dry human waste, the feces is dried and re-purposed to fertilize the trees and any produce that either isn’t consumed by humans or vegetables that will be cooked thoroughly. This concept of the dry toilet is still fairly new, and not readily adapted by some, but is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to keep their gardens fertile.

I also got to see permaculture on a much larger scale at the farm Finca Marta, owned and cared for by Fernando Funes. He sells his produce at local markets and to restaurants in Havana.


These farms that I visited were beautiful in their own way, with glass bottles and repurposed containers used throughout the farms, it was the epitome of sustainable agriculture and presented in a way that I had never seen before. Witnessing that for myself was something that changed my outlook on farming and opened my eyes to the way Americans should try to adapt sustainable practices into their everyday lives.


Anna Tripp
Cuban Coffee in Cracked Hands

By D’Ayn Sayre

Speeding through the countryside, the roads are narrow and the asphalt is clayed over from the runoff of the mountains on either side. The awkward yellow taxi driven by Dianelis, a spunky young woman, weaves through the switchbacks, the stray dogs, and the horses pulling carts with expertise. The jungle dances to the rhythm of the wind. Dense, low forestry with enormous palm trees poking through the thick of the land are swaying high, reaching for the sun. The further we drive into the forest, roofs of homes seem to sag deeper, horses are thinner, makeshift barns lean further. Despite the decay of the infrastructure, the farmers wave with large smiles that truly reach their eyes as we drive passed. Now deep into the countryside, Dianelis pulls off the side of the road, minding a broken-down SUV on the right, and a plow with a missing wheel to the left. We have finally made it to the farm.


            Trekking up a “driveway”, a man’s shouting reaches my ears as he yells for his family to come and greet us as we arrive. No vehicle could ever actually travel up this driveway because it is a nearly 60-degree angle upwards, laid with loose stones the size of paperweights. Half way up the muddy incline two houses, a 30-year-old rusted tractor, two horses, a mule and more than 10 people come in to view.

            First, I’m hugged by Perfecto, who I quickly discover is the one who shouted our arrival. Eight children grew up on this farm, and he is the sixth. This man is charismatic, and easily the star of the show. His energy is infectious, arms waving, head rolling, straight white teeth smiling wide. Though Perfecto is surely entertaining all the way up to the top of the hill, his older brother grasped my arm as I nearly tripped over a loose stone. He’s the one who truly caught my attention. Clad in government distributed garb, Juanito’s tall and lanky form stands proudly in his forest green trousers, khaki button down that is a size too-large and originally intends to serve as an overcoat, a tan newspaper-boy cap, and to-the-knee rain boots. He leads us to his home, where we spend the day. His home is painted a light green with salmon colored shudders. The wooden structure atop a concrete pad was quaint, two bedrooms and a common room, separated into two spaces by a string of beads. One side of the common room was a seating area situated around a TV from the 1980s, and the other half was home to a magnificently hand-crafted dining table. The “kitchen” is out the back door, though they have no refrigerator and the stove is coal fire. The bathroom is also, outside.


            Juanito is the oldest brother of the family. He is the only sibling that lives on his father’s farm. It is now his. All eight children grew up here, but the rest of the siblings moved closer to the city to find work. The land grows coffee and sugarcane. Pigs, chickens, and hound dogs run about the yard.


            Even though I can not directly communicate with Juanito, I feel we will get along. About 60 years old, though looking 40, this man is quiet, observant, and hard-working. Perfecto is the talker of the family, and Juanito is the worker. Juanito’s deep, kind eyes and worn, cracked hands spoke for him. In him, I saw my grandfather.

Edited Juanito.jpg

             I grew up two doors down from my grandad,and although I saw him nearly everyday and we were close, he is not the chatty type. We can sit together in the car, work cows in the field, toss a baseball back and forth for hours in complete, comfortable silence. My grandad prefers to let his actions do the talking. The cracks of Juanito’s dry hands, with dirt embedded in the cuticles no matter how hard they are scrubbed, were just the same as the hands who picked me up off the ground after my first horse bucked me off. The hands that skimmed through my math textbook helping me find the answers to my homework. The ones who built homes and surveyed land for a living. Though Juanito and I do not speak, his eyes tell me he is of similar spirit.

            After introducing us to the remaining family and friends, and the gray clouds cast low in the sky, Juanito walks us up the path from his house, to his father’s. He begins to shovel the coffee beans drying out on the concrete pad in front of the house, which now sits empty after his father’s passing. There are purposeful divots in the pad, that serve to encourage rain run off. Noticing a second shovel leaning against the porch, I walk up to Juanito with it in my hands and question, with hand gestures, if I can try. His dark brown eyes soften as his lips perk up into a tight smile. He turns his body to show me the correct hand placement of the shovel, and then slowly performs the correct movements of the tool so I can learn. We push and shovel thousands of coffee beans into the middle of the pad. We cover the heap with a great blue tarp to protect the dried-out beans from the rain. He gives me a curt nod for a job well done.


            As Perfecto shows us how to remove the coffee bean from the hull standing on the porch, Juanito disappears. Minutes later he comes back through the thick of the forest, dragging stalks of sugar cane along with him. He hacks the stalks with a long machete hanging from his belt, and passes a hunk to each of us to chew on.

            We return to Juanito’s house as the rain comes in, and snack on sweet oranges, bananas, and the best pork I’ve had in ages. True organic, farm raised food. The kind of food I grew up on, but no longer come in contact with while living in the city. I meet Juanito’s son, his wife, and their son. I could see the deep, kind eyes were inherited as was his height and physique not only by his son, but also his granddaughter. The energy as both the Americans and the Cubans laugh deeply and grasp their bellies with one hand, almost losing their glass of rum in the other, is contagious. We drink, we laugh, and some sing as we lounge about the house, telling the rain to take it’s time in passing, as we were in no rush to leave. We all are enjoying the time with one another. I have never experienced such a deep feeling of comfort with a collection of strangers, especially strangers who do not speak my language. Perhaps it is because their lives are not so different from mine.


            I grew up on 30-acre farm split between my parents and grandparents, where we raised cattle, horses, goats, chickens, llamas, rabbits, the list goes on. Farming is a way of life, and it is evident that regardless of your country, your government, your language, your education, it teaches you strength. It teaches you hard work. It teaches you kindness. This family, feels like my own. As an American traveling to Cuba, I was not expecting to connect with anyone, yet I have with Juanito and his family. After many group pictures and hugs good bye, leaving is not easy. I am upset that I am not able to speak their language. I am saddened that I can not tell them goodbye for myself. I am frustrated for not realizing there are kindred spirits regardless of your place in this world. We drive back through the forest as the sun is setting, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve seen plenty of beautiful ones, sitting on the riverbank of campus, watching the colors paint the flowing current. Over my pasture back home, sinking beneath the orange trees. Off the balcony of my dorm in Sorrento Italy, fading into the Tyrrhenian sea. But this sunset feels alive, even in death. I want to climb to the top of a ridge and watch the bold orange sun fade from the sky and sink below the palmed hills. It has been an unforgettable day.


            Seeing Cuba as an English major is not about relating Jose Marti’s Abdala to the struggles of the nation. Feeling Cuba as an English major is not about walking the grounds of Hemingway’s home in Havana, pausing as the warm air rolls over me, wondering if he stood in those exact steps. In actuality, being an English major had everything to do with seeing and feeling what Cuba is through my eyes, through my fingers, through my thoughts, my emotions, and my perspective. For me, writing isn’t about comparing and analyzing the thoughts of the greats before me. Writing is about breathing life into the crevices that are not yet explored. Writing is about telling a story the way I see it through my life and my experiences, past and present.

Anna Tripp
My Reflection

By Anna Tripp

Overall, this experience was very humbling. Being born in a third world country and having lived there for a few years has already helped me gain a large appreciation for all we have in America. However, Cuba gave me another level of appreciation. I could never imagine living off rations and having little to no freedom. THIS is what separates the world from Cuba. Cubans are appreciative for the little rations they do get. They are grateful for the little freedom they do have. Additionally, Cubans are unable to get new machines for farming, etc. So yes, I was impressed by the classic American cars, the rustic beauty of Havana, and the love for salsa music, but I was much more impressed with the resourcefulness of the Cubans.

A classic American car filled with the Cuban driver and tourists.

A classic American car filled with the Cuban driver and tourists.


In America, we have an insane amount of stores were we can easily go to and buy whatever we need. We don’t have to wait a year for it to arrive and we really don’t need to think too much about it. Cubans, however, are constantly thinking of new ways to use what resources they do have, to create something they absolutely need. Sadly, I feel we have lost this resourceful way of thinking.

Using cut-up soda and beer cans as planting pots at a local farm in Artemisa, Cuba. It is hard to find planting pots so the owners needed to find another way to create these “pots.”

Using cut-up soda and beer cans as planting pots at a local farm in Artemisa, Cuba. It is hard to find planting pots so the owners needed to find another way to create these “pots.”

Anna Tripp
Cuba: A First World Society Living in a Third World Country 

By Hannah Shami


Colorful doors and exterior walls line the streets as classic cars drive past. The light tread of pedestrians on the pavement and occasional horse-drawn carriage drowned out the already faint sound of dominos hitting a table. Standing in front of a bright pink house I snap a picture, briefly stopping time to capture three young girls sitting on the porch, enjoying what they consider a normal Sunday afternoon. For a moment, I feel as if I’m being transported back in time, carried to a simpler moment in history, brought back to reality by the camera in my hands. 

I spent nearly 9 months in preparation for my week in Cuba—watching documentaries and reading books and articles about Cuban history and life in the country today. I was learning about a side of Cuba that I had never seen before, trying to understand what they have been going through decade after decade. The documentary series Cuba Libre dove deep into Cuban history and brought to light things I never knew to be true. 

In the early 1950s, Fulgencio Batista regained power with a brutal and controlling dictatorship, prompting the series of sporadic revolutions lead by Fidel Castro. In 1958, Castro was successful in ousting Batista, in which he replaced the once authoritarian government with a revolutionary socialist state. Not long after, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1960 and broke diplomatic relations in 1961. This disconnection from the U.S. is just the beginning of a long history of war and struggles between the two countries. Cuba’s alliance with the Soviets provided the protection Castro needed to drive himself into the international scene. However, with the collapse of communism, the end of Soviet economic support, and the continued hostility between the U.S. and Cuba, Cuba was immersed deep into economic crisis. Cubans struggled with attaining steady incomes and basic human freedoms as illegal emigration became an increasing problem. (BBC News) 

During that time, Cuba was under the control of Fidel Castro. Reduced wages, limits on land-ownership, and stricter police force created a hostile and unstable living environment for Cubans. Thousands of professionals—from doctors to engineers—emigrated to the U.S., causing an economic “brain drain”. Cuba’s economy prior to the revolution was dependent on sugar exports, and the U.S. trade embargo cut their economy immeasurably. Fidel’s 49-year reign is said to be characterized by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression—anyone speaking out against the government would face arrest and harassment. Even as technology was developing all over the world, the Cuban government limited access to the internet, outside news sources, and the development of the Cuban people. (BBC News) 


In 2006, Fidel Castro announced he had an intestinal illness, causing him to resign as President and head of the party. His brother Raúl became the temporary president of the Council of State. Raúl was officially made president by the National Assembly in 2008, after Fidel announced that he wouldn’t stand for president due to his continued medical condition. After his re-election in 2013, Raúl Castro announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2018, making his second term his last. Within his short term as president, Raúl lifted the restrictions against the purchase of numerous products not available under his brothers administration. From DVD players, to computers, to microwaves and rice cookers, Cubans were already seeing new technology after decades of oppression. New economic reforms were introduced, including the increase in wages for hardworking employees and allowing private farmers to lease idle state-owned land in an effort to boost food production. Following Castro’s resignation, Miguel Díaz-Canel was voted in as president and the Castro reign officially came to an end in 2018. (Nations Online) 

Before leaving for Cuba, I was told numerous things to help prepare me for the week I’d spend there. From the restrictions placed on Cuban tourism, to being told I was going to have rice and beans for every meal, I was expecting to have a difficult time adjusting. I’ve traveled abroad before, but never to an under developed nation, and because of everything that I was told, I was expecting to be completely out of my element. Once I arrived I realized how wrong everyone—including myself—had been. Everywhere I went there was yet another sight to be seen, whether its walls covered in art or little pockets of culture and history sprinkled around the city. Simply walking down the street allowed me to immerse myself even more into the simplicity of their life. Fruit stands stopped on the sidewalk and balconies with clothes pinned up on the line, made time slow down in a way. I found myself walking the streets and taking it all in, absorbing my surroundings with voices and music on the street filling my ears. 

What made my experience in Cuba different from someone else’s who would travel as a tourist, is that I didn’t see a lot of the main tourist attractions. However, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I got to fully immerse myself into the Cuban culture and truly experience it for what it is—innovative and inspiring. Permaculture in Cuba is growing and being adapted to farms within the city. I was able to tour a couple of smaller farms and one larger one. With developments such as a dry toilet, separating wet and dry human waste to generate into fertilizer for the farm, reinvents farming and agriculture within the city. I toured a larger farm called Finca Marta outside of Havana, where they have a process similar to the smaller farms, however it’s produced on a much larger scale. Using animal waste to fertilize the crops growing all over the farm, they’re able to sell the fresh produce at farmers’ markets and use that as another source of income. Fernando Fuñes, the owner of Finca Marta, told us the story of how he dug the well on the property. He spent half a year digging a hole into the ground, never knowing if he was ever going to find water. He told me about the number of times he wanted to give up, but the possibility of finding water is what kept him going. Eventually, he dug deep enough to reach water, but it was the journey getting to the bottom of the well that was the most rewarding. I remember sitting there on his patio, listening to him tell this story, in awe of how much he has accomplished. The amount of hard work and dedication he put into everything he did is what created his beautiful farm from what was once practically nothing. That same perseverance and optimism was apparent to me every second I was in Cuba. Regardless of how difficult their lives seem, they still find the positivity and always make something good out of what seems to be only bad. 


That mentality is something that I now carry with me. Since my return, I’ve had time to think and reflect on my time in Cuba, and it made me realize how fortunate I am to have the life that I do, but that I also take so much for granted. We spent our last full day with a Cuban family, eating the most delicious pork and plantain chips, socializing, and just having a good time. Their misfortune or oppression wasn’t a concern that day. The only thing that was of any importance was family, friends, and winning the game of Dominos. Life in that moment was the simplest thing I have ever experienced and it’s something that I never realized how much I longed for. As a Communication student, I’ve spent the last three and a half years learning about and utilizing modern technology, preparing me for life in a digital world. Everything I’ve created has been digital and dependent on the development of this high-tech age I’ve been growing into for the last few decades. To be in a country where the most important things in my life mean so little, was a culture shock I wasn’t prepared for. In Cuba, a card with an access code holds so much power, just in an effort to access 1 hour of internet. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before—yet, it took no time to get used to the simplified life of the Cuban people. I was surrounded by a group of life-loving people, meeting more life-loving people every day. Being completely disconnected from the outside world forces you to experience life with the people who surround you, and that’s exactly what I did. 

The entire time I was in Cuba, I kept thinking about how beautifully heartbreaking the entire experience was. In the midst of all of the beauty within the city, there was poverty and struggle. Regardless of how difficult their lives seemed to be, Cubans remain hopeful and optimistic. With street art and performers on every corner, Cuban culture is vibrant and imaginative, taking life one step at a time. With history around every corner, to an outsider, it feels like traveling back in time. Despite a scarcity of resources, or perhaps because of it, Cubans are constantly innovating—creating imaginative solutions to solve problems while sparking new ideas and inventions. Without what many consider necessities, today’s Cubans embody the practice of self-sustainability and continue to be an inspiration with their advances despite their lack of technological development. 

Hannah Shami
Breaking Expectations

By Anna Tripp

On January 8th, I became friends with our taxi driver, Dianelys. Dia is the daughter of the first taxi driver we had in Havana. At first, I was confused to see her as our driver. So, after playing a few rounds of Cuban dominos, we finally sat down and had the chance to get to know each other. Since I had not seen a female taxi driver during the trip, I asked her how she became one.


Dia told me she is only 23, so after high school she began working as a tour guide in hopes of one day being a taxi driver. She knew her chances would be slim, but with her hard work she finally got hired by one of the biggest taxi companies in Cuba. In the beginning, it was hard because she was surrounded by men and not all tourists wanted to be given a taxi tour by a female. Now, Dia is one of the best taxi drivers in her company and loves every bit of it. Furthermore, since she is around my age, I was curious to see what young females normally do after high school. In America not going to college is close to unheard of. She told me most girls look for older guys around their 30’s and 40’s and get pregnant. They get pregnant because they don’t know what they could even do for a career so instead chose to raise kids at the age of 18. They marry older men because older men are more likely to have a stable career so can therefore provide a home. To me, Dia’s portrait represents the necessary determination and risk for young females to succeed in the Cuban society.

Anna Tripp
Their Hope Can Make a Difference

By Anna Tripp

Later that day, we all walked to the beautiful Malecón. The two guys from the Cancer Kids group were on their own talking and taking photos of the stunning blue water. I approached them in hopes of getting the teenage perspective of living in Cuba. Nelson, who is 17 and Yordanis who is 19, were very friendly. On I learned about El Paquet Semanal (Episode 4) but had not heard anyone mention it since we landed. So, I asked Nelson and Yordanis where they watch movies and shows. They responded, “El Paquete!” When I learned about El Paquete I felt it was a hassel to get every week. Therefore, I asked them if the paquete was worth the time spent illegally downloading the movies and risk of getting caught. Nelson immediately said yes because the movies are their only true escape from the Cuban reality. Yordanis agreed. To me, the portraits of Nelson and Yordanis represent the youth’s hope for a free Cuba.

Yordanis, 19.

Yordanis, 19.

Nelson, 17.

Nelson, 17.

Anna Tripp
The Happiest People

By Mike Galski

The United States of America was founded on the idea that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were essential to a nation’s well being and success. For many Americans, the most crucial part of this philosophy is liberty. We pride ourselves on living in a free country, as though we were somehow unique in that aspect. Most industrialized nations are free countries. Freedom in America is more of an idea than a reality. Our pursuit of happiness is living the “American Dream” : owning that house with a white picket fence, two cars in the driveway, and having a spouse with 2.3 children. That dream comes with a house payment, a car payment, and the obligation to support that family. Americans become trapped in jobs that make them miserable.

            Cuban’s are aware that their freedoms are restricted. Perhaps this is why they are more successful in their pursuit of happiness. Since Cuba is a communist country, and also a poor country, I expected to see a lot of unhappy people. I was surprised to find quite the opposite. Most of the people I observed appeared to be happy. Once I got to know them, I believe I understand why. We equate the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of material things. Cubans have minimal opportunity to pursue material things. They find joy in one another by building strong ties between family, friends, and neighbors. They welcome strangers, like me, with the same warmth as they would an old friend. Cubans find happiness by sharing what little they have with others in exchange for their company. We are social animals that are not happy living in isolation. As a society, we don’t realize that our white picket fences have become cages of our own design.

Anna Tripp
My First Impression of Cuba

 By Anna Tripp

            On January 2, 2019 we landed in Havana, Cuba. I immediately fell in love with their royal palm trees and fresh air. The airport was not well kept and the people who worked there were not the nicest. We were told that when in Cuba, we would not have air-conditioning, we would only eat pork, rice and beans, and people would not always be friendly. I remember thinking it would be a long week. This was all forgotten the moment we got in the large air-conditioned taxi. During our walking tour we saw lots of kids playing, people talking to their loved ones at the WiFi park, lots of tourists, and many stray dogs. To me, Havana seemed similar to Quito, Ecuador except in Quito, there is no need for a WiFi park, the buildings are maintained better, and we have indigenous people. For whatever reason it was odd for me to walk around Cuba without seeing an indigenous woman carrying a heavy bag of potatoes because when I think of a Hispanic country, they always come to mind.

Kids playing at a WiFi park in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. The adults are paying for the ilegal hourly WiFi so they can communicate with family members whom they haven’t seen since they left Cuba.

Kids playing at a WiFi park in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. The adults are paying for the ilegal hourly WiFi so they can communicate with family members whom they haven’t seen since they left Cuba.


            As the day went on, I kept replaying Yoani Sánchez’ voice in my head. In her book Havana Real, she wrote that living in Cuba is difficult and that everyone has so little in their homes. While walking through Old Havana I started to look inside the open doors and could see people laughing inside with such little space and furniture. There wasn’t even electricity. Seeing such happiness in people who have nothing, made me realize even people who have something are still not as happy as these Cubans. I became more amazed and humbled throughout the trip and attempted my best to capture these moments.

A street in Havana, Cuba.

A street in Havana, Cuba.

Anna Tripp
The Window

By Anna Tripp

The anticipation to see Cuba from the plane was distracting. As we began to approach Havana, the people in the plane began glancing outside in awe and excitement. Since I couldn’t look out the window closest to me, I tried looking out the other rows’ window. Heads kept getting in my way. I realized I would just have to wait till I landed to see. I mention this because while on the plane, I was not expecting people to start hustling to look out. The majority of the plane consisted of Cubans so I felt they would not be excited to see their country. I was wrong but was curious to find out why.

Anna Tripp