On December 11th, 15 of us from Columbia Business School traveled (legally) to Cuba for what ended up as one of my all-time favorite trips.
Prior to starting graduate school, I had read that travel to Cuba was legal for American graduate school students provided they travel under a specific university license and jump through a number of other administrative hoops. And just like that, I decided that my pre-graduation bucket list needed to include “visit Cuba.”
Getting the license, however, was not quite that easy. My friend Hilary and I recruited an advising professor, created a course syllabus, obtained university approval, brought together a group of students, worked with the government and the school…and FINALLY, after 7.5 months of work, we obtained the final approval to proceed with our course studying the political economy of Cuba and, most importantly, spend a week 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
It was an adventure I will never forget, simultaneously like so many places I have been and unlike anyplace I have ever been.
Represented in photographs, here are the highlights:
Arriving in Havana, Cuba!
The best mojitos (Hotel Nacional)
Havana club rum
Loving the old cars, downtown Havana
Sunset on the Malecon (waterfront esplanade)
Rooftop Drinks at one of Havana’s best Paladars, Atelier
The Havana coastline and the Hotel Nacional in the forefront
Aerial shot of Havana
So many Cohibas
Cigar rolling station
This man holds the Guinness World Record for longest cigar
Liz & I stop for a photo in Revolution Square with Che Guevara in the background
The 1950s cars, like stepping out of a time warp
Exploring old town Havana
The entire group in old town Havana
One of the old town buildings under restoration
Cafe in old town Havana
Old town Havana (restored)
The group enjoying an amazing dinner at the private restaurant (paladar) La Guarida
Incredible live music at Casa de la music
Taylor & me enjoying the nightlife at Casa de la Musica
The Industriales baseball field reminded us very much of our beloved Fenway
At the Industriales baseball game
Uno! Dos! Tres! Industriales!
Day trip to Vinales, Pinar del Rio (group photo!)
Win & I are ready for our cave walk!
Stalagmites and Stalagtites
A tobacco farmer rolling Cigars
Tobacco farm in Vinales, Pinar del Rio
Happy Hanukkah from the bathroom of the Hotel Presidente
Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana
Inside Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana
Happy Hanukkah! Feliz Januka!
Letter to the Jewish community from Steven Spielberg
Visiting the Havana Club Rum museum
Cuban flag in the old town
So much Havana club rum
On the water in Havana
What is a trip to Havana without going to the Tropicana?
Bringing school supplies to a local elementary school
The most poised 3rd grader explains his art on the life of Jose Marti
Cigars rolled in front of us…$1 each!
Mariana & I visit the best/worst communist ice cream parlor in Havana
The best/worst communist ice cream I’ve ever had (wishing Chavez a speedy recovery)
Winning = convinced immigration to stamp my passport!
Writing from New York, one week after returning from Tunisia, we have had some time to reflect on our whirlwind experience of meeting some of the country’s top business and political leadership.
Tunisia is a country in transition. It is a country whose constituents were never allowed to have an opinion until January 2011 and who are now asking questions of national and individual identity: What does it mean to be Tunisian? What does it mean to be the spark that ignited the Arab Spring? How do we fit into the broader context of North Africa? Of the Arab world? Of the area south of Southern Europe? What has democracy changed? What changes must we still demand?
The world watches Tunisia, awaiting these answers with proverbial baited breath. These answers will determine how the world “does business in North Africa,” how North Africa interacts with the West, and how this next potential market will emerge.
We had an unparalleled opportunity to visit Tunisia at this moment in time and to bear witness to a country and a region as it forges its future.
“North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable country just might turn out to be its most interesting,” describes the Lonely Planet’s Tunisia guidebook.
That depiction rings true for many of us, having pieced together a mosaic of understanding of today’s Tunisia through a host of visits with Tunisian professionals and companies the past few days .
Here are some of the highlights in my classmates’ words:
On Meeting Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki:
“Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our visit to the presidential palace. There, we had the honor of meeting the president. We were warmly greeted with water and lemonade by his staff and he candidly answered our questions about his views/ plans for the country. We were struck by how honest he was about the challenges facing his country and the difficulties they face. Afterward, we were interviewed by TV, radio and print media as we posed for pictures. Many of the Tunisian staff assisting with the trip took the opportunities to get their own pictures as well.” -Andrew Weber, CBS ‘13
“Today’s lunch meeting with Poulina provided a unique opportunity to learn about a successful Tunisian holding group with a well diversified offering of companies. The meeting with the Chairman was not only informative on its businesses and the economic climate within the region, but also gave us the opportunity to eat produce and meats sold by the company. Overall, I was extremely impressed with today’s visit and will be keeping my eye out for Poulina brands throughout the duration of our trip.” -Evan Tyner CBS ‘13
“The group was honored to go to Enda on Wednesday night to meet with the founders, employees and three inspiring women who have received aid from the NGO. The highlight was hearing how the three women’s lives were impacted through the loans, and their optimism to continue striving for a better life by setting higher goals. All aspects of the visit demonstrated the founders’ belief in empowering people. Specifically, employees gave presentations to inform and practice their English and the reception was catered by another women who is a micro loan recipient. It was amazing to see the gratitude and happiness radiating from the room.” -Krupa Tailor, CBS ‘13
CBSers with the founders, staff, and 3 clients of Enda Inter-Arabe microfinance
“The meeting was able to highlight a number of factors that can propel business in North Africa:
1) The region is the least integrated of all regional blocs in the world; better collaboration can lead to North Africans getting better negotiated trade agreements with the rest of the world.
2) Collaboration can be achieved by taking advantage of the cultural and historical similarities between Libyans, Algerians and Tunisians to open up each other’s borders to provide products and services that will benefit the region.
3) The region could reduce unemployment by moving skilled-but-jobless people between the countries’ borders to where they are needed most, and by leveraging their natural resources available by moving up the value chain.” – Nkazimulo Sokhulu, CBS ‘13
“We had the opportunity to visit COFAT, a company of the Elloumi Group and to speak to the CEO Faouzi Elloumi. For me, it was one of the more interesting company visits given the multi-national nature of the business and the plant tour we were given after the presentation. Understanding COFAT’s core wire and distribution business and then seeing the fabrication of these products in a plant were a fantastic way to start our early morning. (Professor Singh would have been proud!)” –Stephanie Cheng, CBS ‘13
Professor Jedidi and students at the COFAT factory
Salam and Bonjour from Tunis! We arrived in Tunisia yesterday, with the 22 CBS students flying in from destinations near and far from prior winter break travels. For those of us who arrived earlier in the day, Chazen organized a tour to the visit the ruins of Ancient Carthage, just a few miles north of the modern city of Tunis.
The Empire of Carthage, founded as a Phoenician city-State in 814 BC, was significant both politically and as a trade hub amongst the ancient empires. It is notorious for warring with the Greeks and the Roman Republic, which culminated with the Punic wars, which were led by Hannibal, immortalized by Vergil’s Aeneid, and ultimately ended with the destruction of Carthage.
Carthage, Atlas Mountains, Mediterranean
Remains of Carthage with Latin Inscriptions
CBS at Carthage
Following the tour of Ancient Carthage, we traveled to the summer vacation town of Sidi Bou Said, a 12 miles outside the city, for a welcome dinner. The town is known for uniform white buildings punctuated by azure doors and windows. Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, currently embroiled in a nationwide scandal, was a fellow diner at the seaside Dar Zarrouk restaurant.
Blue door in Sidi Bou Said
Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Revolution. The country decided a few weeks ago to officially recognize January 14th as a holiday, and as such, most businesses closed in recognition. In order to avoid the demonstrations in the streets, populated by Tunisians off from work, our group enjoyed the morning meandering through Hammamet, a, popular resort town outside Tunis, whose population quadruples in the summer months. We explored the town’s medina (old city), browsing the souq(marketplace)for Tunisian handicrafts, and stopped for some mint tea, a traditional beverage, ubiquitous throughout the region, at a salon de the (café).
Salon de The
Coastline in Hammamet
Mediterranean in Hammamet
The CBS Group
In the afternoon, we had several meetings focused around Foreign Investment. For a more complete recap: click here.
At the Mediterranean School of Business
This morning, we began the day with a Media Panel. Again, for details, click here.
To sum up the historical (and arguably current) history of the country’s censorship, one of the panelists told us the following famous Tunisian joke: A newspaper decided to interview Americans (developed country), Ethiopians (less developed country) and Tunisians (somewhere in the middle) about their opinions on the shortage of meat. When the journalist asked the Americans about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Americans responded “shortage…what do you mean ‘shortage’?” When the journalist asked the Ethiopians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Ethiopians responded “meat…what do you mean ‘meat’?” And when the journalist asked the Tunisians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Tunisians responded “opinions…what do you mean’opinions’?”
Until the next (freedom of press protected) post –
I know, I know. Trips to Guatemala and Cuba have come and gone – and I am pathetically behind on updating photographs and stories.
In the meantime, I’m leaving for Tunis, Tunisia tomorrow as part of a course called “Doing Business in North Africa,” (CBS’s Global Immersion Program) and I’m the official CBS media blogger for the trip! Check out my first blog post here: Tunisia on the Eve of the Revolution’s 2nd Anniversary
I’ll be leaving behind the grey, chilly of the NYC winter for some balmy Mediterranean weather (ok, just in the 60s, but still!), to check out, what Lonely Planet calls, “North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable [and]… most interesting” country
We’re finally off to Cuba tomorrow! We have 15 Columbia Business School students traveling to Havana and Vinales (Pinar del Rio) to meet with The National Jurists Union, the Cuban Society of Labor Rights and Social Security, the Cuban Society of Merchants’ Rights, and the Cuban Society of Economic and Financial rights.
Things I’m most excited for: going to a Cuban baseball game, touring the La Cueva Del Indio tobacco farm and cigar factory, and visiting Havana Club Rum museum.
After 8 months of planning (and not easy planning, at that), we’re ready to go!
Last May, I traveled with friends to Ethiopia to do a project forHealing Hands of Joy, a maternal healthcare/microfinance organization.
Weeks later, two incredible high school students (oh yes, this was made by two amazing 16 year olds!) visited HHOJ in Ethiopia and made this incredible 5 minutes film, raising thousands of dollars for HHOJ in the process.
5 months ago, thanks to the Pangea Advisors initiative through Columbia Business School, I travelled with 2 friends throughout Ethiopia to conduct impact assessment on Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ) and organization which addresses one of the most urgent, critical issues of women in developing countries: obstetric fistula.
What is Obstetric Fistula? I’ll let journalist Nick Kristof tell you:
“obstetric fistulas [is] a condition almost unknown in the West but indescribably hideous for millions of sufferers in the poorest countries in the world.
It typically occurs when a teenage girl cannot deliver a baby because it is too big for her pelvis. After several days of labor without access to a doctor, the baby dies and the girl is left with a hole between her bladder, vagina and sometimes rectum. The result is that urine and sometimes feces drip constantly down her legs. In some cases, she is also left lame from nerve damage….
They are often abandoned by their husbands and driven out by other villagers.
Take Mahabouba Mohammed, whom I met here in Addis Ababa…After a long labor, she delivered the dead baby herself but suffered crippling internal injuries, including a fistula.
Ms. Mohammed crawled back to the village, but the baby’s father was horrified by her smell. He confined her in a faraway hut and removed the door — so that hyenas, attracted by the odor, would tear her apart at night.
This girl fought off the hyenas and crawled for a day to reach an American missionary, who eventually brought her to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital that Dr. Hamlin heads. Dr. Hamlin was able to repair her fistula, and now Ms. Mohammed is a confident young nurse’s aide at the hospital here.”
HHOJ works with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital and “gives former fistula patients a second chance by giving them a purpose, training, counseling and the opportunity to improve their villages and save lives by training them as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors. We also empower these women economically with income-generating skills training and start-up small business funds.”
Alongside HHOJ’s incredible founder Allison Shigo and her dedicated staff, we met with many of the Safe Motherhood Ambassadors who have gone through the HHOJ program including:
Ametetsion (pictured above): her husband left her and before she went through the HHOJ program, she had no money to pay for day-to-day life – now she is running a successful home brewery and pub
In addition to meeting many of the women who graduated from the HHOJ program, we also met the current group of women who were living at the HHOJ center in Mekelle and going through the program.
We absolutely fell in love with the women at the center and with HHOJ and encourage anyone interested to: