It started as an idea. Just a simple thought thrown out. It wasn’t a notion that crossed everyone’s mind, but I came to be more than glad it crossed mine. What started as a flash quickly spiraled into an experience that forever shaped my life.
It is over six months later since that little idea began, and all of a sudden I am boarding a plane, traveling the red-eye as mine are starting to open. Since then, they haven’t shut again. All of a sudden, I am doing things I never thought I would do. I am riding on the back of a tractor through the forest, my wide eyes looking up at the beauty around me, untouched and undisturbed. All of a sudden, I am planting mangrove seeds in the ZaZa River, my feet sinking deep into the sand as I cross through it. Those same feet are unabashedly trying to salsa dance with the locals a few nights later; then, they are climbing up a dilapidated tower looking over a centuries-old plantation, despite a slight fear of heights.
Cuba is a country rich in culture. It is rich in the beauty of nature that its people made sure to keep and preserve. It is rich in lessons—those lessons are everywhere. They are there in the way an elderly shop owner smiles at you when you like the song he is playing in the doorway. They are in the beautiful language, which is not my own. I will never forget how nice everyone I came across was, how eager they were to help even when communication wasn’t easy. I learned lessons about the struggles of the aftermath of natural disasters, and how environmental protection is still needed after a hurricane struck years ago. I learned how every little action helps, like the mangrove seeds. They start out small, but as they grow, they become crucial in stopping the river’s overflow onto the land around it, especially during natural disasters.
I worked with a group of people to plant hundreds of these seeds; everyone was surprised at how quickly we accomplished what we wanted to do. It is one thing to know that working together helps everyone, but it’s another to see it before you—and then, to see it everywhere. Everywhere I went in Cuba, everything I did, I was working with others. I was able to climb that tower with the encouragement of others, and I was able to encourage others to get on the tractor when it wasn’t something they were comfortable with doing. Working together was the only way to communicate, especially since my Spanish is far from fluent. This trip truly taught me a sense of global community that I now look for and see everywhere. This trip showed me that connection is the driving force. It’s what brings us together; it is what gets things done.
Every lesson I have learned has made me grow as a person. But I am not done yet. I want to continue to travel, continue to learn all that I can through connection—connection with new adventures and with new people.
Adrienne Porter, a junior from Bloomfield Central School in Bloomfield, New York, wrote the winning essay for the 2017 Ripley Hunter World is a Classroom essay contest.
The Ripley Hunter “World is a Classroom” Essay spring 2018 application period is now open. The contest closes May 15, 2018. Visit sytayouthfoundation.org/ripley-hunter for details and to access the scholarship application.