The way we lived in Cuba
September 16, 2005

The way we lived in Cuba

by Thornley Myers

During the period 1980 to 83, one of the most tightly knit groups of Vincentians that existed anywhere in the world outside of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with no blood relationship existed in Cuba. The head or “Jefe” of the family formed by this group was Douglas “Dougie” Slater, now Dr. Douglas Slater.

“Dougie” Slater, along with Berwin “King-O” King, and Andreas “Kwame” Wickham were the pioneers of this group, having landed on this previously undiscovered learning haven of Vincentian students in September 1980. {{more}}

The group increased to seven in 1981 with the arrival of Donnie DeFreitas, Yvette Barnwell, Dexter “Gugi” Rose, Errol Parsons and Stanley John. Andreas Wickham fixed his attention on the only female of the group, the lady who later became his wife now Yvette Barnwell-Wickham.

This official group of Vincentian Students became twelve when in 1982 Bernard “Hamo” Hamilton, Thornley Myers, Ronald “Chile-O” Child, and Kendall Jackson took up residence in September to commence their studies. This group became the organisation to which every student of the group was accountable. Whenever we met, the first item on the agenda was always a report from every individual on the progress of his/her academic progress.

This was no simple forum of accountability. Individuals were requested to report on tests and exams of every form.

The thought of failing a test or a midterm and knowing that this had to be reported to the next meeting was more that sufficient motivation to strive for good results. Our Jefe in the early days, Douglas Slater, and later Andreas Wickham asked searching questions whenever we reported.

In our meeting, we not only impressed upon each other to study hard and to aim for top marks, we also impressed upon each other the importance of making the best of what was undoubtedly an excellent learning opportunity. Many of us recall sharing rooms with 8, 10, and twelve persons, all from different nations around the world. Cuba was a great cultural experience and we constantly reminded each other make the best of the experience. Importantly, we received the newspapers from home (they were sometimes three months late ) and we spent time studying the local situation and preparing ourselves to contribute to our patria at the conclusion of our studies.

Many, many hours were spent studying local and international politics. The grouping also spent many hours studying Marxist philosophy, as well as the Political Economy of Capitalism and Socialism. Undoubtedly, today, we are better citizens for having had that experience.

In the early years and up to 1987, meetings were held on Saturdays and Sundays at different institutions.

Dougie Slater decided that he wanted to increase the Vincentian fold. He therefore went searching the Jamaica contingent where he found a worthy companion in Sherian Taylor. We welcomed her into the Vincentian family and later on Donnie and Dexter thought that they could be no less men so they attracted Hortensia Ortega and Lotier Sotolongo from an even larger Caribbean nation -Cuba- to the group. .

Those early days in Cuba marked the beginning of very strong family linkages between Vincentian and Cubans families which have literally become one.

Last week in a local informal group meeting we reminded each other of which of the institutions we most wanted to have our regular meetings. You the reader would not imagine what swayed one institution over another at times for meetings. Interestingly, it was which one of our new extended families was going to cook a local (Vincentian, Jamaican or Cuban) meal. As such there were times when some of us pulled for a meeting at Dougie’s institution because we had memories of the last Jamaican pot from Sherian, or a goat stew from Yvette or a Cuban delicacy from either Lotier (Mrs. Rose) or Hortensia (Mrs. Defrietas).

Oh what found memories of those early eight years!