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Crabtree experiences Cuban culture firsthand

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(COURTESY/CAROL CRABTREE)

(COURTESY/CAROL CRABTREE)

(COURTESY/CAROL CRABTREE)

VICTORIA BARR

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Upon entering the once-forbidden country of Cuba this past winter break, Roseville High School social science teacher Carol Crabtree’s six months of preparation – including special visas, cultural exchange itineraries and diaries – seemed to be worthwhile.

Crabtree always had a desire to visit Cuba and was presented with the opportunity by her mother-in-law who had visited Cuba the year before.

“She found it so interesting and fascinating that she invited us to go over winter break and so we did,” Crabtree said. “We went on a tour with a company and we had a great time.”

With a group of 18 family members including cousins, aunts and uncles, Crabtree was able to witness the drastic cultural differences between Cuba and the United States. To Crabtree, the trip was especially beneficial as a history teacher: This was the chance to enrich herself by being able to directly observe the types of communist communities that she teaches about in room 903.

“The income level there is just really low, because it is a communist country. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship, so the people are very different, but it’s a wonderful culture [with] very friendly people,” Crabtree said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to get to meet them.”

In the wake of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s death in November 2016, the already restrictive country was clamping down even more on entry to and from Cuba. Crabtree and her family had to prepare for their foreign excursion 6 months in advance with passports and Visas.

“We had to work with a travel agency that specializes in this type of tour, because you can’t just go to Cuba as a tourist if you’re an American, it has to be a cultural exchange,” Crabtree said. “There is a whole cultural exchange itinerary, we even had to keep special diaries when we were there.”

While the process to enter the country was draining, the family’s actual experience made it worthwhile, with an influx of new cultural experiences ready to be explored. Crabtree felt that Cuba’s obvious cultural differences and poverty levels weren’t reflective of its rich variety in art, dance, and music.

“The problem with their government is they can’t provide much for their people. Cuba is not a wealthy country, their people get free medical care, free education, and food on the table, but almost everyone lives at a pretty low income level,” Crabetree said. “So it was interesting to see how Cuba provides services for their people and try to provide resources for them.” After years of viewing

Cuba behind computer screens and documentaries, to finally visit the country that holds a significant part in our world’s history was nothing short of rewarding for Crabtree.

As a history teacher, Crabtree gained the opportunity to extend her knowledge of different communist communities around the world by actually visiting one that still models the concept. She plans to incorporate her Cuban experience into her own classroom’s curriculum.

“It’s a chance of a lifetime for a history teacher to visit an existing totalitarian communist country,” Crabtree said. “Cuba has been a communist country now for around 50 years, and most of the county is living in poverty and it was very eye-opening to see that first hand.”

This trip has also strengthened the bond between Crabtree and her family. Crabtree’s son, Jack Crabtree, felt that activities like walking around the city of Havana at night provided a new bonding experience for both Carol and Jack in enhancing their knowledge of the country.

“My mom and I were both able to experience the country with more historical background than most,” Jack said. “We were able to fully understand what was going on.”
RHS sophomore Kelsey Butler was interested to hear of Crabtree’s trip to Cuba and is drawn to the idea of having Crabtree incorporate her knowledge and experience of the country with the curriculum.

“I think it’s really cool that she got to go to Cuba and to see how things work over there,” Butler said. “I think it will be interesting when she applies it into the classroom.”

One of Crabtree’s favorite memories in Cuba was having the opportunity to visit different schools and cultural centers around the country. One facility in particular caught the eye of Crabtree when exploring the streets of Cuba, this was a community center which specializes in providing activities such as visual and performing arts for children with Down syndrome.

“It was interesting to see how Cuba provides services,” Crabtree said. “This was a community center for children just with Down syndrome and it was absolutely inspiring, what they were doing and the high level of care that the children were getting.”

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