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Necessity, The Mother of Innovation

Old American cars are one of the prevailing visions across Cuba, particularly in Havana. These large, 50’s model cars are iconic and also a necessity. Road transport is essential due to the limited and failing public transport infrastructure. The 50’s model cars are a hang-over from the American era of Cuba’s pre-revolution history. The next wave of motor vehicles was the influx of Russian Ladas, post revolution, as the import of American vehicles, including parts for American vehicles, became prohibited as a result of import and trade restrictions. Cuban resources were directed towards social programs, including housing, health, and education, which locked infrastructure, development, and vehicles into the time warp that is part of the attraction to visiting tourists today.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and keeping this aging fleet of American cars running requires creativity and imagination for the necessary innovation. American cars with hand made grills, parts cannibalised from other vehicles of various makes and models, re-powered with diesel engines, household items converted to car parts, home panel beating, and hand painting all feature in these vehicles. Bright colours are another feature of these vehicles, adding to their appeal and the colour of Cuba. Western classic car restoration enthusiasts would probably cringe, but the innovation keeping these vehicles on the road is a testament to the ingenuity of the Cubans.

For me the ultimate irony was a 50s model American vehicle that had been retro fitted with USSR Lada door handles. The Cuban missile crisis was a critical point of the Cold War and probably the closest the world has been to reciprocal nuclear warfare. After the American invasion at the Bay of Pigs, the then president of the USSR convinced Fidel Castro that parking USSR missiles on Cuban soil within striking distance of the United States was an effective deterrent to further United States-led invasions of Cuba. The resultant international tension is well documented as the fate of the world sat in the hands of the negotiators of the day.

But back to the cars. For me these vehicles are symbols of the resilience of the Cuban people. They demonstrate the need for imagination and creativity. It would be far easier to line these vehicles up in a scrap yard and leave them to rapidly rust. But they are needed and essential - like peacebuilders, humanitarian workers, and people engaged in social change. We are needed, and we also need restoration. We also cannot buy spare parts off the shelf to make us new again. Like the Cuban home mechanics we need to draw on our imaginations and creativity. We need to reflect to understand what is in need of renewal, repair, or replacement. We need to draw on the resources available within us to keep us on the road. This is not only important to allow us to effectively continue our work, but also for our own well-being.

So, what is in your tool kit? What creative parts are sitting in your tool shed? What creative parts can you borrow from the experience of other like minded people? This is what our resilience retreats are about: bringing together like minded people who can draw on their own and others’ experiences to keep each other on the road.

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