Numbing. The feeling was simply numbing. And it was becoming all too familiar.
First a high. A high that would carve a line in the history books of the 21st Century. And be a defining moment for millions looking on. Never did they, we, never did we all think the day would come.
As global media looked on, the sounds of pure, personal excitement in their voices were unmistakable. Real, raw. Almost relief. This was a moment they official voices of global networks would be forgiven for getting emotional. They never thought they would see the day. Air Force One’s wheels touched the runway of Havana’s José Martí International Airport airport with a profound feeling of exhale, the strength of the Boeing 747’s brakes feeling almost as though a metaphor of the strength of the brakes being put on a long, heated history of distrust, disrespect, deprivation, and for millions, imposed distance of peoples. AIR FORCE ONE LANDS HAVANA – MARCH 20, 2016
As President Obama and his family descended the staircase and walked onto Cuban soil, the first visit of a US President in almost 90 years, the promise of possibility was released. As the following hours of protocol, appearances and press conferences unfolded, history was being rewritten second by second. But no moment more powerful that when the hands of President Obama and President Castro reached out. With one simple handshake and a look into one another’s eyes, the words of the US President made clear that nothing was ever going to be the same again, saying with the sound of hope in his words,: “We have half a century of work to catch up on.”
It was, and will remain, a moment where just a for a moment, the world seemed to be looking forward as one. Hope comes alive in a handshake. Higher and higher eyes looked up, hearts soared.
And then it came – the low that would send the world’s hearts crashing down.
Half a world away from Havana, the people of Brussels would wake to look horror in the eye. First an airport bombing, and then within the hour, a metro station. 60 minutes, 30 lives taken, 230 lives escaping end with only injury, yet still shattered.
Within a period of 24 hrs the world saw, felt, shed tears, as the highs of possibility of peace and partnership, people coming together despite the history and the odds, turned into the depths of horror as terror pushed people into dark, desperate corners, grief of the day beyond comprehension.
With it, worldwide, acknowledgement of the exhausting continuation of what has become a merciless means of uniting the people of the world in terror – a terror that tries over and over to divide with its modus operandi of death and destruction. All shamefully and unjustly in the name of religion.
Now. just a matter of days on, as the experts and analysis dig deeper into what happened, why, and because of whom, the only certainty that the global community can around what lies ahead comes from one human truth: we need one another.
Across the globe, people are turning to keyboards to express their confusion, their compassion, their hurt & heartache, and their undying hope that this horror can stop. Theories around how to protect ourselves are emerging on all sides. So too are expressions of care and camaraderie for those suffering. One month it is Tunis, the next Lebanon and Paris, the next Istanbul, now Brussels….and soon, who knows. In so many ways it feels that nowhere is safe, no one is safe.
But putting up barriers, physical and psychological, will not keep us safe. Quite the contrary – this is where the danger breeds. Through judging others, damning others, and seeking to be apart from others, we lock ourselves into dangerous bubbles of ignorance, intolerance, inhumanity. We fuel the fire.
How will our world find a way to stop this tragic story of terror from writing future chapters? How can the roots of extremism be pulled from the ground, deprived of oxygen? How can the meaning of one of the world’s great religions be brought back to its true meaning as it is meant to be lived, celebrated, no longer linked to the selfish, barbaric motives of those using faith as a shield to hide behind, falsely fighting for its protection and preservation, pushing separation over diversity within unification?
There is no one solution, no one focus that will yield triumph over those resorting to such horrific means to make us stand apart from one another, in fear, inflamed by intolerance.
But there is one truth that cannot be overlooked: Ours is a world to be shared.
Time and again, history has shown us that separation only causes our decay as societies, and as economies. We need to keep working at understanding our differences, being able to be secure in our celebration of others, recognising that while externally so much may seem to differ, our hearts are the same. We love, we laugh, we dream….we cry, we grieve, we bleed.
While completely unconnected, the events taking place this week in Havana and Brussels do, in fact, share a vital connection. Events unfolding, shaking the course of history, changing the lives of millions. One – Cuba – showed how, at a time when so many forces are pushing us apart, rewriting history based on fear and fundamentalist thinking as witnessed in Brussels, there are those working to shape a future as one. This same spirit, this same determination to extinguish fear and find a peaceful way forward, is needed to face this latest challenge.
How can this happen? How can a movement of understanding occur, defusing fear in differences and setting alight appreciation of diversity of thinking and living, take off? It already has – through tourism. At its essence, tourism is about going to places unknown, exploring and understanding others’ lives, lifestyles, loves, getting to the heart of what makes them who they are, and in so many ways, discovering how similar that is to oneself when it comes to core beliefs and values. Here too, hope comes alive in a handshake.
Today two of the most previously ‘locked out’ nations across the globe – Cuba and Myanmar – now represent two of the most sought after destinations for not just travellers, but also investors in the travel & tourism sector. At the heart of opportunity for the Cuban people is the tourism industry. Not only will it bring much needed jobs, investment, earnings, essential skills, infrastructure and taxation to and for the people of Cuba, it will bring invaluable respect and appreciation for the Cuban identity. And it will bring a change to the nation that will allow it to blossom as a member of the global community.
Underlying the reengineering that needs to take place around Cuban policy, economy and industry is the very human component that will form the foundations for the future of the Cuban people. A foundation that will make the real difference when it comes to ensuring longterm change. For as was optimistically said by President Obama while standing alongside President Castro, just days ago in Havana,:
“I have faith in people. If you meet Cubans here, and Cubans meet Americans and they’re meeting and talking and interacting and doing business together, and going to school together, and learning from each other, then they’ll recognize that people are people, and in that context, I believe that change will occur.”
With a hope, a prayer, and a passport…
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2016