Most tourists manage to "do Cuba" without doing themselves much damage. 32-year old Kirsty Offord, from Wollaton, England, was not so lucky. She sustained a life-altering brain injury when she was hit by a car while training for a charity bike ride across Cuba 9 years ago. As a result of her accident, she is now spatially-impaired and has balance problems as well as difficulty concentrating and short-term memory loss. "My brain injury meant I had to let go of many of my dreams," lamented Ms. Offord. Not all, however. One dream she did not "let go of." She returned to Cuba this year to complete her cross-country bicycle tour, aided by 25 other cyclists who were there not just for moral support but to make sure she did not kill herself this time. It must indeed have been quite an ordeal to attempt such a feat on Cuba's dilapidated roads, especially for one who has difficulty walking a straight line. In recognition of her achievement, Ms. Offord has been named as one of three finalists for the title "UK Headway Achiever of the Year," which is awarded by Britain's brain-injury foundation.
A few observations.
They should really change the name of the Award.
Although we are glad that Ms. Offord appears to be recovering, in whatever measure she can, from the devastating injuries she sustained in Cuba, we cannot but observe that she would have been spared 10 years of rehabilitation as well as this no doubt honorable but hardly desirable award if she had limited her cycling ambitions to her native England and the continent. If she had known then (which we doubt she did) that Cubans are prohibited from undertaking such an excursion without government approval, that, indeed, they require internal passports to move within their own country, she would, perhaps, have arrived at the conclusion that it is neither decent nor fraternal to do in Cuba as the Cubans can't, much less to be used as a pawn by a totalitarian regime that wishes to create the false impression that Cuba is an "open island" no different from her native Britain. Open it certainly is to foreigners like Offord who can travel the island in their own movable bubble; but once they step out of the Cubatur bus, say, onto the street, they risk confronting realities for which they are wholly unprepared, such as streetlights that have been decommisioned for years, cars without working brakes or potholes that are more like craters with their own peculiar habitats.
We do not know this for a fact but it seems a fair assumption that Ms. Offord's present difficulties were aggravated by the fact she suffered her accident in Cuba. No doubt much irreversible damage was done while she languished in a Havana hostipal waiting to be stabilized so that she could be transported for treatment to Great Britain. Unlike a Cuban in her situation, she received the best that Cuban medicine could offer; but, as Castro's own recent encounter with Cuba's health care system has shown, Cuba's "best" sometimes means performing a lobotomy through the anus. A tourist to Cuba who is unaware of this fact and actually believes the propaganda may pay a price higher than he imagines for his credulity, that is, he may pay the price ordinary Cubans do.
What I find intriguing and sadly disturbing about this story is that the victim has learned absolutely nothing about her experience in Cuba and has lent herself to be exploited again by the regime. Perhaps the experience itself and its consequences put her beyond profitting from its lesson. Certainly there can be no more contemptible human beings than ones who would avail themselves of another's misery in order to increase misery among men, and here we allude not only to the Castroites themselves but their fellow travellers in Britain and everywhere.