I Find Ins­pi­ra­tion in the Cu­ban Peo­ple

EX­CE­LEN­CIAS INVITES YOU TO SHA­RE THE STORY OF ED­WARD NICHOLLS, A BRI­TISH MAN WHO HAS TRAVELED TO CU­BA FO­LLO­WING THE TRACE OF HIS FA­MOUS ANCESTOR

Excelencias Turísticas del caribe y las Américas - - Habana 500 -

Ed­ward Nicholls works for a bank in Sin­ga­po­re in the Ac­qui­si­tions Di­vi­sion. In 2014, he traveled to Cu­ba for the first ti­me to fo­llow in on the foots­teps of an ancestor of his, Domingo del Mon­te's foots­teps, one of the most ce­le­bra­ted fi­gu­res of the 19th-cen­tury's Cu­ban culture.

That vi­sit tur­ned out to be the initial dri­ving experience this Bri­tish man has been li­ving in Ha­va­na for months. He re­ques­ted his boss to gi­ve him a sab­ba­ti­cal for a full year just to wri­te a no­vel in this cor­ner of the Ca­rib­bean. In a bar of Old Ha­va­na, Ex­ce­len­cias sat down with Mr. Nicholls, a man who's very pas­sio­na­te about both the his­tory and the peo­ple this is­land na­tion is mar­ked by.

What is the book about?

It is the story of an Afri­can tri­be that are ens­la­ved and sent to Cu­ba in the 1800's. One fa­mily are se­pa­ra­ted and, des­pi­te being in a country and culture so far re­mo­ved from theirs, it is the story of the fight to find each ot­her on­ce again. They ta­ke on the bru­ta­lity of the ruth­less plan­ta­tion ow­ners.

Afri­can culture plays a big part in what Cu­ba is to­day and I wan­ted it to be a cen­tral the­me of the book. DDM was ori­gi­nally the main cha­rac­ter, but as I del­ved in­to the pe­riod mo­re I reali­zed that the­re we­re two sto­ries that com­ple­men­ted each ot­her well.

Was Domingo del Mon­te of­ten men­tio­ned at ho­me?

I al­ways knew that my grand­mot­her was Cu­ban but did not find out anyt­hing mo­re un­til I was about 20. I re­mem­ber sit­ting at the din­ner ta­ble with my dad, when we star­ted tal­king mo­re about my grand­mot­her. My dad said that she had on­ce told him about a re­la­tion who was a fa­mous Cu­ban and who pla­yed a part in Cu­ban in­de­pen­den­ce. All he had was a na­me. Domingo del Mon­te. From that mo­ment on, I took it upon my­self to find out about Domingo.

How and when did you find that per­so­nal mo­ti­va­tion to wri­te this no­vel?

On that first trip to Cu­ba I learnt so much about the peo­ple, the culture, the his­tory of the country, as well as so­me mo­re in­for­ma­tion about my fa­mily. I had ne­ver writ­ten a no­vel be­fo­re, but as I tou­red around the country and learnt mo­re about the country and my fa­mily, a story star­ted to form in my mind.

Every day I walk around the streets, to ta­ke in the cha­rac­ters of Cu­ba, the in­cre­di­ble ar­chi­tec­tu­re, the culture and feel the his­tory. It is ins­pi­ring to sit and wri­te in the ci­ties (Ha­va­na and Tri­ni­dad) whe­re my story acts out and to ima­gi­ne what li­fe was li­ke 150 years ago. I feel lucky to ha­ve this op­por­tu­nity. This may sound cli­ché, but I find ins­pi­ra­tion in the Cu­bans I meet on a daily basis.

I ma­ke su­re that I ha­ve the fa­mily tree on me at all ti­mes, be­cau­se when I say I am re­la­ted to DDM, most don't be­lie­ve me. But when the fa­mily tree co­mes out I feel li­ke ro­yalty. On the flip si­de, the Afri­can sla­ves ma­de a mas­si­ve im­pact on the Cu­ban culture of to­day, and so when peo­ple ask me about my book and they ha­ve Afri­can heritage I get mo­re and mo­re unex­pec­ted in­for­ma­tion and ins­pi­ra­tion to keep going. I get ex­ci­ted about my no­vel be­cau­se it ex­ci­tes the peo­ple that I speak to about it. That is ins­pi­ra­tion enough to ma­ke me keep wri­ting.

dia­rias, y has­ta aho­ra he al­can­za­do mi ob­je­ti­vo (he es­cri­to pa­la­bras bue­nas y ma­las). El em­pe­ño me ha per­mi­ti­do crear nue­vos per­so­na­jes, desechar otros y es­ta­ble­cer un mar­co ines­pe­ra­do pa­ra la pri­me­ra par­te de mi li­bro. Sin dis­trac­cio­nes la­bo­ra­les, pien­so en per­so­na­jes, es­ce­nas y con­flic­tos mien­tras ha­go ejer­ci­cios, du­ran­te las cla­ses de sal­sa e in­clu­so en la pla­ya.

En su opi­nión, ¿qué dis­tin­gue es­te des­tino de otras na­cio­nes de Amé­ri­ca La­ti­na y el Ca­ri­be?

«Es­ta es una pre­gun­ta difícil, por­que ca­da cul­tu­ra que he vi­si­ta­do en Amé­ri­ca La­ti­na es di­fe­ren­te. Los cu­ba­nos tie­nen una iden­ti­dad fuer­te y son una na­ción lle­na de or­gu­llo. No importa si has co­no­ci­do a al­guien du­ran­te cin­co días o por cin­co mi­nu­tos; ellos te re­ci­ben con la mis­ma ca­li­dez que le pro­fe­sa­rían a un miem­bro de la fa­mi­lia. Son una cul­tu­ra ge­ne­ro­sa, lle­na de gen­te que se com­pla­ce en mos­trar­te el ca­mino si es­tás per­di­do, y lo ha­cen sin es­pe­rar na­da a cam­bio.

«Es­te país es tam­bién un lu­gar se­gu­ro pa­ra vi­si­tar, uno de los más se­gu­ros del mun­do. Los tu­ris­tas con los que he ha­bla­do di­cen lo mis­mo.To­dos se sien­ten tran­qui­los ca­mi­nan­do por las ca­lles, in­clu­so a las 3 de la ma­ña­na. En­ton­ces, es­te es mi con­se­jo pa­ra los que aún no lo co­no­cen: vi­si­ta Cu­ba si pue­des, y pa­sa más de cin­co días aquí. No te de­cep­cio­na­rá y, al fi­nal de la ex­pe­rien­cia, que­rrás vol­ver una y otra vez.

What ri­tuals do you ha­ve when it co­mes to wri­ting your no­vel?

Well that's a good ques­tion. Up un­til this point I ha­ve had no­ne. I ha­ve do­ne se­ve­ral cour­ses that talk about how to es­ta­blish cha­rac­ters, plot, set­tings, point of view etc. but abo­ve all I ha­ve the voi­ce of my sis­ter (an ac­tual wri­ter) in my head Don't get it right, get it writ!' So, for the month of Au­gust I set my­self a tar­get to wri­te a thousand words a day, and so far, I ha­ve hit my tar­get (good and bad words ha­ve been writ­ten!) The task has crea­ted new cha­rac­ters, got rid of ot­hers and es­ta­blis­hed an unex­pec­ted fra­me­work to the first part of my book. Wit­hout work dis­trac­tions I know find my­self thin­king about cha­rac­ters, sce­nes and con­flicts whi­le I do exer­ci­se, du­ring sal­sa les­sons and at the beach.

In your opi­nion, what are the ele­ments that ma­kes Cu­ba different from ot­her na­tions in La­tin Ame­ri­ca and Ca­rib­bean?

This is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion, be­cau­se every culture that I ha­ve vi­si­ted in La­tin Ame­ri­ca are different. The Cu­bans ha­ve a strong iden­tity and are a proud na­tion. It doesn't mat­ter if you ha­ve known so­meo­ne for fi­ve days or fi­ve mi­nu­tes; they will greet you with the sa­me warmth that they would do a fa­mily mem­ber. They are a ge­ne­rous culture and are happy to di­rect you if you get lost wit­hout ex­pec­ting anyt­hing in re­turn.

Cu­ba is al­so a sa­fe pla­ce to vi­sit, one of the sa­fest in the world and one eve­ning whi­le I sat wat­ching sun­set on the Ma­le­con I as­ked a lo­cal why Cu­ba is so sa­fe. Ever­yo­ne feels sa­fe wal­king the streets, even at 3am in the mor­ning. So, vi­sit Cu­ba if you can. And plea­se spend mo­re than fi­ve days the­re! You will not be di­sap­poin­ted and by the end, you will want to re­turn again and again.

«No importa si has co­no­ci­do a un cu­bano du­ran­te cin­co días o por cin­co mi­nu­tos ellos te re­ci­ben con la mis­ma ca­li­dez que a un

miem­bro de su fa­mi­lia» «It does not mat­ter if you ha­ve met a Cu­ban for fi­ve days or for fi­ve mi­nu­tes; they wel­co­me you with the sa­me warmth as a

mem­ber of their fa­mily»

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