Photographers Kenna Klosterman and Susan Roderick are not just best friends, they are the true definition of ‘travel buddies’. When they first met in 2008, they immediately embarked on a global photography journey, spending nearly every moment with each other for seven months. Eight years later, they have visited over 20 countries together, always with cameras in hand. The pair takes pride in documenting the lives of the local people and the history and culture that they so proudly embrace. To them, it’s not the landscapes that are the most beautiful aspect of a location, but rather, the people that make the country’s pulse race. And the photos they bring back always show the heartbeat behind the destination.
Their trips to Cuba are no different. The pair doesn’t just take photos. They are social butterflies, and always go out of their way to talk to people and to get an understanding of who they are. On a recent Facebook post, Klosterman tells an inspiring story about two local hip-hop artists that the pair had met.
Our last night in Havana was a true gift of connection, ending in this portrait. Susan Roderick and I spent hours talking with two hip hop artists we met on the Malecon seawall – Yoni and Raudelis – about life in Cuba and the US and how nearly everything our governments taught us about each other is so wrong – we are all good people at heart. We talked about dreams, believing in yourself, and pushing through life’s challenges. We talked about rap music, Tupac, and Yoni’s late nights getting all his thoughts about Cuba’s struggles onto paper as songs. Yoni taught himself English through music.
Although they make less than $20/month, Yoni insisted over and over that he buy us beers with his $4. After many debates, we finally let him if he allowed us to buy him dinner in return. Hours later we decided they were definitely the right ones to give our final gifts – we had been waiting to find the right people.
Klosterman and Roderick gifted the young Cuban artists a camera, a new phone, and a flip video camera that had been donated by friends back home. The video camera was especially exciting, as the hip hop artist’s had always dreamed of making a music video.
As I pack my bags this morning, eager and excited for my upcoming trip to Cuba with The Giving Lens, I am positive that I will fall in love with the country. Not for it’s smooth rum, tasty cigars, or colorful street scenes, but rather for the people who inhabit the island nation. For too many years, Americans have been deprived of the pleasure of getting to know the real Cuba, the Cuba that is made of 11 million smiling faces, all ready for a talk over a beer. Just don’t be surprised if they know more lyrics to Tupac’s greatest hits than you do.