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0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf910000Interest in Cuba has surged since the Obama administration’s announcement of a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. Opportunities may exist to build trade with the communist island nation, with exports of both manufactured and agricultural goods. And “I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” is a refrain that may help spur tourism between Michigan and the “Pearl of the Antilles.” Michigan Radio has two journalists in Cuba to tell some of the stories of Michigan’s connections to the Caribbean nation.

PURE CUBA: Profiles Part II

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Mercedes Mejia
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Gardenia Valdes Navarro greets visitors as they stroll through the streets of Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

She's wearing a colorful 18th century style dress and head piece and she let me take a picture of her, but usually people who work in this field appreciate a tip if you snap a photo of them.

“The dress represents a mix of African and Spanish culture, which is what we have here in Cuba," she said.

Valdes works for a division of the Cuban government called La Oficina del Historiador  (Office of the Historian).

“Part of our job is to welcome the visitors. We guide them to points of interest, to the museums or a store they might be looking for, or we explain to them what statues they’re looking at. Right now tourism is high.”

I've been told that in Cuba, people who work in the service and hospitality industry go through rigorous training and courses.

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Credit Mercedes Mejia
Armando Rey

Armando Rey is a hotel receptionist assistant. “The salaries are low, but you don’t have to spend money on medicine, education or rent because most of us own our homes.”

In his free time Rey told me he likes to take pictures. And he's taken photographs of lots of famous people who've recently visited Havana like Beyonce, Usher, President Obama, Rihanna, the President of Syria, the President of Mexico and Jimmy Carter. 

On another note, yesterday I got the chance to visit a hospital called Salvador Allende, which is about 20 minutes from Havana. 

There I met 24 year old Daniuvis Alvarez Gonzalez. She's is a 6th year medical student. She comes from a family of doctors and has always been interested in medicine. 

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Credit Mercedes Mejia
Daniuvis Alvarez Gonzalez

Alvarez Gonzalez told me she thinks her starting wage will be $40 dollars a month, but wasn't too worried about it. 

“I didn’t choose this career to make money because to be honest that’s not going to happen. I’m satisfied with helping others.”

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and Mercedes Mejia are in Cuba this week to cover the connections between Cuba and Michigan and opportunities for the future. You can find more of their stories here.