Frantic to escape a soul-deadening position and the drone of middle age, psychologist and professor Jeanne Lemkau was flailing in turbulent waters when she grabbed the raft of sabbatical leave and sailed for Cuban shores. Her official mission was “to conduct research on Cuban health care and the effects of the U.S. embargo,” but when her best efforts collided with the realities of Communist Cuba, a more personal agenda emerged—to belatedly claim her right to solo adventure.
Jeanne arrived in Havana knowing no one, with rusty Spanish and little knowledge of Cuba. When she failed to gain approval of the Cuban health ministry to conduct official research, new friends—and the streets of Havana—tempted her in directions only vaguely related to her official mission. But to pursue such opportunities without risking trouble with the U.S. government, she needed to maintain a “full-time schedule of research.” The resulting quandary forced her to consider what she valued most, what risks she was willing to assume, and the costs and consequences of conforming to the rules versus living more creatively. Ultimately, Jeanne succumbed to Cuba on its own terms and, in the process,fell in love with the country, discovered how to live more joyfully and—-incidentally-—learned a great deal about health care.