First, a disclosure...
The experiences people have in Havana or Matanzas might be very different than my experiences in Palmira. The "countryside" is more traditional, slower to change, and more isolated from outside influences than large cities on the northern coast. Yet, with an increase in tourism, travel, migration, and access to social media and cell phones, Palmira is quickly becoming part of a global network that offers religious services to foreign visitors. Whenever an outsider comes into a poor community, there's the temptation to raise prices to meet consumer demand. The influx of money from outsiders who come seeking religious services is changing (to some extent) the nature of religious interaction between Cubans and foreigners, in small towns as well as larger cities. This imbalance of economic power between Cubans and foreigners creates a minefield of potential problems.
Although my own experiences in Cuba have been completely positive and I'm delighted to take my godchildren there to do ceremonies, I'm also very aware that other people have NOT had good experiences in Cuba. I've seen and heard of numerous cases of people feeling disappointed and confused by their experiences in Cuba and by what happens afterward, upon returning home.
The key to making it work for you is to weigh the pros and cons and come up with an informed decision.
Start by asking yourself some questions
2. Are you fluent in (Cuban) Spanish? Chances are slim that the people working your ceremony are going to be fluent in English, so if your Spanish isn't up to par, you're going to have a hard time understanding what's happening, what's said to you, even simple instructions can become a problem if you don't have good language skills. If you don't know Spanish, do you have a translator who will be with you all the time to translate what's said to you? Is the translator very skilled? Especially when it comes to understanding your itá (advice given during the initiation ceremony), you do NOT want a translator who makes mistakes. The more you understand what's said to you, the more meaningful the experience will be, and the more successful the outcome.
3. Do you have a realistic idea of what living conditions are like in Cuba? Cuba is an underdeveloped country, and many of the people in our religion are poor people. Their homes are clean, but they may cook over a charcoal stove in the back of the house, the toilet may need to be flushed by dumping a bucket of water into it, there probably won't be screens on the windows, so you'll see flies (and mosquitos) inside the house, chickens in the back yard, a pig pen in the neighbor's yard, horse manure in the street, and stagnant water pooled in the gutters. It's hot, and not everyone has air conditioning. There's not a lot of variety in food. Transportation is problematic. If you've never been to Cuba before, and never visited underdeveloped countries, you may not feel comfortable in this environment. Even Cubans who have a higher than normal standard of living are not going to be able to offer you luxury accommodations. Are you prepared to rough it?
4. Who do you know in the religious community in Cuba? And how well do you know them? Be aware that there are good people and bad people in the religion, just as there are in life. If you or your godparent are working with people you don't know well, and you don't have solid references about them, you could end up with frauds who cheat you out of your money. This is a sad reality. There are Cubans who live by fleecing tourists, and if they perceive you don't know what you're doing, you're fair game. At the same time, there are many hard-working, honest, knowledgeable, helpful and sincere people in the religion in Cuba. So, make sure you know who you're working with, and what their backgrounds are. At the very least, you should talk to other members of their religious community to see what kind of reputation they have, spend time observing them, see how they treat their other godchildren. Find out about their lineage, and how much experience they have in the religion.
2. It CAN be cheaper to do ceremonies in Cuba, but be sure you know everything that's included in the cost, and what (if anything) you're expected to bring with you. Calculate the cost of travel into your experience and, if you are expected to pay the travel costs of your godparent, remember to figure that in, as well. Will you need to have a rental car? Pay for pick up and drop off at the airport? Buy food for people? Is the presentation to the drum included? Don't hesitate to ask about what's included in the price.
3. Being part of an old, established lineage in Cuba can be richly rewarding if you're given access to the knowledge and experience of elders from that community. The elders are like walking encyclopedias whose knowledge isn't found in books or online. Spending time with them is an immense privilege.
2. If your only reason for going to Cuba is to save money, you may find that your bargain ceremony wasn't really what you wanted. If you don't understand what was said to you, if no one explains anything to you, and you left without any feeling of connection to the people who worked your ceremony, then any money you saved must be weighed against what you got in return. If it was just a commercial exchange, you really didn't benefit from it.
3. If your godparent lives in Cuba, you might not have frequent and easy access to them when you need them. Discuss plans for how to stay in touch, and set realistic expectations about what the godparent will teach you, when and how you'll learn, and what kind of expectations they have about you as a godchild. Find out how often you're expected to visit, and if they have internet and cell phone service so they can communicate with you. If you're expected to put minutes on their cell phone in order to stay in touch, make sure you understand that before you leave Cuba. Do you have a language in common so you can talk without a translator? Without clear communication, you're in for disappointment.