Blissful Survival in Cuba

By Ammi

HAVANA TIMES – For as long as I can remember, life in Cuba has all been about survival, but one thing I’m not yet sure about is: survive for what? 

Willy opens his eyes expressively, while he takes a sip of watered-down coffee that I’ve just given him. He thinks for a few moments, plays with his fingers on the table, and I try to stay quiet, I don’t want to show him I’m impatient to hear what he has to say and that’s when a stream of what I call “Willy” multicolor wisdom came.

“In the seemingly far-off ‘80s, when I was just about a teenager, I discovered firsthand what it meant to go to bed on an empty stomach, and I’d only have a glass of water with sugar for breakfast, and I wouldn’t have a snack at school. I’m the son of a single mother, who had four children and a father I’d only see when the day of the month came rolling around when he’d come and put thirty pesos for child support on the dinner table.”

Willy looks up at the ceiling and continues…

“Luckily, us kids in the neighborhood would pick up beer bottles, empty liter-bottles of milk and any packaging that we could then exchange for 20 cents each and we’d stave off our hunger a little this way, and we’d contribute to the almost invisible family economy.

“Then, the backbreaking ‘90s came, with the economic debacle we’re all familiar with, and survival became a daily issue and we went to incredible lengths to eat, like eating a “beefsteak” out of a mophead, discovering that cheese on pizza was a condom, the famous banana peel minced meat, “first-class turkey” (scavengerk bird), a nauseating mass that even had feathers in it and many other things that Cubans were forced to swallow so they wouldn’t die.

“I clearly remember people passing out on the street because they were hungry, the optic neuritis that was triggered by a lack of protein, the peripheral neuritis that lasts until today, and many survivors still don’t understand where so many of their ailments come from.”

What is survival like here in today’s Cuba? I don’t believe that history has changed a lot. He looks at me, gives me a bitter smile, “you know when people are looking for work here, they don’t ask about the wage? Nope, they ask about the “search”, which means opportunities to steal whatever appears or work supplies.”

But despite all the people who died at sea trying to emigrate, nutritional deficiencies, the brutal hardship Cuban people live in, they aren’t the worst consequences. Instead, it’s not ever having learned to live and be content with so little.

Willy made me cry today.

Read more from Ammi here.


I’m a mother of four children who through perseverance, studies and improvement managed to improve her environment and I have learned that every effort is rewarded and knowledge is shared. For me there is nothing more important than freedom and especially that which is capable of breaking personal limits. I am considered a cheerful, enthusiastic, curious person, willing to learn from each new experience.

2 thoughts on “Blissful Survival in Cuba

  • Yours is a sad story indeed. I am a citizen of the USA, but I remember similar experiences in my childhood. Yes, it’s difficult for a Cuban to believe than an “American” could experience starvation, but I did. My step-father deserted us when I was 10 years young, and I was the oldest of 5 children. My mother didn’t drive, had no job, we had no income, a the “deserter” father never gave us any money for anything. So I went to work, knocking on doors of houses, offering to do any kind of work for money. Then I gave all of the money to my mother. I did this every day after school, and all day on weekends. My mother would give me a shopping list, and I would walk about 3 miles to a store, purchase the food items, and then carry them home. Sometimes it would take 2 or 3 trips for me to carry the bags home. But often I didn’t make enough money to feed us all week, and then we would starve. Ok, skip forward several years. My mother enrolled in cosmotology school, and eventually purchased her own salon. With the skills I learned from my many jobs, I eventually became a licensed construction contractor. I got married, had three children, and became the biggest contractor in the region where I lived. I was able to provide a standard of living for my children, wherein they never starved for for, or anything else. So the difference between Cuba and the USA? I had opportunity of freedom, to own and build a business, and to prosper in a capitalist society. In Cuba, the Socialism guarantees that the Cuban people will never enjoy monetary plenty. It is my hope and prayer for you all, in Cuba, that you will gain the freedom and liberty of a capitalist free market economy, and enjoy the prosperity of hard work that you deserve.

  • Ammi I feel loss: when I have a Family in Cuba, yes she is a Mother of 4 & extra grand child that I provided a steady food supply & Now a food shortage has taken their freedom away, The daily burden I shared when I lived with them & I enjoyed the task of searching to survive & Now I am in Canada knowing it is Not Easy leaving knowing of their hunger today in Their House of Stone the one with a Canadian Flag in metal Gate. I did all I could & Now I am at Loss with Cuba after all I worked so hard with my Family to create a better way of life for us together. A Life Never Permitted To go any where is a Loss only a Cuban understands & teaches this Tourist. My English is not that great from lack of schooling or working too much when I should have been in school

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