Cuba, Where Time Is Not Money

Danae Suarez

At the Cadeca money exchange house.

Modern society lives immersed in feverish pace. The rapid development of technology, the high competitiveness in a market produced by a society sick for consuming, the immediacy in which information flows around the world based on the Internet and financial speculation are only a few examples of the principles that mark the lives of today’s world citizens.

“Time is money” is an old Anglo-Saxon proverb that underlines the need to optimize time to the maximum.

In Cuba, however, every day ambles by marked more by stagnation and the lack of any seeming need for promptness. Here, no one is in a hurry. To waste time, sometimes out of simple apathy or because there’s no other alternative (which is usually the case), is the fate of Cubans.

We waste countless hours waiting for the bus, or in line at the fish market, or when taking care of any legal matter, or even at our own jobs.

“You’ll have to wait” is the slogan of those people dedicated to rendering services in Cuba.

To only cite two examples: In 2006 I made a request to the ETECSA telephone company for a new line. When I asked how long it would take, they only told me that they would have to put me on a list due to a shortage of materials.

“But I have the materials,” I replied. “I have the wiring, I have the phone and I have the box.”

“Sorry darling, you’ll have to wait for the line,” was the dry response from the other side of the receiver.

Five years later, I’m still waiting for them to come with the new line.

Havana bus stop.

Similarly, a few days ago I called for a taxi that charges in CUCs (hard currency), a service recognized for assisting the privileged since it’s not affordable to all Cubans. In my case though, I had to pursue this option since I urgently needed to take my grandmother to the doctor.

Forty-five minutes went by, so I called them again to ask how much longer it would be.

“You’ll have to wait,” they said. “There are few cars and everybody wants one.”

It’s not necessary to go into detail on many more examples. It’s common to hear that magic phrase in any cafeteria: “You’ll have to wait. I’m only one person.”

Or at the doctor’s office: “You’ll have to wait. This is done calmly.”

Or at the bank: “You’ll have to wait. The teller stepped out for a moment…or went to lunch.”

Or at a dollar store: “You’ll have to wait. We’re doing inventory.”

Or at the money exchange (CADECA): “You’ll have to wait. We’re counting the money.”

In short: in Cuba, it’s always a situation of “you’ll have to wait.”

I wonder what will happen the day that each Cuban finally gets tired of waiting and takes the initiative to “change everything that must be changed,” as was so well stated in the “Concept of Revolution” defined by comrade Fidel.

One thought on “Cuba, Where Time Is Not Money

  • Well Danae, I found your article interesting and quite thought provoking.
    Your description of modern society living at a feverish pace is accurate to a degree but not compulsory.
    I tend to term it as the rat race and don’t find it particularly healthy, physically, spiritually or psychologically.
    We (the modern society) have developed the concept that we expect or demand everything yesterday and complain when things fail to materialise there and then.
    I was diagnosed with cancer almost four years to the day and despite remaining very active I now do things at my pace not what our modern society expects of me. I retired prematurely from my career as Clinical Specialist in Psychiatry and as a result have a more pleasurable lifestyle. I don’t drive as much as I used to and catch buses to most places. Waiting for buses to me isn’t wasting time, it’s allowing me the opportunity to integrate with people as is standing in a queue for meat, fish or any other essentials.
    I’m not entirely sure that time is money and it doesn’t mean time has to be optimized to the maximum.
    A high percentage of both physical and psychological problems and illnesses are either a direct or indirect result of our modern society lifestyle and the pressure we place on ourselves or thrust upon us.
    Having visited Cuba twice and due to return in May of this year, I envy the pace of life and whilst I can empathise with your frustrations regarding telephone lines and taxis, it isn’t as bad as it appears. I could say you are fortunate not to have to live in a ‘dog eat dog’ society where common politeness has become a thing of the past and the mentality is ‘look after number one’.
    I think Comrade Fidel Castro was absolutely right when he stated ‘change everything that must be changed’ but what are you going to change it into? Do you want to create a monster whose palatability you find dubious?
    Don’t assume that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, believe me it isn’t…

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