Time Has No Value in Cuba

Kabir Vega Castellanos

Ilustration by Yasser Castellanos
Ilustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Because of the dysfunctional nature of our society, the majority of Cubans do not appear to value time. They waste their own time and force others to squander theirs.

It doesn’t matter how severely this affects people, it is nearly impossible to evade becoming mired in this state of affairs.

If you go a doctor’s office, a polyclinic or a hospital, you could be made to wait for several hours.

Bureaucratic transactions are even worse. Requesting a birth certificate is sometimes tantamount to waiting an entire month and, in many cases, they give a document that contains errors. Some errors are made by the employees themselves, who haven’t had a good education and make spelling mistakes.

Another diabolical detail in all this is that birth certificates and other documents, such as those authorizing travel abroad (DNI), lose all validity in a very short span of time, even when they contain information that doesn’t change. Everything appears to be designed so that things work badly.

Not long ago, my cousin had to request passports for her children, two three-year old twins, at the Identification Documents Office in Havana’s neighborhood of Cotorro. After waiting in line for two hours with two ill-behaved children, they finally told her and her husband that, in addition to appearing in person and of mutual agreement to request their kids’ passports, they had to submit a power of attorney.

My cousin of course went off the deep end, telling them it was an absurd requirement that wasn’t even specified on the bulletin board. The fit at least made them put the information up on the board quickly.

One of the most chaotic aspects of Cuba is public transportation. Large numbers of people spend two or three hours traveling a distance they could cover in 20 minutes with a car. The other options at hand are spending hundreds of pesos in cabs or renouncing to punctuality altogether.

The saddest thing, however, is seeing that time is undervalued even in life and death situations. When my grandfather was admitted at the Calixto Garcia Hospital and urgently needed an insulin shot, the nurse was informed of this and replied she would quickly take care of it. However, she started seeing the other patients at the other end of the ward, where there was no emergency. My grandfather was one of the last to be seen.

It is not surprising that many relatives react violently to these attitudes and cases of aggressions against doctors and nurses have been seen. This worsens the situation in every sense and offers people a terrible image of our health system.

Just as we still have two currencies in Cuba, we also have two types of time. Urgency and despair cost money and those who can pay it quickly discover how different one gets treated when one can offer gifts, in cash or in kind.

Bribery is part of our everyday reality. At hospitals, one sees employees selling their allotted snacks (a ham sandwich and canned pop) to the patients, who do not purchase them to eat while they wait but to give it to the doctor who will see them.

Those who wish to leave the country, either temporarily or definitively know they need extra money to clear all obstacles from their path. The fear of not being able to leave the country makes them vulnerable and many end up convinced of their decision not to return to the island.

It seems that people are slowly beginning to accept that “time is money,” though, like so many other things in Cuba, only a handful of people have that kind of money to pay with.

6 thoughts on “Time Has No Value in Cuba

  • Wow you are indeed well informed and quite a rare cuban to be able to write about your people with such clarity….i am a yuma living in cienfuegos and your grasp of living…working in cuba is “spot”on…..the most sadest of all is my belief that the present system has stolen the peoples ability to dream…..to hope and to believe in the future.many if not all of my “friends” have said that there is no tomorrow only today…..and this ties in with your well written story of how time is percieved by cubans…….keep up the good work…..frank dalton/cienfuegos/facebook

  • Seems like you are quite insightful Kabir! Keep it going my friend, refreshing and hopefully things will improve. Hope you’ve been able to visit the US as I’d love to read your reactions. Perhaps a fundraiser to get you there if not. It would be spectacular to have you and Elian Gonzalez share your experiences. Two totally different beings living on the same island.

  • Not so in the Dominican Republic, not so in the Cayman Islands.
    Which other islands suffer the transportation standards of CUBA?
    Which other islands have average pay of $20.68?

  • Kabir writes about Cuba. Efforts to divert attention away from the reality of life in Cuba as he describes it, to other places or matters are fatuous.
    The connecting fibre that runs through his observations is that in Cuba peoples time is the cheapest commodity. The average persons working value is $20.68 per MONTH! So why should a few hours of one persons time be valued? The people who are supposed to provide service are not in any hurry, their level of efficiency is of no importance, because however hard they may apply themselves their daily pittance will not change.
    Most western societies are capitalist, so money is the common denominator, but in poverty stricken Cuba, money has a higher value because few have any. Hence the high number of domestic residences for sale, but few purchasers.
    For a Cuban teenager like Kabir, the question is whether “Socialismo” will continue for the rest of his life, or whether there is just a gleam of hope for freedom and capitalism to enable him to have a better future?

  • Kabir, great article, but sadly everything you have mentioned applies to every island in the region. The one thing that Cuba has avoided so far in the high murder rate suffered in the other islands. There was nothing to be gained by keeping a sick old man (your grandfather) waiting, but they did because they could, and you didn’t offer the expected folded note. Anyway, don’t be discouraged, you and those like you are Cuba’s future.

  • People laugh about “Island Time” and think it’s a quaint thing, but it must be aggravating to live with such attitudes when trying to get things done.

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