By Paula Henriquez

A Havana tenement building. Photo by Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Our house is over 70 years old and as you can imagine, structural and other damage begins to show. The plumbing system and woodworks are also a cause for concern. It’s like a human body when the years inevitably pass by. Honestly though, you can’t expect any less. 

Looking after it is the least I can do, it has given me and my family great shelter. However, it’s not just a matter of wanting to fix it up, of course. Reality today is tough as we all know. Getting things fixed becomes more than this… it becomes a problem.

Just like Life molds us over time, temporary problems and situations that pop up every day also shape us.

This is how Cubans became craftspeople. I remember the slogans that we would hear everywhere: there is no impossible task, “just incapable people”. I don’t know whether we have ended up believing it or whether “people grow in the face of adversity.”

In any case, “necessity sharpens inventiveness” and Cubans have been forced to develop new skills. These get us out of the most unexpected tough spots. Anything that needs repair around the house can become a real thesis of mechanical, hydraulic or even electrical engineering.

Learning as you go

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. The process has taken years to develop. You only need some ingredients to come together for it to get going. A lack of spare parts, scarce/inexistent and much-needed materials for repairs, and exorbitantly high prices.

A common example is the moment you need to change a shut-off valve for your water system. The new one costs an entire month’s salary. Then the person who comes to do the job, charges you the following month’s salary for the installation. This is when this ingenuity I’ve been talking about kicks in. You can’t get a neural stimulus like this, even with the most advanced medical treatment. 

We Cubans have become extremely creative. We no longer pay for somebody to put in a shut-off valuve, or to fix the roof. Instead we improvise or invent things that have become a real art form in our house. It’s also worth mentioning, that they are tweaked and become better every day. We the evolutionary process never stops. I’m sure that there will always be a greater challenger to put our inventiveness to the test.

Read more from Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

9 thoughts on “Cubans Respond as Need Demands

  • In reply to your comment being out of sync Nick, Circles is obviously experimenting and having fun.

  • Except Nick we have a capitalist system in Canada with a free market and we choose it and vote for it.
    In Cuba communism is imposed under a tyranny and it does not work well at all.

  • My most recent comment here has gone out of sync and appears above Mr MacD’s most recent comment to which it is a polite response.

  • No Mr MacD – I have absolutely no concerns about your comparisons between capitalism and communism. I read your comments with interest but I don’t find them to be concerning. As you know, I find both these ‘isms to be deeply flawed.
    I find resourcefulness and ingenuity to be worthy of the very greatest respect. I recall a friend of mine showing me his home-made freezer. He said ‘Nick, it’s not as good as the ones you get in the shops’.
    I said listen my friend, it’s way better than the ones you get in the shops coz you made it yourself. Anyone with enough wedge can go buy a freezer from the shop but what percentage of the world’s population are smart enough to be able to make one?
    This is the kind of resourcefulness and ingenuity that I have a huge amount of respect for – regardless of anything else. And regardless of analysing why such qualities are so widespread in Cuba (as they are in many other parts of the world).
    If you choose to address the topic of Cubans’ famous resourcefulness and ingenuity without any acknowledgement of these fine qualities and simply launch into the usual politicking, that’s fine with me Mr MacD.

    As I say, it’s entirely your prerogative.

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