By Paula Henriquez

The morning rush. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — I know the issue of transport here in Cuba has been the subject of discussion many times before, but I feel like there’s always a lot more that can be said. Or maybe it’s because one is left wanting to vent. I’m not sure. Normally, I take the bus my workplace provides. It’s quite reliable, but, it breaks down sometimes, which actually happens quite often, and that’s when my headache starts. More than just a headache, it’s when I just want to disappear.

Let me tell you that I live in Marianao and work in Vedado. I never travel alone between these two neighborhoods, but with my 3-year-old daughter. Almost everybody I know calls me crazy for taking my daughter to day-care so far from home. However, a friend of mine “sorted it out” in Vedado and I was also in favor of this for many other reasons, but maybe I should leave that to be the subject of another article.

The fact of the matter is, when I can’t travel on my workplace’s bus, I have to wait around for public transport and I don’t need to go into details, enough of you know what it’s like to try and get somewhere at 7am in the morning. Seconds, minutes and even hours pass by without having any luck. Yes, you have to be lucky to be able to catch a bus, as we commonly say. Sometimes this happens because they don’t appear, other times because they come but don’t stop and the majority of the time, because I can’t get onto a bus with my little girl when people are hanging off… literally.

A good friend of mine asked me why I don’t just take a collective taxi every time I tell her about my morning adventures. I laugh and then I remember that this person hasn’t lived on the island for quite some time now and I can understand why she asked that question. And so I find myself forced to give an explication which doesn’t make sense for those of us who still live here.

In the end, I thank her because the daily grind in Cuba makes us forget that other worlds exist beyond our own, where subjects like these would belong in funny stories, even in dark humor, as it were. And that’s when I’m forced to tell her that my salary, the salary I receive as a working professional, doesn’t give me the luxury of being able to pay a taxi everyday. And so I spend my time waiting, trying not to give up hope but sometimes that’s simply not possible.

I always manage to get there in the end. However, by that time, a good chunk of my day has already gone and my exhaustion is enough for me to forget about my odyssey; I take my daughter to day-care and I go to work. I normally try to make my day cheerful and of course productive. I put my dreadful morning behind me and I focus on reading, writing or whatever other task I have to do in the office… Now that I’m seated and comfortable, I convince myself that tomorrow I’ll be a bit luckier and I prepare myself for another day…

Somebody calls me to the office and tells me that the workplace bus is up and running once again. I feel blessed and I forget about the last few painful days. Traveling on “my bus”, I watch with pity and solidarity all those people at those jam-packed bus stops, where it seems like they’ll never leave… I ask myself time and time again whether things will ever change. I would like to think they will, that at least my daughter will live to see it.

Is that being a conformist or just really hopeful thinking? Well you know what they say, hope is the last thing you lose…


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.

13 thoughts on “My Morning Odyssey in Havana…

  • Because my father was Head of Station in Vienna for SIS (MI6) from May 1945 onwards and he died there in 1997, my knowledge of the USSR is based upon knowledge of their activities in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe.
    I remember well having a sub-machine gun stuck in my belly by a Mongolian soldier when travelling by train from Klagenfurt to Vienna and the “allied” jeeps patrolling central Vienna with a military policeman from each of the four countries, Russia, France, the US and the UK.
    I recall the Russians snatching people at gunpoint from within the British Zone as late as August 1952.
    I have never been tempted to visit the USSR or Russia, so my knowledge of their economy is limited, my experiences being of their activities and practices.
    I do also have memories of their endeavors to enter the UK market with agricultural machinery and even cars. But all were rather crude.

  • Thanks for your answers — I’ll mull I this and try to learn more about how the Cuban economy really works. I can see that it is not the same as understanding the Soviet economy ., even in its complex later years. There are clearly differences which matter too.

    As I said I wouldn’t ask any more pesky questions it feels like pedantry to note that Russia didn’t use the other 14 republics for a marketplace, and that although it turned out no republic was there willingly, they actually got implicit subsidies from energy-rich Russia if you valued inter-republican trade at world market prices. It just meant a terrible economic system

    Russian population is now above 144 million by the way — and I’m not counting Crimea in that. It’s not wise to fall for all the ‘Russia: too sick to matter’ you can read. Which doesn’t mean they do not have huge mortality problems remaining.

  • Thanks. I decided not to ask some more pesky questions below

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