Surviving in Cuba

Verónica Vega

Love thy neighbor as yourself.  Illustration: Yasser Castellanos
Love thy neighbor as yourself. Illustration: Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — My friend recently told me that he feels like he doesn’t understand Cubans anymore, and that he feels out of place.

“I don’t know if it’s just me who’s got it wrong”, he confessed confused “but I see so much craziness everywhere, and I ask myself why people just accept it and why nobody reacts anymore”. I tried to comfort him saying I know other people who feel the same way, including myself.

Day after day, I see a number of events which confirm this sentiment. Travelling on a 400 bus, I witnessed an argument between a 40-something year old man and a teenager. The young woman was standing blocking the back exit, even though she wasn’t getting off at any of the next stops, so the man pushed her cruelly whilst getting onto the bus.

There’s no good reason to get in the way of other passengers and it’s something which has become a bad habit for young people who travel to the beach: they take up the bus like it were their own private vehicle.

However, the man’s aggressive response really astonished me, especially when you bear in mind the fact that the young teenager could have been his daughter. But, things got worse when a friend who was travelling with her butted in.

“If she were a man, you wouldn’t talk to her like that”, she rebuked.

The man attacked her too showing signs of being ready to get physically violent. All of this happened right next to me, and I began to say to him: “Listen, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you see she’s pregnant?” Blinded with rage, he hadn’t noticed this very important detail and the young woman, also flushed with anger, began shouting: “No, fuck the belly…!” and I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if another man hadn’t intervened taking the first man by the arm and saying in a complicit tone: “Leave it, just leave it”.

That was my second surprise because a few minutes before this happened, I had heard the young girl talking to the teenager and say: “This is coming out”, (referring to her pregnancy), as if it were a spot or a wart.

A few days beforehand, I saw two senior people arguing in a bus without any composure, insulting eachother like kids do: Ah, old woman, you’re so ugly… was one of the “arguments” which made the entire crowd laugh. I remember what I was told time and time again when I was child about respecting our elders, the age-old idea that they are “wiser and to be revered”.

Waiting in line to use the Internet service at the Alamar post office, people were talking about the topic of internet access cards, and a woman said that she knew “firsthand” that 500 cards were made daily but that none of these reached us because they were first sold to resellers for 2.15 or 2.50 CUC. That’s why customers are then forced to pay 3 CUC. And she immediately followed this up with: “This directly harms me, but I understand, everyone has to struggle to get by”.

How could I talk to her about how important it is to not keep on destroying the poor social fabric which maintains us. Just minutes before, a woman in the line had said to me: “I can’t wait for the internet to be freely available, can you imagine? That you could connect at home. Why doesn’t the government just do that already? We’re going to have to pay for it anyway”. I answered: “Because the governmnt doesn’t want people to see websites where they can find information which contradicts what they say”. “What?” she asked. “Websites where you can access political information”. “Ah…!”, she said showing she’d understood. And she added: “But people won’t do that, with how expensive the internet will be, nobody will look up that rubbish”.

I stood there thinking that this “rubbish” was the reason why we don’t have internet at home, and not to mention free or even for a reasonable price. But how was I going to get onto such a touchy subject.

Once when I was at a cafe, an old man enthusiastically told the waitor and other customers that the price of milk had gone down, and added with nostalgia all over his face: “With how much I like to drink a glass of milk in the morning…” Then his expression changed as he said disheartened: “It’s too bad that money can’t be found anywhere”.

I couldn’t help myself and interrupted saying: “Of course, sir, because salaries are still the fundamental problem. If anything is really going to change, salaries need to be increased”.

My comment was received by an awkward silence. Then, I remembered a sign I’d seen sometime ago in a cafe: “Talking about the thing is prohibited”, a sentence which became recurrent because of the fear business owners had that social unrest which spontaneously broke out amongst their customers, could become a danger to their interests.

The concept of survival in Cuba can be summed up perfectly in a phrase I heard from a man talking about his business: “It doesn’t kill me, but it doesn’t let me live neither.”

Meanwhile however, whilst there is a wide sea to throw yourself into, a house to sell in order to pay for your illegal exit, a way to “deviate resources”, or in the worst of cases, a bottle of rum, why are we going to talk about more sound solutions?

After all, “this place doesn’t sink because it’s made of cork”, so we carry on dancing and smiling which has become our stamp for export, and what an effect it has on the tourists!

5 thoughts on “Surviving in Cuba

  • On reading several of your submissions, I appreciate your insight and viewpoints, on your beautiful yet struggling country. Thanks for this, the other side of the coin.

  • So very true!

  • So many visitors to Cuba leave the island believing that Cubans are a happy people despite the hardships. I’m not sure sure. I think, like the US black southern slaves who worked the cotton fields and sang at the same time, Cuban smiles are a coping mechanism. Besides, enough sex and rum can help one forget just about anything.

  • Smiles conceal so much pain and hardship!

Comments are closed.