Mercedes Gonzalez Amade
HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time. From the clothes he was wearing and the accent he spoke with, I immediately realized he was now living abroad.
We sat down together to catch up. We told stories, asked each other questions, laughed. He introduced me to his friend, a woman who was clearly a foreigner but who spoke an impeccable Spanish.
From what I gathered, they’d been in Cuba for nearly a month.
Suddenly, my friend started telling me of places and establishments they’d gone to and, from my confused look, he quickly gathered he might as well had been speaking to me in Chinese.
With the best of intentions, he showed me photos he’d taken with his cell phone and shared some anecdotes about each of the places he mentioned.
At first, I thought it best not to say anything, but the girl he was with made me feel comfortable, so I said something a bit direct to him: “You had to come visit Cuba like a tourist to get to know it. I’m happy for you. Ninety percent of us Cubans don’t even know our own country.”
The woman gave me a rather surprised look and I took the liberty of explaining to her – with plenty of details and examples – what my friend and I knew too well.
My friend smiled and, between the two us, we explained to her that even though those touristy places are now open to Cubans (for the legal prohibitions have been lifted), one must have a high income in order to enjoy them, and the majority of the population does not.
If you live abroad or have a relative there who sends you a monthly remittance, or if you’re lucky enough to have a profitable business, then you can get to know the island through and through and feel as proud as you want about our landscapes, historical and recreational sites (hotels, marinas and quays).
The young woman felt a little embarrassed and a tad uncomfortable when she heard that, with the salary a Cuban earns at work, no one can save up to spend even a few days at a place like Trinidad (a colonial city in Cuba’s interior she liked). She told us that that is how she managed to travel to Cuba, by saving up for two years.
Since Cubans have the habit of laughing about everything, including their own frustrations, we lightened the atmosphere with a bit of jokes. Later, smiling, I said to her: “So, what do you think? I’m as much of a foreigner in my own country as you are.”