Summer Holidays, An Odyssey for Cubans!

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Felton beach at Nipe Bay.

HAVANA TIMES — I woke up worried today because I want to take my family out for the day and get away from all of this a little but I don’t know how. They want to go to the beach but my bicycle can’t carry us all: we’re five in total.

Cycling, carrying so much weight, and so far doesn’t sound like fun to me either. The nearest beach to our house is 10 kms away. If it wasn’t for my baby daughter, who has barely taken her first steps, we could make a trip out of it, on foot. Public transport is horrible ever since they cut fuel supplies. Since I want to have fun and not suffer, there’s no way I’m going to risk going out with my whole family to see what we can catch.

It’s been raining over the last couple of days and rivers here have become dirty: it’s not a good idea to go for a dip there. Furthermore, our kids have just recovered from a horrible flu, what if they get sick again? The park with playground equipment in our town of Mayari is handmade, made by improvised workshops. It’s old and rusty, almost nothing works and they rarely sell anything for children. That being said, I think it’s the only choice I have and I’m going to take them right now.

Let the kids go on the see-saw for a little while, play in the maze and go down the slide four or five times. I’ll take a cloth to clean the bird poo so what happened last time doesn’t happen again. Maybe we’re lucky and one of the rides works. Then I’ll take them to the cremeria to have some ice cream, we’ll wait two or three hours in the queue and then job done. We would have had fun!

TV is dreadful here and there’s no special programing for the summer. Everything’s the same, boring, low quality and lacking a difference in opinions. At least we have the weekly package (a private service of recorded programs, movies, music, news, etc.) which gets us out of this mess and entertains us. The TV show Cuba dice, a snippet of critical space in our news touched on the problem of summer recreational activities and I thought I’d write about this same subject.

They visited a lot of the places which are meant for our enjoyment in Havana. “La isla del coco” Park is also only half working, a lot of their rides are broken too. However, the host of the show assured us that “it was in the best condition out of all of them because it had been given priority; the other two, “Mariposa” and “Lenin” parks, were in much worse condition.” Children go on holiday in the summer en mass, the government had 10 months to repair and give the resources needed (which are small) and they never do anything. It doesn’t make me feel any better to know that this problem is widespread across the country, in fact it just makes me feel more sick in my stomach.

This problem isn’t due to the endemic poverty of the government’s coffers. I don’t believe it is, it’s got more to do with “planning hazards”. They say amusement parks “belong to us all” and for that reason, they don’t belong to anybody. They need then a director who comes up with some initiative and because they’re much more focused on having positive statistics appear on reports in line with government guidelines, these “irrelevant things belonging to the people” don’t even show up. They only realize this in July when the stampede of unsatisfied citizens reveal this problem to them.

Entrance to the Mayarí amusement park.

If these parks belonged to somebody or were independent, the owner or persons responsible for them would look after them and keep it in working order as they were dealing with their own earnings, free to contract whoever they wanted to do this. However, here we continue to rely on centralized budgets or political initiatives: an inspired leader can give the order to any company with a workshop and they can fix what needs fixing immediately. Then, it’s a problem if the company that looks after the park hasn’t planned for repair work to be done and therefore lacks the funds needed to pay for it. But if they wanted to, they could get the money off of some politician and that’s that. All kinds of crazy things happen here, much crazier than this, and the Comptroller’s office here hasn’t locked anybody up yet.

On Cuba dice, they also went to restaurants, camp sites, to Ruta y Andares in Old Havana and to the National Aquarium. This last place caught my attention: it’s name includes the word “national” yet it doesn’t offer its visitors, many of whom are children, any candies or soft drinks in Cuban pesos, only in CUC. It’s incredible to think to what extent those who rule us continue to bleed us dry.

Not only do they cripple our ability to buy because they’ve raised the prices of basic products, which people inevitably buy, but they force us to bring CUC as if we were tourists in our own country. Nowadays also everywhere, both currencies are accepted. How is it possible that at an aquarium they force parents to bring CUC so they can buy their kids some treats?  Nevertheless, even though prices are out of this world by any means, in CUP these are still slightly lower when sold in normal stores in Cuban pesos.

Isn’t it enough that our salaries are so low and that our currency is devalued at 25 to 1? A “know it all” would tell me that “the same thing happens in other countres, a dollar can even be the equivalent of thousands.” Yes, that’s true, but salaries and prices are comparative. If a dollar is worth ten pesos and you should earn a thousand dollars, then you earn 10,000 pesos. What does it matter? You’re just using bigger numbers! And this is where their master scam comes into play, where we buy in CUC or the equivalent in CUP, while we still only earn 20 dollars a month in the best of situations.

Everything is designed so that it’s a difficult task, almost impossible, to take your family out and enjoy the summer holidays. It’s sad because when children start back at school, they have to write about the “fun” they had which should define this time of year for them. It’s a heavy psychological burden and stressful for us, the unhappy parents, because our children in their innocence don’t understand why we can’t do these things. There are always some people more privileged for one reason or another, but I’m talking about my personal case which reflects the great majority of our population, who share the same fate as me: being an “ordinary” Cuban.

Pushing your stress aside, doing what you can and putting a smile on your face so as not to get too stressed: is the possible recipe. Children will have to have low-cost fun until this changes or if it takes too long, they’ll grow up and leave. They already dream about this from the earliest ages when they see the “cars” that Cubans who come to visit from abroad rent out. They know what the good life is and they want to imitate it when they grow up. For now, I give them what I can and I’m telling you in this post the juggling act that a father has to do just to try and give his kids the best holidays possible. What an odyssey!

4 thoughts on “Summer Holidays, An Odyssey for Cubans!

  • i am certain that Osmel is grateful for your sympathy.

  • What Osmel didn’t tell you is that there are several buses that run from Mayari to Felton in a day. I guess he doesn’t have any money in CUP for the fares but can buy icecream in CUC.

  • Thank you Osmel for reflecting the reality of life in Cuba for the average Cuban. It is so painful for Cuban parents to be unable to offer to their children even the simplest of pleasures. Those fortunate enough to live in North America even if making brief visits to Cuba, cannot fully absorb the problems that are inherent for parents who have to raise their children under the callous communist rule of the Castro family regime. They cannot conceive that if teaching ones own children in their own home, anything which is counter to communism a parent can be jailed for three years.

    As you point out, taking your children to the beach means a 10 km walk – each way. How does one explain to North American or European tourists and visitors that only the fortunate in Cuba own a bicycle, but those that do will take both parents and two children on that one bike. Seeing a father pedaling, one child on a wooden crossbar seat and mother on the pannier with the second child on her lap is commonplace.

    As the Godfather of a Cuban girl aged five, I know the problems that her mother and father face daily in trying their best to provide her and her younger sister a decent home and to instill good behavioral standards with so very few financial resources. I share their hope that their children may eventually be released from the vicious communist dictatorship of the Castro regime and experience freedom, with freedom of expression, freedom to vote for whom they choose and full human rights.

    In writing that, I expect some of those arm chair self righteous supporters of the oppression of others whilst sitting in a free world that they constantly complain about to endeavor to upbraid me for my concern for the people of Cuba. If only they knew the reality of the life you describe!

  • I wish I had your positive attitude Osmel, I have different challengers and be as upbeat as you. Congrats and a lesson for me. You said it best with the fact that the system is broke and the powers to be still seem to think it’s USA’s fault. Even with the embargo, which I am against. intelligent leaders would figure a way to fix as best as possible small problems, gracias!

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