Summer Vacation!

When we hear these words, we think of fun, rest, joy

By Gaby Rabassa

Beach in Guanabo on the east side of Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez
Beach in Guanabo on the east side of Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – In many places workers’ hearts still rejoice during the final days of work. Production increases if it’s a factory.  Absences and lateness diminish.  Farewell parties are held.

This “ritual”, to give it a name, was also a tradition for Cubans. Even today, we continue to celebrate the arrival of our annual vacation. But the reality for us – the masses, the majority – is different.

When we hear the word “VACATION!” it’s not rejoicing that we feel, it’s worry.

The Cuban vacations begin with cuts in electricity and reductions in personnel at each workplace. Buses are packed, and today the taxis as well. In the amusement parks, few of the special summer offers really function, and if we do manage to get onto one of the rides, it’s also crammed full.

The school year ends for students, and mothers need to pick up their children from the day care centers. The streets are inundated with desperate people vying for some means of transportation; and may you not have the bad luck to get caught in a rainstorm.

The sun is having its own summer celebration and is ever stronger. Far from being a pleasure and a magnificent gift of nature, for Cubans it becomes a torture, mocking our need to refresh ourselves in a pleasant climate that could bring us some release from all our problems.

The shops aren’t air conditioned, so the shopkeepers are often in a bad mood.  Prices continue to rise, and since there are two currencies, everyone assigns to the CUC (the dollar equivalent), the value that they think it has in regular pesos. As a result, when we pay with the hard currency equivalent (CUC) we first need to ask the value in regular pesos as the rate can vary from 23 to 25 for one CUC, despite the fact that there’s an established legal equivalent.

Where there’s internet, the connectivity is terrible.

From our balconies we can watch the brightly painted taxis reserved for tourists, and the full “Transtur” (tourist) buses. On television we see the newly built hotels and the ones marked for construction, hotels that most of us can’t visit.

So, we’re working and suddenly our vacations are here, and – no – we don’t even want them. Because even though we want to and deserve to relax, fuel is still expensive, transportation is bad and there isn’t really a “special vacation offer.”  The “summer specials” aren’t the same anymore. And the salty sweat and crime are flowing freely on our beaches.

Nevertheless…

We continue holding parties, going to the theaters and parks.  We keep going out, since we can’t resign ourselves to the idea of having to spend a hot summer shut in our houses. We continue eating ice cream, even though the long lines at Coppelia (the state-run establishment where you can buy ice cream at a modest price) exhaust us. We keep buying because we don’t have a choice.  We keep on “vacationing” in our way.

Because that’s how we are, we’re Cubans, and besides:

It’s summer!



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Vedado, Havana, Cuba. By Arlene Greaves (Trinidad and Tobago). Camera: Nikon D3300

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