what we expect of a ‘western’ culture and the reality of a ‘western’ economy with a different way of life in terms of the lack of commercialism to which we, in T&T and the western world, have become so accustomed in our day-to-day lives.
In Havana, there were no such things as malls and shopping centres per se, but open-air craft markets with lots of art, crocheted items, hand-rolled cigars, handmade cigar boxes, wooden handcrafted items, lots of historical books in stores and book stalls, sculptures and other beautifully crafted items which were available at a fraction of the cost that such items would be priced in other countries.
A well-managed healthcare system, education and housing for all, pride in their resourcefulness, values such as family, education and the importance of people — the value placed on their human resource — were all aspects of this society that stood out for me.
The simple things like enjoying music, the sea breeze and dancing; being able to take a walk at day and night, especially as a woman, without fear of being attacked, robbed or being faced with some form of gun violence, were some of the experiences that made me question the way of life in my own country.
Visiting a grocery store was definitely an eye-opener. The very basics were available. Having endured a blockade by the US for 46 years by then (the Cuban revolution took place from 1953-1959, the first embargo was imposed in 1958, I visited in 2004), this was the norm for them. Being made to rely on purely or mainly local resources in my country was not something I was able to imagine, but here were these extremely vibrant, creative and resilient people restoring and making do with the assets which they had, by repurposing 20th century cars, and living in buildings built in the previous century, that many owners did not have the resources to upkeep or refurbish.
Attending a ballet show at El Gran Teatro de la Habana was another fantastic experience. This is home to the Cuban National Ballet — the Russian cultural influence is well known here — and I would even say this is among the very best ballet shows I have experienced.
So impressed was I by Cuba and fascinated with this country’s ability to thrive despite many setbacks, that I, about to start my master’s thesis, changed topics completely to focus on ‘Cuba: Development in the Post-Cold War Period’. Perhaps this can be discussed in another article.
For now, I look forward to returning to this beautiful island that is full of culture, music, dance, that is of a different century, a simpler way of life, natural island beauty and people who have adapted to circumstances which, may not be ideal, but necessary perhaps for survival.
What is your experience of Cuba? Share your photos and experience in the comments.