I was thinking about writing a blog about Christmas (or the lack of it) in Cuba, or an end of year summary. Trying to round up my first impressions, but it just wasn’t forthcoming and I hate writing in a forced way.
Christmas came and went and the whole thing about the robbery, which I had managed to forget for a couple of weeks during the festival and the party, reared its ugly head again and I could not shake it off …….. that ugly head. I was resentful with the police for not giving me the respect to talk to me, and the film school for not supporting me more, and Rafa for being defensive about my suggestions and opinions. I think he was caught between the film school and me and a million other important pressing matters! But the feminist in me was stamping her feet indignantly.
But luckily so many good things are always happening, and I have managed to finally put it behind me and stop thinking about it. I do always carry around in my head so many impressions and thoughts about this place and my life that in the end last night I decided to write a few of my ramblings…………
My little life in Cuba
Already I feel as though I have a lot of people around me who care about me, and me for them, friends and helpers.
The international community of ex-pats and diplomats are a fun and varied bunch and there is always something going on. The most elegant dinner parties to the most bohemian Havana nights.
When I arrived, I did not want to have so many people working for me in the house but now I do, as this is Cuba and if you can give anybody a job you can support a whole family. But the big difference is that I now have people working for us who we chose and they are very much a part of our lives and the lives of our children.
You get involved with Cubans and their lives very quickly. When you hear what little people earn in professional jobs working for the state it can be quite shocking, but despite their lack of remuneration, people in Cuba don’t look or seem poor. Something is different. There is a pride in appearance that I have not seen in many countries. Cubans stand tall and proud. Cuba does not seem like a country suffering poverty (the special period is well and truly over but not forgotten), just some kind of weird limbo of a war or a revolution that has gone on too long. What is the next step for Cuba? Who knows? But there are so many good things here that I really hope do not disappear. I am sure that it easy for me to say from my beautiful house in Flores and my charming and interesting existence, but still I feel things more than most people, and this country is already under my skin.
I just watched an amazing documentary by an English director, Andrew Laing called Sons of Cuba. It tells the story of 3 young Afro-Cuban boys training in the Boxing Academy in Habana at a time when there are big changes a foot (2006-2007). The documentary is fascinating but one of the things that really struck me was the affection the boys had for each other and their coach and their families. How they wanted to succeed so their parents and Cuba could be proud of them no matter that they will never be earning the huge salaries of a professional. Tears and hugs and beautiful faces all mixed up in the macho world of boxing. It could only have been in Cuba.
One thing I can say about the Cubans is that there is plenty of heart and soul on this little island despite the economic challenges of life and the heartache of broken families, people have a lot of love to give and take. You feel and see a lot of humanity in Cuba. Many people are complaining about the changes and that Cuba is changing fast, but I have nothing to compare it to, as I live in the present Cuba and can only compare it with the other countries where I have lived. For me you just can’t beat the unpretencious warmth and spontaneity of these people. I feel as though in some ways I have found my spiritual home. I can be myself in Cuba. I can talk straight, be emotional, be silly, be intellectual, be caring, be strong, be weak …….nothing will phase them.
As I was parking in Habana Vieja the other day I told the parking guys hanging out on the street that I wasn’t a tourist but a resident. One of the most exuberant of them ran round the car to kiss my hand good-naturedly and tell me that Cuba needed more Cubans like me and my beautiful daughter. (Silly I know but in 8 years in Guatemala the people seemed more interested in telling me that I wasn’t Guatemalan even though had gave birth to 3 half Guatemalan children there). In the same week a friend from England was walking alone through a little park in Habana Vieja after a rain shower. An old man got out his handkerchief and wiped the raindrops off the bench for her so she could sit down, without expecting a thank you or even acknowledgement. These little fun and selfless acts make a society different. Don’t you think?
Cubans are very laid back to the extent that at times they don’t appear to give a shit and then just when you are about to lose your rag they come all sweet and mi amol on you and you think, thank goodness I didn’t lose my rag. Or maybe that is the whole idea and they have it down to a fine art! And why the Cubans live longer than any other country in Latin America and quite a few in Europe I suppose. (Women 80, men 77). In Cuba people have learned to be patient, to resolve, to keep loving life. No matter what you think about politics you really shouldn’t judge Cuba until you have seen it, smelt it, talked to it, shared its food, watched its films, danced to its music ……………
I was reading Matthew Parris,´ Parting Shots (The ambasadors’ letters you were never meant to see) when I arrived in Cuba. The section about Cuba was written in 1970 by Richard Slater and includes the following comments …….
An initial impression which I find least reason to change concerns the quality of the Cuban people. Good-natured, good-humoured, courteous and incorrigibly hospitable, they bear no resemblance to the mental picture I had formed before I came out. ………… The Cubans possess both dignity and charm in a marked degree, and this goes for the government as well as the people. ……….. The fact that the Cubans are a fundamentally decent and likeable people has in a way compensated for the unpleasantness of living in a closed society …………. My emotions have been engaged here in a way in which they were never engaged during my service in Moscow in the mid-fifties by the suffering of the vast amorphous mass of the Russian people, unknown and virtually unknowable.