El Truinfo de la Revoluciòn
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For this travel entry, I thought I'd 'briefly' describe my experiences and contacts with five different working class Cubans from different places in Cuba.
JAVIER AND YOLANDIS (SANTIAGO DE CUBA) - HANDICRAFT SHOP OWNER / COMPUTER TECHNICIAN; MUSEUM ATTENDANT AND GUIDE
At around sunset one evening in hectic Santiago de Cuba, I was discussing the nightitme possibilities with another traveller, when a lady holding her baby daughter waved to us from her balcony
ÁNGEL (HAVANA) - MECHANIC
I might as well have dived straight into the pages of one of those glossy picture books of Cuba which I have seen in bookstores, as my first sighting of Havana was exactly how I had imagined the city to look like. Grand colonial buildings rich in detail; horse drawn carriages clomping and rattling on the asphalt; 1950's Buicks, Cadillacs and Dodges exhuming grey smoke whilst cruising the streets; old Cuban men smoking their beloved cigars whilst conversing about daily events
A few dusty streets away from the main centre, Ángel the mechanic was busy at work beneath the rusted bonnet of a beaten up Buick. A wide smile beamed on his face when I greeted and approached him. With a typical Habañero accent, Ángel talked briefly about life in Havana, and then informed me with a casual tone that he had served as a communications officer during Cuba's involvement in the Angolan War some twenty years ago. The Angolan War had taken many casualties from the Cuban army. Rather than look upon his experiences in the war as a negative, Ángel optimistically enthused that Angola is the only country he had visited outside of his native land. In the midst of our discourse, a final jiggle of a recycled engine part with his greasy fingers, and the dipilated motor grumbled into life. A few other Habañero's came over to inspect the traveller and his overseas accent, and have a decent old chat about life in Cuba. I was later invited into someone's home to have a quick look inside and a sample of a local lunch. The whole experience was so cool, and I was beginning to feel pretty stoked about my time in Havana, a city which has become into one of my favourite places in the world. Indeed, after enough time spent in the capital, I felt rather like a local Habañero cockily strolling the streets and eating cheap peso pizzas, instead of a camera totting tourist stuck in the sanitised tourist area
ROBERT (CAMAGUEY) - CASA PARTICULAR (GUESTHOUSE) SERVANT
I arrived in the city of Camaguey, with its famous winding streets and friendly folk awaiting to greet me. However, my stomach was growling discontentment and was on the verge of devouring itself. Robert, the guesthouse servant brought out a MASSIVE meal which I somehow managed to put away, much to everyone's astonishment. My subsequent after dinner conversation with Robert was most interesting.
In the year 1986, Robert was sent to the Ukraine on a scholarship to study engineering for five years. Having had to learn Russian from scratch (as the syllabus was entirely in that language), Robert obtained his Masters Degree from Kiev University in 1991. Barely a month after completing his Masters Degree, with the document in his hot little hand, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union had sent him back to Cuba. Due to the political and economic circumstances of the early 1990's era, Robert never secured a proper job in his home country, despite being a fully qualified engineer. He now serves as a guesthouse servant in Camaguey, as employment opportunities in Cuba dictated that he performs such duties to manage a living
MIGUEL (VIÑALES) - FARMER
In the countryside surrounding the sleepy village of Viñales, the 'guajiros' (name of the local farmers) were hard at work tending to their tobacco plantations, ploughing the fields using oxen and hand pulling out weeds that contaminate the soil. I greeted a passing guajiro and his grandson on horseback and within minutes I was invited into their farmhouse. Miguel had been a farmer his whole life, and his weather beaten face is testament to all those hours slogging under the sun. After being offered the customary cup of coffee, Migual pulled out two large tobacco leaves and proceeded to roll a couple of fresh cigars
ALEJANDRO (SANTIAGO DE CUBA) - SHOESMITH
After months of pounding different pavements, my beloved CAT boots began to show their age as the soles were on the verge of falling off. I entered a local shoe repair shop and handed over the offending boot to one of the workers. A tall, dark and bespectacled Cuban man emerged from behind his workshop and started a conversation with me
Cuba is a unique country, its infrastructure and socialist government dictates the type of lives its people have. The queues outside banks, bread shops, supermarkets and bus stops are simply a part of daily life. The old automobiles and their recycled parts on the streets, the Soviet washing machines inside the homes, the antique cash registers in the stores and the general lack of affluence (compared with Western countries) within the majority of the population are evidence that Cuba has indeed been trapped in some kind of a 'time warp'. It's this 'time warp' that attracts most foreigners to visit this country, and it was certainly what had attracted me. My experiences in Cuba were enhanced by being able to converse to an extent with the locals. Those glossy pictures of the picture books only recite part of the Cuban story; the Cuban people themselves provided the intangible missing link to the puzzle.