Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Other Side of This Life- David Byrne

First off, I would like to apologize for my lack of updates. Apparently, I have faithful readers who expect more. Who knew? This week has been really crazy, between extra stuff for school and finding a hotel for my family (they're coming in two weeks!). So much running around.

I have been having trouble really articulating just exactly how I feel about my life here and the Cuban life. I'm going to try, but bear with me, it might not really make any sense.

I love it here. I really do. The people, the food, the music, dancing, the city, my American friends, etc. But I was not prepared for how utterly uncomfortable I would feel all the time in this country. The only way I've been able to describe it is that everything I know to be true in life is not. My whole way of thinking has been turned upside, and I guess that's what I was looking for when I came here. I obviously wasn't expecting to be living a totally normal life like I'm used to in Boston while I'm here. I knew it was going to be hard. But... I don't know how to describe how I feel.

I guess it's like this: I have never ever experienced an entire population who has no hope for the future. I was talking to one of my Cuban friends that I've met and he was telling me that even though he's considered middle class to upper middle class in Havana, that his life is so hard. Like how he knows that for the rest of his life, he will be living with his parents because there is no way that he will make enough money ever to have his own house for his own family. Or that he can't even work two jobs to make extra money even if he wanted to, it's not allowed. And that his kids will lead the same life that he is living now.

I am fascinated by the food situation here. All of their food is rationed out; they get 1/4 of a chicken a month, 1/2 pound of fish every two months, 4 eggs a month, one roll a day, one bar of soap a month, no milk unless you're under the age of 7, etc. They get a lot of rice, but those are practically empty calories (only white rice. Haven't found a grain of brown rice on this entire island!). Malnutrition is rampant, especially among children. There isn't enough food for anyone, and most families can't afford to buy extra to supplement their rations. But I am still confused because even in Habana, people have small yards and could easily keep a chicken or two or a tomato plant or something. I've asked why people don't do this and the answers I've gotten have varied. What I think is that this is not their culture and that it's not their way of life. The government hasn't given them the tools or the knowledge for this. And when "everything" is provided for you, people get hooked on being reliant. It's not easy to break that.

And i think that a part of it is the extreme form of socialism, but a big reason is the embargo. Even if the government wanted to, they can't import anything. Most Americans (myself included before I came here) think that the embargo is only for American companies, but it's not. The law says that any company ANYWHERE in the world that ships something to Cuba isn't allowed to ship anything to the US for six months. And since the US is the biggest importer in the world, companies can't afford to go six months without the US as a customer. So the US has effectively crippled the Cuban economy for the past fifty years. I just don't understand what the point is for the US to do this. It's not getting anywhere. Cuba hasn't caved. The only people who are hurting are the Cuban citizens. They have some of the best doctors in the world, but their pharmacies are empty because they can't import medications. basic things like birth control, the HPV vaccine, vitamins, tylenol, band aids, etc. are not widely available here, things that we take for granted. They have a great education system (it's all free, all the way through university), but students can't travel or see the world, or use their education in a global sense.

Another thing that I find a little weird is the job situation. Doctors make roughly $25 a month. Teachers make about $11. Security guards make around $14. And they don't get raises, and they don't get fired usually. So there is little incentive to do your job better, or learn more to move up in your job. There is so little mobility here, in any sense of the word.

But everyone we meet is so excited that we're American. They are able to distinguish between the American government and the people, which I think is pretty remarkable. I have experienced this in many countries except my own. This is something that Americans can't/don't do (Cuba is Cuba, Fidel represents how everyone thinks and feels, etc. This is what I have experienced at least. Similar to Israel/Palestine). And they all say how much hope they have that things
will be different with Obama. We had this one cab driver who was saying that he is glad that we are here and doesn't understand why Americans dislike Cubans so much. He said that just because we like capitalism and he likes socialism doesn't mean that we have to be enemies. We're just different. So true. I'm really glad Kate (mi hermana) is coming because I know I'm not making any sense and she will help me think more clearly about what I'm feeling/saying. Sorry for this incoherent rambling!

Anyway, what else. Tomorrow I'm going to a baseball game! I'm excited. The two teams from the Habana province are playing, but not from the City of Habana. Los Industriales are from the city, and everyone says that they are like the Yankees of Cuba. Hear that, Boston? They're not the Red Sox, they're the Yankees. They have the best record on the island and a lot of the players from Los Industriales are on the national team. And Cuba has won the gold in the Olympics for baseball in Atanta in 1996 and in Athens in 2004.

And on Tuesday, I'm going to the Ballet. It's the fiftieth anniversary of the National Ballet or something, so they're having a special performance with choreography by Alicia Alonso, who is the head of the Ballet Naciónal but also a really famous ballerina. She'll be performing too, so that will be cool. The BNC was officially started in 1948, but Bautista didn't support the arts at all. When Castro came into power, he gave Alonso a ton of money (she was one of his supporters) to really take the ballet off the ground, and now it's really respected in the ballet world. So I'm excited! Any reason to get dressed up is fine with me.

I think im starting an internship while I'm here! It would be at a magazine called Temas. They consider themselves a space for critical reflection and the debate of ideas, analyzing cultural problems, and contemporary social thoughts in Cuba and the world (a shaky translation). I would be doing marketing in English and writing in Español! I hope it works out because it would give me somthing to do in the afternoons (I don't really know what I spend my time doing here!) and it would give me the opportunity to meet more people. It's kind of hard to meet people here since I'm not at the Universidad de Habana and I don't have Cubans in my classes. We're kind of isolated. Temas is considered "subversive" for Cuba, whatever that means. I'm just hoping it doesn't turn out to be one huge brainwashed institution like most things I have encountered here. So we'll see.

I went to a panel/debate thing sponsored by the magazine on corruption in Cuba. I was interested to see what they were going to say in this public forum. The speakers weren't really saying anything interesting at all (corruption exists, but no more here than in other countries,
blah blah) but then people got up at the end to comment and that was really interesting. One guy was saying that he is a newspaper reporter and that he thinks that corruption is seen most clearly in the press. He will write a story and hand it in, but when it's printed, it s edited
down until its barely giving any important information, or he'll be told to change it, or whatev. Crazy stuff. And the sad thing is is that this was being covered by the local news, but how much of what was said by these people will really make it to television or print?

This weekend, another cold front is coming in, and the wind combined with my rattling windows kept me up most of the night. But it was okay because watching the waves crash over the malecón and flooding the street is beautiful and scary and peaceful all at the same time.

If anyone wants to know specific things about Cuba or my life here, please leave me a comment or email me!


  1. baybee everything sounds so interesting. I'm glad you're updating, I was getting worried. Keep the entries coming, I really do read them whenever you post them. Among you, I follow Coco Rocha's blog and I comment her all the time. We're friends; lovers at best. Anyway, you really did relay your thoughts pretty well and I definitely get a sense of what Cuba is really like. I obviously wouldn't have had any other form of finding out all of that, so it's interesting. I'm sad you feel uncomfortable, but I guess that's to be expected. I hope it gets better! Too bad you can't send me a postcard either, but feel free to pick some up! Enjoy, and I'll talk to you soon. Bye Baybee.<3

  2. i totally echo eric. i too am so glad to come and see and talk more with you in person and see some of it myself. i think this is really such a fantastic opportunity for you, it is (seems like) a whole lot to process. i think that's what you're doing in the afternoons-- trying to make sense of it all, and drinking rum. :) i love you so much! and yes, please do keep posting. you have more fans than you know.