First EmbrACE Column: What is ‘home’ for ordinary Cubans?

This is the article which was published through the International Faculty Magazine EmbrACE. It is the first column on Cuba, more will follow throughout this academic year.

It was hot, stuffy, and my sweaty clothes were sticking on my skin. But I made it, here I was: In Havana, Cuba. Finally my dream came true and I was backpacking around the island for the next four weeks. And here I was at my first destination. I was sitting in a taxi which brought me from the airport to my casa and I looked20141215_140433 around. It felt like a journey back in time as it seemed like the city fell into a sleeping beauty-like sleep in the 1950s. The cars were old-timers, the houses probably used to be beautiful back in the day but now their fate was in the hands of decay. Although I had known before what Havana looked like from pictures online, I had regarded them at home with a sense of nostalgia and romanticism. But now, as I could actually see the reality, I was kind of shocked. Even the worst “slums” in Europe were in a better state than those houses. And we were in Centro Habana, not in the suburbs. What kind of people lived there, I wondered. And what kind of life do those people live?

What you should know about Cuba is that it is not that easy for tourists to find out how ordinary people live. Tourists are not allowed to spend the night at private houses and instead they have to stay at official casas particulares which are private houses who rent out rooms. The landlords have to register you and let the authorities know immediately where and for how long yo20141215_095706u are staying. Another problem is that even though you are technically staying in a house of a local, there is a class system in Cuba despite its claim to be communist. Ever since the country opened up for tourism in the 90s, there are two currencies in Cuba. The tourist currency, the peso Cubano convertible (CUC) is 25 times more worth than the peso Cubano, or moneda nacional. So basically all Cubans who work in the tourist sector and have access to the peso convertible are automatically significantly richer than ordinary Cubans who are paid in moneda nacional. That is why all the casas I lived in were absolutely gorgeous inside and the families that hosted me were comparably well off. Which means that they had luxurious goods such as a TV, toilets with running water, and if they were extremely lucky even a car.

One day, I actually had the chance to catch a glimpse of what life for ordinary people looked like and what their homes appeared from the inside. A friend of mine had to come by to his family’s house in order to drop something off. He asked me if I wanted to join him, and I saw my chance of seeing the real picture of Cuban life. The apartment was in an ordinary neighbourhood in the centre of Havana, so basically as destroyed as all the other houses. My friend opened the door and I had to hold on my breath. The apartment was so tiny that it did not even deserve to be called an apartment. In fact, it was one room. And this room was everything. In one corner, the kitchen was located. The same room also consisted of the bedroom and the living room, although it has to be noted that the bed was the couch at the same time.  And of course, the din20141215_120453ing room was also squeezed in in this ‘apartment’. It was tiny, but also very cosy. The elderly couple, let’s call them Mercedes and Ricardo in order to protect their identities, were thrilled to welcome a German girl in their home. Especially Ricardo was happy as he was excited to analyse Germany’s performance at the previous world cup with me. Mercedes started to make coffee immediately and there was no question of me and my friend leaving again any time soon. They both asked if I had eaten or if I was hungry and I was amazed by this warm welcome. Then Ricardo told me a bit more about their lives. He, as a retired teacher gets $10 pension, and his wife Mercedes, a retired librarian receives $8. At once, my face started to freeze and I was in shock. I know that people in Cuba do not have to pay rent, that health insurance and education is for free and that people get food stamps. But regardless of this support, how can people live with $18 per month? The prices in Cuba in supermarkets are actually quite high, especially imported goods are very expensive. Everyone I met in Cuba was aware of this unfair system which means that taxi drivers make more than four times more money than ordinary Cubans per month.

Anyways, this encounter , and I was also quite emotional about it. I asked myself how I would cope if I were in their position. These two lovely people also deserve a lot of respect in my opinion. I was amazed to see that people who lived very simple lives were that generous and caring towards strangers. Even though they do not have a lot they immediately offered me coffee and even food. And what also struck me was that they seemed quite happy with their simple lives. Their home was very warm and cosy and it seems like they had made the best out of their situation.

The more time I spent in Cuba, the more I saw that we should not let ourselves be misled by outer-appearances. Although the houses in Havana, and Cuba in general are in an awful state from the outside, there can be real treasures in the inside. And yes, even those “ruins” for some are actual homes to many people. And of course the big question I asked myself was, what determines “home” for me personally? Do I need a TV, laptop, big apartment, and big variety of food, pretty house from the outside and inside to be happy and to feel at home? Luckily, my four weeks in Cuba helped me to answer these questions for myself.

 

Cuba article picture  image

 

First TEDx in Habana!

I do not know how I managed to miss this, but as soon as I stumbled across the news I immediately had to share it wit20141225_143336h you guys.
Two years after the application, on November 15th 2014 the very first TEDx event took place in Habana. TED, or TEDx talks are known all over the world for the inspiring talks on various issues. From political topics to societal issues as well as medicine and technological inventions which are shared with the audience and usually  through livestream people from all over the world can watch the event.
In the Netherlands, the country I am currently living in, TED talks occur quite regularly in university cities. But in Cuba, this is a new development. Especially the fact that US-American speakers, as well as Cuban speakers were invited to share their ideas.

Very often, people think that due to Cuba’s political and economic isolation, there is no vibrant art and culture scene in the country. This is simply wrong. Music and dance culture is a fundamental part of Cuba’s life, as well as art20141225_165855s. If people think that street art is something which only belongs to hip cosmopolitan cities, then they are wrong. I remember very well the amazing street art that I saw in Santa Clara. Having said that, the official TED blog describes
The theme: “inCUBAndo!,” or “InCUBAte.” The talks and performances all encouraged the audience to think outside of the box in some way and push their expectations of what Cuba can and will be. “I didn’t want every speaker to give a TED-style talk,” says Levin. “I wanted to give TED a Cuban flavor.” *

The lineup of speakers was very diverse. From a speaker on LGBTQ rights in Cuba, another speaker on organic farming in Cuba and the risks of farming with pestizides, and many more. The event also included dance performances and music, of course.

A very nice quote from the promo video was the statement of an elderly lady who was also giving a talk. She said “Obviously, I have love for my homeland Cuba. But I want to reach out to the whole world!”

Watch the promo video of the first TEDx Event here

You can also watch some of the talks on youtube or here

I wish I could have been there to see the talk myself, but unfortunately I missed it as I went to Cuba around 1 month after the event. Too bad, but let’s hope that there will be many more TED talks in Habana!

*TED Blog, “The first TEDx in Cuba: An event in Habana, two years in the making,” Dec 2014, retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/the-first-tedx-in-cuba/

Picture retrieved from www.cubadebate.cu

Welcome back, or: adieu l’humanité

Dear readers,

It’s been a while, but I have returned from my well deserved vacation. Well actually, I cannot really call this vacation as I spent six weeks working as a slave in a factory in order to earn money to pay my tuition fees. Of course this work was not comparable to factory work in Bangladesh for instance, but still I had to work my ass off during different shifts and in unbearable heat- temperatures went up to forty degrees even in South Germany. Anyways, there are also some things I want to point out, although I know that this blog is supposed to be about my observations about Cuba. Often, the media portrays Germany as the European country which stands for growth, justice and fairness. And again, I would like to remind you that economic growth also has its downsides.
In the company I worked for, Continental, there were two types of employees. On the one hand people like me who were directly employed by Continental itself and who got paid nicely per hour. I as a student had an extra benefit as I get my taxes back. Anyways, the second type of employees is the problem. They are called Leiharbeiter in German, or subcontracted workers. They do exactly the same jobs as the directly employed workers but they on the other hand are paid the minimum wage (in Germany that’s 8,50 Euros). And of course this does not cover health insurance, taxes, etc. yet.
I’ve spoken to lots of these people and heard sad stories that have touched my heart. One of my colleages has three children and works for a subcontractor and in total he has been working for about ten years for Continental. According to the law they can only work for 18 months straight at one factory and then they have to switch to another one, so basically they keep being pushed from one company to the other and end up working for the same companies basically.  I have to say that this way of achieving “growth” makes me sad. Germany’s unemployment rates are low and the level of productivity is really high, especially in the automobile industry. In 2014, Continental has achieved 34.5 billion euros of profits.* This is INSANE. For the last few years, Continental has refused to employ new people directly, but instead it has met the demands for growing productivity with subcontracted workers.  I have observed the same issue in my vacation job from the year before where I worked for the German Post. And the German government is watching this phenomenon, unwilling to force the companies to take action. This is outrageous, and I refuse to praise like everyone else Germany’s position.

A totally different issue I would like to address. I see myself as a political blogger. Born and raised in Germany and having lived in different countries in Europe, I see myself as European citizen rather than a German citizen. And I have to say that I am truly ashamed. I am ashamed to see refugees die on our shores, die in trucks on the highway, die on walls that are being built within Europe only because our politicians fail once again.

I am ashamed to see racist comments and people responding with hate and disgust towards those people that are in need. THE WEST HAS CAUSED THESE PROBLEMS. With wars in the Middle East and supporting extremists with weapons. The Islamic State did not appear out of nowhere. Libya did not become a ‘failed state’ by coincidence. The mess is the responsibility of the world and the mad humanity we have become.

I am ashamed to see refugee shelters burn in Germany. And I would like to point out one thing. If you are one of these “I don’t want to sound racist, but….”- people who say things like “they know what they are getting themselves into by stepping into these boats….” or “they are taking away our jobs….” then STOP READING THIS BLOG NOW. UNFRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK. SEND ME HATEFUL EMAILS OR WHATEVER. That’s all I want to say.

I hope you guys had a great summer. And sorry for drifting off topic. I promise that the next posts will focus on Cuba again.

Cheers.

Cins

  • read their annual report from 2014 here

some pictures of the nice part of my summer in order to end this pessimistic post in a positive way, though:

DSC_0096_1  DSC_0215_1

Kosniak Waterfalls, Slovenia                               Plitwitze National Park, Croatia

DSC_0290_1 Krka National Park

DSC_0384_1 DSC_0386_1

Kupari, next to Dubrovnik: still destroyed by the Yugoslav Wars which took place there in 1991

  • note: the featured image is retrieved from Reuters.

Cuba’s lost generation: Money or happiness?

I had a really nice chat with a Cuban couple in Baracoa that asked me to publish our conversation anonymously.  As much as I love Cuba and their different way of challenging the dominant mainstream world order, I acknowledge that the human rights situation regarding freedom of speech is difficult there. Let’s call my conversation partners Carla and Enrique.

Carla: I am really sorry to hear about the bad experiences you made with Cuban men. But I have to tell you honestly, that tourism has done this to our country. Before the country opened up to tourists, this wasn’t the case. Tourism has made the young generation lazy. Although people here have the opportunity to study for free at university, young people rather work as taxi drivers or try to rip tourists off in order to make money. Of course, it is a shame that doctors, teachers, etc. barely make any money. But anyways, you can see what happened to young people now. Money determines people’s lives. I mean, does it really make people happy to rip tourists off as a job? Is this an honourable profession? And also, it won’t go on like this forever. It is going to change one day.

Me: What do you think about the development of the internet? Computers, smartphones, etc.?

Carla: I heard that in Europe and the United States, people don’t communicate directly with each other anymore. I am scared that this could also become the case in Cuba if the internet will become more accessible. But the young generation here is simply amazed by every single thing that tourists have. They are fascinated by tourists and desperately want to have the same things they have. But Fidel Castro was right when he said that Cuba needs tourism and that it is important but also that it needs to be controlled and that there have to be limits. And it’s the same case with the internet.

Enrique: A big problem is also that people don’t work. They don’t want to work. As for them, working is not profitable. That’s why people work very slowly often and they don’t put much effort into their work. I also think that it is awful that people who don’t work as they simply don’t want to get full support by the government.

Carla: Some people don’t understand it. Work is not about money. It also should be something that you enjoy doing since it is a considerable amount of your lifetime. I love my job. I could retire already, but I love teaching. And I will continue doing it as long as I enjoy it. But well, the older the revolution gets, the more it seems to be forgotten. Young people don’t recognize the good aspects of it anymore which really is a shame.

She takes a short break, thinks for a bit and then continues

Carla: But you know Cindy, I can also not say that everybody is like that. There are some young people studying at universities and living on campus in their student dorms and they study very hard and when they meet then they meet with their fellow students in bars on campus or in their rooms. That’s why you might not be able to see those kind of young people as they simply don’t ‘’hang out’’ in the cities. So yeah, that’s why you happen to be in touch frequently with those horrible people who try to rip off tourists.

This conversation really made me think a lot. Were they right? Definitely.As much as I love the idea of socialism, it cannot be alright that a Taxi driver or a tourist guide makes more money than a doctor or teacher. By more money I don’t mean like a couple of euros more per hour, but actually about 4-times more. What would I do if I were Cuban? What would you do? Would you rather study at university for free the things you care about and to do the profession you love despite the fact that you won’t receive a lot of money for it? Or would you rather give up the opportunity to study and work in the tourist business in order to make more money?
Again: What is more important? Money or happiness? Is money happiness? Can happiness compensate for lack of money?

What is the transition in Cuba going to cause besides ‘wealth’ and ‘growth’? What will Cuba’s new generation be like? What happens if neo-liberal capitalism will be implemented in Cuba? A little piece of philosophy on the downside of capitalism  by Emile Durkheim, beautifully explained within this youtube channel. ”Modern economies put tremendous pressure on individuals (…) How can we create new ways of belonging? How can we take pressure off the individuals and find a more correct balance between freedom and solidarity?”

Emile Durkheim: Capitalism and suicide

Day 18:Yumuri, 14+ only!

I was so excited. I had booked a tour to the rain forest and to a little village outside of Baracoa. Most of the group were Germans and Italians. And as naïve as I am, I did not expect any rain. But duh, this was a trip to the rain forest. So it did rain a bit at the beginning. We did the ‘chocolate walk’ so our guide showed us the cocoa plants and explained stuff about it which was really nice.

20141231_095831                           20141231_114635

20141231_111350We then went to his grandmother’s house who is a cocoa farmer and she made hot chocolate for us and showed us how chocolate is made. We walked through the forest and then went to the ‘paso de los alemanes’. Afterwards, the highlight of the trip happened. We took a little taxi boat on the river to get to a little ‘island’ in the middle of the river. The water was absolutely beautiful and super clear and so we were able to swim there. It was fantastic and it was so nice to have nice chats with people. In the little village of Yumuri, loads of natives came and tried to make us buy ‘polymitas’, beautiful snails in different colours and they make jewellery out of it. DO NOT buy things made of polymitas! They are about to extinct and need to be protected. (see picture above)

20141231_111442  20141231_115800

After the trip on the Yumuri River we went to a little empty beach- with black sand. It was completely beautiful, but the sea was quite wild and there were big rocks so it was not really possible to swim there. And there, I met the most disgusting guy ever. I know that I have complained a lot about how annoying Cuban guys are and the whole thing how they treat women. Well. This guy was from Canada. He was in his mid-forties and did not really look sexy or anything. He even wore a Canada baseball cap (why? WHYYY??) and typical tourist clothes. He was travelling alone, he doesn’t have any children, no family, etc. And the way he was talking was just disgusting. He complained about the ‘shitty’ job he had, the shitty weather in Canada, how shitty women were in Canada as they were rude when he tries to flirt with them and how much he hates shitty Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He hates his shitty apartment in Canada and that at the end of the month he barely has any money left. So, trips to Cuba are the only thing he can afford. Because here, he can be the king. Since 2009 he travelled to Cuba and he has a Cuban girlfriend in almost every city in Cuba. And then, he started complaining about how demanding Cuban women were. That they want presents from him, one of them wants a bike, the other one wanted a pig for New Year’s (a pig costs $40 CUC btw). I was disgusted. He complained about those women demanding stuff from him for sleeping with a disgusting and disrespectful Canadian guy. Then I told him about my experience with Cuban guys, and he completely defended them! He said that I should be more open-minded towards older men. Wtf? But well, I just wanted to get rid of him. I told one of the people from my group about what I had just experienced, and she said that in the plane when she was on the way from Germany to Havana she sat next to an old guy who was flying to Havana in order to marry his 35years younger Cuban girlfriend so that she would get his German pension.  How sad is that? I know that sex tourism is a global phenomenon, especially in South East Asia. But Cuba? I did not expect that.

So, I did some research. And I came across the blog naughty nomad where a guy shares his experience on how to ‘get laid’ in Cuba.

 If you’re the type that pays for sex, you’ll be in a heaven. But if you’re like me, Cuba can be a frustrating place. I honestly can’t think of a country where prostitution is so ingrained and pervasive in the culture. “You fuck, you pay. That’s Cuba,”

Also:

It really seemed like 80% of girls had a price tag. On one occasion, I even had a perfectly normal girl, walking hand in hand with her boyfriend, get in our car over the possibility of getting some pay for play. Sadly, this is what happens when the average salary is less than $25 a month. And under communism, finding a middle or upper class girl is like finding a Jew in Mecca.

Well I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that under communism girls are more likely to sell their bodies. As a political scientist I can tell you that you should not generalize concepts, such as communism.

Naughty nomad also explains that the police controls it really strictly when Cuban women (especially black Cuban women) walk closely together with a male tourist.
Prostitution is not allowed and Cuban women also cannot just spend the night at a hotel or casa with the tourist together as it has to be registered. (When you stay at a casa they will always register your ID in order to keep track of where you are to inform the government).
But apparently, the possibility to make some money outweighs the risks.

I know, I know. One could say that on this point I am not really tolerant. But excuse me, I do not tolerate Europeans/Canadians/ whoever to come to Cuba/Thailand/ whatever and to take advantage of the awful situation that some of the girls are facing. This is a horrible business which should not be supported.

But hey, it is not only European/Canadian/whatever men who come to Cuba to take advantage of girls. I will also tell you a similar story that I witnessed later on in my travels.

Useful summary of Cuban history and politics

I highly recommend the article which was published in the Council on Foreign Relations by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee. This is a good introduction to those who wish to get a clear and short summary of the political history and present situation in Cuba.

Some facts which are especially interesting:

>The Cuban government estimates that more than fifty years of stringent trade restrictions has amounted to a loss of $1.126 trillion.

>The State Department’s annual report for 2013 stated there was no evidence that the country provided training or weapons to terrorist groups. Cuba’s continued inclusion on the list [of states supporting terrorist organizations] was a major obstacle to talks about restoring diplomatic relations following the 2014 rapprochement

> In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said Cuba “continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights” through detentions, travel restrictions, beatings, and forced exile. The report also notes that Cuba released dozens of political prisoners and foreigners in Cuban prisons in 2010 and 2011.

>The Cuban exile community in the Miami area, which makes up about 5 percent of Florida’s population, has been “a pillar of Republican support in presidential elections since 1980,” writes Arturo Lopez-Levy in Foreign Policy. However, recent trends suggest that may change: Obama won the Cuban-American vote in Florida in the 2012 elections.

>A Pew Research poll found 63 percent of Americans supported resuming diplomatic relations, and 66 percent would like an end to the trade embargo. A Washington Post–ABC News poll found 74 percent of respondents were in favor of an end to the travel ban. A June 2014 Florida International University poll indicates a majority of Cuban Americans also support normalizing ties and ending the embargo, signaling a generational shift in attitudes toward the island. A 2015 poll conducted by the U.S. firm Bendixen & Amandi International found that 97 percent of Cubans favor the restoration of ties.

>In 2013, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo for the twenty-second consecutive year, with 188 member countries backing the resolution and only two—the United States and Israel—opposing.

Article Reference: Renwick, D., Lee,B. (2015): U.S.-Cuba Relations, retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/cuba/us-cuba-relations/p11113 [Last accessed 31 May 2015]

LGBT rights in Cuba: ”Yes to socialism, no to homophobia!”

Quick update on what’s going on in Cuba right now:

-celebration of about 1000 people in Havana who stand up against homophobia
– the meeting is organized by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro Espin who is a known sexologist in the country

Vice article on the situation:

”This year marked Cuba’s eighth annual LGBT pride parade, and hundreds came out against homophobia, demanding “workplaces that are free from discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity,” and equal marriage rights.

But the highlight of Saturday’s parade for many spectators — some holding signs that read, “Yes tosocialism, No to homophobia” — was a series of mock weddings held in downtown Havana, complete with priests who blessed the crowd.
(…)

A group of more than 50 Protestant students formed a conga line led by Mariela Castro. Together with colorfully dressed dancers from across the gender spectrum, they marched through the city to celebrate diversity and tolerance.

Yet, despite increasing support for the LGBT movement in Cuba, the national assemblywoman has been unable to influence a redefining of the Cuban Family Code, which does not currently recognize the right to same-sex marriage. 

Cuba has, however, made strides in recent years toward a broader definition of what constitutes a union between partners. In 2011, Cuba celebrated its first legally recognizednon-traditional marriage, after a post-op transgender male was legally recognized as female and allowed to wed her partner, a homosexual male.

“We have demonstrated that our project is not impossible,” Mariela Castro said on Saturday to droves of supporters. “If I were a lesbian or transgender, this [work] would be much more difficult. The fact that I’m heterosexual allows me to reach heterosexual people.”

She did, however, acknowledge that among her beneficial traits, “being able to talk to the president on a random Sunday also helps.”

Castro has been an integral figurehead for the Cuban LGBT community since becoming the director of Cuba’s sexual education center, Cenesex, in 2000. Former Communist leader Fidel Castro spoke out publicly in 2010 on his revolutionary government’s persecution of “ideological deviants” decades before, regretting the role he had played in this “great injustice.”

And many have argued that Mariela is in a privileged position to influence policy, as Raul’s daughter and Fidel’s niece. ”

Read the full article here

Is Cuba changing? It is true that the country and its people is living in a time of transformation.
Often, Cuba is regarded is old-fashioned and ultra conservative, which is not completely true.
Latin America is a pretty Catholic and conservative society which rejects LGBT rights.
Example:
The Atala family vs. Chile

Ms. Atala, citizen of Chile, mother of three girls got a divorce from her husband. She obtained full custody for her girls, but then it turned out that she was lesbian. Ms. Atala started living with her partner and her ex-husband who found out about the situation got very angry. He demanded full custody over his children and a very long court process started.
Ms. Atala lost custody over her kids and because of her homosexuality the Chilean national courts even agreed with her husband. In 2003, the Chilean Juvenile court also granted provisional custody to the father. In 2004, Chile’s supreme court of justice also gave permanent custody to the father.
In 2010 then (!!!) the Latin American court of human rights refused Chile’s ruling and gave custody to Ms. Atala. This was after the mother has been seperated for eight years from her children.

The right to equality and non-discrimination was harmed, as well as the child’s best interest was harmed, as well as the right to family. Also, the right to private life and family life was disregarded.

It is important to note that the LGBT problem is a global issue which needs to be adressed and Cuba is not an exceptional case.

Picture: bbc

Santiago de Cuba, or: No worries!

Before I move on with my travels to my next destination, Baracoa, just a little piece of advice for future Cuba travellers who are planning on visiting Santiago de Cuba. If the heat gets too rough and you feel like you need to escape and have some peace and silence, go to the cementerio Santa Ifigenia (graveyard). All graves are in white, it is a really relaxing atmosphere, there is a ceremony every thirty minutes and you can have a nice chat with the security personnel. Grab a Bici Taxi and go there, it is amazing.
Although it is a bit far away from the city centre, it is totally worth it as you cross the poorer neighbourhoods of Santiago. My Bici taxi driver was20141228_104442 amazing. His Bici was broken and fixed with a beer can (haha, AWESOME. I will use this next time when my bike is broken) and we talked a lot. He stopped at one point to say hi to one of his friends, and that’s where I got the Cuba experience in one picture: Imagine the following.
A completely fucked up neighbourhood. The street is not paved, houses about to collapse.
And then there is a man standing in his tiny garden of his house. Loud music, he doesn’t wear a shirt although it might be wise (He has a gigantic beer belly) and he is holding a bottle of rum in his hands and dancing enthusiastically to the sexy reggaeton music. He smiles at me and waves with his hands, signalling that I should join him. I just cheer at him and smile. That’s Cuba.

(The car you can see on the picture by the way is a Tourist rental car. The number plate is red and it starts with ”T”- for Tourist. Every number plate starts with a letter which means something:

A white government ministers, provincial officials, and other important state persons
light brown authorised government and official persons of lower rank
D / E / F / G / H yellow private vehicles
K yellow vehicles and motorcycles owned by foreign natural persons
light brown vehicles and motorcycles owned by foreign and mixed companies, foreign journalists, religious institutions
R yellow private motorcycles and “cocotaxis”
S / T / U / V / W blue state owned vehicles
Y / Z state owned motorcycles

source: Wikipedia (I know, I know. Horrible source, but in this case it is reliable)

Cubans don’t have anything. They live a very simple life and have to be creative in order to make a decent living. But still, they somehow manage to be happy. It does not make them depressed or anything.
But what about those people who apparently have everything?
-South Korea, a booming state with a fantastic economy: Highest suicide rate in the world
-In 2009, about twenty employees of the French company France telecom commit suicide because of stress caused by re-structuring of the management and policies.
-skyrocketting cases of burnout
-depression

Is it the weather that makes them happy and satisfied? What are they doing right? And what are we doing wrong?
I have my theory about that, but just think about it yourself. Are you happy? Do you think that you are satisfied with your life? What can you do differently in order not to fall into one of the mentioned categories?
I hope that I don’t sound like a strange psychologist at the moment, but I believe that every person should be aware of the most important aspect of their lives: Happiness.
Do not let ”them” (The system, your employer/company, parents, those who critizise you, or whoever it might be in your case) take that away from you.

Santiago de Cuba: How critical are Cubans?

The heat was killing me. It was quite early and I was sitting in the sun and the sun burned on my skin. I was sitting in a park and two drunk men were energetically dancing around, one was playing the violin (horribly, probably because of the alcohol) and they were singing and dancing around and trying to engage with people.
In the morning I had already done a little excursion to the Viazul in order to buy the ticket to my next destination: Baracoa. The trip to the bus station with the bici taxi was really interesting. It was 28 December and it seemed like the whole city had already started the preparations for New Year’s eve. This means that Santiago was like a butcher shop. We crossed a little poorer neighbourhood and there was meat everywhere. Whole pigs laying around on the streets and people cut them into pieces, I saw two men on bikes both holding a stick- with a dead pig hanging on the stick. Although I don’t eat meat I don’t mind watching dead animals, I found it quite funny.
Anyways, the heat. Oh Santiago. I ended up in a cafe again, and this time it was really interesting.
Some people on the table next to mine started talking to me- I had black coffee without milk or sugar and they asked me how I could drink that.
Cubans throw tons of sugar in everything- juice, coffee, ice cream, sweets, EVERYTHING. But I don’t really like it.
Anyways, we started talking, and of course, the voice inside of me pushed the conversation in a political direction again.
And they started! Lively, completely critical, and it was like as if they couldn’t stop!
The most active guy said the following

”I don’t believe in change. Cuba cannot and it will not change. Ever. A normal Cuban makes about $10 US per month, the minimum wage is $9US. There is extreme poverty in Cuba. You might not be able to see it, and actually also we don’t see it, but we know that it’s there. An extremely poor person in Mexico for example has to live on the streets, whereas an extremely poor Cuba might not live on the streets, but they live with their family. Cubans have a different understanding of family values as we do. If your brother is poor then it is normal to have him and your family live with you in your house. No biggie. And yes, people seem happy. Rum, music, dancing,… but this is just a little fairy tale that people create in order to hide their problems. ‘’
Three of his friends joined the conversation and also complained about the lousy economic situation. And they also talked about ‘inventar’, a thing which I had heard that often. People in Cuba have to be creative and think of solutions in order to make a living. Somehow everyone is trying to make some extra income, by being a taxi or ripping off tourists.
The only thing which they seemed to value was that there is no violence in Cuba and that the country is absolutely safe. ‘’Cuba is not like Colombia or Mexico’’

And then all of them started talking about Varadero. Tourists who are planning on travelling to Cuba always have a hard choice to make. Varadero or not? You could buy the whole package. 10 days Varadero, beach, happiness, sun and cocktails. But Varadero is not Cuba. It is a hotel paradise which attracts large numbers of Europeans and Canadians every year.
It is relatively ok price-wise.
The other option then is to see the actual country. To travel. It is harder. It is more expensive. But it is real Cuba.
But the guys in the café were absolutely positive about Varadero. It seems to be the dream of every Cuban to spend their holidays there. And those guys wouldn’t mind if the whole country would turn into Varadero.

But how funny again. I thought it would be hard to have a critical conversation with Cubans. But no, they are absolutely critical and they are not afraid to speak out. Even the waiters joined in to our conversation and it was really nice. But maybe they also knew each other well and were sure that no one of them would report them to their local CDR (Comite de la defensia de la revolucion).
Those guys in this bar though were about 30 years old. A new generation of Cubans.

Day 11: Santa Clara, or: Human rights,…?

”Libertad es el derecho que todo hombre tiene a ser honrado, y a pensar y a hablar sin hipocresia. (…) Un hombre que obedece a un mal gobierno, sin trabajar para que el gobierne sea bueno, no es un hombre honrado. Un hombre que se conforma con obedecer a leyes injustas, y permite que pisen el pais en que nacio los hombres que se lo maltratan, no es un hombre honrado.” (Jose Marti, La edad de oro, chapter Tres heroes)

”Liberty is the right that every human has to be honest, and to think and talk without hypocrisy. (…) A person that follows a bad government without trying to improve the government is not an honorable person. A person which follows injust laws and contributes to the country to abuse its people is not an honorable person.” (my own translation, no guarantee that it is 100% correct)

Today’s blog entry focusses at an acquaintance which I made in Santa Clara, actually already on my first day there. I met this nice guy, I will not tell his name here for security reasons. He was super nice, we talked a lot and he even bought me beers.
He told me that he had a German girlfriend (but that he still saw other girls ”Soy un hombre!”- ”I am a man”. Yeah, Cuba…) Apparently he was hanging out with a lot of tourists, he told me about a Dutch group of backpackers who would arrive in a couple of days and a German-Thai couple that he spent some time with at the moment…
I was really careful, though. My disappointment regarding Cuban people was still quite fresh and I had promised myself not to trust people that easily again.
But he seemed to be a very social guy.
He asked me what I did, and I said that I was studying something like Politics, International Law and Economics. He pointed at my tattoo (I have the Amnesty International Candle tattooed on my left arm just underneath my hand), and told me that he thinks that it was great and that he believes that human rights NGOs are doing great work.
Oh wow.Life-Facebook-Status-18564
He continued saying that he had met many foreign people in Cuba who were involved in the field of human rights and he said that it was a shame that NGOs, including Amnesty International, were not allowed to enter Cuba.
He added that he was hoping that Cuba would change quickly and open up, since he was very interested to talk openly and to exchange ideas in this field with people from foreign countries. Then, he said quietly that it was sad that every time people try to talk openly in Cuba about critical things you had to be careful and look around to make sure that nobody was listening.

Actually, we also wanted to meet up in Remedios for a bit at the festival, but due to the large amount of people it was just impossible to find one person if there are more than thousands present.

Anyways, Santa Clara is pretty small and I saw him the next day, after my night in Remedios. When he saw me, he nervously waved at me and came closer to join me on the table in the cafe I was sitting (I had beers of course already at 11 in the morning).
He told me about his Remedios ”adventure”.
He was having a lot of fun with a group of his backpack-friends, when all of a sudden an undercover policeman asked him to come with him. He was in shock. He was just hanging out with his friends at the festival like everyone else!
My friend was taken to the police station and questionned the whole night until 4 a.m. They asked him what he was doing with all those tourists he was hanging out. They said that he spent too much time with foreign people and that he did not have the right to do so. He should stay away from non-Cubans. They made him pay a $30CUC fine (again, a normal Cuban officially makes about $20CUC per month!!) and then they released him after a couple of hours.
I couldn’t believe it. Why? What was the crime that he did? He was a social guy who was interested in other cultures and people!

But my day got even more scary.
After my talk with him, I went to the Che Guevara monument. I took some nice pictures, walked around and then sat in the20141225_144207 shadow- it was a really warm day. Then suddenly, a young policeman stood next to me. He said hi and asked me how I was doing. Then what my name was, where I was from and what I was doing in Cuba.
Ok, awkward.
But actually he was really nice and we had a nice chat.
I answered his questions honestly (I did not say much though besides the part that I was a political science student), and I told him that I came because I wanted to see what Cuba was like since I had read a lot about it.
And well, after I had answered his questions where I was going next, how long I was still staying, etc. I told him that I had to go. I thanked him for the ‘nice chat’, got up and started walking towards the next Bici Taxi.
Well, they do not take tourists immediately with them if they are suspicious I guess.
Or maybe the two incidences were just a coincidence.
I still do not have any answers to that.