Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Intro to Cuba

Sometimes you go somewhere that is so foreign to your senses that you can't help but to stare at everything around. You can't ask enough questions or get enough answers to fill the voids of knowledge that confront you. As someone who has a pretty easy life you think "how can people live like this?" yet they do and you wonder if they even know how different it is. I'm talking about Cuba, Havana to be specific as that is where we spent most of our time. A city with almost 2.5 million people living amidst incredible architecture, although it's crumbling around their feet. Electricity is scarce here so the city at night sits in darkness for the most part. Store shelves are filled with the same thing over and over and over if they are filled at all. Music streams out of hotels and bars as locals sit outside to listen, they aren't allowed in most places and even if they were they don't have money for a drink. Ration lines for bread snake 3 blocks long. Neighbors sit in their doorways and call out to each other, behind them their homes are dark and empty.

I've never been to a communist country before. I've never been to a country with so many rules, one set for tourists and the other for the nationals. Different currencies, different shops, different taxis. Different.



If this all sounds a bit depressing, it can be. Some people are poor and hungry and dirty and without resources. But others are prospering. They wear designer clothes, they have laptops, digital cameras and pork. They are trying to run businesses and make money for their families and friends. They share everything they have- even with us. We experienced this time and time again. It's a classic case of the "haves" and the "have nots" brought on by a government who decided that two currencies- the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and the CUP (Cuban Peso) would somehow be a great idea.

You need CUCs to buy the better things- nice clothes, meat, better groceries, housewares, etc. The only way to get them is to work where you will come in contact with tourists. CUPs are used in the post office, with street vendors, in state run grocery stores. The average monthly wage in Cuba is $25, the average price of necessities- food, toilet paper, rum- is very similar to what it is here in the states. You figure out the math.

 

But there is so much more to Havana than crumbling buildings and grocery store shortages. There is so much history, pride and belief in a better tomorrow. All you have to do is ask and people will tell you about their families, their education and who they know who lives in the States.

Team Cuba (made up of 2 French and 4 Americans) spent 10 days in Havana and still didn't see everything. But what we saw, heard and experienced has made a lasting impression and I hope to share a bit of that here with you, stay tuned!

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