Squeezing the most out of life | An Aussie and a Colombian living life with a wandering spirit. Eight years together & over 60 countries up our sleeves, we're sharing the love |

Discovering the heart of Havana

In only a few days Havana has managed to rapidly shake up my political perspective. During my twenties I was enchanted by the Socialist Alliance mantra as well as an empathy of the Cuban revolution from a less than truly understood distance. Support for Cuba – a country seemingly aloft on a Socialist raft in an angry sea of Capitalism. All for one and one for all made perfect sense to me; the power of the masses to support the individual unselfishly.

Visiting Cuba and witnessing the wake of the reality has left me both saddened and inspired. But mostly confused.

Speaking to a veteran supporter of Fidel Castro, the grandfather of the family I stayed with, Horacio is an accomplished intellectual and musician in his seventies. He has endured the US political embargos, black outs, as well as the extreme food rationing by the Government, yet he still remains proudly Communist and unwaveringly Anti USA Government.

Unlike many Cubans he remained. In the Fidel years a huge number of Cubans fled to the shores of Florida and beyond, crafting makeshift life rafts, risking their lives in inner tubes to flee their families, never to be allowed to return. Condemned for being artists, homosexuals, rich, simply unsupportive of the Castro regime. The movie Before Nights Falls is a brilliant example of the Cuban struggle.

But Horacio would rather die hungry for his beliefs than live in a world that supports consumerism. He is now appreciating the ‘benefits’ of ‘Patria or Muerte’  – ‘Fatherland or Death’ as a brilliantly educated person with free medical care and social support for the rest of his life. He can’t sprout enough positives for the benefits of the community that he deeply loves.

Speaking to Rodriguez on the street, a 32 year old father and studying musician is an entirely different story. In exchange for his education he works 10 hours a day, 6 days a week promoting night cabarets to tourists even though he doesn’t speak any English. Once he finishes studying he can earn some money, but all he wants is to be able to have the choice and funds to leave Cuba and see what life is like outside his island. His 8 and 10 year old children aren’t allowed milk rations any more. Under the age of 8 they receive a meager 500mls per day from the Government.

I succumbed to his story and went with him to the Government shop to buy enough powdered milk for his children for three months, the grin on his face was heartbreaking.

Most of all Rodriguez despises the one bar of soap per person per month ration. Cubans pride themselves on their appearance as well as many things. Often there is just not enough food, the rations run out and waiting in line for everything becomes a draining part of daily existence.

You can’t visit Havana without being drawn in to the political struggle, the absence of daily choices that some people say they are used to and others I suspect are too scared to say otherwise. Now Fidels’ brother is in the Presidential seat more people are inclined to voice their resistance. Things are changing. The option to become self employed is starting to emerge and create new social divides. For a country that was top of it’s game financially, culturally and intellectually only half a century ago it’s hard not to imagine What if?

On the upside it’s clear to see that Cubans find humour their best weapon, after all they have cheap rum, solidarity of sorts and an incredible passion to get lost in the power of music and dance. On the streets the rhythms are rising up.

Leaving Havana I stopped in a shop to buy a bottle of water. I didn’t have small change and the shop assistant couldn’t change my money. I started to walk away empty handed. A lady standing next to me thrust the 60 cents on the counter and insisted on paying for me, I thanked her with reluctance and she waved me off. “You are my companera, you are my sister”

The memory of Havana that will stay with me the most is that the heart of the Cubans is what tugged so strongly at mine.


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