I have been in Cuba for only a few days and I have already done so much. It’s hard to describe this place. It has its own rhythm and it feels weird that the five other students and I need to be on time for our different classes and excursions, while the rest of the island is on its own relaxed pace.
It feels like I am in a country with a completely different system of things, and yet in a way it doesn’t. The people here love Americans. The American flag is on numerous amounts of clothing – most likely from relatives in Miami – and English is more widely spoken than one would think. And yet there are still signs, posters, and graffiti everywhere, which tout the superiority of the socialist system that has been in place since the revolution. One wall even read “Socialismo o Muerte” which translates to “Socialism or Death”.
We haven’t started our classes yet, but I have already been speaking so much Spanish. Today after our class placement test, the six of us, plus two new friends, went to this little restaurant, which catered to mostly locals – mainly because it dealt in moneda nacional (CUP) instead of the Cuban Connvertible Peso (CUC). The currency system is confusing, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. My lunch came to a total of 32 pesos nacionales, which is around $1.25. But, it didn’t taste dirt-cheap; it was good. I had tamale, rice pudding (arroz con leche), a bottle of water, and guava juice (jugo de guayaba). Simple, yet delicious.
I’m also surprised at the amount of places that have air conditioning, or at least a couple of fans. My shower situation at La Residencia is also suprising, considering I have a choice between hot and cold water (I always go for cold because of the heat outside). However, there is little water pressure and it takes around 10 minutes just to wash my thick hair.
The city of Havana is stuck in a serious time warp. It seems confused about what it’s supposed to be. There are a lot of old American cars from the 50s, but there are also British and Soviet cars from the 1980s and a few German cars from recent years. The buildings are crumbling but it looks like they are supposed to be that way. However, the music is mostly modern and surprisingly American. This is because of a weekly black market “packet” that is put on a terabyte drive for 2CUC (around $2.28). It contains all of the latest music, TV shows and movies from the US and Spain.
Our first night here, we went to a gallery/film house/concert hall/club called La Fabrica del Arte. The art was incredible and the majority of the music was in English. They also had a unique sort of bar tab in which after paying the 2CUC entrance fee, the bouncers give you a card which sort of acts as a drink ration card. You use it at the different bars inside and instead of paying for the drinks up front; you rack up stamps on the card and pay as you leave. It is an extremely modern club that one would expect to find in Europe or big cities, not a place like Havana.
Yesterday, we went to a street full of artists, musicians and dancers. I think its called La Calle Diana, but don’t hold me to that. We saw an afro-Cuban rumba show which was a lot of fun, although we didn’t stay the whole time because of the heat. I loved how into the dancing the performers were. We also went to a Cuban salsa club last night, where girls are snatched up as dance partners very rapidly. One of our girls even got a marriage proposal!
I’m ready to really delve into the country and to really experience it. This will really start after classes begin and when I get the chance to meet more Cubans and talk to them. We talked with our waitress today at the restaurant and she was just as interested in what we had to say as we were in what she had to say. She realized that our Spanish was limited, and worked with us, even though she didn’t speak a lick of English. It surprises me how patient and hospitable the people are.
Hopefully I will be able to post another update at some point while I’m here, however the Internet is expensive and rare. We could have gotten free wifi at the university, but it is only available to students who are staying for four months or more. But, maybe that’s a sign that I need to come back!