The Cuban Odyssy

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March 29th 2023
Published: April 5th 2023
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I cry not for you and not for myself, I cry for the helplessness of mortals who live on the sufferance of life. In order to avoid this bitter end, we would all have to be born again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives.

This is my second trip to Cuba. There are many different lenses you can see through when considering to visit Cuba. My cursiosity is to see how a communist/socialist life is actually lived. In North America we hear very little, if any, about Cuba or it's people. Us Americans are so busy and kept engaged with the domestic political masquerade that it does not leave us any time of interest to know whats going on in the rest of 98.3%!o(MISSING)f the globe (United States covers 1.87%!o(MISSING)f the earth). For example we still have not grasped the idea that Vietnam is not a war, its a country. And Cuba is not a damned nasty communist county we are lead to believe. I decided to visit Cuba to learn what they didnt teach me in school. The diffence between communism/socialism and capitalism.

Capitalism faults itself of income inequality and the system suffers a big gap between the rich and poor, the haves and the have nots. Communism, on the other hand, pride itself on social equality. Everyone is equally poor!

The dilemma and the drawback of capitalism, being a class society by definition, is the unhappiness with the unfair distribution of capital. What if there were no capital to be distributed, such as in Cuba. In Cuba everyone is almost equally poor, at least by the Western standards. A bizaar oxymoron. Cuba is a country of 11 million people of which 72%!o(MISSING)r about 8 million live below the poverty. we blame the poverty in Cuba on its communistic regime. In the United States, based on varifiable statistics of 2021, we have over 37 million people living below the poverty line, and we blame capitalism for it. A major dichotomy.

The Cuban Dichotomy

I am traveling around Cuba, hopping towns and cities, meeting some locals at different locations. The locals other than teaching me some Spanish when I try to communicate with them, they also make me wonder how in the world people with an average income of roughly $84 per month in today’s global dimension can be so calm and collective people. Other than a little bit in Havana, I haven’t seen people rushing or stress driving. Car accidents are very rare and expensive in Cuba as the repairs are so expensive and sometimes impossible because the auto parts can not be found easily, thanks to the US economic sanction on these people since 1962. I wonder when the US foriegn policy is going to see that putting economis sanctions on other countries only hurt the people of that country and not the governments. People don’t drive aggressively here, but the pedestrians unofficially do not have the right of way—you have to yield to cars, but they drive calmly enough for you calculate a safe passage walking the streets. People’s body-language is accommodating and helpful toward each other. Even when standing in long lines to buy something, they appear cool and patient. its interesting that in US if we end up standing in line somewhere more than 5-10 minutes, everyone will be complaining. Cuban people remind me of the Eastern Africans, the Tanzania region. People are poor but not unhappy in general. It makes me curious to learn more about this seemingly amazing classless culture. How can a nation be very poor but not unhappy. I hypothesis that people develop less of social inferiority complex if they didn’t have to keep up with the Jones’ in a class system societies with humongous income disparities. Perhaps the biggest human dichotomy yet to be defined and understood is Happiness vs. Money. My grandmother’s voice rings in my head: "Money doesn’t bring happiness, my dear."

On the streets here you can start a conversation so freely with almost anyone. If you are a food lover vacationer, however, don’t come to Cuba. The food ration and the narrow venue of import of food items in the country is the main cause of having less food variety. Pork is the leading meet they consume here and that is perhaps because pigs eat anything--so the cost of raising pork meat is cheaper than raising beef, also the pig feed is more available as neighbors give or trade their household waste to those who raise pigs in the villages. A very practical system. Beef is not favored here due to governmental policy that 'milk cows' are the goddess of farm animals, not religiously, but legally. The distribution and consumption of milk for the

I was asked to attend a class as a guest teacher for a fewer the students were to learn. days. It wasa great experience to see how eag
children on the daily basis is mandatory as the children’s need have priority over eating the cows. this law was stablished and spearheaded by Fidle Castro. So, it’s determined by the government that production of milk is more of priority than eating the meat. The government is in charge of everything in a totalitarian regime-- beef prices are kept high so the majority of people can not afford to eat it. They use the bulls for plowing the fields, and the cows for milk. And the national surplus of milk is turned into powdered form mainly for export and domestic baby food consumption.

I met Roberto, a waiter in the Resturant I was having lunch at in Havana. He is about 30 years old, divorced and a father of 7 year old daughter who now lives with her mother and stepfather in Satiago de Cuba about 800 kilometer from Havana. Roberto is one of the 8 working staff in the resturant. Roberto freely talks about his life in Cuba. The waiters income in this resturant varies from day to day —it depends on how much money the small resturant owner takes in each day. The staff make 10% of
the sales divided between their group of 8. On a good day the resultant books about 60,000 Cuban Pesos (CP) a day, leaving 6000 Pesos between them. This would come to be about 750 pesos per worker which translate into $5 US per day for 12 hour shifts.
He works on a two days work two days off schedule. And if the resturant doesn’t do enough business, the workers make that much less. I was very lucky I strike up with someone like Roberto. His English is sufficient, thanks to tourism and resturant business, for us to communicate with some limitation and he loves to talk. He is open, friendly and enjoys telling me his life story and I love to hear it. Roberto makes between 7000 to 9000 CP per month and his rent is 6000 per month. It’s like making $56 a month of which $42 goes for rent for a tiny 100 sf room he has rented. A bell of ugly landlords rings in my head —but not in Cuba! Wait till you get to know, José, his landlord. Roberto is calm and speaks with an occasional smile. He says he tries to send some money for the support of his daughter, but it’s not every month that he succeeds-but his ex-wife is very understanding of it and she does not demand. He feels thankful and kind of indebted to her daughter’s stepfather with whom he has a decent relationship, for taking care of and raising his daughter along side two children of their own. They live in Santiago de Cuba a town on the South East of the island, a 15-20 hour bus ride from Havana. Roberto does not get a chance to see his daughter as often as he wants. He has to take a few days off from work which is hard to do, and if he did, he wouldn’t have the money to travel with. He doesn’t work he doesn’t get paid. The bus ticket round trip to Santiago de Cuba is about 3500 CP, plus when he goes there he like to bring something for his daughter and the cost of accommodation over there all together prohibits his trip as the cost become equal to about one month of his income, for at least a 4-day-trip there and back. It’s not possible!, he tells me with passion. “I maybe able to go once a year if I am lucky”, he says. He has no savings. But he is not angry.

His “ugly landlord”, José, even though he is the landlord but he doesn’t live a different life than Roberto. He is just as poor. José was given a small 250 sqf apartment by the Cuban government and he is renting a portion of that room to Roberto. José has no other income other than the 6000CP he gets from Roberto. A poor landlord.

A medical doctor in Cuba makes close to $250 per month - he is also poor as the cost of his or her rent, with family and children is much higher. There are no rich doctors in Cuba. In every neighborhood there is a doctor somewhere who is ready to make house calls too, if you want them to. And it doesn’t cost anything, however, it is costmary for the patients to bring a small gift of some sort for the doctor when they come for their visit. The American culture will surely see this as corruption, but in the bigger picture there is a social equality nestled in common poverty. And it is working. It’s like, if you have some banana trees and you have excess bananas, you bring some banana for your doctor. The doctor also may bring a kilo of rice when he or she goes to a family of friend’s home. Pragmatic, to a large extend.

So, when it’s all said and done, the doctor will be making a tad more than the waiter working in a busy resturant. This is what Communism means. There is pain and suffering amongst people in this poor nation, but somehow because it’s a shared deprivation and poverty, it is psychologically more bearable with more social acceptance of each other and little resentment. Health care and education are free in Cuba. Cuba pride itself for training some of the most skilled medical doctors which are deployed to other countries such as Venezuela and others.

As I moved on from Havana to go to Varadero and on to Trinidad, I said goodbye to Roberto with a promise of keeping in touch on WhatsApp and for me to go back to Havana soon and reconnect with him.

The stories of our life unfolds to an amazing contrasts and perceptions.
Perhaps it’s the class differences (struggle) and unfair distribution of wealth in a society , as in Capitalist countries, that causes the pain and the friction and so much havoc. But not when a nation is equally poor.
Most of the Westerners have only an image of what poverty is, unless they have seen it in the real world. I met people in Old Delhi in India that didn’t have or owned absolutely anything. Not a home, not much clothing, and nothing else.

Unlike the Western “Free world” , they’re no homeless in Cuba. Everyone by the virtue of their citizenship and Human Rights issues which was pioneered by Fidel Castro, is entitled to a place to live. Travelling in Cuba shed some light of my forever curiosity about what it is like to live under a Communist regime. Products and services are tightly controlled and operated by the government to prevent price gouging and inflation --an impossible task in a capitalistic system! People here buy what’s available in stores. Whatever the government is able to produce for the month, the people are going to get. The grocery stores shelves are stocked with limited products. It’s like buying rice from the rice store and oil from the oil store. And there are always a line in front of the stores selling staple product. All Cubans hold a ration registration card issued by the government and are allowed a certain amount of food per month as part of their social services at a very low price. For example; each person get 5 eggs, a bottle of oil, rice bread a bar of soap and so on per month. A family of 4, for example, gets 20 eggs per month. If they want to consume more, they have to buy it at higher prices in the open market. Families with children get at least one gallon of milk per week. And of course a lot of times even if people have the extra money the product they want may not be available tobe purchased. This creates long lines in front of the stores all the time as people try to get what they need from the government operated stores before the store is sold out of it till the next month.

There is a sense of calmness in people. They cherish Fidel like a father and esteem Che Guevara dearly nonetheless.
I met Tom a few days ago in Trinidad, he is Canadian and married to a Cuban wife, Fedelino. Tom is an agricultural consoltant and they live half of the year in Canada and half in Cuba. Tom showed me around town and took me to a small school to meet the teacher Carmen. Carmen is the teacher and the principal and the administrator of the school. A woman in her sixties and sharp. She asked me if I could teach a class of English Conversation for a few days. I happily accepted. The school has one classroom which is also her living room with a blackboard and teaching materials at the corner. We talked about her teaching methods and the students needs. She teaches English to students ages 13 to upper teens and few in upper ages. About 30 students in my class. I agreed to teach a class for a couple of hours a day for a few days. Strangely, among the students there are a couple of physicians, an internist and a dentist. Everyone is happy and motivated to learn English here. We set a rule that no one would speak Spanish ifor the duration of the class. Carmen and Tom were pleased to see how much progress the students have made in a relatively short period. The kids are happy and they all got my email address to communicate and practice their writing later.

It’s Friday March 25 and I am leaving Trinidad for Havana to catch my flight back to California. I plan on returning to Cuba in November to look into possibly establishing an English school.

من برای تو نمیگریم….. و نه برای خود.

میگریم برای آنهائی که در مرز طاقت هایشان به ذلت بیتوته می‌کنند.
جائی که تنها امید ادامه زندگی فقط در رویای تولدی دیگر میگنجد.
جائی که دین زیرکانه فرصت را می دزدد و‌پارادیس را وعده می‌دهد.
و ابن مرگباران مرکب،
بلا چاره گانی در انتظار فردایند که
طاقت را با اشک‌ هایشان آبیاری کنند.


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