Nearby Casa de la Trova, I veered into a side street. A young handsome man grilled dance movements into teenagers aged between eight and fifteen. Parents sat on the side watching their kids learning all the groves and moves. This explained, why every Cuban seem to know how to dance. It is opportunities given from a young age. I loved the movements and some kids had great skill and promise.
That evening, I returned to Casa de la Trova. The room was quite packed and Maria at the door was delighted to see me. She escorted me to a ‘good’ sitting area. I watched the show for over an hour. It was late. Parque Cespedes was still crowded with masses of people. Most of them were on their cell phones trying to get connected onto the free wifi in the area. In Havana, it was around Parque Central and Calle Obispo. Everyone seem to have a cell phone but not sure how many actually have bought data. It’s expensive and connection is poor. The delight, on their cell phone light lit faces, when connected to loved ones, is priceless. The joy and laughter was touching. What is my family in a far-away land up to today?
The narrow streets to my casa dark. It was around 11.30pm. Two women called as I passed them. One, I had earlier met at the Trova. Initially, the usual – where I was heading and origins? Would I like to have a drink? Eventually, it led to, would you like a “la chica”? When everything failed, how about you buy me a drink? After declining to their ‘offers’ as I was leaving, how about some money to buy a drink. No money! I just walked away into the dark street. In Santiago de Cuba, I found asking for these ‘type of things’ common compared to Trinidad and even Havana. Ignore or engage with a firm no or not interested. I like to engage in my limited Spanish as much as I can. There is no need to get offensive or annoyed. It’s all part of travelling and dealing with pushy but harmless “jinteros”.
It rained today, my last day in Santiago. The warning signs were already there while I was having breakfast on the open roof top terrace at my casa. The weather, although grey, it was cooler. After breakfast, I walked around aimlessly in the wet conditions. My bus journey to Habana departs at 4pm. Round the corner of the cathedral, I met ever smiling Adrian. Always delighted, we exchanged contact address. He hoped to travel someday to faraway places. I could see “stars” in his eyes, as he looked towards the heavens. I wished him well.
Away from Parque Cespedes and the main shopping streets at Calle Saco, it was quiet. Perhaps the rain had a part to play. I ended up at small local market surrounded by crumbling buildings and people waiting, not sure for what. Generally, even in Havana, only small quantities of produce or goods were available for sale, both at market stalls and in retail shops. On my walk, I met a young waiter from one of the restaurants I had lunch near Padre Pico steps. He is always smiling. When I asked him what he’s up to, he was getting ready to get back to work. A long day’s work indeed but he had the right attitude.
Back at the casa, Antonio was making some fresh pasta – making the dough, rolling and cutting them using a set of metal strips attached to a board. He cooked them in boiling water and stored in the freezer. There are some homesick Italians around here. This was his side business. His lovely Cubano wife, Day, managed a little nail salon nearby. These guys are enterprising. I asked Antonio about the potential relaxation of US trade embargo. I wanted a ‘foreigner’s views’. “What change”. He did not expect to see Cuba change at this stage. “The power is controlled by one – the Castro brothers. There will be no change in long while”. I suggested, perhaps US tourist will increase. Although, mostly will be aged travellers staying in hotels. He was pessimistic. “We pay taxes for everything and all the proceeds from international businesses goes to you know where. What distribution of business? Antonio was sceptical. Perhaps he shared my views too. There is perceived corruption amongst the leaders and the connected. Hardship amongst the people is at its core. Hopefully, the initial changes will be a catalyst for better things to come. I truly wish this for the Cuban people. They certainly deserve more than this from the prolonged difficulties that had endured.
Perceived corruption of officials especially at the top is high amongst all Cubans. Economically, Antonio, is above average from most Cubans. Most live a hard life and with limited earning capacity. People like Adrian, an engineer but with limited jobs prospects and earning capacity. There is a generation divide. The young can no longer accept the status quo. Bitterness towards the US is not spoken but mostly what Castro had done. Was he right in the first place? I believe so. Cuba was released from Corporate America from “making Cuba a US state”. Castro did get rid of drugs, crime and the American puppet rule of Batista. Cuba belonged to the Cubans. However, with US trade embargo and pull out of the main supporter, the Soviets, Castro found himself in tough times. Commodity exports declined and income dwindled. Consider this, if US embargo was not implemented, would Cuba be in today’s state of neglect. Look at Venezuela and Nicaragua. All these countries went through some kind of revolution and managed to ‘progress’ it on its own. US did not “interfere with sanctions”. Cuba was ‘unlucky’ in this sense. Why, because its alliance with the Soviet Union, US’s biggest threat. Therefore, Cuba and ultimately the Cubans were punished. It may be more complicated politically. With the eminent easing of sanctions, in my view, US had relented. It has realised it was not working and perhaps erred on its part. Cuba had not been a threat since Soviet’s departure in the countries affairs. Why had it taken so long? Collective punishment to the Cubans. When will Cuba able to grow and lift its people out of hardship? In the short term, it will benefit a small group, mainly related the tourist industry and spin-offs’. Then a spill over to agriculture production. All this will provide jobs and hopefully better income. What about the poor state of housing? On the overnight bus to Habana, I reflected on my journey through Cuba. Mainly about its people and particularly the ones I had interacted with. It had been a touching journey indeed. Castro’s Cuba had been about these little and limited but meaningful conversations and about Cubans love for life.
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