This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

GIFTS: What’s most appreciated?

Canadians, in general, are genuinely generous people. One of the first questions many people planning trips to Cuba ask is “What can we take as gifts?” Canadian travelers truly want to know what’s most needed or wanted by the Cuban people.

I’ve created the list below by blending gift suggestion lists I’ve found on other sites and tossing in a few of my own ideas. For instance, I took some solar-powered yard lights on my last trip and they were a big hit. One friend told me that his family uses them in the house when the power goes out, which is a frequent occurrence in Cuba. The Club Amigo Marea del Portillo resort is equipped with solar hot-water tanks but, for some reason, the technology does not seem readily available for smaller applications or for home use.

Another idea I’ve added is to take spark igniters (usually used for lighting welding torches, available at hardware stores). On my first trip to Marea del Portillo, I asked one fellow what he thought a useful gift would be, for future reference. With little hesitation, he said “Lighters.” I replied that I wasn’t really keen to encourage smoking but he explained that many people cook with gas and, in the humid climate, matches just don’t cut it. Since I don't want to contribute to environmental waste in Cuba by taking disposable lighters, I take the longer-lasting flint igniters instead.

I’ve tried to organize my list in categories, roughly in order of importance. During my previous trips to Cuba, I’ve asked a variety of people for their opinion of what is best to take as gifts. Clothing needs predominate. Much of the clothing and footwear available in Cuba, I’ve been told, is either pricey or poorly made.

Drug store items are also right up there on most folks’ mental lists, although some people are too proud or shy to ask, I’ve learned. Even what Canadians would consider common, necessary medicine-cabinet supplies are out of financial reach for many Cubans. So, hit the dollar store before you pack!

Here’s my list of gift ideas:

- Clothing of any types, all sizes
- Shoes, laces & sports socks
- Hats, baseball caps, bandanas
- Pretty scarves, jewelry, hair accessories

[Please check expiry date on pills or any health items.]
- Aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, other pain relief products
- Vitamins, antacids, antibiotics, anti-diuretics, etc.
- Gravol, Imodium, Pepto Bismol & such
- Thermometers, Band Aids, Q-Tips & razors
- Lipstick, nail polish & clippers
- Deodorant & other toiletries
- Toothbrushes & toothpaste
- Soap, shampoo/conditioner
- Tampons, pads or other feminine products
- Condoms (for medical personnel to distribute)
- Used prescription or reading glasses

- Notebooks & other paper products
- Pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners
- Tape, glue, scissors, markers, etc.
- Coloring books, crayons, colored pencils
- Agendas, daybooks, calendars, etc.

- Ping-pong paddles, balls, nets
- Volleyballs, nets
- Soccer/tennis/baseballs, etc.
- Frisbees, skipping ropes, kites, etc.

- Spanish/English dictionaries to use & leave
- Solar yard lights (helpful indoors in power outages)
- Wind-up flashlights (batteries can be hard to get)
- Lighters (not matches) or igniters for gas stoves
- Nails, screws & simple tools
- Plastic containers or bags (Ziploc style)
- Insulated bags for food or beverages
- Umbrellas for rain or sun
- CDs for dancing & to leave at hotel
- Simple games for kids like jacks, puzzles
- Toys, dolls, stuffed animals
- Balloons, glow bracelets, etc.
- Gum & candy, especially chocolate
- Maple syrup – a nice Canadian touch!

A creative use for an unused condom - shooting pebbles!


At the end of August (2010), I spoke with a friend in the Marea del Portillo area about current shortages. I asked specifically about deodorant, which had been in short supply when I visited in May. He said the situation has worsened - soap, shampoo and related toiletries are all hard to get now.

One of the country's largest suppliers of these goods has closed, he explained, so very little is available anywhere. In the Granma province, however, the problem is exacerbated because of the region's isolation.

Marea del Portillo is off the beaten track, which is one of the reasons why I like it. Unfortunately, this can make vital supplies difficult to get and life more challenging for the residents.

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