When I think about Cuba, many images and emotions burble through my brain. I see classic American cars, clunky Russian tractors, Ladas and goats galore, yoked oxen working the fields and pulling wagons, horse carts, cattle trucks that double as public transportation, bad roads and good friends, bicycles, bright flowers of many hues and beautiful people of almost as many hues, happy hugs, sincere smiles, music, sunshine, soaring mountains, swells of saltwater and warmth – best of all, the warmth.
Warmth is foremost whenever I find myself talking about Cuba, explaining why I keep going back. The physical warmth of the climate is what first attracted me, as well as the affordability of travel there. That was the bait but the emotional warmth of the people set the hook. I can’t say enough good stuff about the Cuban people. They are easy to love.
Naturally, no population is perfect; there are clinkers in every bowl of popcorn. However, I have to say, the majority of the people I’ve encountered in Cuba are worthy of great admiration and respect. Admittedly, my sampling has been rather small – mainly in the Granma region, around Marea del Portillo and Pilon – but my sentiments have been echoed by other visitors I’ve spoken with and guidebooks I’ve read. The people are wonderful. They are welcoming. They are curious about foreigners and proud of their own rich culture. They are giving, even though they have little material goods in comparison to many countries. They long for greater freedom, from what I’ve observed, but are patient; it will come one day.
Changes are now occurring in Cuba. The government is shifting its weight, reshaping the way it operates. There have been massive federal employment cuts and more are expected but, as a counterpoint, there appears to be greater openness to self-employment opportunities and private enterprise. The scales are finding a new balance. In the long run, I think the outcomes will be positive but, in the short term, I fear there will be many hardships, especially in remote, rural regions like Granma, where there are fewer options than in areas frequented by hordes of tourists.
It is the uncertainty of the upcoming transition that causes me concern, stalls my heart on behalf of the decent people who will likely struggle to survive during this period of flux. In addition to nationwide layoffs, there is talk of the ubiquitous ration books being done away with. These books entitle people to purchase a set amount of cheap food from government-run stores – not quite enough to live on but, by most accounts, vital to the majority of homes. What will families do without the accustomed rations? How will they be able to afford to buy enough food on the more expensive open market when the wage earners in many households have been laid off or had their work hours severely cut? Will theft born of desperation become a more serious problem? Some fear so. I hope not.
At present, tourists can feel reasonably safe from peril in Cuba, provided they take normal precautions to protect their valuables, just as they would at home. If the financial picture becomes bleaker, however, it could mean that visitors to the country become tempting targets for desperate, needy people who have run out of other avenues for survival. That, unfortunately, would only worsen things for everyone, since tourism is such an important part of the economy. One of the attractive elements of a Cuban holiday, in my opinion, is the feeling of safety, in comparison to some other places I’ve traveled.
Will Cuba still feel as warm? Will people still be as welcoming? Yes, I think so. I will continue to travel there, even if images of poverty begin to dominate my mental portfolio. Change will not happen overnight. In the next few years, I’m fairly certain that Cuba will need foreigners more than ever before. I just hope we are able to help the people as much as some of us would like to.
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.