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, February 19, 2012

GIFTS: The short list, 2012 update

I've begun visiting Cuba regularly, organizing groups to travel with me to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, a wonderful little resort in the southern end of the island. Because of this relatively new role as tour leader and Cuba-vangelist, I am frequently asked questions about the country. I always do my best to answer intellegently but, in all honesty, I am no expert!

With that general disclaimer in mind, I am putting forward my short list of suggestions in response to the #1 FAQ: "What gifts should I take to Cuba?" For a more comprehensive answer and longer list, please read my earlier (2010) blog post, entitled "GIFTS: What's most appreciated?" 

The 2012 short list of most useful gift ideas:

- Clothing of all types & sizes (even light jackets)
- Shoes, socks & underwear (for adults & children)
- Any basic drugstore or medicine-cabinet supplies  
     [Please check expiry dates on consumables!] 
- Toiletries like deodorant, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes/paste, etc.
- Feminine products (tampons & pads) & razors
- Paper, pens, pencils, etc. (school supplies & for adults too)
- Wind-up flashlights (batteries can be hard to get)
- Flint igniters or lighters for gas stoves (not matches)
- Solar yard lights (can be used indoors during power outages)
- USB devices (flashdrives can be loaded with movies, music, etc.)

Three items that I've added to my personal list are flint igniters, solar lights and flashdrives. These are not things I've found on any other lists; the additions are based on my own observations and experiences.

On one of my earliest trips, I asked an amigo what he felt would be useful for me to bring on another visit. He suggested lighters because many people cook with gas and, in the humidity, matches won't always work. Rather than contribute to waste in Cuba by taking disposable lighters, I began taking spark igniters - available at hardware stores because they are mainly used here for lighting welding torches. They run about $5 each.

I began taking solar-powered yard lights after visiting a friend in the village of Marea del Portillo, as it was getting dark. He had a cranky wind-up flashlight that barely illuminated the critters he was trying to show off. (If it quacks, it must be a duck!) So, on my next trip, I literally lit up his life with solar torches. Several Cuban friends I've also given them to say that they use these yard lights inside their homes when the electricity flickers off in the evening, as it frequently does.

I watch for sales and buy boxes of solar lights whenever possible. The best deals have been about $40 for a box of 20; in other words, about $2/each. I have seen some at dollar stores for less money but they are also cheaper with respect to quality and amount of illumnation. People will be appreciative of any solar lights but I try to take models I think will last at least until my next trip!

More recently, I've begun taking USB devices (a.k.a. flashdrives, flash keys, thumb drives, etc.). Again, I watch closely for sale prices and have sometimes been able to pick up 8-GB drives for about $12/each, on average. These are pricier gifts but light and compact (my suitcases are usually heavy and overflowing) and, most importantly, they are extremely useful in Cuba. People typically use them to share movies, music and games, as well as information.

That last point is especially worth noting. Most Cubans do not have Internet access, even if they have computers. By downloading info on world events to a USB key, they can share international news with many people. Thus, they can learn about current events, albeit a bit belatedly. (For instance, they may not have learned of Whitney Houston's death two minutes after it occurred, like many North Americans did.) Also, the lives of expensive, hard-to-get electronic equipment can be extended by using a USB port instead of the more delicate disk drive.

Okay, I've blithered on again for much longer than I'd intended - I had wanted to keep this post short! Oh, well, I'm a writer. Once my fingers start dancing, it's sometimes hard to stop them....

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