I am much healthier here than I have been for the last year or so in the states. I’m even flossing. Every Wednesday we play soccer with some of our local friends, and at night Miles has us on a prison workout for abs and arms. Plus there’s all the walking we do, and the beach at least once a week. During our 15 minute break in classes Kristina and I have started doing some yoga and stretching stuff to get the blood flowing. Not to mention all the dancing we do several times a week to all hours of the night.
There are no snacks here, so I don’t eat them. All the food is homemade and delicious, and there’s no added junk in it. We eat fruit for breakfast, and I haven’t eaten meat at more than a handful of our dinners over the last three (3!) weeks.
My running shoes have gotten a lot of use lately, and the dirt at the stadium has turned them a rusty red-brown color. Of course, this past weekend of decadence at Varadero might have undone a little of that work, but probably not too much. More on the Veradero shenanigans later.
It’s not really important to me how I look, how many calories I consume or what the number is on the scale, but I do love being active, and its something I need to keep doing when I am back home in the spring. It is a pretty good feeling to hit the pillow hard at night, clean and tired, abs aching and muscles happy from an afternoon spent playing and running in the sun.
We’ve been talking a lot about family units and structures while here. In Cuba, due in part to the Latin family structure (la familia nuclear) and also because of the housing shortage, many extended families all live together under the same roof. Many of the Americans here can’t relate to the concept of one gigantic family that all love and know each other. It seems almost everyone here has a significant chunk of their family that, for whatever reason, they’ve fallen out of contact with. And of course, not many people roll with families as big as the Murphys or Harringtons.
Personally, I can’t imagine living without my big, crazy family. In one of the movies we watched for class, Páginas del Diario de Mauricio (Pages from Maurice’s Diary), Mauricio’s daughter chooses not to come back to Cuba during the Special Period, leading him to go a decade, a marriage and a grandchild without being able to see her again. I know the Special Period was hard, but I can’t imagine making the choice to stay away from my entire extended family indefinitely, even if there was some craziness going on in the US.
I don’t care what your politics are, it’s sad and disgusting how commonplace long term separation is for Cuban families and their overseas relatives.
Diana, one of my roommates, was hypothesizing that part of why families are so often depicted and included in the films we watch is that there is less individualism here. You depend on your family and community for a lot, and you’re always part of something larger; a whole; a collective. I have always felt that the Mass community was something I belonged to, more than some greater American identity.
Being part of Harlangro (all of my great-grandparents’ descendants on my dad’s side, for the uninitiated) has always been important to me and Kev, something my parents always instilled in us. As my mom says, you only have each other. I can’t imagine ever fighting with Kevin (or even a cousin or uncle or something) for more than a couple days, never mind the epic, multi-generational disputes some of my fellow travelers have experienced within their own families.
So today I am thankful that I have a big, crazy, loving, loyal family. I’m thankful that I can travel (almost) wherever I want and (always) come back home. I’m thankful that we’ve lost so few. I’m thankful that we actually enjoy spending time together, and live close enough to do it often. Finally, I’m thankful for the good health and miracles we’ve been getting lately. I hope that the next year brings more of the same, Cope, as we get ready to welcome another miracle, your first great-grandchild.
So happy birthday, Cope! We love you and appreciate all that you and Gram have done to keep us all together and happy, and the unique nature of our family is evidence of how hard that is.
Enjoy your day, I hope the weather’s as good for you as it is for me 90 miles away!
Oh bathrooms, you can bring every traveler such joy and delight, but rarely both at once.
In France I had the scalding shower with no curtain or visible place to mount the shower head (think Cirque du Soleil while I tried not to scream my favorite American vulgarities or slip in the tub), Egypt brought bathrooms ranging from European with bidet to hole in the ground, and now we have the Cuban take.
At the Residencia, we have bidets (always hilarious and adventurous) as well as low-pressure European toilets and a feisty shower. The shower is like a spigot that kind of pelts you in the torso with water that’s either lukewarm, freezing, scalding, or alternating all three. On very rare occasion does one experience what might be thought of as a sustained, normal temperature. I would describe any shower experience here as “aggressive.” As far as the curtains, well, there’s one in each shower but I don’t think it makes a difference. Luckily we now have mats on the floor so we don’t all have to go take advantage of our free health care by getting stitches.
The toilets. We’re definitely rocking the yellow, mellow/brown, down adage, and of course all non-bio products get thrown in the trash. One of the…perks of a trip like this is that everyone knows each other’s GI status. While we aren’t quite as frank about it as the Egypt crew (who were sharing in hilarious, graphic detail from day one), people have started realizing that chatting about your bowels around the dinner table is as normal and helpful as Gram has always treated it.
Outside of the Residencia? Well, it consists mostly of what I’ve been calling a Squat Situation. No toilet paper ever, like in Egypt, but at least there are rarely attendants motioning towards their mouths and asking for baksheesh. There are often no doors, meaning that bringing a pack of girls with you to the bathroom is (for once) actually a worthwhile enterprise.
Think this is a little graphic? It’s a good deal more euphemistic than most actual conversations on the subject. Be aware, though, that this is a very real part of travel, and definitely a factor I advise you be fully educated on before you buy a plane ticket. People can be very particular about bathroom habits, and I find it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Of course, all this is null if you just stay in American hotels everywhere you go, but then (some might argue) so was your trip.
I wake up sometime between 7:30 and 7:55, because breakfast is uptairs at 8 am. We have pineapple slices and fruta bomba (papaya), jugo (juice) de pina o papaya, huevos revueltos (scrambled) or hard-boiled, water, and pan con mantequilla (bread and butter.)
After breakfast, we thaw out, get dressed, check email, study or do some last minute homework.
At 9am we head down the ascensor, or if the elevator is broken, walk the ~13 floors to ground level. Class is down the street at Casa. 9:15-10:15 is espanol con Marbelia, but we used to have Idalia for the easier class. After a fifteen minute beak we have one of the classes we’re actually being graded on until 1:30. For the first three weeks it was Cine (film) con Profe, then Afro-Cuban Culture con Profe, then Musica con Falla, y finalmente Cuba in the 21st Century, which will be focusing on public health, economics, politics and the relationship with the US. Obviously I can’t wait for the last class.
In the afternoon we may have a cultural thing, do homework, read, or I may go on an adventure around Havana. Dinner is at 7 pm sharp, and we all eat together across two tables. There’s some source of protein, moros y cristianos (white rice with beans), and some sort of starchy vegetable, like platanos, papas (potatoes) or yucca (mi favorito). Y claro, hay pan y mantequilla.
After dinner we sometimes go out, meet up with friends, relax or play dominoes. As you can see we have a pretty fluid schedule apart from meals and classes, and we fill it as we see fit.
That’s our routine Monday-Thursday. Thursday night is obviously the time to go out, and we’ve decided that once a week we should go to Santa Maria, the gorgeous beach.
Some weekdays we have tours or cultural events, and on the weekends we do a variety of things. A hip hop club, Club Tropical the discoteca, Havana Jazz, or talking and drinking on the Malecon. Other weekends we go away to some other part of the country, like this past weekend in Cienfuegos y Trinidad. The weekend after next will be Santiago de Cuba. After that we’ll have our (gasp!) last weekend in Cuba, and the Friday after that I’ll be hopping a couple planes for home! I can’t believe it’s almost over!
Since everyone seems to be interested, here’s your quick and easy guide to finding a novio cubano:
Be a Westerner or Gringa. You really don’t have to be both, one or the other will do. Just anything non-Cuban really.
Come to Cuba
Alright, you’re pretty much done. The Cubanos take over from there.
It’s very strange to realize how many women come here looking exclusively for a fling, for a little Latin flavor. Meanwhile, the guys get not only a little lovin’, but some food, booze and admission to clubs out of the mix.
While I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there not trying to run this game, and we have met some of them (I think), it’s still a bizarre, nagging part of all our interactions. Do we pay for them? Are we being taken advantage of? I’m referring of course to our interactions with a group of our Cuban friends. Anyone who knows me (sorry Nana!) knows this novio cubano thing would not fly with me even if I didn’t have Brady.
But how do you say no, when they clearly have so much less, and money that means very little to us means a whole lot to them? Where do you draw the line? And how, as a young, independent American female, do you assert yourself within any sort of relationship so contingent on inequality? Good luck wrangling a relationship with someone whose country yours represses, and whose monthly salary is fixed at something like 200 pesos, or about 8 USD. When I hear women caterwauling about making more than their husbands, I will now think damn, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Out of necessity, Cubans have become masters of innovation and often lead very green lives, despite the lack of a distinct recycling program. Each and every object finds 2nd and 3rd and tenth uses.
A fashion blog I love truly embodies this theme, which should be the motto of Cuba. The idea is to embrace the body, budget and bureau that you have right now and make the most of it, instead of lusting after new clothes, more expensive things and hating on yourself for not being taller, skinnier, smarter or funnier.
Go to Goodwill, have a clothing exchange party or remix your stuff. Alter your clothes or learn to make some of your own. Reuse those TuKola bottles for water and make a spoon out of that piece of cardboard.
Sometimes I think we, as Americans, forget how to appreciate what we have and make the most of it. We buy things knowing they will only be used once or twice, and throw things away without thinking of it. When anything and everything is always at your fingertips, and priced artificially low due to poor labor practices, we overbuy and underuse everything, and then think nothing of ditching it later.
Much is said about the loss of innovation in a socialist economy, but little is mentioned about the loss of innovation in a society of economic abundance.
All my life, I’ve always loved the ocean. As a kid it was basically impossible
to get me out of the water, and some of my best memories are from
East Beach in Westport and Eastham down the Cape.
Today we split a van taxi (seats twelve) and headed out for an afternoon atthe beach. Those of you who have seen the pictures of la residencia (and its proximity to the Atlantic, which is less than 100 feet) may be curious why a 15 minute cab ride was necessary. Unfortunately,the Malecón is unsafe to swim off of. Locals do it, but the risk of injury or infection from the rocks and coral just on the other side of the wall means I won’t be swimming there, no matter how hot it gets.
After a long week, a day with the ocean was just what i needed. The salt water releases the sinuses, cleans the nails and clears up the
skin. The beach is the perfect place to be
solitary, walking around thinking, observing and collecting.
The ocean is one of my all-time favorite thinking spots, and I feel emotionally connected to it. One of the last goodbyes before college was to Westport, and it wasn’t just because Gram and Cope were there. In Egypt, trips to the Red and Med Seas came at just the right time in the chaos to revitalize us all. It’s like wiping the data clean, turning back the clocks and shaking the etch-a-sketch.
Whether it’s a cold, some sore limbs or a cluttered mind, the ocean always brings some peace, even when it’s whipped up in a right fury.
The roads are structured like the US. We drive on the same side, we have the same number of lanes and similar traffic patterns.
Except for one thing.
We encounter never more than five cars at a time, even on the only highway that goes out of Habana. We crawl along at 30 or so, and no one honks.
They do, however, drive right into you a la Cairo. I’ve definitely had two cars drive into me at about 5 mph already. That doesn’t sound fast, but it is when that’s the speed of an old hunk of metal going into your leg.