Tag Archives: Real World

La Residencia

I’ve never really gone into some of the basic, background stuff, so I’m going to try filling in the gaps.  Like this big one: whereon earth do I live?  I know you’ve heard me sing the praises of the Real World House and complain about how overcrowded it is, but here, for the first time, is your personal photo tour.

The place is owned by Casa de las Americas and is booked every semester with students who come to take part in their programs.  We leave on April 2, UC Davis is coming in on April 3.

Maria lives in an apartment near the kitchen, on the roof. She's our fiesty Cuban abuela, who loves us all so much--except when we leave wet towels on the floor or forget to lock the doors.
There are 3-4 locks keeping us from the riff raff on the street, depending on how many of them are in use at any given time.
Only the 19 students who live here can go downstairs. Maria and Miledys come downstairs to clean and when invited, and Chino always knocks, whistles or yells down to us before coming into "our space."
We have our own fridge, as well as a very slow desktop. I pretty much live on my balcony, bed or one of these red objects.
Best fridge ever. did I mention I live in the real world house? Except that we're actually all legal to drink, and nobody's punched anyone (yet).
For good measure: the view out my window. Always.

Cambios

The Malecon overflowing all over my street

There have been big doins’ in the Real World House.  Profe went back to los EEUU to finish his book, and we were all sad to see him go.  Mostly, I think we all just wanted to go with him for a long weekend of American food and hot showers before returning to our isla.  Profesor McSorley joined us to replace (nunca!) Profe, and she seems quite nice.  She’s a Spanish professora from NU, and she’s never been to Cuba before.

The weather’s been nutty over here, which means poor internet and cold showers.  That translates to dirty, cranky college kids. I think we’re well over the honeymoon stage, and everyone just wants a cheeseburger.  Or a real salad.  The lack of sun has been discouraging as well.  And I know, I know, y’all have power outages and snow in New England, but to our credit, we’ve had exploding electricity boxes, thunder and lightning (we live on the 14th floor), gale force winds and flooding.

This is considered a major traffic incident in Cuba. Also, rain during the day for anything more than a couple hours pretty much shuts down Habana.

We only have a little over a month left, which is mind-boggling.  This means I’m starting to look toward my impending summer in Boston, France, Benin and then Boston again.  And by Boston, I mean Reading and running away to Brookline as often as I can get away with it.  After that it looks like I’m going to be stateside for a while, anyway.  No promises, though.

We are in the second week of our new class, which is Cuban music with Alberto Falla.  Falla is a former tv personality, current radio personality, professor and musician.  He looks like a dignified lion, and could not possibly be more excited about his subject or his students.  We spend a lot of every class singing or listening, and we often dispense with the classroom altogether, in favor of a private performance in Casa’s large reception hall, or watching a dance rehearsal in an old abandoned movie theatre-cum-cultural center.

This weekend, starting Thursday at 8am, I’ll be headed to Cienfuegos y Trinidad, where there will be lots of rum and music but no internet.  I’ll try to post once or twice between now and then, but we also have a big paper due before we leave.

“I Don’t Understand This Place At All”

I truly believe that it’s called writer’s block (not writer’s lack of inspiration) for a reason other than brevity.  Sometimes you just can’t write anything else until you write through the block.  So that’s what yesterday was.  Back to regularly scheduled programming.

There’s a lot that I don’t understand here, a lot that none of us do.  Even Profe, who’s Cuban-American and has been here upwards of ten times is still trying to figure things out.  As Abby says, we probably won’t understand what we’ve learned here for at least another ten years.  Some information is scarce because people don’t want to talk about it, but often it’s because the government doesn’t state certain things publicly, and chooses not to ask certain questions on its census.

I’m looking forward to learning a bit about how the ration books work later on this week.  From what I hear, the rations only realistically last about two weeks, and don’t include essentials like meat and milk.  It’s towards the end of the month, which means we didn’t have bread or eggs last week, and water is scarce this week.  For our Cuban friends, this means going days without eating and trying to sell your stuff.

There is basically no fresh milk here, it’s all powdered.  Most people here in the Real World House turn up their nose at it, and it goes untouched many days.  As far as I know, Cubans who aren’t babies don’t generally get access.

There is no lottery here, because gambling is illegal.  There are of course numbers games on the street.  There are no taxes, because EVERYTHING is taxes…the government is just kind enough to take them out first.  The sidewalks are all cracked and a mess, with big holes or rusty bits of metal sticking up out of them.  Sometimes the holes are repaired with sand or bathroom tiles, but more often they aren’t repaired at all.

There are CDRs, Comites por Defensa la Revolucion.  Essentially, they were started to keep watch on their neighbors.  They have since become leaders in distributing vaccines and helping during a natural disaster.  They remind me of The Duke’s system of block captains and precinct captains for grassroots political organization.  I suppose the only difference is that here, it’s not grassroots.

There is not 100% employment.  Some people say if you lose your job it’s your fault.  Some people say there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.  Almost everyone does more than one thing.  Doctors are dancers; professors are cab drivers.  A single income just isn’t enough, and access to CUC (instead of just Moneda Nacional) is necessary for luxury goods.  Like any meat of quality.  By quality, I mean the most basic cuts and qualities that you would find in the US.

There is no lawsuit culture.  Are there even lawyers?

Because of the emphasis on culture, your state-sponsored job could be to rap, or dance traditional afro-cuban dances.  Because of the focus on tourism, your state-sponsored job could be walking around Habana Vieja dressed in all white, chomping on a giant cigar, taking pictures with everybody.  Basically, your job as a good revolutionary could be to hussle gringos.

These are all just bits and pieces of every day life that don’t fit in anywhere else, and stuff that doesn’t make sense to me, put here in an attempt to fill in the holes of my portrait of Cuba.