Priorities

La Redaccion family

When people ask me what’s the best thing about Cuba, I immediately answer “The people”.

Cubans are incredibly caring, affectionate and kind people. They kiss and hug all the time. When people come to work in the morning, they spend at least 10 minutes greeting each other. Handshakes all round, boys kissing girls, boys kissing boys. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of triple bypass surgery, they will interrupt with any combination of the above. I remember previous jobs, where people would barely lift their heads to grunt/say hello, much too busy doing more important things. At first I found the Cuban way excessive but this is incredibly important to them because people, family and friends are at the heart of everything they do.

People always say that their No.1 priority is family. But actually in most cases it’s work first and then family. Not because we want to but because we have to. We live on credit, we never own anything and want everything. We have bills coming out of our ears and if we don’t have a job we can’t pay for any of it. In Cuba there is no credit system. People save and then buy what they want. Usually mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews all live in the same house. A house they received under the socialist system, a system that ensured a roof over their head, food to eat (rations), education and healthcare – all for free.

They want money but they don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about paying their mortgage and credit card bills. This means that their sole focus is their family and the people around them.

Last week I found my boyfriend on all fours on our bed having what can only be described as contractions. He struggled to find a comfortable position with darting pains to his side and back. As with anyone having a baby I told him to breath and patted his forehead with a damp towel. I then called for help, as I know nothing about babies.

It was about 7 o’clock and the restaurant was filling up. His sister (manager) came in and within seconds it was like I had disappeared. Gradually the bedroom filled with his niece (waitress), his niece’s husband (waiter), his best friend (barman) and the chef. Their entire focus was Many and at that moment they were willing without question to drop everything and spend the evening at his bedside. I admit I had 3 focuses; getting my boyfriend to the hospital, the busy restaurant we were leaving behind and getting him out without people thinking he was dying from the worst dose of food poisoning from the restaurant.

This country may be flawed in many ways but Cubans have their priorities straight. They work to live and don’t live to work. They are all about people and family and my god do they know how to have a good time.

 Many was fine in the end. They did an ultra sound when we got to the hospital. Apparently he was passing a kidney stone and not a baby.

 

Mañana mañana

maira sidecar

When I was younger I was late for everything. I once left a friend (thank you for still being a friend) waiting outside the GPO for 3 hours. I was a student at the time and didn’t have a mobile phone. I eventually turned up and soon realised that being late was really rude and would not be tolerated on either a personal or professional level.

Since I arrived in Cuba, I feel like I am constantly waiting outside the GPO.

During my first trip to Cuba, my friend and I were offered a lift to the beach. “Be here at 12” my now boyfriend said. I was there at 12 but I was still there at 3 and at 4. The house was like a train station. Never a dull moment, people coming and going, various bits and pieces being delivered and picked up, diesel fumes from the motorbike being fixed in the front room – no not the garage, the living room! The first time we rented a car, we parked it in the same living room. Tourists would stop and take pictures. I remember suggesting getting a taxi but no we waited for various people to go and get their beach gear, collect their girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/grandmother and whoever else wanted to come. We piled as many as possible into the battered Peugeot 205 and the rest travelled by motorbike & sidecar – silver lining to the wait, my friend was in the sidecar. We got to the beach around 5.

Westerners don’t like to wait, we are used to having everything on demand. Internet at lightning speed, efficient online banking services, excellent restaurant service, whatever we want when we want it.

I meet tourists everyday tearing their hair out because they can’t deal with the inefficiency of Cuba. “I couldn’t book the bus because the office ran out of paper to print the ticket”, “I couldn’t get money out because my card doesn’t work”, “I queued for 2 hours to get an internet card, when I got to the top of the line they had run out of cards and asked me to come back tomorrow”. I hear these stories all the time and think, well you’re on your holidays in Cuba, relax!

My mother in law prints her menus everyday. She can’t buy ink in Trinidad but instead gets it in Santi Spiritus, a town about an hour away. The last time, I stupidly volunteered my services. I popped the little ink bottle out the back of the machine and off I went to the Emerald city to buy supplies. I would be back quicker than you could say Pina Colada. When we got to the print shop (a family home with a little sign and picture of a printer), the lady of the house informed us that the guy we were looking for was “In the photo shop down there” we enquired “down there where exactly”?   We eventually arrived at the photo shop. The good news was that the guy had the ink, the bad news was that it was in a large container. He then produced a selection of large syringes (one for each colour ink) with which he would painstakingly measure every single ml of ink. I know Cubans love to haggle and it can literally go on for days, this was going to be epic. I cursed myself for not bringing a book, water or a gun – it was 35 degrees outside and twice that inside without a fan in sight. Guantanamo has less severe torture measures.   86 minutes later, we left the building, not a word spoken in the car all the way home.

Relax, you’re in Cuba………..

Lighting candles, have a Mojito and wait..

IMG_1753

I guess it all started when I decided to go to Cuba for New Year 2011. I had just finished studying in London and decided to treat myself/max my credit card on a trip to Cuba.

My fascination with the country began while travelling through Mexico in 2008 and meeting many people that were either travelling to or from Cuba. They told stories of revolution, Che Ghevara, the Castros, the embargo, desperate Cubans escaping to America, rations, old American cars and of course the food. They were starving by the time they left Cuba, as there was nothing attractive to eat. The food was either really bad or the Paladar (Restaurant in someone’s living room with a couple of tables) or hotel had run out of food.

Fortunately things have changed over time…. a little. “Go before it changes” they said. I couldn’t wait to visit this mysterious world that seemed to be completely cut off from the rest of civilisation.

That trip resulted in 2 things, a love of Cuba and love of a Cuban. Little did I know that 1 year later I would be living in Amsterdam with the Cuban and that 4 years later I would be spending a year in Cuba helping his mother set up her restaurant in the beautiful UNESCO town of Trinidad to the south of the country.

Preparations started about 12 months ago and the restaurant opened 3 weeks ago on June 22nd. It has been interesting to say the least. There is nothing normal about how Cuba operates. There is a shortage of everything here – the result of America’s embargo that has lasted over 50 years. There is no cash and carry to buy supplies, no alcohol or wine wholesaler, no deliveries. Everything and I mean everything involves getting in the car (which is extortionately expensive) first thing in the morning and going from store to store checking for supplies – everyone is playing the same game. The government run hotels and restaurants get their supplies first and then the rest is left to the remaining scavengers.

As soon as the deliveries arrive in the supermarkets, the race begins. Cars, vans, pre-war motorcycles, horses and carts are all full of supplies. Later the shops are like some sort of post apocalyptic shell with nothing on the shelves except cans of fruit cocktail – why sell fruit cocktail in a can in Cuba? There is a shortage of everything. I don’t know one thing that is in abundance except for maybe sunshine, music, humour and beautiful people.

Last night there was a power cut in the restaurant. I can’t believe this happens but it does and is just a fact of life here. We are now on Cuba time. We light candles, drink a mojito and wait.

Will keep you posted xx