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.