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………..