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I met a lot of wonderful people in Cuba. This post, Faces of Cuba, is more of a metaphor than a literal interpretation. The people and the place both had something profound to share, so I wanted to let you see a little of what Cuba shared with me.
Everyday Life In Cuba
One of the things that surprised me was how willing people were to accept us into their lives, if only for a moment. We were both curious about each other, like this man.
He was just finishing a meal at his table when I came upon him. Would’ve made a nice photo in itself, but the moment was too brief. We talked a little through our interpreter. He showed me a collection of his books, including a Bible, a geography book and a biography of Che. He wanted to know if I was Catholic. I think he was a bit disappointed when I said “No, but my mother is.”
Still. he was warm and gracious. It was clear he loved his dog. Being a person who’s always had dogs in my life, I could appreciate this moment.
His wife was a bit of a fun-locoing character.
Her name means “Patriot.” It’s hard for her to get around due to an illness with her legs. Still, she had a genuine smile and a playful nature. Before I saw her, I was walking down a hallway when I felt a hand run quickly down my back. Didn’t see her when I turned around, but she was snickering just behind a doorway on the other side of the wall.
Just outside the kitchen, fresh laundry. We saw laundry hanging out everywhere. I’m guessing that washers and dryers are a luxury that few Cubans have in their home. Many people go to Cuba and fall in love photographing the cars. Those are certainly ubiquitous, but so is the laundry.
So are the street dogs.
I saw dogs all over the streets. Many of them had more common sense than the average person when it came to surviving the traffic. The knew when and where to cross the street, because the drivers had no interest in stopping or letting a pedestrian have the right of way. Street rules are different in Havana. You want to be safe? Follow the dogs.
Work And Play In Cuba
Not only did Cubans invite us into their homes, but we were also allowed to visit the places where they worked, played, and fought.
Spend an afternoon watching a group of boxers train under the hot sun and you’ll quickly understand why Cuban boxers are some of the best in the world. The coach was tough, but he also loved his trainees and it showed.
We watched a dance rehearsal in an old theater. Live percussion set the rhythm of the set. The started their warm-up with swaying movements, building to more advanced moves and complicated routines. Made me sweat just watching them.
Once this girl started spitting fire, I decided the time was right to get a telephoto lens and avoid any interaction. There’s a time to go with a short focal length and move in close. This wasn’t one of those times.
Break time is safer for a short lens, though.
Don’t underestimate the toll that dance can take on a human body. The aches and pains didn’t show during the rehearsal routines, but you could see some of the burdens during the breaks.
After spending part of our day watching the dance rehearsal, some of us went to the Tropicana club on Friday night. It was clear to me that the moves in rehearsal were put to good use in the show.
I realize that isn’t her face, but I told you this was metaphorical. Dance and entertainment are part of the culture and experience I had visiting Cuba.
Agricultural Faces of Cuba
Of course, it wasn’t all fun in the big city. We spent time with the folks who grow and process tobacco. Can’t stand the stuff, myself. However, I can appreciate the way of life that develops from crops to industry.
I found myself inside of a grass shack filled with drying tobacco leaves, watching an old man show how to roll a cigar.
Then I learned the lifecycle of those leaves. Cuban farmers who own their land must sell 90% of their crop to the government. If they work on state owned land, the numbers reverse. Sharecropping is alive and well for some farmers in Cuba. Either way, the leaves often end up in a place like this one.
Then there are hard working people who just show up every day and work.
I can tell you there are things that I didn’t like about Cuba. The pollution was bad. The only thing worse than the pollution was the food. I used to work for Le Cordon Bleu and I did not find any of our graduates working in Cuba.
However, the people were great. That’s what I’ll remember much longer than the cars or old buildings. It’s the faces of Cuba and how they live that made the trip worth taking.