Having Ben as my boyfriend has really given me insight into this beautiful country. I get to experience the culture from the inside without the worry of being taken advantage of. He knows everything about Cienfuegos, the history of Cuba and music. When we go out, his presence means I can relax and have a good time as well as meet his friends. I love having an inside view.
I also enjoy when he does the night shift at the marina. We are rarely alone for long as the staff like to come out and talk to us. The first night I hung out with them, I brought them Colombia sweets and coffee. I was automatically in! They showed me how to make coffee Cuban style (which is really good!!) and gave me an insight into Cuban living.
The themes of our conversations run from food, wages, working girls, history and education. Mostly there is a lot of banter and laughing. If they use slang, Ben interprets for me. My understanding of Spanish is so good now I can even contribute to the laughter by making jokes. I have been waiting to get to this point!
Last night we talked about wages. Let me give you an idea of true poverty. Not for a group of people, but the majority of a country. A custom agent here makes $25 USD a month. They work 180 hours a month. If they don’t have the $25,000 to buy a house, they will pay between $25 and 40 for rent. If you’re bad at math, rent is the same or more than the wage.
People think Cubans get coupons for free food. They don’t. The price of rice, beans and bread is very low. They describe it as enough to eat, if you don’t eat a lot.
A pair of jeans? $40. All of the nightclubs charge to get in. In Cienfuegos it’s about $2.50 and a drink is about $1.50. What is cheap for us is out of reach for most Cubans. Of course there are people who have family that have made it out of Cuba and are receiving money from them. Those people are very fortunate.
I told Ben that I couldn’t do it. I said that I have been well nourished since birth and have a hard time being hungry. I couldn’t imagine eating the same thing and not enough of it just because there’s no other choice.
The most incredible thing about this whole conversation was that they weren’t complaining. They were simply educating me on how things are. They were educating me on why foreigners think it’s so cheap here, but for them so much is unobtainable. They said there is no reason to be sad or upset about it, because it’s the way it is. Sometimes if they have an extra six pesos (about 10 cents) they splurge and buy a pizza on the street. Then they’re out of money. But they believe life is about enjoying. I hear from so many people “Disfruta la vida!” That’s when they’ve just spent the last pesos on a cheap bottle of rum.
So I will! Of all the countries I’ve visited, this is by far the most poor and by far the most happy. Everyone is smiling and telling jokes. In the night clubs, everyone is having so much fun and laughing as they try out funny dances. They are carefree with a passion to enjoy life.
Then you go 80 miles north to a country where so many people have so many things and eat all of the time without worry. Yet everyone is complaining, running around in a hurry and stepping on everyone to get to the top. To me, that’s not living. I prefer to live in a community, laugh and share with people who have less. I have also been very fortunate to receive when I haven’t had much. Life works in a circle.
Anyway, as I sat there on the night watch laughing and learning Cuban slang, I couldn’t help but be grateful that this country is teaching me a different way to live. A life about acceptance, making the best of what one has, bringing joy to others and most importantly, how to make and be part of a true community. I don’t have a lot, but I have more than them. I’ve been happy to buy a few drinks and offer some food to the people at the marina. I do it within my means and to them, it means a lot that I’m sharing. Take care of others and the world will take of you.