Exploring a new country is like a romantic relationship. You’re either interested or not at first glance. If you’re interested, it’s easy to fall in love and see all the beautiful things. Then the novelty wears off, the person stops being on their best behaviour and you start to see the side that isn’t so perfect.
That’s where I’m at with Cuba right now. I talked more to Ben about this whole police approaching foreigners thing. For we were out on Saturday night and he wasn’t being his usual affectionate self. I asked him what would happen if we were stopped because I’m not paying for his services (I stopped right there and made sure there was no tab running. There isn’t!). He said he didn’t know because he had never been with a foreigner before. What he did know was that the government doesn’t like Cubans to have relationships with foreigners. It could feed them different ideas or make them want to leave.
Ben’s mum (who is only five years older than me by the way), really wants me to come to their house and have dinner. She would like to meet the woman that her son has been talking about for the last week. Do you know what happens if I go? A big scandal. Someone will rat them out that a foreigner went to their house, they will be asked questions and will be closely watched. It doesn’t matter if I do this as a “girlfriend” or a friend of him or his mum. He lives in military housing and if you aren’t licensed to have a casa particular, no foreigners should be in your house. It’s possible they could receive a fine and as I explained earlier, it would have a huge financial impact.
So I can’t go. I would love to go to a family gathering and see what kind of food they make and learn the social etiquette and be included in a family for a while. Sadly for everyone involved, I can’t. That makes me a little angry. I think it’s terrible they aren’t free to associate with who they want. The world is full of great people, no one should be deprived of that.
The other thing I learned is about travel. I thought they were only prevented from leaving by boat and that if they had the funds, they could fly wherever. Incorrect. They need to ask permission and Ben said, more often than not, it’s denied. If you have family in another country, you may want to stay there and if you want to go somewhere where there is no family, well there’s no reason to go, so no. If someone comes up with the $5,000 it costs to jump in a speedboat and try to go to the USA, they have to stay there for five years before they come back. Otherwise when they visit Cuba, they won’t be allowed to leave even if they were granted US citizenship. As someone with a high level of wanderlust, this just tortures me. It’s one thing not to have the money, it’s another thing to be held prisoner in your own country. A country that pays you so little, kills all possible opportunity and keeps you just above the level of starvation.
Ben wants to work on sail boats. The courses cost anywhere between $25 and $50. I asked him if he would accept the money if I gave it to him. I love when people are able to follow their dreams and he is such a kind hearted person who has taught me so much about Cuba and living, it’s the least I could do. He said he would only accept it if he could pay me back. Then he explained the courses are in Habana and he would need transport cost there and back and somewhere to stay. This drives the price up to $300-500. Sadly I don’t have this right now. I told him one day when I do, I will come back and find him and the next time I see him after that better be when we are anchored next to each other in a Cuban bay.
For me, money doesn’t mean much. It annoys me that it’s so necessary to survive. However, it isn’t everything as I’ve seen here. People offer to share their lunch with me, their delicious deserts (I always take at least a bite!!) and their cigarettes. This eats into their precious income so I politely decline. I think it’s beautiful they are open to share so much with me when it’s obvious I have more than they do.
Tonight my favourite night crew is working at the marina, so I’m going to grab 50 cents and buy some bread and popcorn because they always talk about it and light heartedly complain about their hunger. It’s the least I can do to express my gratitude for teaching me what it really means to be a part of a community.