Life In Cuba: “I Don’t Want Cuba To Change”
Cuba. The mysterious land of socialism, mojitos, classic cars and romantic nights dancing salsa on the streets. It’s a destination I am proud to live in and it’s a destination I wish more around the world would discover.
Working as a Cuban “influencer” (not an easy task in the land of limited internet) and subsequently a tour guide to support the high cost of internet for my blog, I talk and spend time with many tourists on the island. And there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than hearing the inevitable, the horrifying, and the eye-rolling induced phrase “I don’t want Cuba to change.”
Well, of course they don’t want it to change – they don’t live here.
Time Did Not Stop In Cuba
For many, life in Cuba is like “stepping back into time” and often described as such in many publications and mediums. Our taxis are 1950s Chevys, our buildings are crumbling, and our infrastructure is largely untouched. Though for 11 million people, life in Cuba isn’t in 1959 – it’s in 2018. Time didn’t stop here and it certainty did not “step back”.
The reality is that many on this island make less than $1 a day in 2018. If they are lucky it’s $2 a day. And if they are really, really lucky, they have a family member living outside of Cuba that sends them money every time they need it. With that money, they walk into grocery stores where a pack of Pringles cost $4 and half a gallon of milk at another $4. With any money that’s left over, they save to buy something needed in the home. Like my uncle in Pinar del Rio, who used the little savings from his $8 a month pension (yes, $8 a month) for a 32 inch 1990s TV he just paid off 3 months ago. The loan was for 20 years… for a TV.
In Cuba, there is a saying that translates to “half of our lives are spent either working to eat, or waiting in the line to buy food to eat.”
Due to (and in my opinion) poor economic choices the government chose to implement in combination with the US embargo on Cuba, finding basic items is an everyday challenge. Ironically, as I am writing this, my partner came home to tell me he went to 3 different markets to find cooking oil. When he found it, he waited over 30 minutes in line along with many others looking for the same oil. This isn’t some sort of rare occasion for life in Cuba. This is normality and it’s not just with cooking oil…it’s with almost every product. Want cheese? Wait in line for it. Want butter? Good luck finding it. Does grandma need adult diapers? Work a 2nd job “under the table” for them. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. After so many cycles, you realized 50 years went by.
While no mass famines are happening, getting these basic materials can be really a struggle for most. Trade on the island is blocked by the United States and most food produced internally in the country can’t keep up with the demand. Life in Cuba is changing, slowly and in its own way.
Perceptions of “Simplicity”
And while many tourists are sipping their mojitos overlooking the “simplicity” of life in Cuba, many of them don’t realize that Cubans crave their idea of simplicity. I mean, let’s think about it, how simple is it that you can type Amazon.com on unlimited high-speed relatively cheap (or free) internet, order all of your groceries in a matter of minutes and they are delivered to you at your door? How simple is it finding transportation on an app to take you to and from anywhere you want to go? How simple is it knowing that you can afford to travel to destinations like Cuba because your job allowed you save enough for a trip?
But there are still the travelers who think change shouldn’t come to the island. For various reasons, they feel any change would lose a sense a culture. As if they know it. And even worse, as if they are the guardians of a culture they don’t fully understand.
Cuban Culture Is Here To Stay
Culture is constantly evolving and changing and molding into new and different identities. It’s impossible to retain it, though not possible to diminish it. Here in Cuba and all over the world, what was accepted socially in 1959 was not accepted in 1859. And in 1859 not accepted in 1559. And thus, culture always grows and changes over time.
Don’t worry though, as long as the tourist still ride in classic cars, those wont be going away anytime soon.
But I do get it. I understand why they say they “don’t want Cuba to change.” They don’t want to see the negative effects of changes that happened in their countries here in Cuba. Things like loss of human connectiveness and importance of community. However, I believe there’s so much more positives to economic and social change that the world has been able to enjoy. Facebook has allowed people to retain relationships from worlds apart, global trade makes it easier for people to get the products they want at cheaper prices whenever in the world they are, and people all over the world can.
Glamourized Poverty of Cuba Is Something Only Outsiders Enjoy
The fact of the matter is that Cuba is one of the only 3rd world countries in the world I know of that is glamorized by its poverty. If we were to switch Cuba with Guatemala or Democratic Republic of Congo, I think there would be very little people saying that they wish that country “wouldn’t change.” For many Cubans, the dream of economic prosperity and change on the island has been quietly a part of our culture for more than 60 years. When I constantly hear so many outsiders say “they don’t want Cuba to change” its not only insulting but incredibly self-centered, even though I know they don’t mean it to be.
Same goes for posing with old crumbling buildings. Walking down Old and Centro Habana is sometimes cringe-worthy. The line of ruffled sundresses posing next to a destroyed building to only get filtered for an Instagram vintage background is really disappointing. Yes, I am not oblivious to Havana’s “crumbling charm” but when homes and buildings are rumble, it feels like Kim Kardashian went into war-torn Damascus and hash-tagged #selfie.
At the end of the day, “you don’t want Cuba to change” because you aren’t living here. You aren’t waiting in line for 3 hours for eggs or cheese. You aren’t making $40 a month, and you certainly aren’t living in this kind of hopeless poverty where even if you do work, success is not rewarded.
You’re visiting it.
Come To Cuba And Help Us Change
So please, the next time you are coming to Cuba or if you know anyone who is, encourage them to be a part of our slow but amazing change. Without tourism this island cannot begin to grow economically AND socially. Tourism not only brings dollars, but also ideas. It brings new and fresh perspectives to a country that was once very closed off to them.
And one day, we all hope life in Cuba won’t be glamorized by poverty or a fix for misery porn addiction. Because behind all the old cars and crumbling homes, are actual lives living in the same 2018 you are. And those lives deserve all the modern conveniences you get to enjoy every single day. Including reading my opinion of this to its entirety.
Besos from Havana,
If you’re visiting Cuba and would like to bring something to counteract the US Embargo, click here for Mari’s suggestions!
About The Author
Mari is a Cuban-American influencer living in Cuba, one of the only in the world at the moment. She runs her own company called Mari Mundo where she is one of a few female guides that gives educational tours around the island. You can book them here. Mari is also a huge advocate for Cuba and tourism to the island. To find more information follow her blog and social media below: