Cuba People & Culture

Cuba: An anthropological experience

Written by Renato Matiolli

I really don’t like to not have a solid opinion about something. However I left Cuba with really mixed feelings about the whole country situation. Visiting Cuba is like going back in time and it really gets one thinking.

On one side we certainly felt enthusiastic about the current changes and potential transformations to come. We hope the new generations will have better opportunities than the previous ones.

But on the other hand, we felt sad that so many people were neglected some basic rights we take as given.

The confusing part is that as we recently travelled through so many countries around the Caribbean, our impression was that Cuba, with all its problems, was still one of the countries where we found most joyfulness and harmony around the streets. So certainly there are some things they are doing right.

As they transform we hope they are able to maintain the positive portion of their core. What a challenge yet exciting moments ahead! Viva Cuba!

So we left beautiful Bahamas and sailed to Cuba. On the way, during the night we got an incredible tuna that could feed a small, yet starving army. What a fight. It’s not that easy to get these swimming buggers out of the water as you see on TV.

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As you arrive in Cuba from the sea the scenery is beautiful. We entered Santiago de Cuba bay by a small passage, which we could barely see from out from the sea. As you enter, on the eastern margin there is a beautiful fortress that once protected the bay.

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Cuba was very different from anywhere else we have been in the Caribbean. As expected, this visit was not about kiting, surfing or diving. In fact if you look for water sports you will find it all. However for us this time in Cuba was definitely about getting to know the people and better understand the country’s regime. This visit was quite intense in terms of emotions. It brought out a lot of memories and reflections. This immersion certainly gets you thinking about the world we live in, the inequalities and different paths countries have chosen.

In many ways walking around Santiago was something like really going back in time. It felt like a small city from the countryside of Brazil. Similar to the town my grandparents grew up and lived in. This visit got me thinking about the sort of opportunities they had and their choices in life, such as migrating to Brazil and exploring the countryside. None of them born or passed away wealthy. Yet they were able to run after their dreams. They raise a family and provide a descent life and education to the generations to come. I believe they left this world feeling accomplished. I wonder if many Cubans could feel the same?

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Of course this visit also got us thinking about the Cubans that lived and still live during the current regime and question what type of opportunities they have in life. Also whether the fact that they neglected some basic right makes them feel less accomplished or unhappy.

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We decided to go to Santiago, one of the main cities of the country, yet a place that hasn’t changed much so we could really experience the real Cuba. The Pope recently visited the city, so some of the buildings were repainted and looked really nice.

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However you don’t have to walk very far from the city center to see that not all buildings look that great. Just a few blocks away the constructions are much simpler and unfinished. It fact, the houses were very similar to what one would find in Brazilian cities.

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Well, clearly the highlight of the country is its people. Los Cubanos are amazing! On day one we met Roberto, we invited him for dinner and we talked a lot about the country. On the following day he showed us around the city. We really enjoyed meeting the people and chatting with them. Of course it is just a superficial impression, but they seemed at ease and in harmony, mostly if you compared to the many of the other Caribbean countries we visited quite recently. We felt quite safe walking around at night and looking like foreigners.

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Apparently Cubans like to procreate and there are tons of wild kids playing around all over the place. As we observed these amazing kids on the streets, it is almost impossible no to stop and reflect about what the future holds for them. Hopefully they will enjoy some basic rights which their parents didn’t.

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There are slowly positive changes occurring in the country, so there are exciting moments ahead. Cuba is alone on this journey. We hope they are taking the right path, as these people deserve a great future.

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We loved the Cubans! Viva Cuba!

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As a final remark I have to say that we left the country feeling a bit sad for not helping more. While having tourists around helps the country, we felt somehow bad and superficial to be walking around, asking stupid questions and taking pictures.

It is very hard for them to source some basic things as well as having the means to purchase them. People asked us for different stuff, but unlike other countries that beggars asked for money or tried to sell you something you don’t need, in Cuba they ask for useful things. For example woman asked for soap, kids for paper and drawing pencils, immigration officer for super glue, customs officer for fishing hooks and so on. Some we could help others not. Cubans asked us all the time: “You come back to visit us again, right?” We felt bad we couldn’t help more and wished we had planned better and brought a lot more stuff to share with them.

So if you are planning to go to Cuba, do a better research than we did. Think about what you can do to help, what you take to share with them.

About the author

Renato Matiolli

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