I’ve been back from Cuba for a little over a week though I am still living in a bit of a reverie. Time there had a different dimension. Spending 8 days completely unplugged from the cell phone and internet was a wonderful way to decompress. I was able to give myself the luxury of being taken over by pure photography. And yet, I am left with a feeling of sadness and frustration from what I witnessed. It is not for me to speak about the situation in Cuba from a political standpoint. I must leave that to others. But I can speak about what I saw as a woman and a mother.
Before I left for Cuba, I had many friends who had visited speak forcefully about the beauty and spirit of the Cuban people. While I did see this fully expressed I also saw sadness, resignation, frustration, suffering, and even boredom. I saw children trying to learn in schools open to all the noise and confusion of the streets. I saw elderly citizens in a daycare with no medicines and people everywhere surviving on their wits and little else. I searched for stores to purchase food and basic necessities. There are none. I was told about the monthly ration stores and even visited one. But there was nothing to ‘purchase’. Deliveries are unpredictable. I have no knowledge of the quality of health care. But I do know that you can not drink the water or brush your teeth with it. Here as in other developing nations, waterborne illnesses are prevalent and serious. Even walking on the streets becomes an exercise in self-preservation. Gaping holes, broken pipe, garbage and sewage, unearthed cobblestones and refuse from crumbling buildings make navigation an art form.
But there was progress to be seen as well. Crews worked nearly around the clock to build a new hotel beside the Parque Centrale, one of the main tourist hotels. Streets that had been unearthed were re-paved with all new piping installed for water, sewer, gas, and electricity. But these things are works in progress. One morning, while visiting an elderly woman living alone in Vedado, the electricity was off. I asked “is this normal”? (As it was 9:30 in the morning and not a particularly ‘high demand’ day.) The reply: “Everything is normal in Cuba.”
So, ten days later, I am reliving my journey, searching for a deeper understanding of all I experienced. It is true that music and laughter were prevalent and beautifully expressed. But sadness and lack and a certain heaviness of spirit were just as prevalent. The Cuban people survive by their wits and generosity with each other. But to thrive, they will need access to clean water, educational and economic opportunity. There is hope for the coming years, but also a resignation to wait and see. I will be watching, and waiting to return. There is hope and deep beauty there amongst the decay and ruin. Walker Evans saw and photographed it 80 years ago. I will be forever grateful for my experience but will be wondering ‘how long will it survive?’
I hope you’ll take a moment to click through the slide show. There is more information to accompany the captions. As always, with gratitude for your time and interest. (Please share!).