10/01/13 - Travel Weekly - Dispatch Cuba A hard life in Havana
Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers spent a week in Cuba on Insight Cubas
people-to-people tour, visiting Havana and Trinidad and points in between.
Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Gays first dispatch.
Miguel is a 38-year-old graphic designer who lives in East Havana, in a
house he inherited when his mother died some months ago.
Its in an apartment building with three small rooms, two bathrooms, a
small hallway and a kitchen. I sleep and work in the same place, Miguel
said. Small is the operative word.
He and his girlfriend live there, and he is fortunate. Cuba, especially
Havana, has a severe housing shortage. Housing is in short supply as are
the funds to buy a house, even a small house by our standards.
Five years ago it was impossible to buy a house. A law was passed three
years ago that allowed people to buy houses, but they are expensive, he
The average price of a small house (165 square feet) is $10,000 Cuban
Convertible Pesos or CUCs, which are pronounced kooks. One CUC is on par
with $1 U.S., so the average house price equals $10,000 U.S.
Thats not possible for most of us, Miguel said.
Hes freelancing now, and theres not a lot of work to be had in his
The major design company for which he had worked was taken over by the
state, a.k.a. the government, and he lost his job.
Hes not bitter. I feel fortunate. There are jobs to be had through word
of mouth and a website that lists jobs for designers. I know English,
which I learned in the Navy, Im a college graduate, I have friends, and
we get together and listen to music. I do want to travel, I want to see
India and China and hang glide over the Grand Canyon, and I think that
will happen. Cuba is my country, my homeland. I want to see other places,
but Cuba will always be home, Miguel said.
While I spoke with Miguel, fellow travelers in my Insight Cuba group
talked with university students, one of many activities at the heart of
the people-to-people interactions.
In the past three days, a distiCuba-AngelaSmiling-GNMnguished
architecture professor gave us the history of many of the graciously
deteriorating mansions seen all over Havana, we toured the largest
cemetery in Havana (138 acres, 60,529 graves, and burial is free for
everyone) and watched sweaty rehearsals at a ballet school whose dancers
are headed for their first-ever performance in Romania in October.
Later we visited La Colmenita Little Beehive Childrens Theater, the
high point for me of day three.
The performers ranged from 4-year-olds to 14 and up, boys and girls. They
danced and sang for us, and then grabbed our hands and pulled us into the
circle to dance together.
We formed a conga line and moved around the room, in a rhythm of Cuban
music and a mix of American bee-bop, hip-hop and moves not seen since the
Angela, 6, almost 7 she told me by holding up fingers when I asked,
Quantos años?, wrapped her arms around my waist in a big hug at the end.
I left a big bag of crayons and drawing paper with the director as we
Kids are the best ambassadors anywhere in the world.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.
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