The Realities of a Life in Cuba
by Raea Palmieri
This past winter break I had the privilege to travel to Havana, Cuba. While I was getting ready for the trip, I was looking at pictures various celebrities posted from their trips like the Kardashians and Beyonce, but to my surprise, Cuba was nothing like what it was through their Instagram lenses.
The day we arrived in Havana, we got picked up from the single-terminal airport in a 1950’s Chevy car. While pictures and stories tell of Cuba being filled with well kept, beautiful vintage cars, the reality of the situation is much more bleak. Starting the car and keeping it running for the duration of the drive to the hotel was a job in itself. Once we arrived at the hotel, excited to relax and shower, we were beginning to realize the realities of this trip. The “nicest” and “5-star” hotel in Havana was the American equivalent to a Motel 8. As we walked into the room and turned on the lights, the dirt-stained lamp shades, the faucet-less shower, the cockroaches scampering across the floor all mixed together made for a very interesting and uncomfortable first night.
The next day we packed our bags and decided to move to a bed in breakfast sort of place. Moving to stay at this home was a much more cultural and better way to experience Cuba. While it was still far from luxury and relaxing, anything was better than the Havana hotel that had not been renovated since 1970.
Traveling around the city of Havana during our days there was a once in a lifetime experience: the culture, the communism, and the people there are all nothing I have ever seen. Having our entire trip planned out for us, however, made it feel like we were being controlled at every moment—a feeling we were all unfamiliar with when being on a supposed “vacation.” Despite our impression that we would be in control of our environment, the Cuban government made sure that was near impossible.
As we travelled through the city it was obvious that nothing was being upheld—every building was in transition to being a pile of rubble, if they weren’t already. However, there were buildings and statues and memorials that were seemingly in perfect condition. These buildings were run by the government. Among these were the ballet, the capital building (ironically based on the capital building in Washington, DC), and monuments dedicated to Fidel Castro and the Revolution. Having immense pride in their few immaculate buildings and monuments, these were focal points during our tours of the city.
Looking back on this trip I am able to appreciate it for what it was: a cultural excursion. Having traveled and gone through my experiences, I am able to further understand the life in a very different government than we have in the United States. I have a greater sense of privilege, but I also feel very lucky to have the simple freedoms that we have in America. A moment that really struck me was when our guide, Duni, told us about his very young daughter and his aspirations for her life, a life in America. He proceeded to say, “I hope one day I will be able to say these words…I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America!” Hearing this from a man who was a relative stranger really opened my eyes to how many people in situations like his, in a country like Cuba, want a life like the one we take for granted every day.
Going to Cuba was extremely unique and unlike any place I have ever been, but having said that, I would not want to go back until the governmental power and structure changes.