Pinar del Rio
A little piece of paradise in Vinales
Smoking a Cohiba
A quick dip in a Cenote
Everyone in Cuba is an entrepreneur.
The government pays every worker around $1.20 CDN per day. At 12 years old the Cubans take a test to determine what they “will be”. Doctors make the same amount as lawyers as tour guides as a garbage collector. The government owns almost everything and everyone makes a salary of $1.20/day. It is common for doctors and lawyers to drive taxi at night, as being a taxi driver makes more money on tips and CUC exchange from tourists than a doctor does on his day to day salary.
Because of this, it seemed that Cubans have no efficiency in their job and everywhere we went there are too many people for one job while most are just hanging out. The toilet seat is often way too small for the toilet. Busses don't follow schedules. Sometimes the water runs out in our hotel room for hours. Restaurants take forever to bring out the meal and even longer to bring out the bill. “But don’t they want our money and us leave ASAP?” I thought, but then again, why when regardless to serving 1 or 10 tables a day everyone at the restaurant makes $1.20/day anyway?
For a day trip we booked, the tour guide was late picking us up by 15 minutes. I rushed to the hotel receptionist asking her if she can help us call the tour company to check and confirm.
“Your slip says you meet here at 7:45” the receptionist said.
“Yes, and it is 8:00 and they are not here.” I said.
She gave me the biggest stink face. A face that said “what’s wrong with you!?” then she ordered me to keep waiting as it is still early. Even for the bus stop outside our hotel, the time written on the schedule is just implied: “Bus come when they come… Just keep waiting. But during lunch they might not come because they are eating”. The receptionist said with confidence that missing buses are completely normal. "They're on Havana time" became a phrase we used to describe the Cubans.
The Cuban public bathrooms have no toilet seats or toilet paper. Having running tap water is rare. These places always have a bathroom lady offering you toilet paper and expect you to tip. As for men, sometimes they would break the toilet so that they could flush for you and you would feel guilty that you tip them, since men don’t necessary need toilet paper. Everyone there is trying to make extra money.
One of the days we booked a tour guide. He looked ballin’ compare to the locals with his Ray Ban and iPhone. His car had an Apple sticker on the rear view mirror with an American flag air freshener.
“Hello! Where are you guys from?”
“Oh! That is nice. Would you like to trade country and job with me?” he joked.
“Canada is cold and I currently have no job.” AJ said.
“Do you have a house in Canada? Wife? Kids?”
“Nope. No job, no house, no wife, and no kids...”
“Ahh. That is still okay!! Let’s trade anyway!”
We all laughed. But we laughed with a tints of awkwardness and sadness. To us Cuba is a tropical paradise, but to the ambitious Cubans who want anything more than the ordinary it is a paradise jail. Sure, they get free education and they have amazing free healthcare, but they cannot leave the country unless it’s for a very special circumstance. Even for someone who might never want to leave, it’s still nice to have that option.
After being comfortable with our private tour guide I started asking him more about how the country operates.
“Can you drink and drive here?” I asked.
“Yes.” he said.
“What if you get into an accident?”
“Just don’t get into an accident.”
“What about capital punishment? Is there a death sentence?”
“No. They go to jail.”
"What if you kill someone?"
"They still go to jail."
“Can you get fired from your job?”
“Fired? What’s fired?”
"Like laid off so you don't have job anymore."
"... Laid off?"
“Okay fine, what if you are really bad in your job?”
“You still have job”
He didn’t understand the concept of getting fired for being horrible at a job.
“Okay. What if they don’t want you anymore. So you don't have a job because they don't want you?” I asked again.
“… Yes, I suppose that could be possible…” the tour guide pondered for a bit and answered.
“Do you still get paid?”
“Of course not!! You don’t work you don’t get paid!”
By then the tour guide started to look at me like I’m the crazy one. I was going to make a snarkly comment on how that isn’t very communist of them but I didn’t want him to judge me anymore. We tipped him $20 for hanging with us the entire day. To him that's almost 16 days of work salary but to us it’s not very much for driving 4 Canadians around and putting up with our weird questions such as “can you vote in your country?” or “is prostitution legal?”. We asked him everything short of Cuban immigration in which I’m sure he would just dump us in some rural place where we would then vanish from the face of the earth.
One thing I love about people in the South is that they don't have much yet they are happy and keep an optimistic view on life. And meanwhile in other parts of the world, everyone are so obsessed about money. Who should marry who because they have money. Who should do what because of money. The other day my dad told me a story about how some kid in Taiwan murdered his parents because they wouldn't give him anymore money. When I go back home the first question my grandparents ask me is how much I make. Yes, having money is important, but I'm not starving so chill a little?
But when it comes down to it, we are all prisoners and prostitutes in some way. We are prisoners to our debt and to society’s expectation on how we ought to live. And because of it, we prostitute our time and knowledge to whoever will pay us the most. Meanwhile the government tax way too much on an average citizen while protecting themselves and their CEO friends. Communism or capitalism, it really doesn’t matter where you live, the government and corporations will always find a way to screw you. It’s just unfortunate that in some countries they screw the people way more than others.
But I do find it fascinating that communism bring out the capitalism in this tropical paradise. Ironically.