I visited Havana and met many local people. They taught me what it’s like living in Cuba. Of course, I met people in the usual tourist spots. But I also talked to many others: musicians, artists, museum guides, factory workers, and drivers. I’m certainly not an expert. Here’s what I learned.
Living in Cuba means you lack almost everything we take for granted.
Food is rationed and every family gets a ration book in which items are checked off when picked up. I was surprised to learn that a family of four gets one chicken a month and one liter of oil. They lack aspirin, appliances, dependable cars, underwear, and quality food. This is caused by a combination of bad government planning and the U.S. embargo.
Living in Cuba means everyone has a guaranteed job.
Everyone is guaranteed a job when they reach 18. Every job pays the same—$30 a month. If you are more skilled like a teacher, engineer, or doctor, you get $35 a month. Their food and housing is subsidized, but how can anyone live on so little? The answer: they can’t. That means everyone has some kind of work on the side. Sometimes it’s illegal and sometimes, the government ignores it. I met a doctor who inherited a classic car. In his time away from the clinic, he used the car as a taxi for tourists.
Living in Cuba offers everyone free education and medical care.
One of the best aspects of the government is they offer free education to everyone for many years, including college level. Everyone also gets free medical care, surgeries, and after care. When I first heard that, I thought of the U.S. where 44 million people don’t have health insurance. The problem in Cuba is different. They get free care but don’t have up-to-date technology or simple things like medicine. (See the lack of thing above)
Cuban people are happy but frustrated.
Many Americans have the idea that all Cubans want to move to the U.S. I learned that is untrue. They want to remain in their country. Cubans reject many aspects of our excessive consumer culture. Although the people want the basic goods for day to day living. They have extensive family and friend connections that help them survive the shortages. These networks give them great support. Music, art, and sports are all fully expressed. And even with limited Internet availability, they get a glimpse of the outside world. They’re frustrated by their government’s corruption and ineptitude.
I found the people to be warm, friendly, well educated, funny, and hopeful about the future. I hope they get more than one chicken.