First Impressions of Cuba

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I’ll start off by saying it truly takes an arm and a leg to get Wi-Fi connection in Cuba. I was looking forward to blogging during my trip however, it’s nearly impossible to get a solid connection and access to most websites. Though I was warned, internet was something I wasn’t expecting to be as difficult to access as it was.

From the beginning of the trip, I realized that Cuba is a place that is a mystery to Americans. Most of us really do not know much about the country unless we have studied something about it and most of us have a stereotype of what Cuba is like embedded in our minds. This is something I find to be rather interesting being that the country is so close to the U.S, being only 90 miles from our coast. Since Cuba really is seen differently from everyones eyes, I felt it was important to focus on the first impressions that the country had on my peers. With only two days into our travels,  I could already see that everyone had mixed opinions about what they had expected to see in Cuba versus what they were actually experiencing. Their thoughts ranged in a variety of subjects and I realized everyone had their own take on what they were experiencing. After conversing with my peers and chiming in to different conversations, I quickly concluded that everyone had different expectations from one another.

I heard everything from, “I thought Cuba would be even more poverty stricken than it is”, “I thought Cuba would be more developed than it is”, “I was expecting the personalities of Cubans to be more outgoing”, “I thought the food would be more tropical (fresh fruits, plantains etc.)”, “I wasn’t expecting to see as many stray animals”, “I was expecting there to be more active electricity (lighting)”, “I thought there  would be more of a division between rich and poor”, “ I am surprised that everything is done by hand rather than by computer”, “I thought that the infrastructure would be more advanced than what it is”, “I never knew that Cubans had extremely limited access to internet”, “I never realized that Cuba has its own form of communism unlike any other country”.

Yes, these comments may seem all over the board and though these are only a few that I noted, these comments illustrate that everyone’s expectations ranged in a variety of subject matter and everyone had been mentally noting different first impressions from one another. Of my peers, there were some students who arrived in Cuba with set ideas in their minds and there were those who went knowing a limited amount of information on the country other than what had been studied in our course. Despite spending a semester studying the history and culture of Cuba, all of us were taken by surprise at one point or another. Out of the 8 students who participated in the study abroad experience, I would say no one had the exact same expectations of the country and everyone left with their own take on what Cuba has been in the past, what it is in the present, and what it will become in the future.

On a personal note:

My first impressions of the country varied in several different areas of subject. Economically, I thought the country would be poor but I didn’t expect it to be as poor as what I saw. It is estimated that the average Cuban citizen makes about $20 U.S – $30 U.S dollar per month. I find this number very hard to live off of. Even if Cubans are given housing, food rationing, and free education due to their political structure, I feel that $20-$30 is not doable. Being that this income is so low, I expected to find very cheap prices for locals, however I found certain everyday necessities to be very pricey including food in the supermarket. Like mentioned before, Cuba does have a system of food rationing. This is where citizens are given something similar to a coupon that allows them to get a certain amount of food per month. After conversing with local Cubans I was told this coupon includes; rice, beans, eggs, milk for small children, sugar, chicken, and possibly a few other seasonal items per month. The idea of the food rationing seems to be good one but from what I was told, the amount of food is not enough to last an entire month which leads Cubans to the supermarket to buy additional items that can be costly.

From my point of view, I saw a large division between wealthy appearing areas and poor areas. I felt like I was either seeing a very well kept scenery or I was seeing an extremely poor area that left me feeling a bit dejected. “Low Income Neighborhoods” is how I want to refer to these poorer areas but it doesn’t really make sense to do so being that communism seeks to have an absence of social classes. I will say though, despite this absence and despite the idea of citizens being equal, from what I saw, there is still an evident division between certain citizens versus others. Lets say in terms of “privileges”.

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Of the nicer appearing areas, a place I thought was extremely beautiful, well kept, and clean was the historical center of Havana. When visiting this area, it doesn’t appear to be ran down and seems to be rather flourishing. However, something that most likely plays a factor into this, is that this is a touristy area. On the other hand, unlike this historical center, the outskirts of the city (which we had been actively driving through) appeared to be on a much different economic scale than the historical center and other well kept neighborhoods. The buildings were ran down, there seemed to be little infrastructure repairs, the interior designs of buildings seemed to be outdated and the general atmosphere appeared to have a different view than I was expecting. From my stance, I was expecting  to see Cuba as it was in the 1950s from the eyes of an American but this wasn’t the case.

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Before arriving, I failed to envision what the outskirts of the city would look like. I was simply only picturing Cuba to be the Havana I have seen in pictures, media, and movies. Though I knew the country would be behind the times and poverty would be present, I was taken by surprise when I realized just how behind the country actually is and that extreme poverty is really an issue at hand.

When explaining Cuba and trying to convey ones thoughts of the country, it is not an easy task. For an individual coming from a non communist country, Cuba is confusing. It is hard to understand how it operates the way it does. It is  difficult to explain why it is the way it is and strangely enough, the more you think about it, the more frustrating it becomes. Without saying much, I wanted to post some photos of the country that are a more visual way of representing my personal opinions and experience. Have a look below.

Division between Touristy Areas & Non Touristy Areas 

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Pictured above: Old Havana 

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Pictured above: Outskirts of Havana
Free Housing for Everyone but Does that Really Mean Equality?

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Pictured above: Proyecto Fuster 
Universidad de la Habana: Alma Mater True & Glorious? 

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Long Live the Revolution

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Pictured above: Marti Monument and Revolution Plaza

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Anti American?

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Pictured above: U.S Embassy 
Or not Anti American?

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Pictured above: Hemingway’s house (Finca La Vigia)
What the future has in store?

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Even though I can’t grasp why Cuba is the way it is, I will say, Cuba is unique. From its crystal clear blue beaches, to its revolution propaganda plastered everywhere, to it’s history, culture, diverse people, and it’s societal functions; I have never seen anything quite like it. It is quite the mystery.

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Check back for up coming post including information on our post Cuba discussions, what to bring when traveling to Cuba, and changes in Cuba since my trip and the President of the United States visit!

Sincerely, Tish

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