Freedom is important to Cubans. Many stop at nothing to escape and believe that leaving the country will give them the freedom they so desperately need. With ongoing political and economic instability and an uncertainty of what will happen to the country after Fidel and his brother Raul die, who can blame them for wanting to jump ship? Cuba remains a ticking time bomb, and boy did I feel it.
The country seemed divided – on one hand were people who seemed exhausted and defeated by the system; on the other hand were people who were proud of their nation’s world famous health care and education system, and were incredibly optimistic for the future. Under the new government Cubans have had restrictions on running private businesses lifted and are taking full advantage, while they can, of the money coming in through tourism.
Betty said she was once taking a picture in Cuba whilst holding a cigarette. The smoke got in front of the lens and she ended up with an interesting image. She told me of an exhibition she was planning to open in New York, “Cuba – Behind the Smoke” – an insight into the real Cuba – to show and educate fellow Americans, who are prohibited from entering Cuba, of what life was really like – the poverty, the conditions. We met a few Americans who were travelling on a special tourist Visa, which allowed them to travel as part of a group for educational purposes but they were not allowed, for example, to go to the beach for the day. Their movement was restricted.
Looking at this concept of smoke, it seemed to me like the smoke lay on both sides of the lens, with both Cubans and Americans fighting for a chance to see what life was like on the other side. I think a lot of Cubans, because they have not experienced it, have in their minds a false ideology that when they leave Cuba the streets will be paved with gold and endless opportunities. Working the system, finding a job, earning money – all the things you need to do in order to enjoy the privileges – and in America – wave goodbye to free health care. Couple with that, competing with a million other people in the same boat as you, and freedom perhaps is not so easily obtained. However, if you are living in a place that imposes so many restrictions, then anything is worth a shot, right? I understand the need to escape, to try something new if something isn’t working as you would like it to, after all, look at what I am doing here, on this trip, and my situation is not exactly a desperate one.
I take the freedom that I have to travel the world for granted.
Cuba really is a country surrounded by smoke – I was ignorant when I arrived – to its poverty, its pressures, its politics, but I know from talking to people that the smoke is slowly beginning to clear – but it has some way to go.
Miqael’s brothers video will play as part of Betty’s exhibition. I’m looking forward to seeing something online.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.