Within seconds of the airplane’s wheels touching ground in Atlanta on my return from Havana, a woman behind me screeched “OMG I have 148 voicemails!” Almost everyone in the vicinity, also on their phones for the first time in days, chuckled, knowing exactly what she meant. I had only gone 3 days without phone service, internet, TV or printed news and my stress level was at zero. Coupled with the graciousness, friendliness and non-stop music from the locals, life was good for tourists.
As much as I enjoyed it, one must be aware of the problems facing the population due to many factors such as the embargo, the lost subsidies from the Soviet Union and the old regime’s rural priorities. A popular saying about Cuba was that the 3 best things about this country were education, health care and low crime rate ( now they say” no drugs, no need for guns”) but then the 3 worst were breakfast, lunch and dinner (referring to the lack of food for the locals). When you earn less than $40 a month and struggle with ration cards it’s amazing that they survive let alone manage to smile.
The Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHC) along with UNESCO are changing the landscape of Old Havana. And unlike many urban renewals where the wealthy buy and restore and move the poor out, this neighborhood remains a place where long time residents continue to live and work.
I hope Cuba continues to emerge as a market for exchange with the U.S. and that the new relationship will benefit everyone.