Some standing, some fallen…
the buildings that is. A melting pot of military forts and castles, spanish/moorish achitecture, baroque and neoclassic styles mixing with modern architecture give Havana the look of an undecided bride who took too long to make up her mind on the dress only to discover that the wedding was off.
To describe the look of the streets in Havana is to hint at the complicated contradictory nature of Cuba. In one section, mainly Havana Viejo, you will find complete city blocks, squares, hotels, restaurants and residences that have been painstakingly restored. Turn a corner and you will encounter a mix of commercial and residential properties, most of which have been divided and subdivided into human rabbit warrens. Floors have been added between floors, ad hoc walls have been erected as needs dictated, stairs without rails have been extended from walls, windows have been sealed, doors have been boarded and sometimes all that is left is the external structure of brick and mortar with only a shadow of a reminder of the plaster that once graced the facades. People come and go and life is lived in plain view. Doors to homes are often ajar, families can be seen going about their daily activities, children play in the streets, taxis, pedicabs and pedestrians share the pot holed roads and the uneven broken down sidewalks are a hazard to all who walk on them.
To say that the revolution has granted equality to everyone is misguided at best. In fact the only change seems to have been that the socio-economic pyramid has simply been turned upside down. Instead of educated people in their chosen professions like doctors, nurses, lawyers etc earning a higher wage they earn very little. It is not unusual for a family of six or seven, multiple generations, with many university degrees among them, to be living in a small one bedroom apartment outside the centre of Havana. Although education and medical care are free, the cost of daily living and the ability to own your own home or to buy a car is impossible for most professional cubans. On the other hand, those who have close proximity to tourist dollars like owners of casa particulares, make considerably more a day. These are the people who can afford to get a passport and government permission to travel abroad, while most Cubans will tell you that you have seen more of Cuba than they ever have. The average salary for a cuban teacher is 20 CUC a day which for a young teacher means living with parents, putting off having a family and hoping that things will change. One teacher I spoke with said she doesn’t care about owning a car or any other luxury item, but would just like to be able to afford a place of her own and a chance to start a family. She is in her mid thirties! Still Cubans are proud people and they do not want you to feel sorry for them, they have survived very well and have a greater zest for life than a lot of people in bette circumstances.