“This is a rough neighborhood”
“You shouldn’t be here with a camera”
“Be careful around here”
These are some of the warnings I got from the friendly Cubans I passed while exploring the neighborhood near the Havana train station.
This particular morning I had my Cuban photographer friend Luis Diaz with me. He seemed concerned with our safety, so I made an effort to be extra observant. We continued to explore and happened upon a street where there was a community effort to beautify the neighborhood.
I’m happy that we were not scared off.
I’m often asked: Is it changing?
In Habana Vieja and Centro Habana there are many ongoing construction projects, including building new hotels and refurbishing or rebuilding old hotels.
For the past year there has been a concerted effort to upgrade the electric service by removing the wires from sidewalks and them placing underground. Also the water lines are being replaced with new plastic pipe.
As a side note: There is no water pressure in the homes as we know it. The water is supplied to the streets by the government. The people then have to pump the water to cisterns or plastic tanks on the roofs of their buildings. From here it is gravity fed to kitchens and baths in people’s apartments.
Of course the haphazard trench digging down the middle of heavily used streets creates problems. Garbage cannot be collected and people have nowhere to safely walk.
I did find some children who were having a good time though. They were playing in some fresh, clean sand used to bury the lines.
I heard the sirens and saw the crowd gathering. Several police and fire vehicles arrived and were followed by unmarked government cars. I walked quickly along the Malecón toward the action. As I approached, I realized that officials were not in any particular hurry. I wiggled my way up to the seawall and soon discovered that there was a body washed up on the rocks. As I observed the authorities drag the body out to rendezvous with a patrol boat, I noticed how quiet and somber the crowd was. This festive horde of rum drinkers and dancers stood by with real concern on their faces.
What were they thinking? I imagined that they were wondering if the poor dead man drown while trying to escape from the island. Perhaps he was washed overboard from some make-shift raft. Perhaps he was shot by a military patrol.
I think it was a stark reminder to all about where and how they are forced to live.
I’m always watching. Watching people. Watching traffic. Watching life go by. That’s why I prefer a window seat when I fly, ride, or sit for a quick lunch; as I was in this case.
While I waited for my sandwich this poor woman on the sidewalk came up and touched my arm. She wanted money for food. Lots of people need money for food in Havana. I politely said no several times, but she wouldn’t leave. She kept pleading to me with her eyes. Of course, I gave in.
Kilometro Zero is one of my new favorite lunch stops in Havana. Good food, good prices, and if you are lucky, a window seat.
Sometimes the shot jumps out at you and you have to react quickly. You compose and shoot without conversation because you know it won’t last. After a burst of 3, 4, or 5 shots you look at your camera to see if you can refine the image. It’s then that you realize that you got caught. Caught in the act of capturing someone’s daily life. Most of the time they put up with it. Sometimes they flash you a smile or a Cuban two-fingered salute. Once in a while they yell, wave you off, demand money, or simply disappear. In those cases, I’ll try to make amends with small talk, gifts, or a CUC.
I love photographing in Havana. I get away with a lot.
Caught – the wave off.
Caught, but ……..
Caught – Cuban with a big knife.
…. and a smile,
so I approach …. (he’s still smiling)
Caught – two-fingered salute.
Caught – with a handful.
My landlady and friend Barbara Rosales was suffering from abdominal pain for days. Finally, her husband took her to the hospital where she was admitted for appendicitis. Unfortunately her appendix had already burst and she had to spend five days in the hospital after the surgery. On the third day I was invited to visit with her husband and son. I wanted photos, but I was sure that my camera would not be allowed into the building so I borrowed a cell phone. Because I read a lot, I was not surprised by what I saw. The building itself was in dis-repair, although it appeared as if work was in progress. After a very long wait for the elevator we arrived at the recovery ward, three rooms lined with beds. Initial impressions: old, understaffed, dirty, nurses not in uniform, and of course no privacy. This was definitely not the much vaunted model of socialist free healthcare that most are led to believe exists throughout the country.
To be fair, this was a very small neighborhood hospital, but I was assured that most hospitals for Cubans are similar and some are worse.
Drinking water in used soda bottles.
Guests wander everywhere.
Another ward through the doorway.
Barbara’s son helping her to move.
Barbara’s husband trying to make her more comfortable.
The next bed. Note the pillow.
The floor was filthy.
Barbara’s husband looking for an outlet with power inside the nurse’s station.
2nd floor area open to the sky.
2nd floor hallway
Two elevators (only one worked)
2nd floor area open to the sky
Outside in the entrance way.
Outside the entrance.
I like to observe people.
Often times what they do and how they do it can be entertaining.
For Cubans, hailing a cab is more like hitching a ride in the U.S. The taxis have routes that they drive all day long, So if one stops, you first have to ask if it’s going past where you want to go.
Instead of putting out a thumb, the favored method seems to be variations of finger waving.
One Finger Up. (optimist )
One finger down. (tired )
One finger hidden. ( gift offering ? )
Two fingers horizontal. ( confident )
The peace sign.
Four fingers horizontal. ( testing one’s nerves )
Four fingers vertical. ( the lazy method )
Two and Two. ( not easy, obviously a pro )