Most of the youth in Cuba are not satisfied with government rations for the necessities of life. They want to wear fashionable clothes, shoes, and jewelry. They want to use real soap and shampoo and cologne. Relatives in the United States visit from Miami and bring them as much as they can.
A lot of the younger generation don’t want to go to college and they don’t want to work for the government allotment of 20.00 CUC/ month. They hang out like youths everywhere. The motivated ones participate in the black market selling art, crafts, and homemade food items or selling services such as taxi driver or home fumigation.
They are everywhere in Cuba and for good reason. Bicycles are cheap efficient transportation.
Cubans also modify bicycles in all kinds of ways. They stretch the frames, add seats, and make them tricycle pedicabs or make them into carts to carry goods for sale.
Bicycles, like autos, do break. Pedals, seats, chains and of course tires and tubes are needed, but parts are difficult to get. This creates a whole (capitalist) black market repair service. I watched a man vulcanize a tube in his small shop. I saw another mechanic on the street digging through a bucket of rusty parts looking for the correct sized bolt. He had a collection of mis-matched tools that I’m certain had been made years ago.
Of course, as a photographer, old bicycles make great subjects too.
A little background first:
The Necropolis De Colon is an enormous and old cemetery in Havana. Families with money were buried in above ground vaults and mausoleums on the main avenues, but there are also many unmarked mass graves that contain the bodies of those Cubans executed by the firing squads of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
On this trip I went looking for a quiet old man I met the year before. He works as a grounds-keeper, sweeper, and grave-digger. I found one worker, showed him a photo of who I was looking for and he took me down several avenues until we found him. His face lit up when I gave him his pictures and we shared a few minutes of hugs, handshakes, and smiles.
These people seem genuinely appreciative that foreigners, especially Americans, care enough to re-visit them. It’s a rewarding experience for me too.
If you know me, you know that I find humor everywhere. Even in Communist Cuba.
The largest Cuban I’ve ever seen.
Bread and Water
Wonder Woman ?
A Pair of Posers
“There’s a Man In My Laundry”
Our Fearless Guide (no wonder he’s fearless)
Splitting into smaller groups to walk and photograph is a definite advantage.
One of our group of four found a home with a pottery sign in the window. Inside the doorway was a small room where some of the art pieces were displayed. The lady of the house greeted us and offered a tour of her home. We climbed a narrow home-made steel staircase (more like a stairway found on a ship, but fabricated with re-bar and thin plate) to the second level kitchen and living area. From here we then climbed a set of concrete steps that were no more than one foot wide to the bedroom.
After returning to the ground floor, we passed four hombres sitting around a table drinking rum and were led to the pottery work area. We were then offered a pottery making demonstration. I thought the woman was the potter, but she called to her husband (who was one of the hombres). He put down his rum and started up the pottery wheel by plugging two bare wires into a socket. A clump of clay, a pot of water, and two gifted hands produced a beautiful vase in just a few minutes.
Old Havana has a distinctive odor. It’s worse in some places than others. It’s a combination of auto exhaust, mold, mildew, garbage, urine, and sewerage. The streets of Old Havana have damp areas that don’t dry because something is always oozing from one old building or another. Overflowing trash containers regularly sit for days without being emptied. Street sweepers (men with brooms) are everywhere. They help with the trash problem, but not with the smell. The infrastructure is falling apart and it’s the fault of the government. After all, the government is in total control.
Laundry hangs everywhere in Havana. Indoors and out. It hangs from railings and balconies and from lines tied between any sturdy posts. It doesn’t matter that the air is filled with 1950’s auto exhaust or that the city air has its own unique odor. Clothes must be washed and dried. I doubt the average Cuban could afford to buy a clothes dryer even if one were available to purchase. So women practice the time-honored tradition of hanging out the wash. I remember my mother doing the very same chore.
Of course its different in Cienfuegos, Cohimar, or Trinidad where the air is fresher, cleaner, and the population is not so dense. It’s not so obvious, but it’s there. It’s the laundry.