Category Archives: Cuba 2017

Where They Live – Juan Carlos

 

I met Juan Carlos when I noticed him sitting next to a welder and, being a welder in my previous life, I tried to make conversation.   Fortunately Juan Carlos’ English was better than my Spanish. He was waiting for someone to pick him up and take him to a job.

Juan Carlos fabricates doors, windows, and railings. What I would call ornamental iron work. In Havana many people have bars on windows and outer doors with padlocks for security.             https://wp.me/p4fUlX-w1

Juan Carlos has become a good friend of mine over the last two years. He has let me photograph his apartment, taken me to meet his 92 year-old grandmother, let me photograph from the roof of his building, and introduced me to many people in his neighborhood.

Last year I purchased an electric grinder for him on the black market. Now he doesn’t have to borrow (rent) one when he has a job to do.

A modest, but clean and efficient kitchen.

 

A comfortable living area.

Stairway to a loft where his daughter and grandson sleep.

 

He keeps the welder in his bedroom.

 

Stories and photos of a dozen others in this series can  be found here:  https://wp.me/p4fUlX-AT

Oswal

Oswal lives in the neighborhood where I always stay in Havana. When I see him on the street, he always tries to speak with me in English. One day his mother and father invited me into their home. The father spoke some English and wanted his son to learn. I emphasized how important it will be for Oswal’s future. In eight or ten years when he is looking for work, one of the many new hotels in Havana might hire him if he speaks another language. A restaurant or hotel job would give Oswal the opportunity to earn tips in the highly coveted tourist money. ( CUCs)

In October I brought a Spanish/English dictionary and told Oswal to practice and that I would check on him when I visited again.
Before I left for home, I received a nice message from his mother thanking me for encouraging her son to study:

“Hola Marco. Estoy muy agradecida por que gracias a usted Oswal se a interesado por el english.”

(“Hi Mark. I am very grateful that thanks to you Oswal was interested in the english language.”)

When I returned two months later I presented Oswal with a study guide.

I’ll visit whenever I get back to Havana and try to encourage him more. He’s young, and girls and cell phones will distract him, but at least he now has the opportunity to better himself.

A Simple Pen

 

There is no breeze. It’s the middle of the afternoon. It’s hot and humid. It’s the tropics, after all.

I stopped to talk with three ladies selling “refresco” out of a huge blue tank on wheels. The colored and flavored liquid they dispensed resembled unset Jell-O or, to date myself, Za-Rex. People brought their own bottles and paid a few pesos for the sticky, sweet syrup.

Two of the ladies were fanning themselves. I said to the other woman that she also needed a fan. When she replied that she didn’t even have a fan at home, I half jokingly said “Let’s go. I’ll buy you one”. I could not image trying to sleep without circulating some air.

She immediately took me up on my offer. It was almost two hours later before we found a fan. We walked in a huge circle from the west end of Centro Havana to Old Havana and back  before we stumbled on an out-of-the-way store that had new fans.

I thought she was going to cry when I presented the box to her.

Looking through her bag she said “I have nothing to give you, but please take my pen”

That pen now sits on my desk.

That pen reminds me of the struggles of every day life some people face.

That pen reminds me daily of how fortunate I am.