A June 2001 trip
to Havana by am331
Quote: I did a medical tour with other med students to Havana and Pinar del Rio and learned a great deal.
I had been to Cuba once previously in college (in 1992), when I studied abroad in the Dominican Republic, but this trip was different. The '90s were an extraordinarily difficult time for Cuba's economy after the USSR fell (see review of economy), and they had to make many drastic changes to survive.
I found it amazingly eye-opening, in terms of seeing how people live in such different circumstances from both the developed western countries and also from their poverty-stricken Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. This is truly a land caught "in between" two realities. It is also a land caught in time. You walk down the street and see cars from the '50s, buildings that have not been renovated for decades, and people wearing long-outdated clothes. Even the shops carry old products. And in this same land, you see tourist-centered services and accommodations that rival the best of the modern world. In this world, dollars are accepted as local currency, and the tourist can access the best of everything, even steaks and hamburgers; this in a country where beef is not available, not even rationed, and saved only for those with medical necessity. What an amazingly strange land.
I know that their leader, their beloved (by most) Fidel, will not live forever, and who knows what type of regime will follow him. For now, I feel blessed to have been able to observe and capture a snap shot into the reality that was and still is post-revolution Cuba.
Try to talk to the locals but be aware that it is not easy for them to talk to you: when we talked to locals, every now and then the authorities would pull them away and give them a hard time about it. Some say it’s because the locals are not allowed to talk to foreigners (for political reasons) and others say it’s so they won’t harass the tourists. They have a lot to say, and for many, it's almost a sort of catharsis to talk to someone from the outside world.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 19, 2005
Plaza de Armas
A truly magnificent performance--I recommend it highly, and it will certainly broaden your experience of Cuba. Incidentally, we could see a movie for 10 cents, which seemed unbelieveable to us! In New York, it costs about $10!! Cuba puts a lot of emphasis on the arts, and they try to keep the prices low for nationals (I got the low price because I used my student ID card).
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 19, 2005
Cuban National Ballet
Gran Teatro de la Habana
Attraction | "Plaza de la Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana"
La Habana, Cuba 10600
+53 7 617771
Attraction | "Museo de la Revolución"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 19, 2005
Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion)
Calle Refugio 1
La Habana, Cuba 10600
+53 7 624091
Cafetal Buena Vista
Pinar del Rio
In terms of jobs, education is paid for by the government, and there is supposedly no illiteracy in the country. School is actually mandatory until 9th grade, and all educational supplies are free, including books, pens, etc. Also, you are supposedly guaranteed a job after college, but the catch is that you can't study something that isn't "needed". (I assume the government decides what is needed.)
During my short stay, I was amazed at their tremendous strength of spirit, to see people on TV and meet people like us and other tourists who have things they wish they could have and cannot and know that it'll never change. One of our friends told us he makes $10 a month and can’t afford to buy anything with it; for instance, his shorts cost $14! Most people told us they get by in two ways – family abroad or a side (secret) business, like raising pigs, making wine, or, if they live in the rural areas, selling products from the capital at a higher price. People are not officially allowed to work more than one job, so there is no way to "get ahead" as we know it.
It’s amazing to me because, in spite of having so little and seeing all that we as tourists have, the Cubans are so hospitable and giving of whatever little they have. And if some try to hustle us (not that it happened too often), I feel like, who wouldn’t if put in their position?
As the name of this journal implies, the Cuban "joie de vivre" overcomes it all--all the many hardships they face--and they continue to sing, dance, and make the best of their situation. In fact, while we were there, the popular song was Celia Cruz's "La Vida es un Carnival", and the words of the refrain, "Ay, no hay que llorar, que la vida es un carnaval y las penas se van cantando!", seem to be a way of life for them. (Rough translation: Ay, no need to cry because life is a carnival/party, and our worries will go away as we sing).
Each night, we went to hear local bands play all the salsa favorites, and then we’d walk back to the home. It was a very small, quaint town of about 50,000 people. On the weekend, we decided to visit a nearby famous waterfall called Cascada Collantes (Salto del Caburni); it was quite a hike--2.5 km (2 hours) each way--and on the return, it was all uphill. My whole body ached! The next day, before returning to Havana, we hit the beach (Playa Ancon), which is also nearby, for a few hours of R&R. It was a terrific weekend trip.
Cuba’s primary causes of death are similar to those of developed countries – heart disease, cancer, and stroke. This is amazing given that for the rest of Latin America and the developing world it is still infectious diseases! There are 23 medical schools in Cuba! Medicine is a popular profession and there is a doc in every neighborhood, not even one is unemployed! The doctor that I was able to visit on occasion lived in a modest house provided to her by the government, from which she took care of the 1000 patients who lived in her area. She told us that none of them had AIDS and it happened to be that there was no doctor in the neighboring town because they had gone on mission. Mission means that the doctor will spend about 2 years traveling to another country to offer medical services, but you can ask to opt out if you had small children at home. The doctor would also make house calls for any patients who could not come to her house for an appointment. This doctor is on call 24 hours a day! Doctors only make about $25 a month, which is the highest salary except for some people who work in the tourist industry. Some doctors even get other jobs to help with finances, like waitressing! Although it is difficult for anyone Cuban to leave the country, there are some ways, if you are invited by someone you can be on a waiting list for a few years and go, or you can enter a lottery to go. But doctors and some other health professionals are not allowed to go because in the '60s (right after the revolution) almost half the doctors in Cuba left.
"Natural and Traditional Medicine" as they call it has really flourished in this country, due to necessity, after the crisis time of the 90s. Since medications and resources (even things as simple as latex gloves must be washed and reused!) were becoming scarce, they sent doctors to China and other parts of the East to learn acupuncture, acupressure, floral and herbal treatments, among others. Now these modalities are also taught to Cuban medical students in their 5th and 6th year (theirs is a 6 year program) and is used extensively around the country, and it seems to be working well. We visited two centers which used Natural Medicine in their practice and it seemed to be quite successful. One was a pain clinic and we observed a woman with a back problem that caused her to walk hunched over go in for treatment with acupuncture and come out ten minutes later without pain and walking normally! We also observed acupressure treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
They have places called "Cases de Abuelos" (Grandparents houses) in every neighborhood. This is a place for older folks to go when their families are at work or school and they get free meals, medical care, exercise, games and they seem so happy. They get to meet other folks their age to hang out with, dance, talk, go on trips, they told us some even meet and get married! We heard from one 82 year old women about how much better things are for them after 1959 because of Fidel, they now have somewhere to go instead of deteriorating alone at home, they get food, and in general the society has more racial and gender equality.
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