Life is simple. Salsa. Music. Rum. Nothing more is needed to relish in the beauty of the Cuban lifestyle. To see the love produced, for themselves and others, through the simplicity of dance and laughter is awe-inspiring.
To love and enjoy life, the people of Cuba don’t need anything else – and they prove that. But forbidden from being allowed to have anything else creates a void that they yearn to fill. This longing eats at their souls.
The government has trapped them within the confines of the sea wall. Physically and Ideologically. If they were free, some may never want to leave. But this lack of freedom locks up their heart and now they do feel a sense of emotional despair.
Amongst the streets of Havana they routinely get lost in one another. Whether it be through sharing the rhythm of music or a bottle of rum, they find solace in each other. Unfortunately, this peace is short-lived. Upon returning to solitude, they are still faced with the reality of living within an oppressive regime.
This reality goes beyond the inability to explore outside the arbitrary boundaries outlined by the ocean. Boundaries tirelessly solidified by the ruling power. The average Cuban government worker makes 25CUC/month (1CUC = $1). It is possible to survive on ration cards and domestically grown food but there is no way to lessen the cost of imported necessities. Shoes are 50CUC. Jeans are 30CUC. Shampoo is 4.50CUC. Toothpaste is 2CUC. 1 hour of Internet is 1CUC. Toilet Paper, so coveted, is rarely provided by restaurants at the prospect of it being stolen. I called these necessities. Cubans call them luxuries.
Money does not bring happiness. But one’s basic needs must be met before you are able to escape the daily struggle for comfort that will consume your life’s attention. No energy is left to focus on cultivating friendships, searching for love, or self-actualization if you have no sense of security when it comes to food, shelter, and health. The Cuban government does not provide its people with enough to obtain this minimum level of comfort.
“I Love My Life. I Love My Family. “ An eerily common Cuban response when queried about the Cuban regime – unwilling to directly broach the subject. This appreciation for their life and what they DO have is fascinating. Something we should all strive for. Unfortunately, for some Cubans the commitment to their immediate surrounding presence is not by choice, it is because they can’t bear not to. It is a coping mechanism utilized to evade confrontation with the emotional resistance to their circumstances and the dim prospect of a better future. A sign of lost hope for change.
Simple gifts were met with unbridled enthusiasm – a stunning mixture of bliss and gratitude. Nike Flip-Flops, MLB Jerseys, toothpaste, Band-Aids. It was as if these objects represented something greater than their material worth. A step outside the boundary set so hard in place by the Cuban government. A taste in the ability to go beyond these circumstances to which they have no escape. An ode to a world unknown in which they are constrained from exploring. An offering of hope.
But what I had to offer the people of Cuba pales in comparison to what they offered me. With so little, they give so much. In a life of scarcity, they live in abundance. The rest of the world has much to learn from observing the delicacies of the Cuban people.
My last night in Cuba I was taught that Salsa requires no music. It is through becoming one with the movements of your partner that creates the art. The government may have taken away their music, but the Cuban people continue to dance.