“That will be $150” said the man behind the counter. After a little arguing, I reluctantly pulled out my cash and felt the effects ofentering a country in turmoil immediately. I paid my dues and slumped my way to the security line, luckily to be compensated later by the company who sponsored our entry into Cuba. I began to weave my way through mountains of televisions, bubble wrapped suitcases, and people wearing multiple hats on their heads just waiting in line to return home. On a flight of mostly locals, there were hundreds of people trying to bring back goods that they don't have easy access too in Cuba.
This was the beginning of a week long process to document and relay the stories of the Cuban people. As I tried to stay unbiased, the harsh truth of the circumstances that press on the backs of the people of Cuban became more apparent as the days progressed. To be clear before I get into what I saw, because many people have flawless experiences here, Cuba is a beautiful place full of even more beautiful people. The country itself holds so much life and zest that it made me want to move there immediately, and I miss it almost every day. We heard varying opinions on the reality of Cuba, but the more time spent with the same person the more truths were revealed. It is fairly easy to go to Cuba for a week, stay in government run homes or hotels, and fall into the very endearing trap that was Fidel Castro’s creation of a country, but the more you dig deep and branch out from the beautifully broken city of Havana filled with colorful taxi’s and buildings, into more ‘local’ cities that can often be overlooked - the reality is shown in a more clear light.
We spent some of our week testing water quality in smaller towns that aren't frequented by tourists to find that cholera was a huge issue in more rural areas. They were not given access to clean water, or really water in general so they were pulling from bacteria ridden wells. On top of that I witnessed multiple lines where people were frantically waiting to receive there rations. Some of the people never receiving the food they needed to support their families. This problem drives people to Havana to maximize income off of tourism so that they can pay for food they should be receiving from the government. I asked many people about their monthly wages and I got answers that ranged from $20 a month to $140 a month at best. Many of the cab drivers were doctors because they made more money off tips from tourists than they did working in the medical field. The hospitals are very unsanitary, many people being forced to bring their own sheets and needles and not having proper access to certain medicines. These are just a few examples of what living like a local in Cuba is like. It is a place full of beauty but behind the disintegrating walls are families who can't afford health care for their dying grandmother and a community who needs to be supported not exploited. The more we support government run homes and restaurants, the more we take supplies from the people fighting for their lives and their families lives in the rural towns. I would love for everyone to visit Cuba and find a way to give back to a Country it feels like we ignored for so long. They are 90 miles from where I grew up and I turned a blind eye to many of the horrid things that were occurring there. So yes, go to Cuba and enjoy the sunshine and beautiful streets filled with color and beautifully broken buildings, but please, do your best to stay in local homes and eat at private restaurants so that the government isn't getting as big of a slice of the pie. Travel with knowledge and do your research to invest and not exploit.