Havana

‘North Americans don’t understand… that our country is not just Cuba; our country is also humanity.’  Fidel Castro

Cuba’s history and political situation have created a space unlike any other. Of course it has its well documented problems, but it is not all negative. The literacy rate, for example is second to none. And there is not the vast inequality between rich and poor that has become a focal point of recent protest across capitalist societies. But there is something about the actual experience of being in Cuba that feels very human. Something that has been lost in the haste of Western Modernity, whatever the political model.

Take Havana, the capital, one of a decreasing number that have their very own feel. It’s a refreshing experience, so many cities have come to look so similar; with the same chain stores and vehicles passing by whatever continent you are on.

There are very few vehicles at all in Cuba. Many of those that are there are easy on the eye 1950s Americana, or the more functional looking 1960s soviet trucks and buses. Fuel and parts are not easy to come by, so some of these relics are left stranded beside unworn, empty roads. Those that survive are well cared for, apreciated, and have the appearance of something that is cherished. And they can be enjoyed, since there are rarely traffic jams.

The lack of traffic encourages people to leave their doors and windows open. You can see and hear real people living their internal lives. People working in offices are not hidden by privacy glass, but open to the breeze and any one who cares to look. They are not hidden or sectioned away from the street, but part of it. The internal is connected with the external. A stronger relationship exists as a result. Outide is home too, and people care about the neighbourhood as they do their own house or appartment. Their conversations, music, radios and televisions add to the evidence of humans being, in a way that the din of traffic fails to achieve. An evening stroll past these open doorways reveals families sitting down to eat, old men playing dominoes and people looking back, not through a window, but
apparently in touching distance. You may hear their laughter, smell their food or receive their smiles.

Of course the climate helps. A Nordic street in winter, even lacking in traffic, is unlikely to have as many open doors and windows.

The lack of traffic allows children to play in the street too, the only vehicles they have to look out for are silent bicycles, or pedalled taxis. Boys shadow box, perform press-ups and play football. Girls skip and dance. Is this not how children should live, free to play in the streets around their homes?

It is something that seems unlikely to be possible in too much of the world and we are left with the consequences. As we ad up the things we own, we must also consider what we have lost.

‘All we can do when we think of kids today is think of more hours of
school, earlier age at the computer, and curfews. Who would want to grow up in that world?’ James Hillman.