“Cuba will soon change”. I have been hearing this for many years. Everybody has been expecting a rapid change that will have dramatic effect on this very special island for so long. “Go now, experience the original Cuba, before everything will be different”…as if it will be destroyed for some reason and fast.
Havana is only 90 nautical miles from Miami but has been totally unavailable to each other for decades. It is natural to ask the questions. What happens when the border opens up and the massive US tourist machine roll over this unprepared community? When the biggest Caribbean island virtually unspoiled and undeveloped are given unlimited opportunities. When several huge Cruise liners enter Havana harbor and tens of thousands of people invade the fragile streets of Old Havana – and what happens when Cubans, after decades of suppression suddenly are able to travel out of Cuba.
I have no idea what will be the outcome of the change we see between US and Cuba today, but I have been there walked the streets and met the people and I have my reflections. I have been fortunate enough to visit Cuba many times the last few years. Done large-scale projects, worked with Cubans and seen the community from the inside, both the good and the bad. I am not scared of change and I am a manic positive person so I tend to see things in bright light. So here is what I see.
Yes, it has been a very government controlled society. They say: “Havana very safe – two million people – one million police”. It is probably true for all I know. The control and surveillance has been noticeable to us when working there and even though we have not encountered too much trouble, we have seen our local contact struggle.
One time I was interrogated at the airport for hours coming in to Cuba. My suitcases were full of film gear. It was wireless microphones, several cameras, underwater equipment, batteries, charges and memory cards. My passport was stamped full after a long period of extensive travel. Large visa stickers after three times to China, Uganda, Brazil, Uruguay etc. and this was the third time to Cuba. They asked questions for almost two hours. It was a strange situation sitting like this in a classic interrogation room. It was one bare lamp hanging over the table, four policemen on one side, me on the other and on the table, unpacked, all the “evidence”. On one side of the table they had found all the evidence they needed to think I was a spy and on the other side, a Norwegian photographer thinks: “What is it really to spy about here? The interesting and most apparent thing about Cuba is that nothing has happened here since 1953? But they let me in, treated me nice and put noticeable extra surveillance on me for an entire week.
Havana really got to me. The narrow streets, some even paved with wood, the small squares and the beautiful architecture. Everything worn down. Small bars with open doors and windows. Old cars driving in every direction. Warm breeze running through the streets. Wonderful live music everywhere mixed with the smell of cigars and fresh mojitos.
But the strongest impression was the people. Meeting them in their homes over dinner, sharing rum after long hours of work or letting completely loose in “casa musica’s”. The hospitality, the smiles and the happiness. They where not afraid to share frustration over a system ready for change and still extremely proud of their culture. The history, the salsa, the rum, the cigars and the poetic music. Buena Vista Social Club won our hearts years ago, but being in Havana is the real thing, and it is impossible not to get blown away. Young and old people dancing, singing and then they grab you and pull you into the authentic experience.
I am not afraid of the change now happening. It will find its own way. I believe the people of Cuba will handle this just fine and I hope the wonderful parts of their culture will grow even stronger. Personally I hope they manage to avoid “amaricanization” with PizzaHut’s and Burger King’s everywhere and rather build the authentic Cuban experience, but it will be exciting times ahead. Either way I think a boost like this will be very good for the people of Cuba.
I share a few posts here from my experience from Cuba. Please enjoy.