When I first landed in Cuba things were obviously different than I knew them from home.
But somehow I didn’t realize that I had just moved to a third world country.
Well, that is also a thing that isn’t easy. Cuba is generally regarded as a third world country- also because of the history, the change of the term and the standards in this country.
But the first definition of a third world country excluded Cuba.
By definition a third world country is a: “Collective name for most of the nations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, many of which share a colonial past and are variously termed as developing, less developed, or least developed countries. They support 75 percent of the world’s population but consume only 20 percent of its resources, and are generally characterized by (1) slow pace of industrialization, (2) low to very low levels of per capita income that is insufficient to generate savings for economic growth, (3) low literacy levels but high rate of population growth, (4) poor health facilities and transport infrastructure, (5) dependence on agricultural and commodity exports as main foreign exchange earners.” (source: BusinessDictionary.com)
All things I would describe Cuba with. Not all of Cuba, but most of it.
But it’s not that easy. Wikipedia explains the term “third world” and where it came from a little more and even names Cuba as a non-third-world-country.
“The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO, or the Communist Bloc. The United States, Western European nations and their allies represented the First World, while the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and their allies represented the Second World. This terminology provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, cultural and economic divisions. (source:Wikipedia)
However, when I first moved there I knew what I had to expect and that things wouldn’t be easy. Though now, when I look back I can only really realize what third world means and that I have experienced living in a country who’s standards are so different from the places I am used to.
Also I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a Cuba-expert.
I knew all the things you know when you read the newspaper,the page from the embassy that gives you tips about the situation in the country and the rest you remember from schools history classes.
Which is by far not as much as I should have known.
Anyway I went there. I went there because I wanted to. It was a free choice.
No one wanted to go there for years, everybody wanted to get out.
Or more precise: still want to get out.
Once again I took the wrong direction.
But from time to time it is not too bad to take a step back I guess.
The very old and small ( I will not use the word “rotten” though it was the first one I thought of) airport already tells a lot about the history of this island and could really need a little update…
Though it is the biggest and most important airport of the country it still feels like they haven’t changed anything since they built it (which was in 1929).
But now the Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí will be bought by the owner of the Aéroports de Paris, so changes are coming up.
Under Obama there has also been a change in the charter flights that come and go from Cuba to America. Since 2011 there are eight more cities in the U.S. that have flights coming and going from Cuba. That makes eleven cities after you’ve added those eight new ones.
Some of them are Miami, Los Angeles and New York…Well, I’d say that almost sounds like friendship, doesn’t it?
Once more I am almost released that I am not an American. That isn’t easy either.
Cuba has a very interesting history with a lot of ups and downs.
The glorious revolution under Castro that made Batista flee from the island are the things everyone knows about. That is all-around knowledge. The start of Castro’s Cuba.
But there is far more than that.
From 1959 on Cuba is officially socialistic and soon after this declaration, the disaster in Havana Harbor and the Cuba Crisis finally lead to the really bad relation between the USA and the caribbean island. Still the number of refugees that come from Cuba to the United States is huge. Over and over again there are flows of refugees.
The poverty is extreme and the socialized economy is totally down.
But still the first direct vote for the parliamentary election happens only in 1993. Years after Castro took over Cuba.
A thing that should be mentioned here: there was no opposition allowed.
So it’s not really surprising that Castro became the approval he thought he would have.
The suffering is now so bad that the people start infecting themselves with the HI-Virus on purpose, not knowing that they can not be cured. They do that so they can get into hospital and finally receive the supply they need. Until today waiting in front of stores and having trouble finding the easiest things is part of the every day life in Cuba. And for those who are not in touch with the tourism on the island somehow (even through some cousins or whatever) life is even harder.
Imagine getting sick on purpose so you don’t have to die and then you die because you didn’t know about the disease and all you tried was to get through somehow. This is one of the most horrible things in modern history that I have heard.
The Cuban punk-scene had a special role in this part of history. Not only did they keep on getting infected until the 2000s, but also it was some sort of an honor for them to have Aids.
But also there are some positive sides. Since the visit of pope John Paul II. in the middle of the 90ies (that Castro called the “Special Period”) Cuba started to open the borders to the world. Step by step Cuba starts having contact with other countries and in 2000 the USA loosen the embargo. In 2016, short after I left the island Barack Obama even visited Cuba. The first president to visit the island in over 60 years- a big step and a historical day for both countries. Also now, Raúl Castro rules the country not Fidel anymore.
Some things didn’t change at all.
The cars, the rum, the cigars and the salsa. All those things stayed the same and all those things are the reason why masses of tourists all want to see Cuba.
Also I came for those things.Not only, because then 2 weeks would have been enough, but I can not say that the romantic picture of the Caribbean island with nostalgic 50ies flair wasn’t in my head when I booked the flight.
But also I wanted to understand and get to know this very special island. I wanted to find some sort of scene. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I was definitely trying to find a scene that developed under very special circumstances.
What I found was an unmatched art-scene, a joy of life that I have never known this way and that was so special to me because it really came from the depth of the peoples heart.
I have learned so much more about Cuba and seen so much more about the island, the people and the vibe -all things that a tourist could never see in a couple of days-that I almost feel ashamed that I thought this is one of the biggest parts of their culture.
I have lived with people that are somewhere between the past and an exciting new future that is wanted so badly but that people are also scared of.
And when I came back I took a little bit of both with me:
A nostalgic feeling and boundary to the past and the energy for an emergence into something new that was yet to come.