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Monday, June 15, 2015


One living room in Trinidad, Cuba
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015. 


Okay, so you park your motorcycle with sidecar in the living room.  That’s no big deal.  That’s Cuba and motorcycles are rare and expensive.  Décor doesn’t include a vehicle in most homes but for the average Cuban function trumps form.  Space is at a premium and when you’re earning $25 a month there is no extra cash for fancy digs.

Homes are packed closely together in the towns and cities and even clustered in rural areas.  Furnishings and appliances have to be purchased in the more expensive CUC pesos.  A TV set or a refrigerator can take a year’s salary and that’s on the used market.

How about the Internet?

First, let’s worry about electricity in the home?  How well can someone in the family jerry rig a line to the main power poles?  Only the upper middle class and the wealthy in Cuba can afford plumbers or electricians.

And, life in the countryside is akin to 19th century standards when it comes to running water and flushing toilets.  In Trinidad, Cuba, our tour bus followed the water truck through the narrow cobblestone streets as residents came out with pails in hand.  City dwellers can’t flush paper down the toilet, but at least homes have running water.  Standards improve while in the better hotels around the country and if you never leave the lobby you could come away saying Cubans don’t have it so bad. That’s naïve, Bubby.

Homes are painted in vibrant colors.  Maybe pink isn’t a family’s first choice, but when you locate enough paint to cover the entire dwelling and it happens to be a wild color—then that’s your choice.  And, if there is paint left over and you have a vintage car—you now have the third or fourth pinkest ’53 Chevy on the block.

But, home is home and there is fierce pride.  Homes are spotless.  Brooms are cheap and they’re used often.  We arrived right after a squall in a small town and after our visit, we saw the broom brigade (all ages and sexes) in action sweeping puddled water away from the home, shops and museums.

And, if the Cubans have it over Americans you’ll realize right away they are gracious.  They have old school manners and offer genuine hospitality.  Being invited into a Cuban home is a privilege reserved for those they embrace.  Look them in the eye when you speak and shake hands with everyone. 

And, most are not looking for handouts.  They’re curious about consumer goods, especially American brands.  Remember Miami TV stations can be seen on Cuban TV.  They know SONY and Apple.  I traded an extra iphone charging cable with my taxi driver for the fare for a one-mile ride.  Smiles and the handshake: priceless.

Remember national poverty is not the average Cuban’s fault and if there is one truism socialism or no—everyone is equal while in Cuba.


Buildings along the Malecon (north Havana) are victims of extreme salt sea wear and tear.  Photo: Phyllis Shess
Better Havana neighborhood
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Detached homes in West Havana
Photo: Phyllis Shess
A splashy coat of paint often hides sins of disrepair
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Deco era apartment building in Havana's mid-city
Photo: Mike Shess
Weathered mid-century with interesting details
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Apartment building West side Havana
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Aging detached in Havana's West side embassy row
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Muraleando area South Havana
Each level built independently over the years.

Photo: Phyllis Shess
Collapsed wall in Old Havana apartment
with rampant jerry-rigged electrical wiring

Photo: Michael Shess 
Central Trinidad, Cuba
Photo: Phyllis Shess

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