Havana / Cuba, February 2016
An Awkward Cuba Dream
You can always turn the reality to a dream, maybe an awkward dream?
It was a thursday evening at about 4pm when I got an important phone call from the immigration lawyer working on my case. He gave me some good news, then ordered me to leave the country and enter back as soon and quick as possible. 10 Minutes after the phone call, I was driving home to pack my stuff and go. To where? No idea, I'll book the flight right before the flight. One important detail though, I have to be back to work at monday morning, 3 days after. Meanwhile I'm driving, a lot of thoughts in my mind; should I go to see Taj Mahal and come back? I could just run, spend half an hour in Taj Mahal and come back to Oakland. What if I get stuck in the traffic? Or should I have some tea with my friends in Istanbul? At that time I was living in Oakland so my best options were Central American countries. Same night at 9pm, I was on the way to Cancun, Mexico. I choose Cancun because it was cheap to fly from San Francisco, and also flights to Cuba. I was in the Cancun airport 12 hours after getting the "good news" from the lawyer, asking people how to go to the terminal where Havana flights depart. It was much easier than I expected to get Cuba visa; they sell you the visa for $20, when you get the flight ticket in the ticketing office. My flight to Havana was at 12pm, 5 hours away. It's my first time to be in Mexico, so what should I do to make this 5 hours fun? You know the answer; hitchhiking! I hitchhiked from airport to Cancun town, and hitchhiked back to the airport. This is why I love hitchhiking though; even that 5 hours was memorable because I met bunch of people with interesting stories. A guy with punk style piercings give me a ride from a truck station until the terminal I was going to. I love Mexican people, their energy is so similar to ours, Turkish people.
I arrived in Havana an afternoon and started learning about the city from other people in the airport. I did no research before coming, have no reservations, and also have little bit of cash. So I started hitchhiking to the Havana, with group of locals in the same car with me. Locals get around by hitchhiking mostly, and they always pay little bit of money. Just like any other business, it's hard to open a taxi business, so people turned hitchhiking to a business. I decided to use public transport after getting off from the first ride. I finally made it to the Havana. 24 hours after that phone call with my Immigration lawyer, I was walking around the streets in Havana, having that poetrical feeling of traveling in the time. Havana lives in a totally different time. As Nova had our camera with her in Papua, I shot all photos with my IPhone 6.
Cuba is a communist country; so it's focused on people rather than the materials. It may not be as "developed" as a capitalist country but Cuban people are hella happy. They live as communities and neighbors outside in the streets, rather than locked in their homes like in the modern societies. Although Cuba is a communist country, the government tolerates vendors on the street.
I love farmer's markets to see how people buy and sell food in different cultures. Everywhere you look in the every traditional market would be full of details, and each detail has its own journey with the people there.
Cuba has two currencies; Peso and Convertible Peso. When locals use Peso, foreigners can only use the convertible one, which is being sold for same value with USD. This makes everything in Cuba so expensive for rest of the world. A slice of pizza is 20 Peso, and it equals 0.81 USD. But when you pay it as foreigner with Convertible Peso, a slice of pizza with cheese becomes 20USD. After walking around, I discovered a nice little shop run by two women, selling sandwhich with cheese and salami for 5 Peso. I went there next morning as well, had espresso with milk (3 Peso). An 81-years old Cuban man, Mr. Gustavo Katole was also having breakfast next to me. I had some conversation with him and took a selfie. He was very friendly and healthy.
I saw a place cooking free food in the downtown. It's a service provided by Cuban government, Cuba citizens can go to eat there, and although I'm a foreigner, they didn't mind me walking around and taking a few photos of the place. Cuban people are quite friendly.
The next day, I wanted to leave Havana downtown and see other places before leaving Cuba. I wanted to see Che's heritage in the place, so my next destination would be an hospital. I took the public bus P12 that goes to the airport direction, and got off in a totally random town between Havana and Airport.
Every neighborhood in Cuba has a pharmacy, this is what we heard from Michael Moore's "Sicko" documentary. I wanted to verify if this was true in reality, and found a pharmacy in the random town I got off from the bus. Wearing my curious CIA spy hat, I asked the woman in the pharmacy "I'm quite sick, where is the nearest hospital?". It was a walkable distance, so I went there. The hospital is a big campus with a lot of buildings, and there is a security in the entrance. I'm not sure what the security is for but passed it easily by acting like my stomach is bad. Then walked in one of the buildings with patients. There was a Che Guevara photo above the door, just like everywhere else. Although it doesn't look modern or luxurious, the hospital was quite, calm, and comfortable.
Some nurses came in when they saw me, they were quite friendly. Because they were friendly, I stopped lying about my stomach and started singing Hasta Siempre... And I know only the part with "Commandante Che Guevara", can't even sing the parts with actual Spanish words. We started laughing, I was happy to be surrounded by all laughing women, but then a serious nurse came in after hearing our laughters and she realized I might be a CIA spy and called the security. I got kicked off. A security officer walked with me until getting out off the campus
Before even thinking "hospital operation is cancelled, what should I do next?", I saw some kids playing soccer and decided to join them.
As the time passed, I started feeling hungry. There were no businesses around us, the kids took me to a house that sometimes sell food. They're not officially restaurant probably because it's not easy to open business in Cuba, but they were sometimes doing that business. Not that day though, all three places the kids took me to in their neighborhood weren't selling food that day. After we ran out of options, one of the kids, Christian invited me to their home. He made a sandwhich, took selfies, tried to teach eachother English and Spanish.
We kept playing football after eating, along with some latino dance music, kudos to Christian for moving that big speakers outside.
I had great time playing football with Christian and friends but as the time passes, I started feeling like they were too young to hang out longer. I went back to where I got off the bus and asked a young local guy where people party in this town. The only place selling beer was the gas station, and that's where the local young people usually get together, play music and get drunk. It started raining though. And there was my flight upcoming, so I kept going to the airport, spend that night sleeping in the airport and took flight to Mexico & US next morning. I was back to Oakland sunday night. It felt weird to wake up in Havana without preparing and planning, then being back to work on monday morning. It was like an awkward dream.