Last spring when I was researching potential places to take my yearly holiday, a number of destinations were put on the table. Costa Rica, Barbados, Cuba and various places in the United States such as Texas, Illinois, Montana and California all made the final cut but in the end, it was Cuba that won the call to my travel agent and my heart after it was all said and done.
My first morning in Varadero was spent unpacking and exploring my immediate surroundings but it take long for me to feel comfortable enough to leave the hotel and venture on my own to see the real Cuba and meet real Cubans. This allowed me to I learn a lot about the Cuban way of life.
One of the things I learned about Cuba is that the average Cuban makes the equivalent of fifteen dollars a month and acquires his or her food and other goods through a rationing system. Yes, this rationing system means there are caps on how much food a person can eat each month but no one is starving to death in Cuba. Imagine if we all rationed what we ate and just ate what we needed; no one would go hungry and maybe there would never be a shortage of food and every single person on the planet would get their fair share. Everyone eats, no one is homeless, education is free, healthcare is free and among the best in the world and, as one will notice while interacting with the Cuban people, they are always smiling and always cheerful.
I few other things I noticed about Cubans is their lack of material possessions, their devotion to family and their knack for being very social. And by social, I am not talking about chatting to someone they will never meet on an online chat-line. The average Cuban does not own a computer and this reflects largely on their way of life. When I drive or walk around my neighborhood here in Canada, I rarely see people sitting outside on their steps. Even beaches and parks are empty on beautiful sunny days and the only time I see children is when they are walking to school. While walking around the streets of Havana, there were people everywhere. Adults sitting on stoops talking to their neighbors, vendors chatting to anyone who will lend an ear and children playing in the street.
While the rest of the world is working eighty hours a week to pay their bills racked up due to the frivolous spending they do in while their children are being raised by a television, Cubans have learned to survive with very little while maintaining a positive attitude that is rare in our society. In Cuba, no one cares what material possessions their neighbor has and no one is in competition with one another.
My time in Cuba allowed me to discover that there is still at least one place left on this continent where the people and the experiences one has are more important than their material possessions and I learned that it is possible to be happy with very little and enjoy life to the fullest like many Cuban people do every day despite hardships that most of us here in Canada and the United States will never have to endure.
The price that we pay to live the lives we live in our developed society may not be noticeable to the average person but one only needs to turn off the television, the computer and the video game system and take a real look around them and they may be quite surprised to see that that price is quite high as our culture disappears, our lives become overrun with trivial things, our health fails, morals take a steep nosedive and children no longer know how to be children.
In this regard, the Cuban people who fight to keep their culture intact, who continue to instill morals in their children, who get to know and love their neighbors, who make every attempt to be happy with what they have despite adversity are many steps ahead of the rest of us.
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About the Author: Andrea MacEachern: I am a freelance writer and photographer currently living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It wasn’t until I was asked to write a script for a 30-minute short film that I realized my passion was for the written word and I’ve been writing ever since! My work has been featured in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Beach Lover’s Soul, Cats and Kittens, Simple Pleasures of the Kitchen (anthology), and Fate Magazine.