I have travelled a lot, and many of the places I’ve visited I also forgot easily. Cuba was different. I travelled with my friend Solhild, who has travelled even more than me, and she said the same thing. We still both feel that we have to try to take it all in, after two weeks since we went there. While there, I told my friend that had to read more about Cuba, because I realized how much I did not know about the country. Never before have I felt unsafe while traveling, never before have I felt so ill-prepared and confused. Never before have I felt poverty so close, and the understood better how lucky I am. It was all the small differences added up that made me realize how it must be to live a place where you get by on so little: The Cubans with their rationing cards, the lack of milk in the few cafeterias we found (especially in Havana) because it is so expensive. The lack of wifi, making it hard to contact loved ones. The man who tried to rob my friend in what we thought was the most tranquil places in Cuba we visited (Vinales) and how almost no one talked English. The children in the street who played until 9 or 10 in the evening (because they did not go to school?). The masses of hungry dogs and cats. So now I have read more, and am truly surprised at just how much I didn’t know and wish I knew before I came to the country.
A country full of contrasts: From beaches to old cars and buildings
A country full of contrasts: From beaches to old cars and farms where they ride horses in the street
Starting from the mid-1980s, Cuba experienced a crisis referred to as the “Special Period”. When the Soviet Union, the country’s primary source of trade, was dissolved in late 1991, a major supporter of Cuba’s economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because of the economy’s narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. National oil supplies, which were mostly imported, were severely reduced. Over 80% of Cuba’s trade was lost and living conditions declined. A “Special Period in Peacetime” was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up its trade embargo, hoping it would lead to Castro’s downfall. But the government tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, entering into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of U.S. dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars. There were two separate economies, dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (as in the tourist-industry).
A Canadian Medical Association Journal paper states that “The famine in Cuba during the Special Period was caused by political and economic factors similar to the ones that caused a famine in North Korea in the mid-1990s. Both countries were run by authoritarian regimes that denied ordinary people the food to which they were entitled when the public food distribution collapsed; priority was given to the elite classes and the military.” The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines and money until 1993, forcing many Cubans to eat anything they could find. In the Havana zoo, the peacocks, the buffalo and even the rhea were reported to have disappeared during this period. Even domestic cats were reportedly eaten.
Extreme food shortages and electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in urban crime. In response, the Cuban Communist Party formed hundreds of “rapid-action brigades” to confront protesters. The Communist Party’s daily publication, Granma, stated that “delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people”.
In July 1994, 41 Cubans drowned attempting to flee the country aboard a tugboat; the Cuban government was later accused of sinking the vessel deliberately.
Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana during the Maleconazo uprising on 5 August 1994. However, the regime’s security forces swiftly dispersed them. A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.
Continued isolation and regional engagement
Although contacts between Cubans and foreign visitors were made legal in 1997, extensive censorship has isolated it from the rest of the world. In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos (“the homeland belongs to all”) to the Cuban general assembly, requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to imprisonment, from which they were eventually released. In 2001, a group of Cuban activists collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island’s political process, which was openly supported by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during his 2002 visit to Cuba. The petition gathered sufficient signatures to be considered by the Cuban government, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead, a plebiscite was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro’s brand of socialism would be perpetual.
In 2003, Castro cracked down on independent journalists and other dissidents in an episode which became known as the “Black Spring”. The government imprisoned 75 dissident thinkers, including 29 journalists, librarians, human rights activists, and democracy activists, on the basis that they were acting as agents of the United States by accepting aid from the U.S. government.
Though it was largely diplomatically isolated from the West at this time, Cuba nonetheless cultivated regional allies. After the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1999, Cuba and Venezuela formed an increasingly close relationship based on their shared leftist ideologies, trade links and mutual opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America. Additionally, Cuba continued its post-revolution practice of dispatching doctors to assist poorer countries in Africa and Latin America, with over 30,000 health workers deployed overseas by 2007.
End of Fidel Castro’s presidency Edit
In the autumn of 2008, Cuba was struck by three separate hurricanes, in the most destructive hurricane season in the country’s history; over 200,000 were left homeless, and over US$5 billion of property damage was caused.
As of 2015, Cuba remains one of the few officially socialist states in the world. Though it remains diplomatically isolated and afflicted by economic inefficiency, major currency reforms were begun in the 2010s, and efforts to free up domestic private enterprise are now underway. Living standards in the country have improved significantly since the turmoil of the Special Period, with GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity rising from less than US$2,000 in 1999 to nearly $10,000 in 2010. Tourism has furthermore become a significant source of prosperity for Cuba.
17th of May is what we call Norway’s Birthday. It is really the Constitution Day, but we have always just called it Norway’s Birthday or the National Day. This day is celebrated as a Spring Festival. It is first and foremost a day for the children. We sing songs about the coming of Spring and the beautiful nature of our motherland Norway (or fatherland as we say in Norwegian).
Image source: pinterest. A girl wearing a traditional national dress. These dresses vary according to where you are from.
We dress up in our national dress and spend the day outdoors. The children participate in parades where they sing spring songs, and there are speeches and games.
I sit next to one of my best friends in a bar in Barcelona. Rhytms are pulsing through the room, and a spanish flamenco-dancer move like an elegant swan on a lake. The spotlight shines on the red dots on her black dress as she swirls around, the skirts following her.
We are in Barcelona for three days, and we have been sightseeing most of the day. When we came back to the hotel, we wanted to find out if there was something to do that evening, and after some research decided to attend a flamenco show. We didn’t have much time, so we took a taxi to the area we thought would be about right. The taxi driver was of the chatty type and cheerfully told us there had been a murder right next to where we lived. With this cozy story in mind we weren`t in the best mood when we came out of the taxi. The happiness was further stilted when we realized we were still quite far away from the adress to the flamenco show. We didn`t`think we would find it before it started, but incredible enough, we made it after running like two crazy maniacs. Is there a better way to prepare for an energetic evening? We walked into the room, that we first didn`t believe could be the right one. But when we came a bit further, we saw to our relief that it was. In the first room there was a plathora of dresses in every color imaginable. There were even some dresses for small children.
Before the show started we had a great refuelling Spanish-style dinner. Then the show started. We sucked it all in, like leeches always thirsty for more. I know Birgit loved every minute of it. She has danced since she could walk, but haven`t had the chance to do much dancing since she became a wife, mother and psychology student. Today, two lears later, she has finally started to dance again. I smile at her, knowing nothing of what came later in her life. The child that will be born and die 7 hours later. The divorce from her husband. The smile that she still manage to put on her beautiful face.
Most people have experienced this, and I`m glad. Without these aha-moments our world would not expand, and our motivation for learning would be less. For me, moments like these, give me the chance to explore my views of the world, and adjust them. Still, we know how hard it can be.
I want to share two stories with you. They have also been incorporated to my clincal work, as I sometimes tell people small stories from my own life, to relate to what they say. I will call them the “tea bag” and “the surprising shoe”.
The tea bag
I started drinking tea when I was 19 years old. When I was young, I said “NO!” with a stern voice if somebody asked if I liked it, based on the earl grey school tea students sold for a good cause. I do not exactly remember when I thought I could try again, but it must have been in the period when I decided to explore more of the culinary world.
Some tea-cups later i drank tea with one of my Friends. Our cups were half empty when I exclaimed: Its so annoying that the tea bag always touch my nose when I drink tea! My friend looked and me and told me: You can just take it out! I looked her dumbfounded as an ‘ahaaa’ feeling hit me. I had never thought about doing that, as I was inside my experience with tea drinking was still undeveloped. It made me realize how easy we think inside boxed and need others to get out of them.
The surprising shoe
In my Office there are lots of shoes in different colors. I Guess many Girls will recognize this lifestyle. When I was in Asia, I bought many of them, but especially one pair of shoes was not walking beside me. I am talking about a green pair. I think it actually was my first green pair, since I rarely explore greenness when I buy something. But I liked those shoes, and put them on immidiately. That day we were going from Cambodia to Vietnam, and had a pitstop in the Mountains. It was beautiful, and we decided to walk up the Mountains to get a proper view of the country. With the green shoes I walked, and it went well. I came up, without much effort, and I even managed to get Down safely. But when I was almost there, my shoes literally fell apart. I Guess they had not glued it properly in Place. I was stressed as I had no other shoes in my immidiate area, and was hopeful when I saw there was a little market Place. I went into it, but I knew I had little time before Our bus left. I asked many, but no shoes could be seen. Then a woman, who didn`t speak English at all, approached me! I could buy her shoes. I asked how much it cost, and she mentioned a sum. Desperate I gave the Money to her, and got myself a New pair of shoes that looked like they had seen better days. I thought they would be okay for now. When I got into the bus, and told the others the price, they explained that I had used a shocking amount of Money. Since my Math skills are very bad, I didn`t realize that I just had given the woman what must be a months salary. A bit dissapoined, but I thought about the Bright sides: She probably needed it more than me. What I didn`t realize, was that I actually had bought the best shoes I ever had tried. Even if they are quite ugly, they are so Nice to walk With. I have used them a lot of times, and they are actually better than my best sports shoes. Who would have guessed? Today I am still surprised at the quality of them: It felt like I was completely wrong about something, and I actually love that feeling. It means I still have something to learn, and that I shouldn`t judge something before I know more about it.
These two stories are examples of being surprised and finding something New where you don`t expect it. Great feeling, isn`t it?
I have been on islands. To be more specific, I have travelled to Scotland and isle of coll. This is a calm and relaxed island. We stayed in a little cottage, and met some really friendly isle-dwellers. Everyone said hi no matter if they didn’t know us. They loved to chat, about everything from the weather to the fact that Scotland is still not an independent country. They smiled and looked like they had all the time in the world. Not something you see in cities around the world. I also went cycling through a flat and beautiful landscape. I could also read as much as I wanted, and wasn’t disturbed by the constant internet frenzy that normally haunt every second of my life. It was a pleasant bubble where I slept and felt well. In other words, I do recommend this little island if you need a break.
I have included some pictures. Hope you enjoy them