Making Friends in Cuba

Cuba2As Cuba remains in the news, it seems that now is a good opportunity to introduce some of the people I encountered during my recent trip. It is easy to meet people in Cuba, particularly in the remote areas we visited. There, in the eastern part of the island, the locals do not see as many tourists as in Havana (and very few American ones) but when they see new faces they like to engage. We were asked where we were from an average of 20 times a day. The usual guesses were France, Germany, or Canada probably based on the fact that many of the tourists who visit Cuba are from these countries.   After hearing the answer, “Estados Unidos”, the reaction was clearly one of surprise, with people first looking at us as if they were seeing ghosts, then gently touching us as if to see if we were for real.   In many cases, this was followed by a hug or kisses on the cheeks and an invitation for coffee at their nearby home. There many of our hosts would show old photos of themselves and of their relatives, particularly of the ones living in the US. After all, we may have met them back home, we were often told.

These people will stay with me not just because I have photographed them and can look at their images, but also because I spent time chatting with them and hearing about their lives. Let me share a few things about some of them. They should be easily recognizable in the images below.

There is Angel who used to be a performer and is now a visual artist. Angel was happy to perform a classic Cuban song for us in his small studio, full of paints, wire and beads that he collects for his art. There is Julio who lives in a small house (which basically consists of one room) and has built himself a unique roof deck. Julio has loud music playing all day so that he can hear it from his high perch if needed. There is Bartola who is 81 years old and is learning to sew from her young friend Permaida, who is 73. I don’t know whether she is a talented student, but she surely is a delightful one. There is Walterio who works as a gravedigger at the local cemetery. He wears his straw hat with indisputable elegance.   And there are the 82 years old twins, Juan (in a bright orange jacket) and Juana. And many others…

Not surprisingly, one hears a lot of beautiful music in Cuba. Everywhere one is serenaded by professional musicians and also by families who enjoy singing and making music together, like Rene Rudolfo and his granddaughter Samai. The other pastime that seems to be popular among all Cubans is playing dominoes. Every day we stumbled on groups of domino players, young and old, mostly men but few women as well. This is almost as common as young boys playing football (soccer) in the streets.

Meet some of my Cuban friends,


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  1. Tania January 25, 2015 at 11:37 #

    This is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.

    • franceleclerc January 26, 2015 at 11:05 #

      Thank you Tania. I really wish you had been with us.

  2. Barbara Colbert January 25, 2015 at 14:34 #

    Bravo, France, on another beautiful series. You capture such intimacy with your images. They leave me wanting to know more about these peoples’ lives and how one gets a yellow Adirondack chair on the roof!

    • franceleclerc January 26, 2015 at 11:11 #

      Thanks Barbara. As for the chair on the roof, people in Cuba have learned to be amazingly creative. I guess one has to be when the resources are so limited. One other thing that amazed me is the fact that they have these incredible urban gardens. Everybody is growing something and it is all organic. We could learn from them on that front. I hope we do. All the best, France

  3. Alison Armstrong January 25, 2015 at 15:49 #

    Every photograph a gem. Thank you. Cuba seeps itself into the list of future destinations with a gentle insistence.

    • franceleclerc January 26, 2015 at 11:13 #

      Thank you Alison. You and Don would enjoy Cuba for sure. Happy Australia Day.

  4. Emilie February 6, 2015 at 18:14 #

    Beautiful and quite peaceful to view
    Funny how some of the building pic reminds me of Greece colour .
    Really enjoying Cuba through your eyes.

    • franceleclerc February 8, 2015 at 12:18 #

      Thank you Emilie. Cuba certainly has a European feel. I am really hoping to go back and see more of Cuba. I hope it gets easier to visit soon. France

  5. Alison Armstrong February 7, 2015 at 18:17 #

    Thanks so much for choosing to follow our blog. I hope you enjoy the ongoing stories of our journey.
    Cheers, Alison

    • franceleclerc February 8, 2015 at 12:18 #

      Dear Alison, I am sure I will. Kind regards, France

  6. Sara Levinson February 9, 2015 at 15:06 #

    Great body of work, this time on Cuba. I plan to travel to Cuba next January — perfect time to escape Chicago. Your images are amazing — playing havoc with my patience. I hope Cuba won’t undergo too many changes before I get there, and at the same time I wish for quick improvements in the lives of the Cuban people.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • franceleclerc February 10, 2015 at 14:00 #

      Thank you again Sara. Cuba is a great place to visit and photograph. You should not worry about it being much different next January as long as you go outside Havana. It will be a great trip. France

One Trackback

  1. By The Other Refugee Crisis: Cubans in Costa Rica on December 24, 2015 at 06:54

    […] among many others. Somehow the fact that I was in Cuba exactly a year ago (A New Day In Cuba, Making Friends in Cuba) makes this particularly upsetting to me as I met people from some of the villages I visited at […]