As 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,