From where I sit, riding along La Habana Vieja in a 1950’s Chevy, it seems as if time literally stood still in Cuba. As if everyone and everything were frozen in the decade of the 1950’s where there is a mélange of times gone by before. From my window I see cars from that decade and decades before, buildings that once stood for opulence, excess, and fun. I see communist propaganda that I had only ever seen pictured in history books, biographies, and documentaries. I see people living their lives, hanging out, laughing, working, walking, without a care in the world, without the worry of time, just being and seemingly free. From where I sit, things don’t look so bad—they don’t look as dire as once described to me by Cubans in the United States and the mainstream media. It seems as though everything is okay and everyone is happy.
Conversations with the drivers, of course, begin with small talk—the weather, the food, and places to see. However, as the conversations continue they get into culture and politics. They begin explaining how life is in Cuba, the benefits they have, what they appreciate about their government—and then, some of them do what they couldn’t do before, they express their dislikes and what they don’t agree with—all at a superficial level and with more nuance than direct language.
And this is where my perspective begins to become slightly different—but just slightly. I still think to myself, “yes, there are some things they are unhappy with, there are some things that Fidel did that should’ve never happened, but for the most part they have all of their basic needs met. Everyone has free health care, free education (including higher education), everyone has a home, and everyone has access to food.” Doesn’t sound too shabby to me. That is, until I start wandering around Havana by foot. As I walked the streets of Havana something shifted, I realized that my perspective was different riding around in a beautifully well-kept classic car than walking around a city that once was glitz and glamour.
Read more: Time Stood Still: Perspectives Of Cuba By Foot.