You may have heard in Episode 16 of our podcast that my parents flew from New Zealand to meet Baden and I in Havana.
Cuba was something a bit more intrepid for them. Baden and I had been in Cuba five years before and, expecting lots of changes, even we were unsure what we might find when we arrived.
Certainly what we did discover was that Cuba is still an extremely complicated place and even a morning of seemingly simple errands is not so straight forward in Havana.
Baden’s hair and beard were getting out of control so when we had a morning free we dragged my Dad along to look for a barbershop. We ended up following a guy to show us the way. No sign outside, of course. It consisted of an old, white-painted metal barber chair with pedals to adjust the height and a mirror strung on the wall. The room had a low ceiling and metal bars instead of a door. Two ceiling fans hung down, as did the dodgy looking wiring. They had put a park bench inside for people to wait on and the radio blared.
Baden sat and asked in basic Spanish for a haircut and beard trim. He asked for a number 1 short beard but the young barber suggested he leave the hair style to him. Sitting under a light blue smock Baden grinned as the guy turned on the clippers. This man’s peluqueria is one of many state hairdressers that charge Cubans fixed prices for haircuts and pay probably hefty taxes to the Government. Cutting Baden’s hair and charging in the currency used for tourists would result in a little extra in his pocket.
The barber set his sights on Dad next but we were heading off to the supermarket.
It is really difficult to eat on a budget in Cuba. In Europe we would just buy our food at shops or supermarkets and prepare it ourselves. However, even in Havana it can prove difficult to get hold of all the ingredients you might need for a simple meal.
We found La Epoca shopping centre on Avenida de Italia and trailed down the stairs to the supermarket in the sótano, or basement, where there was air conditioning but dim lighting and a pallid atmosphere.
Fries, churros and bags of diced vegetables were all that we could find in the freezers. The deli counter really only contained some ham and four packets of fruit puree displayed in a weak attempt to make the cabinet appear full. It was so strange after all the well-stocked supermarkets of Europe, to come to a room with dusty, bare shelves. There were random imported beers, lots of strange rum-based alcohol, bags of flour, packets of pasta, cans of tomatoes, jars of olives and tubes of pringles or imitation pringles but little else. There wasn’t anything fresh.
We picked up some Ciego Montero lemonade, the national soft drink, small cakes and bottled water. The checkout seemed to work on a two way system. You could approach it from either end. Our checkout operator was a tall black man who asked where we were from. He got excited when we said New Zealand, “All Blacks! I play rugby”. He pulled out a card bearing his name with the Cuban Rugby Association across the top, handed it to Dad with a flourish and shook our hands.
We headed upstairs and out having experienced another part of Cuban life that is so different to our own. These people do all the things we do in New Zealand, but in a way that seems much tougher and requires more creativity, ingenuity and careful use of resources. It certainly made Dad appreciate the ease of his weekly trip to Pak ’n’ Save in Upper Hutt..