Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cuba: Is it going well?

Cuba has been in the news this morning: lots about the recent visit by President Obama and then, last night, a performance by the Rolling Stones. Everyone was very excited, though possibly more by the latter than the former.

I'm pleased for the Cubans that their isolation appears to be coming to an end. Having visited last month, I have seen for myself the effects of both the embargo and their self-imposed exile from most of the rest of the world. But it is a beautiful country, with willing people who are proud, justifiably so, of what they have achieved in spite of such a lengthy quarantine. I hope their transition to the 21st century goes smoothly, but I worry that they risk losing much of value in the process. This poem, written while I was still in Cuba in February, tries to express a little of my concern, recognise what the revolution achieved, yet acknowledge the existing problems their poverty in a modern world has caused.
Portrait of Che Guevara on the side of the Interior Ministry building in Havana

Hasta la victoria, siempre (A Love Song to Cuba)

¿Vas bien, Cuba?
Homes for all, beggars included
(even the street artist, tourist photo opportunity,
is a government employee)
Children birthed, jabbed, educated at state expense
(yet want an easy life, Coke and Nikes, 
Land now loaned, no lien, just dues
(you sell the obligatory 90% back, 
keep the other 20% for your own)
Cigars still drawn from hand-picked leaves
(the double-bent men octagenarians, 
no up-and-coming successors)
Vitamin R permeates 
(a joke? Rum is cheaper 
than clean water)

Is this the victory Che wanted?

And if it's still socialismo o muerte
be warned:
The Americans are coming.

© Nikki Fine

February 2016

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Being forced offline in Cuba

Last week, having a fantastic holiday in Cuba, on an excellent tour with Explore and part of a lovely group of people, I discovered that once we had left the airport, I was effectively offline. I had posted that we had arrived (though possibly not the suitcases, as they took rather a long time to come through) and then that was it. There was no 3G on Cuba that I ever found and the wifi offered by the hotel was at best erratic (and not free!).

Initially it was almost liberating. There was no need to post photos of the hotel room or to check in at each mojito-stop. There was no point wondering if there had been a reply to any of the numerous emails sent out the previous week, or any fresh issues. No BBC news website to haunt (although, to be fair, we did once accidentally find BBC World news on the TV in the room). No weather forecast to check. We concentrated on the others in the group and the sights and experiences around us - a sort of group mindfulness, I suppose.

But as the week went on, I began to develop a mild anxiety. What if something serious happened and no-one realised that I didn't know about it? (I regularly worry that something serious might happen, so that aspect of it was not unusual.) What if one of the things I had delegated while away was forgotten because I hadn't reminded them nearer the time? What if the lovely people looking after our pussycats had had a catastrophe and the cats were starving, unattended? I had a phone signal so sent a text about one of the issues  - it took a while, as normally it was an imessage number, so the phone had to realise that it couldn't send an imessage before offering me the option of a text. There was no response, and I didn't know if the message hadn't actually been sent after all (despite the phone assuring me to the contrary), hadn't been received, hadn't been replied to, or I just couldn't get the reply. I tried to put it out of my mind; I had done what I could. (I went through the same rigmarole again later in the week. Slow learner, perhaps.)

But beyond my over-actively imagined worries, I did begin to feel a little cut off. I have a few friends. I may not see them every day, or even every week, but I stay in touch with them via Facebook and email and it means that even though my work as a writer is fairly solitary, I still feel part of a global community. Suddenly, that entire community had been torn away from me. I was no longer sharing in my friends' lives, seeing the motivational comments that we often post, or the photos and jokes that have made us all click on the like button. It was a very strange feeling. It has made me wonder how I would have coped as a writer in the days before the internet, amongst other things.

It also makes me wonder how the younger generation, who are even more connected than I am (to generalise splendidly!) will cope in Cuba until access to the internet is improved. And that, of course, along with the imminent arrival of many more American tourists and their expectations, raises a whole load of other issues for the Cuban government to consider.

Meanwhile, I'm just glad to be back in touch with everyone. Though I could do without the wind and the sleet.