Gringa in Havana


First, I want to preface this blog series by saying that if you’re looking for commentary on Cuban politics, this is not the place to be. I am only going to be writing about things I see and notice during my time here abroad.

Here are some of my first impressions:

  • I’ve never seen buses drive so fast in my life. Here, they are called “Wawas,” and their drivers treat traffic laws more like suggestions than actual rules.
  • Cuban Spanish is not the Spanish you learn in school. People drop the “S” sounds at the end of words and talk extremely fast. In order to understand anything, I have to constantly be asking people “repite, por favor.”
  • There are two types of currencies in Cuba: one for tourists (CUCs) and one for locals (CUPS, or moneda nacional). To give you an idea, one CUC is equal to about 25 CUPS. That being said, I could be asked to pay 24 times more for a drink than a Cuban does. As a student here for a fixed amount of time, I am constantly asking myself: am I a tourist? And if not, then what am I?
  • If you want to buy anything in Cuba, you have to wait in “kolas” (lines). In order to get a wi-fi card, you have to wait in a kola for two hours in the hot sun before heading to a small, three-block zone with wi-fi. Not that worth it.
  • While I haven’t dreamt in Spanish yet, in the early morning when I’m not quite asleep, a jumble of Spanish words are running through my mind.
  • There is nothing like Caribbean water.
  • Virtually all the Cubans I’ve interacted with are good dancers (this is not a generalization).
  • My host mom/abuela keeps comparing me to this Australian surgeon she hosted a year ago who spoke very bad Spanish.
  • When there are only five other American students on your program in a place where very few people speak English, it is essential to try your hardest to like everyone.
  • Being here feels the same as trying to create a good piece of art: I constantly feel frustrated with myself.
  • I didn’t realize how much I missed having a flip phone (anyone out there play F1 Racer? My high score is now 25).
  • Why does everyone say that I will be fluent by ____ time? How are people calculating this information? And what does fluency even mean? That I will master the Cuban accent? Vocabulary? Perfect use of grammar and conjugations? I really don’t know how and it doesn’t feel like a quick process.
  • Even though it’s not an option, the last thing I would ever want/need here is a hot shower.
  • I have bad luck. As a student, one of the most frustrating problems you run into is not being able to use USB sticks, because the professors here give you all your homework on USBs. This is exactly the problem I’m having.
  • The director on my program told the five of us a phrase that she claims Cuban’s live by: “No coger lucha,” which roughly translated means “don’t fight it.” There’s always another way.