Posts Tagged ‘culture’

When Cuba Sneezes

When a women sneezes in Cuba, a gentleman will often say, “Salud, porque belleza sobra.”  Loosely, “to your health, because your beauty is already overwhelming.”

Although this simple phrase seems a little over the top to me, it’s a microcosm of the eternal optimism and innate opportunism of the Cuban culture.  A sneezing women could mean a cold, bad allergies or worse. But to a Cuban, it’s an opportunity to remind a lady that she is beautiful.

This attitude is both sad because of the resignation that exists to the brutal communist rule, but also hopeful because of the resilient faith that lives independently in the hearts of so many Cubans.  Many have written that Cuba is a country in waiting.  Some say it is waiting for the end of the US embargo, others say the end of Castro’s rule.  But the Cubans I’ve met aren’t waiting for anything. They’re living their lives as best they can in the political and economic environment that surrounds them. 

 And like a sneezing women, the Cuban economy has symptoms of illness.  When the Soviet Union fell, it abruptly stopped fueling the Cuban economy and no one stepped up to replace them.  Since then, Cuban life has puttered along like a ’56 Ford on a Havana street.  The old Ford has lost its shine, gets no factory made replacement parts, has tires that are patched and mismatched, and is powered by a long line of black-market engines made in Russia, Japan or China.  The engine is known but not seen by the Cuban government, and kept running day to day by the ubiquitous, resourceful, genius, bribe-paying, never-say-can’t mechanic. 

Cuba’s Mercado Negro, its black market, is what keeps cars on the road, food on the table and shoes on feet.  Without it, there’s no Cuba.  The state economy has no street cred and most Cubans don’t have an on ramp to the information highway.

 Other than a carefully controlled tourist industry (fed by cheap or adventurous Canadians, Europeans, and Asians) Cuba is isolated from the “global economy.”  In other words, when the global economy is sick, Cuba keeps puttering along.  And when Cuba sneezes, nobody notices.  


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