Open up, you are in Cuba!
I suppose the weather allows for it, but Cubans seem to love living their life in the streets. You will see them walking out and about at pretty much any time – streets are so full of life, full of music, full of children at any time of day and night. People chat, play, drink – all in the street. It is just a huge party, all day long, every day. And you will want to take part, or at least observe.
The sense of privacy in Cuba is definitely not as tight as what you might be used to. Walking around, you will see that houses are open almost 24/7 – people are at the window, sitting on the front steps, playing chess or domino on tables promptly placed on the pavement. You can easily take a look inside and will see houses that may be simple, yet very well kept. Some others are incredibly nicely decorated. Most houses do not have glasses on the windows – something that we initially thought was to do with poverty, but we soon learned it is just the custom there. Most of them, however, do have nice railings. This allows people to leave doors and windows open all the time, without having to worry about thieves getting in – something very unlikely in any case: there isn’t much criminality in Cuba as jail sentences are very tough even for minor crimes.
In Cuba, people get in and out of houses continuously – friends walk by and they will get in to have a drink, coffee, or a meal. Or just to drop something off or pick up something. The sense of community is very high: friends and neighbours do help each other, they share whatever little they have. Our landlord in Cienfuegos did not have enough blankets for us one night, so he got them from a friend nearby! People are not afraid, and in fact they say hi in the street, whether they know you or not. Do not get surprised if they call you “mi amor” or “mi corazon”: it is just a custom, and a nice, sweet one, I think.
Traffic is little in most cities – not many Cubans own cars, most ride bikes. Add to this the fact that most people do not have computers at home, that the place is safe, that luxuries are scarce… So children still play in the streets, something I grew up doing as well, but that hardly happens in western cultures anymore. Coming back from school, in Cuba students will drop their school bags, get changed and start a game of pelota. You will have to watch out for balls flying around, but do enjoy the scene. It is refreshing to see children who still know how to play, how to get their hands and clothes dirty, and mothers who for once do not worry if their child falls or gets bruised or dirty. Cubans might have a different view on this, but I think this is a much healthier life, for children!
Overall, their lifestyle, history and culture makes Cubans real people. Try to overcome the cultural barriers and get to know them: some of them may treat foreigners badly, but the overall experience will be interesting, I promise!
For more of my adventures in Cuba, read here!