Developing Global Health

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I first visited a developing country at the end of  2013. My husband and I visited Mexico on a missions trip. We visited several small towns and villages. We travelled back roads and avoided craters in the roads. 

Being a nurse by training, I was intrigued by the health needs there. We heard stories of cancer and infections and untreated diabetes. We heard testimonies of “I’m glad I survived this surgery” after a simple surgery that would be a simple outpatient procedure in the States. 

Then we went to Nigeria. It is a land of few doctors and even fewer resources to obtain care. Bad water, worm infestations, and strange pathogens are all a part of daily life for the people living there.

I taught some basic health classes on my 2nd trip there, but I was still bothered that the issues were much bigger than could be dealt with in a few hours. I thought a lot about what could be done to help them, give them resources, point them in the proper directions. And then I realized that many of them have smart phones and internet. Most of them have Facebook accounts. 

So I started a Facebook page called “Developing Global Health” to share good health information with them. 

Many if not most of these problems are encountered by the majority of the people in the world. And yet their resources and access to good information tailored to them is so limited. 

This part of the blog will be dedicated now to sharing the same information as is on my Facebook page, Developing Global Health. Since it is a blog, it will be searchable and easily accessible 


Cuba As I See It, Days 14 & 15

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These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10, Days 11 & 12, and Day 13.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 14
Thursday Jan 5
Havana
 
We awoke to realize that our casa had a nice view of the rooftops of Havana. We were on the 3rd floor, but with the height of their ceilings, that was quite high. You can see that some of the buildings were very beautiful and in good repair.
Most were not maintained so well.
I noticed that they still use a lot of antennae here.
On closer inspection you will see that these old buildings are really beautifully ornamented, but they are mostly in very bad disrepair. This is how all of Havana was. The whole place stank of mold and garbage. This was also a common sight.
We tried in vain to get free Wi-Fi in a few of the many squares in Havana, but for some reason, it’s harder to get Wi-Fi in Havana, even with a card, than it is in other places. We went to a hotel, paid their exorbitant price for Wi-Fi, and went to get some lunch.
Crossing the street in Havana is somewhat like playing Frogger. As often as not, there are no signals telling when to walk and not. Many places there aren’t stop lights even for cars at these very busy intersections.
After lunch we went on a classic car tour. Riding in a 50’s Bel Air, we drove around Old Havana.
In general, these old American cars are in a lot better shape in Havana than they are in the rest of Cuba. We saw a lot of beautiful classic cars here.
We saw the capital building, El Capitolio, currently being renovated. It is built to be a copy of the US Capitol which I’m sure is quite irritating to “the powers that be” in Cuba.
We got out at Revolution Plaza where Fidel gave a lot of his looooong speeches.
Here is Che Guevara and his famous quote “Hasta la victoria siempre” (Always until victory).
And here is Camillo Cienfuegos with his famous quote “Vas bien Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel). Cienfuegos mysteriously disappeared in an airplane. He was starting to have some conflict with Fidel, and they are still not sure what happened to him. Maybe he secretly came to the US and lived a long and happy life. Whatever the case, the words he said to Fidel during a speech are still used as a stamp of approval to all that was done by The Revolution.
We saw where Raul Castro’s office is, and the building where the Propaganda Department, I mean Ministry of Communications, is.
We passed the US Embassy which officially reopened in 2015. It was nice to see Old Glory flying proudly.
We passed the Hilton Hotel, or what used to be the Hilton Hotel. Hilton finished construction in 1958 and the Cuban government took it over and nationalized it in 1959. This, as you can see was a very bad investment. Now it is called the Habana Libre Hotel.
We also passed the José Marti Anti-Imperialist Platform, an area with a statue of José Marti, a national hero who helped free Cuba from the Spanish (there is a José Marti Street in EVERY town we visited, and we flew into the José Marti International Airport in Cuba, and visited the changing of the guard at José Marti’s grave, right next to which Fidel is buried), holding Elian Gonzales and pointing accusingly at the American Embassy.
Remember Elian Gonzales? He’s the little boy who was the subject of a custody battle when he was 6 and his mother died in a boat escaping Cuba to Florida with him, and his dad, remaining in Cuba, petitioned to have him returned to Cuba. He is reportedly a student at university there now. There is a sign on his birth home proclaiming that he survived the Cuban-American mafia in Miami.
Our tour ended at the Hotel Nacional, a famed hotel with a lot of history involving American celebrities and the mob. There is now no gambling in Cuba (except for over those poor roosters I mentioned before, I guess) but it used to be a big casino.
One of the many pictures they had on display was a very large on of Hugo Chavez, former dictator of Venezuela, who they seem to think was a wonderful leader.
Reportedly they built Las Vegas because The Revolution ruined their plans for gambling in Havana. This Hotel Nacional was also the headquarters of operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis and they still have trenches on exhibit from those days.
They also have on display two of the biggest cannons I’ve ever seen. They are from the period when the Spanish were defending the island from attack. This hotel is absolutely beautiful, but it is still dealing with issues similar to the rest of Cuba; I went in the bathroom which was clean, but there were no paper towels. They did, however, have a roll of toilet paper in a dispenser there by the sink to dry my hands on, which was strange. We caught a classic car taxi back to another plaza where there also was not Wi-Fi.
In Havana the old American cars, at least a lot of them, are in good shape. Some of them are downright beautiful. A lot of them are being used as taxis, and the convertibles are being used for the classic car tours like we took.
 
That evening we had one last dinner with our group.
I finally ordered a Cuban Sandwich.
I had seen only 2 different menus with a Cubano sandwich, but one of them was out of bread. The sandwich was cheese, ham, and roast pork with mayonnaise on toasted bread. It wasn’t all that good compared to the great food we’d been eating for 2 weeks now. I also tried cheesecake which was an insult to cheesecakes everywhere. It tasted more like sugarless custard with guava jelly on top.
We then attended a musical performance by the Buena Vista Social Club. It was a very high quality performance with great percussionists, but we were so sick of hearing the same 5 songs over and over again that it was kind of hard to enjoy.
Havana is very different than the rest of Cuba. That’s like saying New York City is very different than rural Iowa.
Here the hotels are nice, plush even, even though they are all old. The others we saw throughout Cuba, even the nicest ones, were more along the lines of a Red Roof Inn except with better views.
Everything was also more expensive in Havana. There are a lot more tourists there, many of whom have absolutely no desire or plans to see the rest of Cuba. They are there for the rum and the beaches.
In Havana there is amazing beauty next to horrible desolation and decay. The whole city (except the nice hotels) stinks of mildew, car exhaust, and unemptied trash bins. On the way home from the musical show we saw about 6 cats gathered around one set of trash bins and dogs were equally wandering the streets.
We went to our casa for one last night in a foam Cuban bed. We were very much ready to go home.
Day 15
Friday, Jan 6
Havana to Mexico
We awoke, very anxious to be on our way. We shared a taxi to airport with one of the ladies from our group.
Near the airport is this sign.
This is referring to the American embargo, or blockade. This sign calls it the “longest genocide in history.” I’m not sure how the embargo is a genocide, but that’s what the Cuban government says, anyway.
We got our luggage wrapped to prevent theft.
Their TV’s in  the airport were playing a celebration of Cuban athletes at the 2016 Olympics. Every Cuban Olympian was featured whether or not they won any medals.
When we checked in they offered us an upgrade to first class for very cheap so we took it. Just so you know, first class on Cuban Air consists of bigger, more comfortable seats, a cloth napkin, and 4 finger sandwiches. Oh, and a few choices of drinks, but still no Pepsi or Coke.
After journeying for 15 days in Cuba I haven’t at all figured out the Cuban version of communism. There are still very much the haves and have-nots. There is a ton of propaganda and control of access to information. Everything goes through a filter and comes out with a different spin on it.
Cubans say they are allowed to be critical of the government but yet there are times when they will say they can’t talk about certain topics such as national heroes or the communist party. They still use a lot of nonverbal communications: sign language, whistles, facial expressions, talking with their eyes, and the list goes on.
I can’t really say we enjoyed our time in Cuba. It really was quite rough, and staying in the casas as we did, there was no way to get a reprieve from the roughness. The people were friendly and helpful, and the landscapes were stunning. The infrastructure was crumbling and the resources were spotty.
The best way I know to describe the country is as a paradox: the beauty of the landscapes contrasted with the reality of scarce resources, the beautiful old ornate architecture in a state of disrepair, the message that The Revolution is wonderful next to the reality of its restrictions, the propaganda that America is evil contradicted by the friendliness of the Cuban people toward Americans.
The reason for our trip was dual: 1) to immerse Vince in Spanish as much as possible to teach him the language better and give him more confidence and 2) to see a view through a closing window into a rapidly changing culture. Both of those things were successes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Cuba As I See It.


Cuba As I See It, Day 13

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These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10, and Days 11 & 12

I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It

Day 13
Wednesday, Jan 4
From Baracoa to Holguin, then flight to Havana
As I said in an earlier post, the brother of the lady of our casa now has US citizenship and lives in Miami. His (and the lady of the house’s) mother had died, so he was in visiting. He was very friendly and we got a different perspective of things by talking to him. In discussions the night before, we had told him our group’s flight out of the Baracoa airport had been moved to Holguin, a town up the coast about 5-7 hours, so we were catching a bus out at 7:00 in the morning. He told us he was still flying out of  Baracoa the same day as us. We were a bit puzzled but figured maybe they couldn’t get our group 12 tickets together on one plane.
So we got up very early and loaded the bus, grumpy from having to do a long trek we weren’t expecting.
We went down awful horrible roads, with more holes than we had seen put together on our whole trip. Before, we had seen patched roads and bad roads. This had deep and frequent holes and needed a lot more patches. Many times our driver pulled off the road because the dirt shoulder was better than the pavement. Also, the main bridge was out in Baracoa from Hurricane Matthew 3 months before. Nothing has been done to fix it. So we crossed this low bridge instead with water rushing right beneath us.
 
After a bit we stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station. This was one of the ones where you try to just not touch anything at all, a 2 out of 20 on my bathroom scale. Funny enough, at this little gas station in nowhere Cuba, we saw the Cuban-American nurse practitioner, brother of our casa owner. As it turned out, his flight out of Baracoa was cancelled and he was doing the same trek as us to Holguin.
Now we got to see a different part of Cuba. Cactus fences abounded (quite a clever idea I’d say but you better not need to move the fence), and we saw crops we hadn’t seen up to this point. There was still a lot of fallow ground and most of the crops we did see were small. The homes we saw on this ride, and the other areas as well, ranged anywhere from about 20×20 feet to about 8×10 feet.  The casas we had stayed in were much bigger, but they are not typical homes. As rugged as we felt they were, they were very nice by Cuban standards.
We stopped for lunch, but the restaurant (someone’s kitchen basically) was not open, so we used their clean restroom and kept going.
When we finally got to Holguin, tired and cranky, we stopped for a “fast lunch” which is impossible in Cuba and turned out to be over an hour long. There is no fast food in Cuba. After driving through Holguin, a large city with a stadium and a prison, we arrived at the airport to find the small waiting room chock full of people waiting. I guess they were on an earlier cancelled flight or were waiting on a spot on another flight or something because I didn’t see any of them leave or go anywhere the whole time we were there. I never really did figure that out. We waited in an unmoving line for about an hour, watching their 1 luggage agent come and go and not do anything visibly productive. They did have a flat screen TV, one of the few we saw our whole trip, and the first I saw actually being used. It had a baseball game playing on it.
They finally called for our flight to check in and the line got moving. I guess they only process one flight at a time and between checking in flights the attendant does other jobs. Our guide stepped behind the counter to help the agent and get our bags all checked. They hand wrote our boarding passes, took us in a next-room-over 2 at a time to do our security check. We also saw several people here in uniforms sitting and doing nothing productive. For the x-ray bag scanner they used a computer, the first working one I had seen in use as a computer (we had seen some being used to play music) in the whole 13 days. Then they sent us back out and up the stairs. Someone checked our passport at the bottom of the stairs and we passed a not-working x-ray machine. I guess that’s why we had to do our screening in the same room where they scan the checked luggage.
Here we entered a totally empty waiting room where they had 2 more TVs showing the same baseball game. They called our flight onto the tarmac and we walked all the way across the length of the airport to our plane.
 
We had to wait for them to load our bags in the front of the plane before we could get on, which was inconvenient for us, but reassuring in that we saw our bags get loaded on.
While we were waiting, a very large American Airlines plane came in and unloaded its many passengers. This is a very small airport and I didn’t know American flights were coming directly into anywhere in Cuba but Havana.
I had a window seat and enjoyed looking out the window on the cloudless night and enjoyed the hour’s flight across the mostly dark countryside.
We arrived in Havana, retrieved our bags, and discovered that we had no bus to take us to our casas in Old Havana. We waited while our guide tried unsuccessfully to get us a state-owned tour bus. Remember I said it’s illegal for them to drive around empty? Well, an almost-empty bus for about 14 passengers arrived and dropped off its one passenger. So our guide jumped up and talked with the driver. After about 15 minutes of negotiations and phone calls, permission was given by whoever does that, and we had a bus. By this time it was after 10 at night.
We got off the bus, and our guide took us a few at a time to our different casas. We got to our casa, checked in with our passports, and got instructions for our private 2 bedroom apartment. The construction was new, but their pipes to the drain in the sinks didn’t have P traps to keep out the sewer gases. Also, they had a ventilation shaft which it seems had no cap at the top so rain came in freely and the whole building smelled of mold. So between the sewer gas and the mold, the whole place was rather stinky. The lady who managed the apartment also managed several others in the neighborhood. Evidently these casa we stayed in during our trip are listed on airbnb. I’m not sure how that works with the limited internet in Cuba, but people seem to be making good money renting out rooms.
By the time we met our guide for directions to a decent restaurant, we were just about starved. We had scarfed down some food at about noon, and it was now after 11 p.m. After a delicious dinner (they make wonderful fried chicken in Cuba) we went to bed exhausted, but happy to be in Havana. Even with all the mess of the airport, the missing bus, and the long hours, at least we didn’t have to drive the whole over-20-hours-straight way from Baracoa to Havana in a bus.
Continue the journey to Day 14 & 15.


Cuba As I See It, Days 11 & 12

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 11
Monday, Jan 2
Barracoa
This was a day mainly spent in our casa recovering from illness and enjoying our room. As I said on Day 10, this casa was clean and freshly painted. The bathroom had good water pressure or hot water, but not both. And each bathroom had its own toilet bowl brush. Nowhere in Cuba can you flush paper down the toilet. Most places have a trash can in each stall to use for this purpose.
It was about this time that I decided to come up with the Comprehensive International Bathroom Rating Scale. The ladies in our group and I consulted on what was important, and they came up with a variation of it, but after much intense study and further, ahem, experience, I have settled on the following:
1 point if the bathroom doesn’t charge money
1 point if it’s clean
1 point if it smells nice
1 point if there is a toilet bowl
1 point if the toilet has a way to flush
1 point if the way to flush doesn’t involve a faucet and a bucket
1 point if there is a toilet seat
1 point if it has a door that closes and locks for privacy
1 point if there is paper available somewhere in the bathroom
1 point if the paper is free and accessible from the toilet
1 point if you are allowed to flush the paper
1 point if there is a trash bin
1 point if it flushes itself at the proper time with a motion detector
1 point if there is a working sink
1 point if the sink water works with a motion sensor
1 point if there is soap
1 point if soap dispenser is motion sensing
1 point for a way to dry your hands
1 point if dryer is motion sensing
1 point for handicap accessibility
So here is the breakdown of what all those numbers mean:

18-20: Perfect

15-17: Near Perfect

12-14: : Excellent

9-11: : Good

6-8 ☹️: Not Ideal

3-5: Wipe everything with sanitizing wipes before you “go”

0-2: Hold your breath, don’t touch anything, and pray you don’t catch a disease

If we had a bathroom in the 9-11 range we were thrilled. We encountered more than one occurrence of bathrooms that were a 3 if you were generous in your counting. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. Using bathrooms like this are really the only time in life when I wish I were a man.
We did visit the Castillo Hotel, formerly the Castillo Seboruco built in the 1700’s. It has many steps that go up and up and up some more to a height of 40 meters (130 feet). At the top you’re rewarded with this beautiful view.
They also have free (if you buy a drink and have bought a card with login and password) wifi.
The yellow building in the foreground here is the Hotel Castillo.
Even though the Cuban government has tried to erase any positive influence by the US, if you look hard enough you can see evidence occasionally. Here is a sign on the hotel commemorating the reconstruction of the fort in 1900.
Here in Baracoa we also saw many of these kinds of signs.
You see how at the bottom it says CDR 3, ZONE 5. CDR stands for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. If Hitler’s SS and Neighborhood Watch had a baby, it would be something like the CDR. Basically, every block in Cuba has a CDR leader who is responsible for reporting on you to the government. If you want to change jobs or improve your house or a myriad of other things, you have to get approval from your CDR leader. They can also report you for having a bad attitude toward the government. They don’t need any proof or evidence, of course. You can imagine that this can be a very bad situation if your CDR leader is power-hungry or just doesn’t like you.
Day 12
Tuesday, Jan 3
Baracoa
On this day we went back up the mountain near the Castillo Hotel we had visited the day before.  We were looking for an item on our map called an “archaeological museum in a cave.” We occasionally would ask someone directions and they kept saying it was further on and further up. We accidentally (this time) had wandered into a part of Cuba that people don’t usually see. Basically the houses were shacks. Not sure if that’s “new construction” since the hurricane, but they were very bad conditions. Finally we reached a sign pointing us to the museum. A little boy led the way, and we gave him and his friend a tip for their help. It wasn’t much of museum or much of a cave.
Our enthusiastic guide enjoyed using his limited English skills as he shared his knowledge of the indigenous people Columbus “discovered” on his arrival but who had been living there for well over 500 years already. He told us about their religion, the way they used the caves, and some of their mythology.
He also told us about an area down by the beach where there were no trees, but black sand. He said not to go there because some spots are quicksand and people have been known to disappear. They are never quite sure if the missing people have been overtaken by quicksand or if they’ve gotten on a raft to go to America, but he said be careful. The girl from our group who was with us for our tour of the cave was a bit alarmed by this knowledge since she had walked that exact area of the beach the day before.
We came back down the mountain by a different route than we had gone up. We had experienced the natural alarm clocks (known as roosters) in just about every town we had visited. And it wasn’t just one rooster; there were always a bunch of them. I knew that we had eggs for breakfast every day, but those don’t come from roosters last time I checked. And we had seen only roosters, not hens. On the way back down the hill we saw a guy training his roster to attack another rooster and it all came together. Our guide had made a comment earlier when a guy crossed the road in front of us holding a rooster (at which point we asked why the rooster crossed the road). He said the guy was going to a cock fight. And it all clicked. THAT’s why so many roosters crowing every morning. They were meant for competition, but not to see who could crow the loudest. There is no gambling, at least in casinos in Cuba, but it seems there might be an exception.
At the bottom of the mountain we were hot and tired from our long upward trek, so we went back to the Hotel Castillo for cola and Wi-Fi. But it wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the mountain that we made this decisions, so back up we went, up all those steps. Not our brightest moment, I must say.
At the bottom of the hotel steps we encountered a man begging. He was the same man as the day before, asking for the same things: a pencil and shoes. Evidently if you have a pen or pencil you can trade it for something else so they usually don’t ask for money, they ask for a pencil or a pen.
After checking Wi-Fi we came back down the mountain. I felt like that old song about “The noble Duke of York, He had 10,000 men, He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.” It was a hot day and after all our ups and downs we decided that chocolate ice cream sounded really good and we went to the Casa De Cacao.
 
We went into their air-conditioned show room that smelled absolutely amazing and saw their wonderful dark chocolate on display. They had bars of it as well as small little shapes, all covered by sheets of plastic. We tried one of the little shapes to make sure it was good. Sure enough, yep, it was great! We told waitress how many bars we wanted, and we watched her use her teeth to tear the plastic to get a piece to cover the chocolate in. I guess they didn’t have scissors or a knife. While she was busy with us, another woman came in and said something to her and showed her the middle ink-tube part of a cheap pen. We ordered some chocolate ice cream drink and sat down to wait. The waitress asked us if we had a pen they could have. This nice place of business with delicious chocolates only had one pen, and it was broken, so they were using the middle ink-tube part. Unfortunately, except for my iPad stylus which has a built-in pen, I only had 2 mechanical pencils. I offered her one, but I’m not even sure she knew what it was or how it worked, and she really wanted a pen. Their chocolate ice cream in chocolate drink was delicious, though.
This dearth of common objects was prevalent around Cuba. It’s not just that we saw no computers in use in businesses. Some places had adding machines with their receipt tape, but mostly it was just calculators in use. Restaurants generally had hand-written receipts that they gave us.
Many times we tried to break a 50 or even a 20 CUC bill, and they didn’t have change. Not just a little shops, but places like a hotel restaurant. There is just not enough cash or other resources for a business to keep money on hand that way.
Also, being in Cuba showed me how Americans see everything as disposable: cars, house furnishings, water jugs, etc. Things are used not until someone gets tired of them or when they start to look a bit worn. Things are used until they cannot be used any longer. Then if they can be repurposed as something else, they are. This is a theme I have recognized in all the developing countries I have visited.
This is how they still have running 1950’s cars running on the roads. As I stated when writing Day 5 in Trinidad, most of them are not in a condition that would be considered classic. 
They are just really old cars, beat up and run down. But they don’t get rid of them because it’s impossible to get a new or better one. So they just keep the old one running.
Click here to continue to Day 13.


Cuba As I See It, Day 10

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8, and Day 9.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 10,
Sunday Jan 1,
Going to Baracoa, going near Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Today we had another long travel day. After about an hour and a half of travel we stopped for a bathroom break and a look at a map of the area we would be covering in the day. Included was the area around the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
This whole area is the Guantanamo province of Cuba. I have zoomed in on the area beneath the black word “GUANTANAMO” on the map.
This dotted area is the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. You can see that even in cartography (map making) in Cuba the political messages are strong. Even with very limited knowledge of Spanish, if I tell you that E.U.A is Spanish for U.S.A you can tell what the basic message behind “Territorio ocupado ilegalmente por E.U.A.” means.
Then we went to a beautiful area for whoever in our group wanted to swim. We saw this brick beachfront property for sale. “Se Vende Llama…” means “For Sale, Call….” The house needs a bit of work, but the view would be beautiful.
Homes are rarely for sale in Cuba as most are state-owned. A few, however, have started to be sold by private individuals. Another one we saw in Trinidad looked like this.
Housing is different in Cuba. If you are necessary to the government, you get a house. If you have the money and ability and can get the proper permits, you can build your own house. They provide homes for athletes as well. As of 1970 and going forward, they needed more houses, so professionals were allowed to give a year or two to the government to build houses, and then they get one of the houses that they have built.
It is strange that, unlike some developing countries we’ve been to, most of the buildings in Cuba are completely finished. That does not mean, though that they are in good shape. A lot of them are beautiful old structures with gorgeous ornamentation, but the roofs are bad, or they are in a general state of disrepair. Also, we’d be walking along a city street and 2 of the 10 structures on the street would be shells with old bricks or piled-up concrete pieces in them. And I’m not talking about areas that were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Other times we’d walk by a large building and the entire bottom floor would be empty except for a single desk.
You can see from the “beachfront property for sale” picture that the area is very dry. The villages in the area around Guantanamo sometimes go a year or more with no rainfall.
You have to obtain a permit to visit relatives or friends near Guantanamo because some people try to escape to the Naval Base there since it’s American soil. There is a (very small) Cuban army installation here to keep an eye on the base, and in most of the areas you are not allowed to take pictures. If you as a tourist do this, they’ll take you away, take your camera, end your visit right then, and kick you off the island. Our guide knew a nice spot, though, where we could see the base in the distance and take a few pictures. In the distance is Guantanamo Naval Base. One of the ladies on our trip had a nice camera and we could see the US flag when you zoomed in on her pictures.
Reportedly, they have to use desalination to supply water on the base because the Cuban government cut of their water supply, and as I said, the area is very dry.
After we ate lunch at a tiny home restaurant which had amazing fried taro root chips, we started our trek over the mountains. This road, La Farola Viaduct, is another of the 7 Wonders of Cuban Engineering like the little tunnel outside Havana mentioned on Day 2. Many times the government had promised this road, but only The Revolution actually built it. Batista’s regime had started it, but was finished in 1965, so The Revolution takes full credit for it. It is a two lane road going through the mountains, like many I have been on before. The only difference is that on this one the concrete-with-rebar-inside guardrails in spots were in disrepair or missing. These spots are suspiciously in curves where it would be easiest for a vehicle to misdirect and go over. I suspect some have tried these routes and taken the guardrails with them. Luckily our bus driver was very skilled and got us to Baracoa safely. The views were amazing, though. 
Baracoa is a rainy little town, mostly isolated from the rest of Cuba except for that mountain road and an airport. It was heavily hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October and is still being rebuilt. Many of the attractions were closed or wiped out because of the hurricane. It is an area of cacao farms (though Matthew must have liked cacao because he visited a lot of them and took the trees with him), black sand beaches, high mountains, and rain.
Baracoa is the oldest settlement in Cuba, founded in 1511, and Columbus visited here in November, 1492. They have a monument to him which we visited.
We checked in to our casa, and unexpectedly (since a hurricane recently came through) it was our nicest one yet. Everything was freshly painted, and though the beds were still not comfortable, the linens, etc, looked like they were less than 10 years old. You see, the owner’s brother lives in the U.S. He was a medical doctor in Cuba and traveled to many different countries as it is common for them to do. He defected while in Venezuela and then came to America. He is now a nurse practitioner in Miami. I imagine from the looks of the casa that he has brought some plastic-wrapped packages to his family here in Cuba on his visits back home. American citizens are now allowed to visit family in Cuba. We somehow missed getting pictures of our room in this casa. The shower-head-water-heater was the same as usual, though, and this one made a shocking impact on my husband when he reached up to adjust it, so he got a picture of it.
 
During our orientation walk Vince got sick and left his lunch in the street, and I got queasy. We suspect it was some food we ate at the tiny home restaurant. Maybe the octopus and fish? So we ended the day with Vince alternately visiting the bathroom and watching Steven and I eat cheap pizza.
Continue the journey to Days 11 & 12.

Cuba As I See It, Day 9

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These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7 and Day 8.

Day 9

Saturday, Dec 31
Santiago
Cuba is a very racially diverse combination of Spanish descent, African descent, and native descent. In Cuba, according to their constitution, women have equal rights as men and all the different races have the same rights. This was not true until The Revolution. Then they passed laws and regulated racial diversity so people had to hire a certain quota of the different races. It seems on its face to have worked. However, at one of the casas when I tried to give my passport before Steve gave his the lady of the house said in Cuba the man’s name has to go first. Also, I have found some statistics online that say the racial equality in jobs is not as they claim it to be.
Political opposition is illegal and there is only one political party: The Communist Party. They do have elections and everyone is expected to vote. They can either vote yes or no. Anything else written in is disqualified. So the results always look like a resounding win for the person the Communist Party has put forth as their “candidate.”
Until a few years ago there was no privacy or freedom of speech. After The Revolution, the state security department listened in and you might go to prison and never come out just for one small statement like saying at the market “I don’t like to wait in these long lines.” Now they can speak freely, at least about some topics. There were a few things nobody wanted to discuss in public. In spite of more freedom of expression, there’s still no alternative or change. People have the choice to either be quiet or leave (if they can afford it or find a way).
15 yrs ago it was a crime for the Cubans to carry US dollars. The penalty for being caught with even $1 was 7 years or 11 years in prison. This is not the case now, but as I said, they still have a 10% tax US dollars at all the money exchange places.
Americans are allowed to visit Cuba under certain circumstances. One of the reasons we chose Cuba for Vince’s Spanish immersion trip is that we think that Cuba is going to either open up totally to America and be changed by it, or shut back down like it was between 1961 and very recently.
We rested much of the day, knowing it would be a late night since it was New Year’s Eve. In the late afternoon we went to the square to get some Wi-Fi.
The plaza was starting to fill with people bustling about, waiting to buy things in the shops that ring the plaza. There were workers setting up for the program to be presented that night. We walked through the beautiful Catholic church on the square (there’s always a Catholic church on the square).
We also “met” one of the Chugito mascots walking around greeting people.
Notice the 26 on their head bandanas. That is commemorating the (unsuccessful) attack on the Moncada Barracks I told about yesterday.
We had a beautiful New Years Eve dinner with our group.
Then they went salsa dancing and we went to pack and then headed back to the square aka the Parque Cespides to watch their midnight flag ceremony. They raise a large Cuban flag at midnight and their tradition says that if the flag catches the wind it will be a good year. If it just hangs there it will be a tough year. It reminds me a bit of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day.
This being Santiago, the place Fidel called home and where he declared The Revolution won, they had a special program honoring him. All throughout the square were banners with pictures of Fidel to honor him.
 
He considered Santiago to be his hometown and they are quite proud of this. During the program, they had ballet, African style music, Caribbean music with a few dancing the salsa, opera music, speeches, and a video of Fidel speaking. At one point they did a very enthusiastic call and of response of “Viva la Revolution! Viva Fidel! Viva Raúl! Fatherland or Death!” The 2,000-3,000 people in attendance all knew what to expect and shouted along. This was very interesting to me. For some reason, I thought the Cubans would be less enthusiastic about their support for Fidel and his Revolution. However, if they are critical of what has happened or if they want something different, they keep those thoughts to themselves and yell their “Viva Fidel” along with everyone else. I will deal with this topic a bit more over the next few days.
At midnight they raised the flag and it hung still, but within a minute or so it caught the wind and the people cheered.

After greeting a few people with Feliz Año Nuevo we went to our casa to bed. Tomorrow was another day of travel.
Proceed to Day 10.