Havana Part 4

This is part four of a series for my Storyboard on Flipboard. In 2018 I visited Havana, Cuba for photography and journalism. I stayed with a family that hosted their home as an Airbnb in Old Havana, Cuba aka Havana Vieja. I created a series of journals to document the journey and just in case the Cuban government decided to check what I came up with at the airport.

2.20.2018 (Cuba) It’s day 4 in Havana. The first order of the day is to track down the AirBnB where I stay from Thursday until Saturday. I haven’t heard back from the host at all so if I can’t find it I’ll see if I can pay for two additional days at the current BnB where I’m staying. If I look for the blue marker I should be able to find it. My attempt to find the AirBnB did not go as planned at all. Furthermore the host didn’t even get back to me. It’s possible they will reach out but I doubt it. So, now the plan is (since I negotiated it) to stay from Thursday into Friday at the spot. 

 I actually wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my day. I walked past Merced towards the water. I had my camera, my backpack and my phone. I planned to take my daily 20 photos and make some iPhone paintings. As I walked to the sewage center I met a man who would change the entire course of my afternoon. He was a Cuban school teacher named was Rafael. Apparently he taught English to students here in Havana. One of his passions was teaching tourists (especially tourists of African descent) of the prominent Afro Cuban religion in Havana. At first I thought it was a scam (similar to the couple that tried to get me to buy a box of cigars the other day.) but he seemed trust worthy. 

 I took an Instax photo of him for the journal I was creating and gave him one as well as a souvenir. We took the bus on his dime (he offered) and we were off. I wanted to ride the bus anyway. We ended up in Centro Havana after 15 minutes. We ended up going by what took me all day to walk in Little to no time at all. We got off the bus and walked to Callejón del Hamel. It was a patchwork of street art, recycled metals and culture all rolled into one place. This was completely different from where I was staying. Rafael articulated to me that this is where native Cubans went to learn, have fun and enjoy live performances. There was still time before the show started so we walked around the neighborhood. It was evident that Cuba was very poor.

 I noticed that the food market was very desolate and Cubans barely make enough money to buy food for the week. I guess they have a registered card that is signed off on and they get enough (at least according to them) for a single person or a family. Once that runs out they have to go to these I guess I’ll call them “Black marketplaces” where they have to pay a premium to get the additional food they need. It’s pretty criminal to say the least. I see why they have music and dance to forget about their troubles. There’s definitely a contrast between the renovated homes bought by White Americans vs. the untouched properties owned by the Cuban government. Rafael says the new regime just doesn’t care. 

That was evident based on the living conditions based on one of the apartments in a back alley. It was basically held together by toothpicks. Rafael mentioned there are independent businesses in Havana. Still, it looks like it’s still difficult to make a living. It’s hard to imagine giving that much control to the government. There’s still a lot I don’t know but I feel like I was supposed to meet Rafael. I wanted to see how Cubans really live. It makes me think of Paris and how I got that local experience too thanks to Will.(A relative of a former client.) After walking around for awhile we checked back in with the dancers. Only 15 minutes until showtime. Raf suggested we get some authentic Cuban food to kill time. We went to this independently owned restaurant called Big Family.

Before I knew it I was taking Instax photos of everyone in the restaurant. They couldn’t get enough of my Leica as soon as they realized how it worked. This was exactly how I wanted to use my film today. I ended up giving away a lot of film today but it was worth it. I wasn’t able to buy anything at the airport to give away to the locals so this seemed like a good idea considering. I got turkey, pork, lettuce and wild rice. It was amazing. After that we went back to enjoy the performance. Needless to say it was incredible! I got great photos and video out of it too. We got into a little trouble because they didn’t want me taking a flash photo of Raf and the dancers. I believe it was one thing for locals to do it but they didn’t want Cubans to photograph for fear of the government. That’s the one thing that I have to mindful of for this trip. You never know who is watching. I just steer clear of the soldiers and the officials.

Copyright © 2018, Raheem Nelson. All rights reserved.
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