Cuba is one of the countries on my never-ending bucket list. One thing I love to do when I haven’t been to place is to listen to other people’s travel adventures and share it, of course! This month, we experience Cuba with Mohamed and his friends. We find out why they chose this colorful Caribbean country and learn how they got stuck there during Hurricane Irma!
Funny story! my origin involves traveling. My mother and father fled the civil war in Somalia in the early 90s and settled in the Middle East. There, my brothers and I were born and after a few years, we relocated to Europe eventually settling in the UK. “Umm, so what are you?” I get that from time to time and my response is almost always in this strict un-change-able order; Muslim Somali British.😊 My profession fluctuates. I graduated in psychology, but work in sales & production.
I and my bodies (@yasinyeyo, @moremussa_) spent some time looking at places and we would get together and would each present the pros and cons of the places we picked. This was around the time I was watching Narcos and thought “hmm south America would be cool to visit”.
I don’t know who picked Cuba but when it was mentioned we all looked at each other and nodded in unison. An island with a preserved rich history and culture, I’m down for an adventure.
The whole “its still a suppressive regime” thing didn’t bother any of us, however, we spent some time on Reddit going through other people’s experiences from being there to gauge our expectations.
If you want halal food, stick to seafood because we had a hard time finding any. Initially when we got there we tried seafood because it was everywhere we went. There’s also an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables .
Experience Cuba: The Culture and People
Colors are everywhere. From beautiful murals and graffiti to houses painted in bright green, yellow, purple and everything in between.
The people are hella friendly and everyone would stop for a chat once they notice you’re a stranger. It’s almost the polar opposite from Europe. Not that people aren’t friendly here, but the ‘stranger danger’ thing is more prevalent where I’m from compared to Cuba. The whole street knew each other. Nah the whole block knew each other.
Whenever we’d wake up in the morning for breakfast, the neighbor would be there eating with our host. We would enjoy Cuban coffee and talk about politics, music, sports and whatever else unites and divides us (like baseball, not really a big fan).
Except our Spanish was almost non-existent. A few weeks before we set out I attempted to learn a few key questions and conversation starters on YouTube.
But yeah when I say we conversed with people, I mainly mean with broken Spanish and hand gestures.
But that didn’t stop people from mistaking us as Cuban, which had its perks, especially when we were buying things. Normally when vendors see you’re not a native they increase their prices a little. If you’re dark skinned and can pretend to be Cuban, it’s all good.
Nevertheless, things were pretty cheap so it didn’t matter if someone made a few pesos here and there.
A good example of how sociable and tightly knit people are is that, if they can’t find you what you’re looking for, they can point you in the right direction. I was looking for a barber, the host asks the neighbor who says she has a cousin whose friend’s uncle is a barber. And sure enough, she calls him and comes with clippers and scissors.
Outside of Havana, not many people knew Muslims, but in the capital, we found a few Muslim international students on Eid day and met a lot of reverts. It was astonishing, I had imagined we would come across maybe 100 or so Muslims since Islam isn’t a well-known religion there but when we got to the masjid the turnout exceeded my expectations.
What surprised me the most was how social media/the internet isn’t widely available. It turns out the internet is monitored and controlled by the government and you are only allowed to use it for up to 1 hour a day. You can’t just obtain it, there’s a whole process. You would have to go to the only telecommunication company owned by, you guessed right, the government. There you would present your identification (passport) and get a maximum of 2 Wi-Fi cards (30 mins each), for about $1.50 apiece. From there you’d have to find a Wi-Fi designated spot, usually in big places like the town center, and connect to the Wi-Fi. If I was to compare the speed of the connection I would equate it to a snail marathon. I was told by the locals that Wi-Fi was only introduced fairly recently.
But that didn’t matter, I soon realized why people are friendly, the lack of internet forces people to interact and socialize with others. In many ways, the vast endlessness of the internet pushes people to a state of detachment and reclusiveness. I winced at my innate need to update my social media.
Experience Cuba: The Myth
So I expected to see a lot of poverty because you know, socialism in practice can create a slow economy and blah blah. Economics isn’t my thing. But that was true, a lot of people survive on little money. But that’s not entirely the case. 99.8% literacy rate speaks volumes. Everyone is educated.There was our taxi driver who graduated in medicine and drives cabs on the weekend. A market souvenir seller who is a fully qualified criminal lawyer. A tour guide who teaches geography part-time. A mechanic who offers haircuts at night. Everyone had a profession, but because everyone receives a similar salary, people have to undertake secondary jobs to make ends meet.
Experience Cuba: Not so funny moment
So the holiday season in the UK is from July to August. And we went during August because it was cheaper in comparison.
In fact, it was a lot cheaper. We didn’t think much until 2 weeks later towards the end of our trip, we realized why. We went during the storm season, for some reason no one researched this part.😂 One night we went out for a game of pool & table tennis and noticed the whole block was somewhat quiet. Nah it was a ghost town, just a handful of people. A few minutes into table tennis, thunder decides it’s time to show up, followed by severe raining. It was like a scene from an apocalyptic disaster movie. People running for shelter and me and the brodies carried on playing because we didn’t know what else to do. We go inside the pool hall where the few people left stood in silence, eyes fixated on a small tv screen planted against the corner of the room. A news lady talking in Spanish with one of those diagrams of wind movement you see in geography lessons. I used my intricate superpower deduction to come to a conclusion that a storm was coming. We looked at each other with the “oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” expression senator Clay Davis frequently uses.
I would highly recommend you visit this country. Many things to see and experience in the major cities. In Havana, for example, the Museum of Revolution holds historical exhibits from the revolution like the yacht Castro’s soldiers used at that time. A masjid is tucked right behind Havana’ s Natural History Museum. Also, check out the Jose Marti tower in the Revolution Plaza.
Mohamed 25 years of age is still trying to figure the world and all its miracles. Fairly new to the world of traveling, his target is to visit 2 countries a year by spinning the globe and landing his finger (most of the time it lands on the sea). Recently picked up writing and hopes to write a short book sometime soon. Feel free to connect with Mohamed and check the project he and his friend @moremussa _ are working on!
This was a really interesting post. I went to Cuba with my husband about 3 years ago and we stayed in a resort. I really want to go back and explore more though. xx