Visiting the ‘forbidden country’
As I got off the plane in La Havana, Cuba so many things was going through my mind but it didn’t prepare me for the nightmare I went through with the Cuban immigration officers. They are worst than the US immigration officers. Oh my God, I was questioned for 3 hours by 8 different officers asking the same questions all over again and I even had to do a X-ray to see if I swallowed drugs. After all that ordeal, I met up with Maddiel (from Couchsurfing) who showed me to a Casa Particular. I sort of promise myself not to analyze the political situation in Cuba because it wouldn’t make a differences and it will keep me from fully enjoying the county and its people. However I’ll tell you a little about this country.
Interesting things about Cuba
There are two currencies in Cuba – “Moneda Nacional” (for its citizens) & “Convertible Pesos (CUC)” for foreigners -exchange rate is 1 CUC= 1.23 Euros/1.31 pounds. There is an additional 10% penalty for those exchanging with the US dollars. Everybody is welcome to Cuba even US citizens, they don’t stamp anybody passport. You buy a tourist card for US$20 that they stamp. The government either owns all business, or a joint venture, there are some exceptions, like the accommodations for tourists. Citizens are allowed to rent up to 2 rooms in their houses to a maximum of 4 people, this is called Casa Particular and they must register with the government & pay 200 CUC per month regardless if they were able to rent room or not. These Casa Particular are up to 50% or more cheaper than the hotels which are government owned. It is illegal for Cubans to allowed foreigners to stay over at their house. In the past Cubans where not allowed in hotel rooms or tourist sites (the law to allow them was put into effect just 3 years ago).
Baseball is the most popular game here & the most popular type of music for the young are Hip-Hop/Rap and Reggeaton. The government is against Cuban Reggeaton & Hip-Hop music because they strongly criticize the government so there are hardly any concert of those two types of music. Its illegal for foreigners to use the ‘Moneda Nacional’ – the currency for Cuban citizen however you can get away using it on the local bus/taxi, buying street food & buying tickets of shows/concerts and the likes. I changed a little of my money to the ‘Moneda Nacional’ and bought street food all the time, for local transportation and stuffs like that – usually it works because I can pass for a Cuban or I give one of my Cuban friends to buy for me.
I enjoyed Havana, there was always a show to go to and things to do. On my first day, I went to a show at the ‘Museo de los Orichas’, another time to a dance show and every Monday there is a meeting at the house of this professor – people come together to make music, talk about music and different cultures. Or you can chill at this one street that is packed with hip-hop free style artists and ‘Emos’ (Emos are sort of punkish who usually dress in black and have their hair covering half of their face).
I decided to skip Santiago de Cuba (the second largest city in Cuba) and return to Havana because unfortunately I was running out of money and I can not use my ATM card here because of the embargo, so I changed my ticket to leave Cuba 5 days earlier than planned -its sad, but oh well, there will always be another time to come back to Cuba. Meanwhile, I spent my remaining 4 days in Cuba trying to go to an Cuban Hip-Hop concert but ended up hanging out with a bunch of childish people, went to the Sunday alternative religion ceremony, Monday music meeting, a visit to a restaurant serving ‘Yoruba/African food’.
I think you should visit Cuba, it will make you appreciate what you have in your own country regardless of how you feel your own government is messed up. I met a Nigerian here on my way to check out the Nigerian Embassy – he told me there were about 200 Nigerian students studying sports or medicine. He told me about how Nigerians who come to visit or plan on living in Cuba all change their ticket and return home and that some of them even cry like babies. He also said after the Nigerian tourist, potential immigrant or student return home, they can not dare complain about the Nigerian government or the situation at home because we have it way better than Cuba. I must say I totally agreed with him.
This is a country I can NEVER live in. I so much cherish the freedom I have & the conveniences that life has to offer however I wouldn’t mind having the free quality healthcare & education the Cuban government has going for its people….Plus being in Cuba gives me this closeness to Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. I intend to come back here to do a research on the Yoruba people of Cuba, I think it will be interesting to learn about their culture, religion and compare it to that in Nigeria. Note: the Yoruba people of Cuba are descendants of Yoruba slaves brought from Nigeria and I’m from the Yoruba tribe – that’s why I find it fascinating to learn about the people in Cuba.
I decided on Cornell because I got a fellowship there which will save me a lot………Oh sad news, the president of Nigeria died today
Hasta la Victoria Siempre (Until the Victory, Always)