Monday, 25 February 2013

ROAMING THE STREETS OF HAVANA with nothing to protect me from the locals other than quick wit and a friendly smile


HEY THERE! HOW'S IT GOING? I'm in bed, just chilling out to the sounds of Havana (which I shall describe to you shortly) and sweating profusely. This morning I sweated so much that, after sitting down on my friend's balcony for about 15 minutes, when I stood up it appeared half the wall had adhered to my sweaty-betty back causing a significant amount of the paintwork to be ripped off the wall as I stood. It was very embarrassing and I didn't want to tell anyone, but I had to because I needed help peeling the paint off my back.

 I have now been in Havana for 15 days, meaning I have had 14 breakfasts of one bread roll, butter and guava jam. It feels like a LOT more, and I'm starting to forget what cinnamon grahams taste like, which is very upsetting for me.

This week we were meant to start lectures, but the Cuban administration system infamously moves slower than a fat dog on a hot day, so in actual fact we spent more time walking to and from offices sorting out timetables than actually working.  Havana is quite a big city, and walking around it is very different to walking in Manchester; firstly because you have to walk very slowly to avoid over-heating, and secondly because you always have to look carefully where you're going as you might trip or fall in a big hole (there is a really surprising number of big holes). My feet have now adopted an eternal sooty-black colour from constantly walking in flip-flops through the dusty streets. My half-arsed attempts at cleaning my feet in the shower are far from successful  meaning I always leave little black footprints around the flat. My roommate always knows where I am. My lungs are probably equally as black from inhaling the toxic fumes ejected from the buses, which tumble and wheeze down the streets like drunk robots falling over.

The noises of Havana stem mostly from traffic, building-sites and dogs. The dogs roam the streets casually; collar-less and rabid, just like the men. If you go to the tourist areas in old Havana, there are lots of colourfully-clad people playing variations of "Guantanamera" and "Mas Que Nada" on the street corners. There is always, always, always a stooped old man playing the maracas in these bands, and he's always my favourite band member. Last weekend we went to Obispo street, which is one of the liveliest places I've seen and absolutely full of shops and restaurants, it was very hip and happening. In our local area there aren't any samba bands, but a lot of people sit in their front porches playing dominos and lots of children play baseball in the streets. I haven't seen anyone using an actual baseball bat or ball yet, the kiddies on my street use a plank of wood and a bottle cap.

We have now made friends with a few of the likely lads on the road. One took us to a bar where we can buy mojitos for 10 Cuban pesos, or 50 cents, which is like 35p or something ridiculous. The mojitos are really good too! Especially when you've had a couple of £'s worth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! However, some of the locals are not as friendly. Today, one passerby told me that it was time I caught some sunshine because i'm so pale. This did NOT amuse me. Our Cuban Friend thought it was very funny. He told us that every time I walk past the boys playing dominos at the end of the road, they say "Where is that girl from!? She must be from the coldest country on the planet. Why is she so WHITE!?" These things have done nothing for my self-esteem. "Isn't that racist?" I said crossly. He laughed for ages! Then he said "No. You are really pale." Sometimes children point at me and laugh. Sometimes grown women point at me and laugh. It's all very distressing. However, it makes me feel indie, unique and special.

It is difficult to leave the house without somebody shouting at you. Common cries include the classic "Guapa" or "linda" (sexy), but also "Tourist!", "girl!" or suggestively "Can I take a photo with you?" closely followed by "I'm serious!". They usually start shouting in Spanish and then when you don't respond, try their hand at some English cat calls. Yesterday a group of boys just repeatedly yelled "Boyfriend! Boyfriend! Boyfriend! Boyfriend!" When they can't think of anything to say, they just click (weird) or hiss (weirder).

Being blonde, pale and nervous-looking makes me stand out quite a lot, but we have been trying to live more Cuban than touristy. This week we made our first trip to a Cadeca to change our money into the local "CUP" currency instead of the CUC dollars. Each dollar is worth 24CUP (it's actually very confusing), but once you have it you can pay to go to museums or the ballet or for street food without spending your precious CUC. It's GREAT FOR SAVING MONEY!! Once we had our CUP we made a trip to the local market to try and buy food to make our own lunches. Anyone who remembers how excited I got by the Austrian supermarkets (SO MANY PUMPKINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) probably won't even dare to imagine the joys and thrills passing through my bones as I browsed all the weird cuban fruit and vegetables. Some things even Bajan Roommate couldn't identify, but basically imagine a market where there are NO apples or potatoes (!!!!) but shit loads of Guava and plantane and confusing, unidentified root vegetables (URVs).

I enjoy spending my CUP, but the notes look disturbingly familiar to CUC which leads to me looking like a TOTAL TOOL, a paticularly memorable (or, actually, not the memorable lol) moment was when I was trying my damndest to order my new favourite drink, a 'Cuba Libre', and ended up paying half in CUC and half in CUP and DEFINITELY being ripped off.

Last night we tried to cement Cuban stereotypes by strolling down to the HArbour and drinking rum. There were THRONGS of people there, literally THRONGS!!! As is customary for these occasions, a random cuban man who murmered instead of speaking came and started singing for us. He started with a bit of Bob Marley. He knew the chords very well but found the words a lot more challenging so just la-la-la-ed along to his own guitar. Then he asked our names and because I was feeling cheeky I told him my name was 'Linda', which he absolutely loved, because it means 'beautiful' in Spanish, so then he and his friend did a crazy rap-breakdown with 'Linda' playing a prominent role.

Anyway that's enough blahblahs for now.

Lots of love from sarah xxxxxxxxxxxx

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