The most noticeable differences between homes in Cuba and here are heating inside and paint outside.
There are no heating systems in Cuban houses. The temperature has yet to reach the freezing point in that country. Most of the time, the problem is keeping the inside temperature low enough to be comfortable. Older houses don’t have glass in the windows; instead, they have shutters that open and close as sunshine and wind suggest. The ceilings are high so that the heat can rise.
When we started visiting Cuba, close to 20 years ago, very few houses were painted outside. One explanation given to me was that most Cubans didn’t want to appear well-off enough to afford paint during the so-called “special period.” They would be suspected of black market activities or having illegal sources of income.
Things have changed now - a middle class is often referred to - and we see evidence of this. Now it is legal to buy and sell houses and cars, and more changes are taking place. I think that I saw a used car lot taking shape on one corner in Havana. No signs, mind you, or flags or balloons, but give them time.
Most free enterprise business is done between individuals and how they get together is still a mystery to me. The lack of what I call a consumer economy with no advertising, no big box stores, no signs or flyers is very evident. It’s great! If I need something, I just ask someone where I can get it and they usually know. If the item is not to be found in the town where we stay, the safe answer is always Havana.
I remember one time when we were setting up the vegetable packing shed and the portable drill burned out. With one of the farm workers as a guide, we drove to the city and the third place he took us to, we bought a new one. There were no signs outside the business and no window displays that would give any hint of what was for sale, but our guide knew where to look. There certainly were no yellow pages, not even a phone book as we know it. The co-operative had a scribbler with some hand-written numbers in it that served their needs.
Cubans tell me that before the revolution, they were very poor, illiterate and sickness was wide-spread. They are now very well-educated and have a very effective healthcare system. They are still poor, but two out of three problems ain’t bad.
I hope they can adjust their economy to beat the third problem. There is evidence this could happen and reasons why it may not. I’m optimistic.