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Compartment 14B

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Cuba libre!

2007-01-22 - 11:57 a.m.

Just in case you were waiting with bated breath to find out: our appointment at the fertility clinic went better than expected. We were told basically what I expected – to come back when I stopped breastfeeding – but the tone was more heartening than I expected. I thought that the doctor might make us do all the same tests again but he basically said that when Grommet was weaned we could make an appointment, he’d induce a period in me, then we could go right for the Clomid again if that was our choice. To this I say, bring it on. It worked well the last time and I have a sense of urgency about this second one, given my age and the fact that we would prefer to have kids close in age.

So, Cuba. Our hotel was impeccably clean, despite the best efforts of the sometimes-quite-rude guests to litter at a seemingly constant rate. In fact, the guests were the only fly in the ointment (butting in line, whining about having to tip for service, complaining that things in stores weren’t cheaper than the already-fraction-of-what-they’d-pay-at-home, etc.) as the staff was incredibly warm and friendly. It’s worth noting too, that Cubans generally seem to love children so we got a lot of positive attention with Grommet.

It was warm and sunny and we didn’t have a drop of rain the whole time. We spent a lot of time alternating turns sticking to the shade with Grommet (who we slathered liberally in SPF 50 every day) while the “free” one got to do something else. For example, I spent an entire morning with my new macro lens and came away mighty pleased with some of the results (you can see one of my favourites in yesterday’s post). I also took the yoga class once and taught it twice since it turned out that I’d been doing it more than twice as long as the instructor there. During the two classes I taught, the two women who normally teach it took my class and a third one stayed at the back taking copious notes. I think a lot of what they’re missing is the vocabulary, since they’re first language is Spanish and they try to teach the classes in English. I hope they found it useful.

J spent much of his free time swimming in the ocean, which he totally loved. It was, in fact, warmer than the pools at our hotel. I still mostly stuck to the pools though, since I found the salt water made me vaguely itchy. J also spent some time with the camera capturing some of the old cars on the streets in Cuba. There are a ton of them that are from the 50s.

The three of us also checked out the local craft market a couple of times and spent a day taking an organized tour of Havana.

The Cuban culture was pretty interesting. As a communist state, they have some rules and customs that are quite foreign to me. For example, they can buy a set amount of goods and foods at a cheap price but if they want more they have to pay much, much more for it. They can buy, for example, one bar of soap per person in the household per month at the cheap price, but to buy an extra one it’s about the equivalent of half a day’s wages. That’s why tourists often bring toiletries and extra clothes with them to give away to people they meet and hotel staff.

Even though the wages are low (people often earn an average of about 40 Cuban convertible pesos a month – about $60 Canadian), a lot of things are provided to the citizens for low prices or for free. All medical care is covered by the government, including cosmetic procedures. Maternity leave is a year at your full salary. The problem is that a lot of things are rare and hard to obtain, even though they’d be covered if they could be found.

No one I met seemed to resent having a dictator or being under a communist regime. The people all reverently praised Che Guavara as a hero and we were told that “cult of personality” is forbidden while someone’s alive but that after Castro’s death he too would probably be revered and you’d see his image all over the island. The people seemed to be friendly and happy overall and both Varadero and Havana were very safe: crime was very low.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about politics, but I did at least form the initial impression that yes, Cubans are generally quite poor and desperate for what we consider to be common household commodities, but that their system wasn’t perceived as a Very Bad Thing. I think things would be better for Cuba if the U.S. didn’t persist in their embargo, but I’m glad that they’re bearing up under it as well as they are.

There will be an entry (or maybe even couple of entries) this week that will be mostly photos of the trip so I’ll get them up as I have time. Grommet starts her transition to daycare tomorrow and I’ll be with her, but she’s supposed to be staying for the whole day Thursday, so maybe I’ll take the opportunity to process and upload my photos then. In the meantime, there should be a ONE YEAR BIRTHDAY entry for Grommet on Wednesday. Gak!

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