San Cristóbal 

The 15th of November was the anniversary of Havana, the 497th. It is also the day of San Cristóbal, the patron saint of Havana. Havana was not the first city founded in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba and several other cities were founded a couple of years earlier. 

History of Havana
The main tradition to celebrate takes place in Plaza de Armas in Havana Vieja, supposedly the place where Havana was founded with a catholic mass under a ceiba tree. The ceiba is a sacred tree in the main religion Santería and on this day the people of Havana come to Plaza de Armas to walk three times round the ceiba and make wishes.

El templete of Plaza de Armas

The ceiba of today is not the same as 497 years ago, but it is supposedly on the same spot. The current tree was planted last year and it looks rather sad and in bad condition. I don’t think it feels at home yet.

The walking around the ceiba starts already on the eve of San Cristóbal, the 14th November. The evening was rainy, so fortunately the queue was short when we went there, walked around the ceiba and made our wishes. When I passed by on the 15th it was a totally different story, there was a long long queue to the tree.

The president of Vietnam was in Havana during a couple of days, and while he was busy with meetings and negotiations the first lady was enjoying and touristing in Havana Vieja. She and her entourage showed up on Plaza de Armas and they also walked around the ceiba. But they jumped the queue! 


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A living legend

A couple of nights ago we went to see a ballet. It was the ballet Giselle and it was on the repertoire of the 25th International Ballet Festival of Havana between 28th of October and 6th of November. The festival is run over 5 different stages and dance companies from all over the world attend. This year the following countries where represented: Cuba, Norway, Mongolia, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, US, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Great Britain and Puerto Rico.

The ballet we saw was at the beautiful theatre Gran Teatro de la Habana “Alicia Alonso”. The building is an architectural gem in the centre of Havana.

All of a sudden she was there, the myth, the legend and the prima dama of Cuban ballet, Alicia Alonso. Today she is over 90 years old and totally blind. But she was there, attending the show from the balcony and being honoured by the public. One of the few persons in the world that holds a status as a legend while she is still alive, she has been extremely important to the development of ballet in Cuba and also a star in the rest of the world. 

The ballet festival:

Alicia Alonso:

Gran Teatro de Habana “Alicia Alonso”:

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Hurricane approaching

There is a hurricane, Matthew, in the Carribean. Up until now it was predicted to hit directly on Santiago de Cuba, but according to the latest forecast it seems like it is passing over Cuba further to the east, on less populated areas. However, it is a big hurricane and it will affect large areas in eastern Cuba. It is also a very slow hurricane with very strong winds, so when it comes it will probably stay for a long time, making it really dangerous. The speed forward is for the moment 7 kilometres per hour, a normal person walks faster, but the wind speed is 240 kilometres per hour.

I have during the last days witnessed how the Santiagueros are preparing themselves and their city. In 2012 Santiago was devastated by the hurricane Sandy and the Santiagueros have this in fresh memory. The only thing on people’s minds for the last days has been the hurricane, and everytime they talk about it they also start talking about Sandy and what happened to their house or how they delt with it. It is still a very vivid trauma. 

Understandably the Santiagueros are worried. I’m not very worried about the hurricane itself, I know that the Cubans know how to survive hurricanes, but I am worried about life after the hurricane for my friends in Santiago. After Sandy there was no electricity for 1 month, and electricity, food supply and water are definitely at risk for a long time. I already had plans and a reservation for a bus to leave to go to Havana on Sunday afternoon, so personally I will be safe.

Matthew is forecasted to hit Cuba during the night between Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th of October. Since Friday the 30th of September the city is practically under siege. The university closed already Friday, theaters closed and everybody prepared their workplace and their home. I guess the reason for closing the university already Friday was to give people who live outside of Santiago time to return to their homes, and also to give the people working at the university time to prepare both the university itself but also their homes.

A quiet sunrise on Saturday morning.

I tried to go to see a dance show on Friday night in one of the theaters of Santiago de Cuba, but they had already closed due to the approaching hurricane. When I write this it is Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining and the weather is great, so it seems to me a bit exaggerated to close already Friday. I can’t decide if they just use the hurricane as an excuse not to work or if it is really necessary to suspend all activities that early in order to prepare. Most cultural venues where closes already Friday and Saturday, but bars where still open on Saturday evening.

On TV and radio there is continuous information about the hurricane and about the work being done. There are also repeatedly messages to the public that it is a state of emergency and what people should do to prepare. Also cars with speakers on the streets are broadcasting the same message.

The Santiagueros are buying food, biscuits, condensed milk, candles, gas and matches. They are also being told to make sure they have water but it is not that easy in a city with a shortage of water. They are also being told to stock on batteries for radio and lamp, but there are no batteries to be found. This picture is from one of the shops on Saturday, a lot of people stocking up on food. Interestingly enough the shop is called La lucha, see previous post about that.

On this picture you can see two different tables piled with biscuits, the owners are taking a break in the shopping at the bar where I was on Saturday at noon.

The Santiagueros are preparing their houses and remove everything that could fly away. Some even remove the roof before the hurricane, this is neighbours of mine who removed the roof of their rooftop terrace. 

In the city some trees are being cut so that they will not fly away or fall down on the houses. 

Windows are being prepared all over town, both private houses, shops and institutions. The mostly put tape in the shape of X on them, but in some cases they also put up cardboard. In the shops they also remove everything from the windows. 

The authorities are sending in groups from the rest of the country to help the eastern parts. I think they send in different type of groups to help clean up afterwards but I know they send in electricians to try to restore the electricity as fast as possible. 

I know the Cubans are handling this in the best way possible, they are used to this. Hurricanes are passing over Cuba, especially eastern Cuba, regularly. I now only hope that this hurricane will be over fast and that the aftermath will be easy. Please pray or think or whatever it is you do on the people of Cuba and the rest of the Carribean in the coming days! 

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Street life

In the evenings when I walk through the streets of Santiago de Cuba I witness a lot of things, people, events and happenings. The streets are always full of life and many Cubans use the street outside the house as a second living room. In the area where I am often walking there are not many foreigners. 

The families living on the first floor of the streets without traffic almost always keep the door open out onto the street when they are home. In that way they get some breeze, they hear the latest gossip and they hear when the sales persons are around.

A guy is sitting in a street corner, on the pavement, singing with a loud voice, but only for himself. 

Domino, the favourite past time of the Cubans, is being played on a table. Some persons are standing around watching the game. One grandfather is watching the game with his grandchild of approximately 1 month on his arm.

Endless amounts of motorbikes are swirling around on the streets. The majority of traffic is gathered on some streets but the motorbikes are everywhere, they are the easiest and cheapest individual transport in Santiago.

Music is being played in a house or on loudspeakers directed out from the windows. Some children are fooling around and dancing.

One man is pushing a cart from which he is selling garlic, onion and avocados. It is seasons for avocados right now, later on he will be selling tomatoes. And so on, with the fruit and vegetables of the season. He is shouting his publicity to let everybody know he is around.

There is also a man pushing a cart with bread. Home delivery of bread they call it. He is also shouting.

Children are playing around, playing a game, playing baseball, running around, dancing or just looking at the foreigner passing by.

An old grandmother who can’t walk has been carried out by her family and is sitting in the doorway looking at the street life and talking with the neighbours. 

From a house I hear tambores and when I look inside there is a religious Santería fiesta going on.

In another house the couple living there are shouting at eachother with very loud voices.

The latest soap opera is on TV. The soap opera comes with El paquete, the cuban underground distribution system of music, TV shows and films. It is distributed on USB memories throughout the country and it is unbelievably quick.

A car engine is being renovated out on the street.

A domestic fight has gone to the extreme so one person is standing and shouting on the street and around her there are shatters of a table that has been thrown from the second floor.

If a party is about to happen food is being cooked out on the street, either a pig is being barbecued or a stew is cooking on open fire.

Some teenagers hang around, gossip and look at eachother. 

A game of chess is being played in one street corner, a change from the more usual domino.

And life continues in the house and outside in the extended house, on the street.

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The 28th of September is the celebration of the anniversary of the Cuban CDRs, Committee for the Defense of the Revolution . They have been existing 56 years and this is something uniquely Cuban. I will not even try to explain what it is, I advise you instead to read the information in Wikipedia.
The party to celebrate the CDR begins already the night before, on the 27th September. It seems like every CDR in the country does more or less the same thing this evening, the neighbours come together and make a small fiesta in the street. They play music, crazy loud of course, they drink rom and they cook a caldosa, a soup or stew. Some CDRs also decorate the street with flags and banners.

I was walking through the streets of Santiago yesterday evening on the 27th and there where fires, music and people everywhere. The fires where the caldosa cooking,  and I tried one of them, it was really good.

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In some areas of Cuba water is a scarcity. Santiago de Cuba is currently experiencing a drought. It rains sometimes but not in the quantity that is needed. Friends of mine live in an area where they get water in the pipes occasionally, yesterday was such a day. That was the first day in 20 days that they got water!

So when the water arrives, at any time during the day, one person of the household has to stay at home from work to fill up all containers they can possibly find. And of course do as much laundry and cleaning they possibly can do during the time that the water is on. 

They keep tanks on the roofs, they keep containers of different sizes and shapes everywhere in the house and everything down to the last bucket is filled up.

When I left my friend’s house yesterday the water had been on for 24 hours, but nobody knows for how long or how short it will be on. Or when it will arrive, this time it was 20 days, previously they have been talking about 17 and 18 days. There is no schedule, atleast not an official one.

I can understand all this, if the water is lacking it is lacking. What I have difficulty understanding is why it seems that different neighbourhoods get different quantities of water. As far as I understand some other parts of the city gets more water. I’ll be back if I find an explanation! 

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Communicating from Cuba 

The great writer and gringa living in Cuba, Conner Gory!

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