Raul and Cuba, My Best Friend Travels Back to His Birthplace, Placetas, Cuba, Part III. Salary, Economy, Food and Rations.

This is the third and last installment of an Interview of my best friend Raul of over 30 years.  A Cuban born American that traveled back to his home town, Placetas, Cuba after 42 years.  To read the full interview, please see Part I and Part II of my blog.

This is Part III, if you missed Part I or  Part II, click it! 

The Caryatid Building is one of the most important structures in the Malecon. Built in the early 20th century. Named after the Art Deco-style female figures that support the entablature of the loggia.

Q: You say that your one cousin is a pediatrician, so how much does she make per month in Cuba?

El Floridita, home of the Daiquiri. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway. 

A: She told me she makes Like 35 Pesos, which is equivilant to almost like less than a dollar.   

Raul and Hemingway at El Florita.

Q: Your Cousin, the one that you stayed with, he is in Travel Industry and how much does he make per month?

A: He makes about 25 Pesos per month.

The demitasses are part of Raul's grandmother's wedding china. Only 5 left.
The rest of china was sold years ago. Raul's Grandmother is 102 years old today.

Q: Do people receive any free services from the government?

A: Yes,  Education and Medical services. 

Q: Can you buy a home in Cuba?

Houses in Placetas.

A: Now you can. That has been one of the changes that Raul Castro has made since he took over the power.  I think there is also a social revolt, my cousins were telling me that there was a revolt because the Cuban were so fed up.  You can get what you need if you have money, if not you are fucked.  Everything is basically available through the currency they developed for the tourist, which has a higher value than the Euro and the Dollar but only in Cuba. Then there's currency that you can not use anywhere else so the country is like stealing.  When I traded my American Dollars for the Tourist Currency, I got *90 CUC for $100. USD.  I see people selling things that they make or they do not want anymore out of their house.  Which was not allowed at one time. So, you sort see the genesis of a flourishing economy.    

*I did a little research and found that there was a 10% service fee to change your money.  This is what Raul was speaking of but not in these words.  See source on the United States Deptartment of State  Scroll down to Currency Regulations.

A bigger and brighter house.
You can get an apartment and you trade it with someone else.  If you see another one that you like better you can trade off what you have and you pay the difference.  I am not exactly sure how it works.   My cousin is in the process of doing this so he can live in one and he will rent another.

Q: How much toilette paper or coffee are you allowed per month per person and how much does it cost?

A: I think you get a pound of coffee per month per household or something like that. I'm not sure but it wouldn't be much because there was a lot of news paper in the bathrooms cut up for single use. Could you imagine if you had hemriods?  

Q: Are their any supermarkets?

A: No, but I did go to a specialty supermarket in Havana but then again it was nothing like the regular people, it was for the tourist, other than that there is nothing to buy.  You only buy your rations.  There is more variety in Havana which with money you can get anything, but the citizens do not have it. 

Restaurant Bar in Havana, very different from the non tourist areas. 

Q: The cars, tell me about he vehicles there?

Another old car but still running....pretty amazing.

A few buildings an yet another old car but working.

A: The majority of the cars are from the 1950 and they are called al Mendron and the other mode of transportation is horse and buggy.

Q: Wait a minute, didn't you tell me that you rode in a New Audi? 

A: Yes, my cousin befriended the Spanards there that own a hotel chain and one is in Havana.  So, when guest gets sick he calls my cousin's boyfriend who is a doctor to go and see them.  He doesn't charge him for medical care so, the owner lends him the car.  We also stayed in Vara Dero (Beaches in Matanzas) for free because of the same owners. 

This one looks like it had a some nice work done to it.
Paint and rims perhaps?

Q: And Television, do they have cable?   

A: No, they only have 2 TV Television Station.

Q: Movies?  What Movies do they watch?

A: I didn't go to a movie theatre but I brought back a disc that I bought with CUC that had 5 Oscar nominated movies on them for this year (2012).  So, basically they are up to date but everything is pirated.  They have been watching the Spanish Television shows out of Miami.  They get in DVD form. 

A well spout. 

The Chickens!
Q: Food?  How was it and was there plenty of it?

A: My family saved up money and food for me and deliciouso.  Everything is a lot more flavorful. I don't think they have this much food normally as when I was there.     

Peppers and a Tomato Salad with onions.  

A Tropical Breakfast. 

Q: Clothing? do they buy them there or do they rely on Cuban Americans to send them items? 

Don't you jut love the t-shirt this man on the left is wearing? It says, "Fuck Me, I'm Famous in Ibiza". Raul said he wasn't sure if this person knew exactly what this meant and he didn't want to tell him in fear of embarrassing him. I wish I had the nerve to wear a t-shirt like this in 'Let Freedom Ring" America! I blocked out their faces because I just wanted to focus on the Shirt!  - Fabulous!!!

A: Again, Clothing is also rationed. I saw a couple of guys with DandG T-shirts which is surreal.  I think most people rely on things sent by family in the USA.      

Q: Did you feel that there was a high crime rate there or did you see plenty of police around keeping order?

A: I didn't see Police but I was told that the crime rate is somewhat low.  Nobody has much to steal.  But in certain areas where people have chickens and pigs, keep them in the house over night so not to be stolen. 

Q: How about things that Americans might take for granted, like water, electricity or natural gas?

A view the ocean.

A: Electricity,  I heard they are very thankful to Chavez for giving gasoline so they can have electricity.  So, there is a lot more electricity than before, because before, in order to reserve, they turned off the power during certain times.  My cousin told me that in the 80s they would go days without it.  Now, they leave it on and there are periods when the lights go out, but it didn't happen when I was there, but it happened when I was a kid. 
Imagine at one point they couldn't even sleep because of the heat.  

Q: Tell me about the people, how do you find their spirits to be?   Do they believe in  communism?   Do you think that they wished they had left?  Overall are they healthy?

One of Raul's family member preparing for a meal.
Look at the big old lock on the table.  

A:  I know that my cousins are happy were they are.  Overall my family has a fairly good life in moderate means.  That is all they know, so unlike my parents that had different life experiences before life has taken away from them.  So, the generation that grew up during the communist years.  Bascailly, once emotional state is primarily determined by   family dynamic, being loved, the economy doesn't necessarily have that much impact.      

Another vintage Decorative piece, still in excellent condition.

Q: How do you see in the future of Cuba?  Did you get a feeling that things are going to change for the better
A wedding gift to Raul's Parents over 53 years ago.  It now resides in Havana with a family member.
 All the pieces are still there -Amazing, right?
  Really Nice Vintage set!

A: Absolutely, what you are seeing is a change.  It makes sense that things are changing anyway.  Nothing stays the same.  

Q: Now that your mother and father made the decision to come to America, are you glad that they made these sacrifices so that you and your sister can live in freedom?  

Another view of the ocean, from Havana and a lonely tree.   

A: Oh, absolutely, and I really admire them for doing it. Going back, it really brought on feelings of abandonment and sadness of leaving.  Which I am sure were emotional restlessness I haven't dealt with since I left the first time.      

Q: Will you plan on going back and if so, why? 

Another Decorative piece from the 1950s that is well preserved. 

A: I defiantly want to go back.  I want to go back next year to see places I wasn't able to see.  
Santuario  de San Lazaro.

Q: What have you learned about yourself, the people that were left behind and of communism? 

A: I don't necessarily know if I learned about myself.  Well, I guess my I had the sense that there were emotional issues that I had to get in touch with.  The feelings of lose and the abandonment that I worked through. That people adapt and that communism will not last forever.   

A chandelier in a Cafeteria. 

Straw Roof in a Cafeteria.

Q: Anything you would like to add that I left out that you would want readers to know about your experience?

I would say that those who can go, do so.  Put political views aside and to do so is an incredible emotional experience.   Very Life Affirming.  

This wraps ups my interview with Raul. I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about Cuba and Raul's trip.  I know I did.  I am so happy to be able to learn more about someone I love very much.  

I am very proud of Raul and his accomplishments and relationships.  He is married to Mark, and they have been together for 18 years.  He has very close relationships with his family.  He is a caring son, grandson, brother, uncle, cousin and friend.  He is truly a great human being and I am so glad he is in my life.  He is a big part of my family too, which includes my 2 sisters, my mother and my husband.  

Raul and Mark are also great "Uncles" to my two girls which I appreciate deeply.  Oh and I almost forgot to mention, Raul bakes the most beautiful Cakes for everybody and for any occasion!  You can give him a picture or an idea and he will execute it, (after an intense spell of perfection) with Mark's help of I said, Raul is like a brother to me and I think we were all happy that he was able to travel back to his Birthplace, Placetas,  Cuba...............Salute!

Raul and me, hanging out in my back yard.

Thank you for reading and hope you are having a Fab Day! ~ Gina (and Raul).

 Guayaba is one of
my Favorite Fruits. 

For  Part I or  Part II, click it! 


  1. Very interesting story! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Great wrap up to an important story. Interesting that there are such noticiable changes taking place and that Raul looks forward to going back. An amazing look into the social history of a country that most Americans - myself included - dont know enough about. Very cool photographs! Thanks for this look into Raul's life and into the people and recent past - and future of Cuba!

    2. Thanks for your comments and kind words. Yes, I agree with you both. Very Interesting...and I believe Raul was able to fill the curiosity that some have about Cuba. Thanks again and I will be sure to share your comments with Raul! ~ Gina


Post a Comment

Own a Piece of Fashion History