Can You Be Happy in Cuba? / Iván García

Photo: Taken from “The sea of happiness”, published in the Venezuelan blog “Oido en la Chata” on 30 May 2011.

There are lots of things that can make a person happy. A sunset. Contemplating a full moon. Chatting with friends. Reading a good book. Watching a baseball game. Enjoying a favourite meal. Playing Monopoly with the kids. Sitting on the Malecon* with a guitar, half a litre of run and breaking down the musical offerings of Joaquín Sabina or Pablo Milanés

Some are happy when they go to the theatre on the weekend. Or to the cinema. Talking in a park with their other half. Or walking round their neighbourhood, their home town. It doesn’t take a lot to make us happy.

We have all had happy moments. Even though you might have lived all your life in a country where due to its inefficiency, it does everything possible to embitter your existence, right from waking up in the morning.

We see how material shortages cause an unhappy marriage in Havana. Today they are meant to be filling a dozen buckets with water from the tank to wash: the pump motor in the building is broken.

As if that wasn’t enough, due to one of the many repairs to the electricity grid in the area, there won’t be any power from 9am to 3pm. The bread in the state rations is more acidic than ever. There’s no way you can eat it.

Breakfast was just a coffee. Well, if you can call that substitute bulked out with peas, “coffee”. Before morning is over, “those damned Cuban circumstances” have added a dose of bile to the liver.

Later comes the other odyssey. Getting on a city bus to go to the park to amuse the kids this Sunday. Two hours at the stop. Hand-to-hand combat to get on the bus. Shouts, bad smells and the kids crying and uncomfortable.

At this moment you call for the heads of the leaders. You want to get a rubber boat to Florida. And angrily wonder why Cubans put up with such a bad government.

But the hatred, like the happiness, is also passing. You get to the Maestranza park, with an impressive view of El Morrow, and despite the sun and the lines your kids are happy again.

When it’s better a drenching downpour lets loose. On the run. The umbrella is half broken and they all arrive soaked, but happy, at a hard currency cafe. The kids look at the display case and want an ice cream snack or a chocolate Nestles.

“We don’t have enough money” says the father sharply. “Not even enough to buy a packet of M&Ms”. And he ends up feeling frustrated and unhappy again.

He wants the earth to swallow him. For his lack of money. He detests the regime’s inability to make two currencies work: one that counts but you don’t get paid in it, and the other useless, with which you can’t buy good treats for your kids.

At night-time, a more or less decent meal. The ration of chicken arrived yesterday. Rice, red beans, salad. And a delicious little custard tart. A good spread for a family that is used to only getting to eat pork on the weekends.

When the couple goes to bed, relaxed in the half-light, they ask themselves, “Are we happy in Cuba?” They discuss it and come to the conclusion they’re not. They want another way of live. And they dream.

“When can we change this old furniture that came from our grandparents? Or fix the house? Or buy a 42 inch TV. Watch foreign channels? Have a computer? Surf the internet? Be able to eat, right now, what we want and not the repugnant fish croquettes?

The couple can’t even think of having a new car. With the heat it’s better to have an air conditioner. They prefer an efficient public transport system. Streets and parks that are lit and clean. And drinkable water in the pipes 24 hours a day.

They recognize that the Castro brothers won’t bring the change they desire. The optimum would be a slate of politicians with new ideas, honest and transparent, who rotate in power and work for a civil society, tolerant and without repression. But, where are these future politicians?

Perhaps it’s asking a lot. Since their future and that of their children lies in leaving Cuba. They believe they would be happier off of the island.

The British actor Charles Chaplin once said “true happiness is the closest thing to sadness”. Perhaps this is what he was talking about.

Translator’s note:
*The stone wall along Havana’s seafront.

Translated by: Alex Cook

August 8 2012