FROM TOBACCO FIELDS TO FISHING VILLAGES
There are many things that the people in Cuba have in common with each other. They’re incredibly hospitable, they love to laugh and they have an openness like I’ve never seen before.
But there’s another thing that connects the Cubans, and it’s the reason this series is all about workers: everyone’s busy earning money. Each in their own way. It’s a thing that struck me as curious for a communist country. But as I quickly learned, it’s best not to try to make sense of everything about Cuba.
It’s a line that I’ve heard repeatedly, from different people: “just don’t ask why.”
So after a while, you stop wondering and just enjoy the ride.
The famous Cuban cigars. If you travel through Viñales, you meet many of the folks that work in the tobacco industry. In the blistering heat of the Cuban sun, the workers here make the cigars that travel the globe.
Everything is covered in a thin layer of orange dust and the work is tough, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The men of Viñales are proud of their work, and everyone was more than happy to speak to me.
One of the farms I visited was run by three brothers. Palillo, the one in the dusty blue shirt on the left, clearly considered himself the pretty boy of the three. He couldn’t stop posing for my camera.
His brothers couldn’t stop laughing at him.
Everyone on this island works really hard, but they all seem genuinely happy and proud of what they do. The charcoal workers of Puerto Esperanza are no exception.
The meeting was a pure coincidence: we were just driving past when we saw them and asked if we could hang around for an hour or so. They loved the attention and had no problem at all posing for my camera.
I don’t think I’ve ever inhaled as much smoke as in the hour I’ve spent with these friendly guys.
The friendly guy with the ragged shirt had the hardest time trying to hold his laughter for even a few seconds while I took his photo.
He used to be a sailor during the heydays of the communist regime, and he had stories about (and children on) almost every continent.
His ragged shirt is kind of symbolic for the different attitude Cubans seem to have towards their stuff. Because it’s pretty hard to get certain kinds of supplies, you don’t just replace your stuff when it starts showing signs of wear. If it’s still usable, you don’t throw it away. Even if it’s just an electric fan: if something breaks, you fix it.
Everyone in Cuba is a mechanic.
My taxi driver was a highly educated engineer, but he spent all his time in his car. “Engineers can only work for the state,” he told me, “so they earn very little money.”
He told me he made much more driving tourists around than he could earn as an engineer.
“Don’t ask why,” he said when he saw the puzzled look on my face.
If you really want to earn good money, you work in the tourism industry.
Most of the Cubans who work in the the Varadero peninsula, the most popular tourist hot spot, live in Cardénas. Many tourists never leave the peninsula, which is truly a missed opportunity if you ask me.
The Cubans have a way of inviting you into their lives. They’re some of the most open hearted people i’ve ever met and as sappy as it sounds: I feel really grateful for being allowed in their homes and lives, even if it was just for a short time.