Day 4 - Sept. 21
Posted October 19, 2015
Updated October 21, 2015
The pope left Havana today for Holguin.
It’s on the other end of the island. We decided to stay here and talk to people to find out what daily life is like in Havana. I asked Andy to take us to Central Havana, an area we had driven by earlier. I took note of it because the buildings were in such bad shape.
We ended up stopping on a street with a bodega at the corner. It’s where the government distributes food rations. It’s also where I met Antonio. He was picking up food for himself and his two kids. He showed us his ration book and talked to us briefly on camera. After the interview, we stepped outside. He explained he was once a good athlete and asked if I wanted to see his old medals. I couldn’t. I was on deadline and had to continue gathering interviews for our story. Just as we were leaving, Antonio pulled me aside and asked me to send him some shoes someday. I told him I hoped to return to Cuba one day, and he had my word that I would bring shoes for him on the next occasion.
We continued down a few blocks. Zac would get out in one direction to film and I would go the opposite direction. I knew all eyes would be on the camera and if I wanted to talk to people, I had to approach without all the attention. One young man allowed me into his home if I promised not to film. I went in alone. The images are still recorded in my mind. I was in shock. I could not believe that anyone was living under these conditions. The entire home was half the size of my living room, and that wasn’t the most shocking part. There was a barrel filled with water in the kitchen because there was no running water, and that’s what he used to wash dishes and bathe. I’m not sure where he bathed because there wasn’t a shower or tub anywhere in the home. I felt like the roof was going to cave in at any minute. The building was crumbling and, according to him, three people lived there.
The most memorable interview of the day was Juan. Juan agreed to talk about daily life in Cuba. It was hard to find people willing to talk about this on camera because too many fear repercussions. It was clear Juan was too frustrated to care about what, if any, consequences came after the interview, which was surprising given his history.
He spent five years in prison for, as he called it, a move. In Cuba, it was once illegal to sell your home. It was legal to trade it, but illegal to profit off of it. Juan was found guilty of selling his home for profit. It was difficult to understand the crime since it’s not a crime in the United States. Cuba’s crime rate is almost non-existent. I had to wonder, if you get five years in prison for selling your house, that might be enough to deter.
On our way back to the car, Juan followed me, and he too approached me to ask for a favor. He told me he was looking for his sister and wanted me to help him find her. Her name is Noris Rodriguez Castillo. She was born in the early 60s. Her mom sent her to the U.S. with a doctor in the 80's, and he has not heard from her since the day she left. I hoped so badly for him that something didn’t happen to her while out at sea. I promised to dedicate some time searching for her upon my return to the U.S. and said goodbye.