I’ve taken a cab just a very few times in my life, but this one from Havana to Trinidad will be worth it. More than a journey, the four hour route becomes a State of the Nation starring our taxi driver. Yohanis, a family man with a wife and two kids, is 36.

He’s been working a few years in one of the scarce semi-private initatives that the previous government of Raúl Castro “conceded” to the islanders. His main reward: he now earns 25 pesos convertibles, double than his previous wage as a state employee, a post he held for 15 years. In all these years, not even in 2018, the salary of all public employees hasn’t changed a single cent, 12 dollars per month.

The Cuban dream has been stuck in time quite a while. The Revolution is a thing of the elderly, and our taxi driver turned confidant, affirms that most cubans under 40 side with him, think similarly. His hope, his reason to work 14 restless hours a day, is that someday, still far from now, things will change in the island.

The truth, told by our taxi driver

“You’ve got a house that costs nothing, an education that is also free for everyone. Healthcare is also provided. This sounds really good, seems pretty. They say everything is fine. But why isn’t anybody coming here? I don’t see immigrants, not even from countries that might be faring worse than us, like Haiti. Why is that? Maybe it means everything is not that pretty”, he confesses. The talk goes on for more than an hour.

The tone varies between resignation and desperation. You can even perceive traces of rage and helplessness in the face of a situation that extends and, despite the Castro’s stepping down from the Revolution’s avant garde, doesn’t give much room for immediate hope. “We go to work everyday hoping that in 20 years, maybe, when there’s not the first nor the second row of revolutionary politicians in power, probably the third or the fourth, mayben then there will be economic changes in the island”.

Yohanis says this is no way of living. Today is mother’s day in Cuba, a great celebration day for cuban people. There are parties, family gatherings, lots of drinking and dancing. He doesn’t have free time today because the boss doesn’t give it to him. This year he only rested for his birthday and he only gets holidays when the car has a mechanical meltdown. “I don’t work for a week then, but I also don’t earn any money, of course”.

When he was a state employee, he decided if he was sick and couldn’t go, something more usual since the pay is scarce, anyway. Yohanis wife was a provincial judge in La Habana, the second highest rank in Cuba’s judicial system. She quit when the salary and working hours didn’t go hand in had. Working in side jobs she provides better for her family. With both semi-private salaries, the family fares better and makes it through the months cutting a bit here and there depending on the times.

Yohanis looks forward, worried. He got in the car today at six in the morning. It’s midday and he’s far from home, heading for the streets in Cienfuegos. “I’ll get home around eight or nine tonight”, he thinks out loud. He pauses for a while, takes a break after proceeding with his expiation.

“I know all the roads from Havana to Trinidad, all of them. Whatever you want. If you tell me now that in the mountain there’s a cave, I’ll believe you; that there’s a tank in the beach, I’ll believe you. I’ve never been further than these roads, I’ve never seen my land. How can’t I even earn enough money to visit my own land?” The average cuban doesn’t know and won’t get to know his land. He damn well knows all the proclamations and propaganda, but newer generations can’t be fooled anymore.

Cuba is stuck in the eighties, maybe it’s even positive that the standard of living and the salaries have remained similar. It could’ve gone downwards. Why isn’t anybody rebelling? Why aren’t there protests in the streets?

Yohanis stops the car just before getting into Trinidad. The police has a control planted there. “I knew they were stopping me today”. He talks to them for five minutes, he goes to the cabin and us tourists remain alone wondering inside the cab. He returns, gets in the vehicle and stirs himself a bit. “today is mother’s day, so they also want to give their present”. The police control over the population is invisible to foreign eyes, but it exists and spreads fear through locals.

In the confinement of the driver’s seat, Yohanis feels comfortable enough to share all his frustrations. In between glasses nobody is listening except the curious tourist. It’s relevant to talk these things with a cuban, it’s important to check that Fidel didn’t pull the wool over the people’s eyes. With Díaz Canel in charge, cubans promise they will keep disenchanted. Cuba wants change, but Revolution persists.

– Guille

The other truth, told by our bartender

Our taxi ride with Yohanis to Trinidad was not the only insight we got into cuban life that day. After settling in our ‘Casa particular’, a first stroll through Trinidad’s colourful and small streets we walked past a local bar and looked curiously inside. The bar was like most local restaurants and bars in Cuba, not designed for tourists. Through the low light shining through the one and only small window of the room I saw the rocked down bar desk, equipped with four lonely chairs. The rest of the room was empty. Only behind the bar I discovered a small collection of rum. The bottles were resting next to a big Fidel Castro poster. In front of the bottles stood an old man with glasses, white hair and looking in his sixties, surely the barkeeper, smiling and waving us confidently inside.

Too curious to rethink whether we wanted to enter a bar at midday, we stepped inside. Enthusiastically thanking his unexpected visitors, the old barkeeper poured a big glass of local government rum to all of us (including himself) without previous inquiry. Pure. Without hesitation he began a conversation in an absolute unique mumbling Spanish which not even Guille, whose mother language is Spanish, could understand. We concluded that his mumbling was rather owed the fact that this was not his first rum of the day, also to his strong Cuban accent.

Another old man, introduced as the brother of the barkeeper entered the room, sat down on one of the chairs and shook his head seeming amused and annoyed as his brother started to talk about the Cuban revolution.

Our new friend asked if we knew important characters of the Revolution while he moved his head far over the bar table watching us closely through his thick glasses. Guille answered promptly not yet knowing what kind of conversation he was kicking off: “Fidel of course!”. The answer caused a big satisfied smile in the face of the barkeeper. He answered fascinated that it is fantastic how much we learn in far away Europe about the great great Cuban revolution.

Now I was sure: we were facing a rare example –at least recalling all of our rendezvous in two weeks in the island– of the proper Cuban socialist revolutionary!

The man lectured a while about the advantages of communism and how he is missing nothing in his life. He loves that education and welfare is for free, everybody has a house to live and food to eat. Why people leave Cuba, he doesn’t understand at all. Who needs more than what the government provides? They know better what’s good for the Cuban people.

Certainly, I thought, alcohol is cheap and people drink a lot, the ideal conditions for keeping the population’s dreams and ambition low. The ideal setting for becoming an alcoholic bar ‘owner’ who doesn’t seek anything else in life. We remained silent, nipped on our surprisingly tasty rum and wondered how he couldn’t see the empty supermarket shelves, the houses in ruins and a majority of bored people sitting on the streets all day.

His speech was followed by one more big glass of rum for each of us and a couple of cheesy comments on my beauty which I luckily couldn’t understand thanks to my basic Spanish knowledge and his drunk mumbling. After a presentation of his favourite revolutionary songs, which he sang with unbreakable passion he asked us, unexpectedly, what we don’t like about Fidel Castro.

Probably brave of the rum I answered without hesitation: “I don’t like that Fidel preached communism and the idea of equality between everyone but then he lived in a big house, enjoyed capitalist products like Coca Cola and Adidas clothing and still mouthed hatred against everything American. He let his country work all day for nothing but he lived a life of luxury. Fidel was a hypocrite”.

Shocked by my own courage I moved nervously on my chair, waiting for an answer to hit me. My anxiety quickly changed into surprise when the bar owner answered me with a mild smile: “Fidel lived in a big house, had a lot of money and drank REAL Coca Cola? Where did they teach you this absurd bullshit?” He had never heard something so stupid in his entire life, he confessed to me. He didn’t even raise his voice when he answered me. To him my statement on Fidel’s lifestyle seemed to be nothing but a very unrealistic and almost hilarious fairy-tale. Against my expectations his good mood and his incredible kindness towards us didn’t disappear.

He continued to sing revolutionary guerrilla songs and when we asked him how much we should pay for all the rum, he only wanted us to pay a dollar. Surprised and a bit ashamed of my prejudice I received a warm hug and a lot of good wishes for the both of us. Then we stumbled, slightly drunk, into Trinidad’s baking afternoon heat.

Half a day had gone through, but how much we had experienced. We heard two opposite views, but understood one common thing: kindness and faith were still present in the island despite sixty years of harsh Revolution.

– Freya