The hardest thing to stomach was the clear poverty in some areas and knowing that many of the places we were eating and drinking were far beyond the affordability of the ordinary Cuban on a basic wage. Just five minutes from our central Havana hotel was a street so full of rubble, concrete and crumbling buildings that it felt more like a war zone. And yet it was in these same streets that we met some of the friendliest people to photograph. Only one person declined having their picture taken for me in the entire 10 day trip. Some people wanted tips and others were genuinely friendly/curious. One florist refused a tip from me and gave ME a present of a little bunch of flowers! And yet, on the outside at least, it did seem that people were happy. The misery of the faces that you often see in London did not exist here – perhaps it was the weather which helped, the music, or the fact that education, healthcare and housing are all free. Materialism of the kind we are used to has not yet taken grip of the Cuban culture although it is more than clear that everyone wants to work in tourism because this is where the real money is to be made. People can easily earn double or triple their monthly wages through tips in a week or two.
The highlights of La Habana for me? Two experiences stand out. One was the evening we went to see kids train at a boxing school. Baseball and boxing are the two national sports in Cuba and given the country has an ingrained macho culture, it seems quite popular to get boys training from a young age to box. It was great to have the chance to photograph this as it made a fantastic subject for portraits but also, it was really interesting to see kids as young as five or six have the discipline of training drummed into them…again, all for free. The other highlight was getting into the National Ballet School in Havana. As a fan of Carlos Acosta, I already knew the strong reputation of Cuban ballet and that this was one of the best ballet schools in the world. I had asked if it was possible to go here as part of our photo tour but we were told that it would be difficult as it was government-run etc. It was not until the end of our trip that we finally managed to get in. The building itself with the huge ornate ceilings and floor to ceiling windows was in itself impressive but then they opened the doors to some of the classes so we could peek inside! We got to see both girl and boy ballet dancers practicing separately, then a class where they were dancing together, and even a French class as all the dancing instructions are in French. It was incredible and the poise and posture at all times of such young girls and boys was inspiring. It felt like a real privilege to get to see inside this world. Not just the highlight of La Habana for me actually, but of my entire Cuba trip.
Un viaje a Cuba es como un sueño para mi! La historia, la musica, la politica – todo en este pais es muy interesante. Me gusta La Habana mucho para la gente, los edificios incredibles y la musica. Pero pienso que la vida es dificil para los Cubanos y todo es muy caro. Yo visité muchos paladares interesantes, la plaza de la revolución, y la escuela de ballet. Tomé muchos fotos de la gente de La Habana porque fui con un grupo de fotografia.