Since my childhood, Cuba has always been at the top of my list of “dreamy trips”. There was something special out there which takes me into Cuban culture, people and colours. This curiosity made me read many articles, watch many documentaries related to Cuba but somehow I knew that there is nothing more real than I see with my eyes.
As many people say, Habana is getting more popular and touristic day by day. It is good for locals who try to make their lives better, and bad for travellers who want to see a more authentic face of the city. But for me, since I always try to do my best to catch a local feeling when I travel, Habana isn’t a disappointment at all. I try to finish the touristic attractions and streets at once, then I can have more time to hang out in “real Habana”. I prefer to use the local currency (a certain amount is allowed) to get close to the places where Habanos eat, drink and have fun. So, after a while, I am feeling that I belong to this city.
On the back streets of Centro Habana and Vedado, it is almost the same as what I imagined, even more colourful. Every building, every car and every piece of clothes that Cubans wear is so colourful, more than I expected. There are many details on the street; colours and imperfections coming together in a contrast. Buildings lack restorations, the paint on the walls are faded but still beautiful. Colorful vintage cars are everywhere. Locals are always hanging out by their main doors. They get in a long queue to buy some essential stuff for their home. Still, many necessary products are limited by the government when it comes to shopping. The word “enough” is culturally shaped in a different way here that you can feel with every step. I figure out that I’m in a place which has remained unique for our westernised souls.
The streets of Habana are more like the houses, as houses are like just secondary places for people. When I am strolling around these streets, I feel like I’m hanging out in someone’s living room. I can witness everything going on in front of me. The line between “home” and “street” is never defined. So, I can easily step into their world, while I’m passing through. I see women who have curlers in hair walking fast to catch recent discounts in markets, while some others are chatting about popular TV series. I watch some men playing domino as the others placing chairs in front of houses to check their friends’ game. Some are watching the world cup on TV that I can take a glimpse at the score of the match through the window which is fully opened. Everything is so transparent that lets you think: There is no mystery. But actually, there is only a mystery in the eyes of Cubans which is waiting to be under-covered.
When I feel hungry, I turn my attention towards small “windows” – they call it “ventanitas”, a form of legal market allowing Cubans to run from their homes and sell pizza, ham&cheese sandwich and croquette. I finally decide to buy a “rooftop pizza” which is delivered in a basket (a cover of a ventilating fan) tethered with a rope from the top of a building in Vedado. It is a Hawaiian pizza with pineapple, cheese and ham and a lot of sugar. Like in this piece of pizza, I figure out Cubans like to put sugar inside almost everything. As some Cubans mention, “Sugar makes this life sweeter.”
I truly feel like I’m travelling back in the 50’s, yet some scenes punch me to remember that we are in 2018. Some locals and tourists sitting in front of the hotels try to find a hotspot for internet connection. These hotspot corners make me remember that we are not in an oldies movie anymore. Near Malecon, at the back side of Hotel Nacional, guests are enjoying the sunset while they are sipping Mojito or Daiquiri. As the sun goes down over Malecon, Habanos are having fun, singing songs and drinking Rum near the rocks. Whether they have enough money or not, they find a way to buy Rum which is an essential thing for a better, let’s say a more relaxed life in Cuba.
When the sun goes down, I watch all the people around me for the last time. Malecon is a beautiful spot to feel inside this city and to celebrate every moment I have in Habana. Strangers, Habanos, children, youth, men, women… Everyone is getting together here to say goodbye to an orange coloured day, and welcome a dark blue night with Son Cubano music. Someone prefer to bring a stereo to listen to some popular global songs. I see a family enjoying the view with some colourful candies and popcorn bought in a paper cone. Some young men are dancing, then encouraging the girls who are watching and staying off the dance. I’m looking at the colourful classic cars passing through on the road. I’m listening to the sounds of Habana. Sounds of laughter, talks, waves, cars and songs keep me alive. These sounds keep me thinking of this: Cubans know how to enjoy and celebrate the life as much as they can.
Deniz Yilmaz Akman is a 29-year old writer from Istanbul. After years in the advertising and publishing sector, she decided to create a lifestyle and culture magazine. Since then, she’s been working on photography and writing projects for her magazine and some other publications such as Passion Passport and ROAM. She loves to travel and explore the sociology of places and reflect and document her experiences through photographs and stories.