Life, Culture and Travels from the perspective of a Cuban
Observe, Learn, Adapt: Cuba in Toronto

I was having a long conversation with a Cuban friend who recently moved to Canada. She is one of the “lucky ones” who benefited from the new Cuban immigration law which allows Cubans to travel without the exit permit card. This friend is a family doctor who had been waiting for three years to get the release from the Ministry of Public Health. Doctors had to wait for a period of five years to receive the “release letter” but she managed to leave the country this past January and join her husband in Toronto.

I am always curious to ask people what impressed them the most when they leave Cuba. Is it the cleanliness everywhere, the architecture, the internet speed, the variety of food? There was one interesting thing she mentioned: she said that she wanted a laundry machine at home since she did not like to wash her laundry where everyone else does. This one was a new observation to me. In Cuba, we do not have coin laundry places. I am not sure if that was the case before 1959 but nowadays, they do not exist in Havana. Everyone has a laundry machine at home or they just hand-wash their clothes.

It reminded me of my first year out of the island and my strongest impressions.

I liked how everywhere everything worked efficiently. If a building lobby had 10 lightbulbs, all of them worked, if a machine was there to take money out it was almost never out of service. When a glass door broke it would get repaired within 48 hours. If I was eating at a restaurant or going to a store the employees were always polite and well-mannered. It took me a while to get that I was coming from a country where everything is upside down but in Canada, things worked just fine. Now, I am a pickier human being who does not understand when an escalator or a gym equipment is out of order for more than two days but I push myself to not to lift my feet off the ground and remember where I was raised. I think it is important for my better understanding of the world.

When I travel back to Cuba I realize that I was always displeased because although I grew up there, I have a different mentality. I remember when I was in secondary school, a couple of neighbours got together with my dad and replaced the building’s entrance door lock. Some neighbours were complaining because they had to USE a key everytime they enter the building and on top of that, they had to PAY for a new key. They were not thinking that the building was going to be cleaner, more protected from “strangers” stealing plants, hall lightbulbs or mirrors. In the end, the effort brought nothing, the building door stayed always open, the lock broke, the light sockets had no bulb and there are no mirrors left at the moment. We do not want to live surrounded by fences or locks but if that means that my quality of life is going to increase and no one is going to steal the elevator buttons then I am up for having to use an extra key to get to my apartment.

Let’s just think of this: Havana is a city without flowers. We could have gardens all year round and I had to move to a cold country to admire flowers and gardens.

Of course, there are some things I miss about Cuba, like the human contact. One of the first things that I learned when I moved to Toronto is that you do not get too personal with people right away, specially kids. I started volunteering at the Royal Ontario Museum and during the training they advised us not to ask personal questions to the kids visiting: age and name, for example. There is always a little bit of a fear that someone is going to kidnap your baby or todler, so I had to learn to shut up when seeing cute babies while strolling at the park.

During my first year in Canada I realized that you do not kiss and hug everyone, just like that. I was happy to meet a co-worker after a vacation and she was surprised that I ran to hug her. She was so impressed with my hug that I had to apologize. After that, she was always asking me for a hug. Canadians are not cold, they are just different. Someone was happily drunk once and repeated to me when saying goodbye: “I am sorry, I am hugger”. I could only laugh. Perhaps, we hug too much in Cuba. (?)

When I started going to the gym I was amazed at how the girls would go around naked in the change room without shame. I later understood that it is easier for Canadians to show their bodies than their feelings. I have no problem with changing my clothes in front of another girl but if I have a towel I would probably use it to wrap myself to get to the shower. I finally found an occasion where Canadians were more liberals than Cubans. It reminded me of that three-year-old boy at the beach in Cuba telling his mom that he did not want to be naked in front of everyone. I know understand why it is so easy for European tourists to go around top-less in Cuban beaches.

Even now, I am still discovering differences between Canadians and Cubans but the more I travel the more I realize that we are not as far apart from them as Cubans and Asians, for instance. Our behaviour is just a product of how we grow up, the impressions and teachings that we get from our parents and surroundings. These current times, where people travel, mix and match, open a whole horizon of possibilities for changing and absorbing new ways, whatever we think is better for us, sometimes finding out that out traditions and customs are plain ridiculous but sometimes very special.








Also published on Medium.

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