Do You Have the Cojones?

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If I had a peso for every email I get from someone saying they want to live in Cuba, I could take the six month sabbatical I need to finish my book. Hard as it may be for some of you to believe (or stomach), people do indeed write me all the time professing that they want to live here. These wannabe transplants mention the music usually, the slower, easier pace sometimes, the social safety net often, but Cubans and their idiosyncrasies always. It’s the Cuban ser – their way of being and living – that is so infectious, they tell me. As if I didn’t know. After a decade living here, believe me, I know. And it’s not always pretty or fun. So before you do something rash or costly or dumb, ask yourself this:

Can you be passably nice to people you can’t stand; have betrayed you; or are inept?
Sure, things are changing fast down here with unprecedented economic reforms having sparked a capitalistic furor and all the multi-tasking, efficiencies, and work ethic the best of such furor engenders. But really, it’s the same dog with new fleas. Bureaucratic habits and vice; the cradle-to-grave airbag of state support (i.e. a not always effective, and often painful savior); and the absurdist criteria for job security are die-hard tendencies everyone has to navigate.

Such tendencies, coupled with Havana’s small size and an ingrained system of sociolismo – whereby who you know helps keep you afloat – force us to deal daily with perfidious lovers, mentally challenged office drones, and crabby clerks. Getting all New York uppity or asserting that ‘the customer is always right’ will backfire (trust me) and just make everything harder in any and all future dealings with the aforementioned lovers, drones, and clerks.

Which is more important: sex or drugs?
You’re shit out of luck if it’s the latter. Cuba’s zero-tolerance policy and strict interdiction laws mean jail time for a joint, limiting recreational options to island-produced vice: rum and prescription speed, sedatives, and the like.

If it’s the former, than c’mon down because sex of all types and stripes is better on the island. While I’m still parsing the reasons why, I can say with certainty that it’s related to the lack of shame Cubans have about natural, bodily functions; the absence of Puritanical underpinnings found in other societies (you know who you are!); and the prowess of Cubans en sí. Even if you were to relocate with your spouse or partner, I predict my findings would be confirmed.

Can you tell/enjoy a good joke – especially when you’re the butt of it?One thing that chaps my ass are all these Cuba wonks (including locals – yes, Yoani Sánchez, I refer to you) who write about island life, history, politics and even travel and fail – utterly – to reflect the wicked sense of Cuban humor. This is a funny people, people. No matter who you are or where you’re from, Cuban friends, family, and colleagues will constantly darte chucho y cuero. Loosely translated, this means you will be the butt of many jokes. You are expected to laugh along and what’s more, reciprocate.

To take an example from the weekend-long International Harley Rally I participated in recently….

I rode on a 1953 hog driven by compañero Vladimir (Note: name has been changed to protect the guilty). Like most Cubans, he took the 3-hour ride as an opportunity to flirt and shower me with compliments – the scripted Cuban prologue to getting into a girl’s pants. Not a chance did Vlad have, but that never stops an island guy from trying. I was clear on this point, as were the other 100 or so Harlistas and their backseat Bettys, but poor Vlad tried his damnedest regardless. On the last night, there was a big fiesta, the booze flowed, Vlad got stupid drunk, and ended crying in a corner. His friends rallied, rousted him, and escorted him safely to bed. Upon their return, they passed me this note:
(Coni I love you. You betrayed me. I never thought you’d do that to me. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I love you. A kiss)

Uproarious laughter ensued – we all knew Vlad’s blubbering had nothing to do with me and everything to do with dropping his bike in a drunken mishap. Lips pursed and blowing kisses, I snatched the forged note from Rodolfo’s hands, preventing him from making good on his threat to post it on Facebook.

Which is more important: food or sleep?
Automatic fail if you answered either because you’ll will go without both at some juncture here. Obnoxious reggaetón at 5am; pre-dawn Revolutionary Square rallies; and all-night parties will rob you of the latter, while shitty/non-existent restaurant service; midnight munchies with nowhere to sate them; and food just not worth ingesting, will rob you of the former.

Do you have personal space issues?
If ‘yes’ even crosses your mind, cross Cuba off your list: chronic housing and transportation shortages mean you’ll share rooms and beds, seats, sweat and oxygen with friends and even strangers at one point or another. Culturally, Cubans have a completely different approach to personal space – kissing, touching and rubbing up against each other is de rigueur, regardless of relation or circumstance. Even in the dog days of summer, folks greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, leaving behind a wet slick of sweat, a reality I’m still not sure how to deal with: do I let it ride and dry or swipe it away with a perdóname smile?

Are you more of a tits or ass person?
Cuban preference falls squarely on the latter which is a boon for bosom-challenged me, though I’m sorry to report that implants are making major inroads here, tweaking the standard of beauty towards the bust.

How do you feel about second-hand smoke?
Personally, I’m tired of tourists giving me dirty looks as I enjoy my habitual cigar. More than sex, rum, salsa, and solidarity, Cuba is known for its world-class tobacco. If you’re going to be here for any length of time, you’ll have to accept the fact that at one time or another, in places appropriate and not (e.g. windowless clubs, in hospitals, on buses), you’ll be breathing in the piquant, cancer-causing smoke of uncut black tobacco cigarettes and one peso cheroots.

Are you a hygiene freak?
If you’re one of those folks who has a trial-sized Purell bottle clipped to your bag, this isn’t the place for you. From stepping in street juice and gutter detritus to tolerating bugs or hair in your food (or as part of your food, as often happens with chicharrones), you’re going to experience it here. What’s more, every Cuban observes the five second rule: food dropped on the floor is entirely edible, as long as you retrieve it within five seconds. To wit: a couple of days ago I went to the panaderia for my daily ration of bread. As a nice neighbor helped me deposit the rolls in my sack, two fell to the sidewalk. Without pause the baker said: ‘give me those; I’ll replace them.’ He did, but only after placing those two tainted rolls back on the rack alongside the rest to be sold. Whomever came after me got those fallen rolls, none the wiser, poor soul. This happens all the time, and you will eat food that has kissed the ground, whether you know it or not.

Can you go without toilet paper/tampons/Internet/butter/speaking your native language for indeterminate and sometimes extensive, amounts of time?
We all go without these items down here, since to be in Cuba requires an adaptability many visitors I know simply don’t have but which Cubans possess in spades. No toilet paper? No problem – we use water like billions of other people around the world or the Communist daily cut into handy-sized squares. A diehard Tampax user before my move, I switched to pads a decade ago and many Cuban women still use swaths of cotton. Baking notwithstanding, oil is a good enough substitute for butter and while there is no substitute for Internet, being disconnected has its advantages – like actually interacting with real human beings.

On the language front, I’m embarrassed for expats who move to foreign countries and ensconce themselves in enclaves of their native tongue. These folks also like to foist that tongue on locals by talking REALLY LOUD or s-l-o-w-l-y in the odd, delusionary, and insulting belief that these strategies will result in success. If you’re going to live here, you need to speak Cuban, coño, which as any Spanish-speaking visitor knows, is an entirely different ball of wax from straight up Castellano.

Do you wither in the heat?
If so, don’t come here: you won’t be able to take it and frankly, you griping about it bums us out. We, on the other hand, can complain about it long, hard, and better than you – a right earned through innumerable August blackouts with no fan, AC, or ice water.

How is your tolerance for contradictions?
Every society has them and if you think otherwise, you’re not paying close enough attention. But the Cuban flavor of contradiction is particularly special. Married men, for instance, can keep multiple lovers (sometimes of both sexes). Married women? Not so much. Meanwhile, government laws promote private business but the bureaucrats charged with upholding those laws squelch incentive and drive; sex is the national pastime but making carnal noises the neighbors can hear and nude (even topless) sunbathing are taboo; artists keep profits from their work abroad but athletes don’t see a cent; and a taxi driver/tour guide/waitress/hairdresser earns more than a neurosurgeon. The media bears much guilt as well: you’ll very rarely hear trova legend Pablo Milanés crooning his immensely popular songs of love on the radio or TV, but sleazy reggaetón by the likes of Osmany García who beseeches chicas to suck his pinga gets airtime. Some of these contradictions are trying to work themselves out, but are proving as hard to cure as bed bugs and herpes.

Finally, do have untapped stores of inner strength (i.e. cojones)?
I hope so because to live here, you’re going to need them.


Filed under Americans in cuba, bureacracy, cigars, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Expat life, Living Abroad, Relationships, Travel to Cuba

68 responses to “Do You Have the Cojones?

  1. This is some good sh*t. Applicable to the Yucatan although we are not nearly as deprived of material comforts.

    • Gracias!! And I didn’t rant nearly enough about dial up internet…

    • Raquel

      Excuse me, I’ m not sure the Yucatan has much to do with Cuba except for the landscapes and the weather…I go to Tycatan (and notonly to Cancun) myself when I need a break from “no water, no butter, no chocolate (I know I am being a bit demanding now!) in the shops, a break from rice and pollo, an when I need a cure of internet…Maybe compared to North America, Yucatan is Cuba but coming from Cuba, Yucatan is North America…

      • I agree that Cancun and the entire “Maya Riviera” is modernized and developed beyond what is rational, but

        1. That isn’t the Yucatan, its Quintana Roo; and

        2. Parts of the Yucatan are North American feeling, it’s true, but Ive also been in indigenous villages where people sleep, cook, and keep their turkeys outside under a thatch roof. Needless to say: there’s no running water nor Internet!

      • Raquel

        Thanks for correcting me, I meant Yucatan as a Peninsula…I understand what you mean but in Yucatan peninsula, you know that one hour drive away from the small village with no water, no electricity, you will be able to find an Oxxo or sth alike…I went to Cuba for the first time from Mexico, quite fed up with Walmart, Domino’s, etc..and after 2 months in Cuba I went back to Yucatan desperate to find a Walmart with “my” food ! We spent 2 weeks shopping in Cancun whereas I hate malls and supermarkets in my normal life…see reasons 4 and 9 !

  2. Quepasa

    Hi Conner.
    I agree in most of the things you mention, apart from one : the sex. In my opinion , and many other long-times in Cuba, this is a myth. Cubans are not better at sex than most other nationalities. People who claims that the Cubans are so good in bed “haven’t been around”, if you get my point. 😉 Lack of experience. Maybe you NAs are a bit uptight , so Cubans become exotic and sexy to you. But believe me, you can get better sex many places in the world. ( Of course there are individual differences)
    Cubans are “regular”.

    • Hola and thanks for ‘stimulating’ this conversation. Obviously, this is very much a whatever floats your particular boat situation, but since you brought it up, I’ll point out 2 things that your comment brings to mind (and honestly, I haven’t had all THAT much intl luvin’ so….)

      1. Ive been here w Cuban partners and US partners and it has held true for both so Im thinking it’s something in the air

      2. Maybe we have a difference of opinion bc we’re dealing w different genders/orientation? ie: Im talking about Cuban MEN and their prowess w women. Are you as well?


      • Quepasa

        Yes, I am a heterosexual woman . From what I see in Cuba many foreigners who visit are quite inexperienced individuals who get blown over by the attention Cubans give them, and the intensity. In Cuba a foreigner, woman or man, can get laid by people who “in normal circumstances” wouldn’t look at them. So it it normal that they go: “wow, this is so great”.

        I do agree that Cubans have a very easygoing attitude towards sex. They talk about it everywhere, are not shy at all, show their body proudly, and fuck everywhere. Yes, …but the quality of the sex is another matter.

      • Hiya. Yes, I know the types of folks of which you speak who get all gaga over the intense attention (its tiresome if you ask me!), to which they aren’t accustomed. But Ive been here 10 years and counting and while Ive seen plenty of people who are getting laid by people WAY out of their league in other circumstances, this is always foreign visitor/jinetera/o. On the ground, in daily life, this hasn’t been my experience/observation.

        Also, Im talking strictly between the sheets – not the woo and lead in. Maybe Ive just had good luck choosing “buenas hojas?”

  3. Hi! I have been a follower of your blog for a while and I want to thank you for giving us such valuable straightforward info. My father is from Cuba and it has been a lifelong dream to visit (although to live? Not sure if I do have the cojones after all! I’ll have to see …) and I may very soon make my dream a reality. I heard however that there has been a recent cholera outbreak; the danger is probably overblown but I was wondering if you have any info on that matter? I mostly plan on staying in Havana and I think it is in another part of the country. Please let me know, I will prob go anyways unless it is really bad …

    • Hi PFP. The cholera outbreak has been declared officially over by the Ministry of Public Health; c’mon down!

      • Nice! I read that online but my Cuban-American aunt said you can’t trust the media because it is state-run. So good to hear some local confirmation. I know you hate getting asked questions from tourists so I won’t bother you further … I’ll keep an eye out for you tho lol

      • Hiya. there is a large international press presence here – not state run – that has been reporting on this.

        Who said I don’t like questions from tourists? Are you a spy in the house of love?! Just kidding – visitors and the curious are a major raison d’etre of this blog

      • I thought it might bother you to get tourist-related questions, ‘like which casa particular do you recommend?’ I know you have an app, which brings me to another tourist question — would my smartphone get service down there? I don’t think so because I have metro pcs. See, aren’t these questions annoying? Either way though, I’ll get your app!

      • yeah, the casa question, the money question, the love question – many of the things I write, including the app – are direct responses to these

        If you’re phone is unlocked, you can get a chip here (if its the right frequency phone – check Lonely planet thorn tree for extensive discussions on this) and it will work. Otherwise you can roam which is WAY expensive. In latter case, better to rent a phone for a few bucks a day while here

  4. BG

    I think I’d be able to hold my own – the only issue is the heat. Although not a “A/C all the time person” being a huge hockey fan, and cold weather person in general, I think I’d wilt in Cuba. I’m down with everything else though 😉


  5. Love it! What about “Are you prepared to wait in line for anything, everything and nothing?” I think we Americans really struggle with that one…waiting an hour to put $10 on your cell phone is legitimately unheard of up here.
    Thanks for the great posts (as usual)!

    • What a great point! Waiting in line is so far beyond fazing me at this point it didn’t even cross my mind to include, but you’re right. The double economy is another thing Im totally used to but which plagues people….

    • Raquel

      I know this is not FB but I really liked this one gschrubbe ! Which takes us to another point :the fact that Cubans don’t have the same “time dimension” as we do in Western countries. There is an African says that goes like that : “Ustedes tienen la hora y nosotros el tiempo”, I need to say it in Spanish bcs I don’t know how to make the difference in English between the time it is and the time that goes…not only Americans struggle with that…everyone who comes from a country where “time is money”…

  6. Ole

    Are you missing sufficient brain cells might be the better query.

    A Great place to visit 2 or 75 times, but Live in Cuba ! ! !

    Cono, tu eres Loco ? ! ?

    • Quepasa

      I agree, even tough I sometimes stay up to 5 months in a row.

      Conner have mentioned most of the things that get on your nerves after some times. Personally I have a hard time with the constant ” brete” and “envidia”. And the fact that ” if you give a Cuban your little finger he takes the whole arm”, if you know what I mean. I tend to become more and more aggressive as time passes by in Cuba, and if I lived there all year I would end up becoming violent, for sure.

      I have foreign friends who live in Cuba all year and I have seen how they have changed their personality, usually not for the better.

      • I know what you mean about the agressiveness – Cubans’ capacity to roll with things (for good and bad) is something Ive been doing a lot of thinking about lately as increasing number of friends are deciding to cast their fate on other shores.

        I tend to laugh at the envidia stuff – small pond, small stakes and all that.

  7. Obediah

    I’d live in Cuba – and i think I could hack it – as long as I didn’t have to buy meat from street stalls. Whenever my Cubana wife sighs about how much she loves and misses Cuba – I say great – lets move over there now! But to that she says sure – you go – but I am staying here.

    • Ha! I was JUST talking yesterday with the organizer of a group coming down here and suggested we do a shop and cook session w them and host at a Cuban friends’ home. She said: ok, but we’ll have to get some frozen chickens. My response? No way! We’re going to the carniceria, where they can see the pork parts laid out on the cement slab, flies and all, the guys hacking up the pigs with their gloves of mesh mail, smell it, see the pork heads and feet and ears and tails. A lo cubano! (besides, I love pork)

  8. Clarita

    Thought I have finally got over with my Cuban fever, but your post just brought all the nostalgic/ melodramatic sentiments back. you are to blame, Conner!
    This could be all talking but I think can man up with most of the points you mentioned for some time, months maybe. But moving there for good? no, not before I retire at least.
    I’ve been very curious about your choice. I suppose you moved over to that island for more than relationship reasons?

    • Hola Clarita. It’s a question I get all the time and Ive been writing about the whole why question recently – until my muse took a complete powder on me, the unreliable jerk! Here’s a taste (part of a story Im hoping I can get published and paid for) and what it boils down to:
      “It’s the laughter and dance and time for family Cubans find and make in life”

  9. Sayeh

    Oh I do agree with quepasa about the sex – in my view nothing can hold a candle to an amorous Italian 🙂 Seriously, I think the exoticism is the clue, the intensity, and the difference – until you’re between the sheets, that is. But it’s all so true, and as I sit on my balcony in the peace of the rainforest I know full well that Cuba could never be home, not really.

  10. Montreal

    Must be tiring for you to have to constantly field queries on this subject, which you must get thrown your way a lot considering your choice to set up shop on the island and persevere. I think it’s human nature to have these thoughts about a place they’ve enjoyed vacationing in a few times. For most people coming from western countries (economically, not geographically speaking) even more so, because the Cuban dynamic is in many ways the complete opposite from the rat race, work-a-day reality they’ve come to know and, for the mostpart, dread. Add to that the heightened warmth (people as much as the weather) and the table is set for one to think about going native full time. Still, people forget (or choose to marginalize) the fact that unless you don’t have to work for a living, every place has it’s own rat race, which you might have observed, but don’t feel first hand while on vacation. Having spent my formative years in war-torn, besieged Sarajevo, I can say that the worst Cuba has to offer in this respect is probably not the worst I can imagine or lived through, but is nowhere near what an average westerner would (or could) cope with on a daily basis. And as much as I love what Cuba has to offer, I probably would wouldn’t want to wrestle with it year in/out (in existential terms). Even if I know for a fact that I can hack it. So I like that wrote on the subject, cause like I said, I’m sure you’ve met more than your share of people that believe they can, and might even be planning to do so, that in reality have no idea what they’d be in for. As someone else pointed out, visit Cuba 2 or 72 times, but unless you have a sure thing waiting for you there, probably best to abandon daydreams about moving there full time on feel alone, thinking you’ll probably be fine..

  11. Maria

    You didn’t betray Vlad, you let him down.

    • You see, the thing is with a lot of Cuban men, when a woman says “no” betrayal and disappointment amount to the same thing.

      • blondie

        Please explain this post? I have just returned from my second trip to Cuba, staying for a month. I learnt a lot about betrayal and disappointment….lol

      • Nada Rubiacita. That “No” isn’t a word Cuban men are used to hearing from women – especially foreign ones who have spent a couple of hours on the back of their Harley!

      • Frances

        I really can’t see it myself…the whole hype around Cuban men…they stand around in the street with their vest tops rolled up and their beer bellys hanging out like a trophy, spitting and gobbing, perving on every woman or girl that walks passed….it’s hardly sexy. And yes, I have been with a cubana. And I intend to get myself to the nearest STI clinic lol. Sex I’d only as good as the person you are with

      • This comment proves there all types of Cubanos – something for everyone! My flavor is a bit different, thankfully! I never did understand the attraction of the ‘man pregnant with beer’ look.

  12. You know, I used to think I could live in Cuba. And I still think I could… if I had no other option. I’m fairly sure I could handle almost everything on your list.


    Over the years, through the accretion of psychological [insert noun here] due to in-laws and Cuban “friends,” I think number one on your list is confirmation that I don’t, in fact, have the cojones for long-term Cuba living. 🙂

  13. Jorge

    Awesome articules, I am a fan of you since I discovered your blog, anything you write brough back memories of my life for the 31 years I lived in Cuba, I will be 51 on Monday, I left Cuba 20 year ago, I have what can be called a “normal” life here in USA, my apt, almost paid off, my car, paid off, and not credit card debts, a normal job, and all the ups and downs life can have in 20 years.
    BUT, i am faced with a desition, I have no family here, my parents, my son and a mentally disable brother are in Cuba, they do not want to come here, and they need more and more assistant and personal help everyday, but I do not have the cojones, to go back and live there, I am so used to live here, not attached to the material things, I have nothing, but life here is so damn great and comfortable, that I do not imagen myself back there, but at the same time, my heart broke anytime I go to see them, at least 4 times a year, and my mother is in tears anytime I come back. Sometimes at night, I dream with a different Cuba, a normal place that I can maybe work there in an american company, and fly back here, maybe a weekend a month, while I can be closed to my eldery parents, while mother nature take its way, but close to them, when they most need me, it is not only send some money to them, my mother told me once, that she will change all the money in the world to have me there with them, even if that means to have only soup and a piece of bread everyday.
    It break my heart, I feel trapped inside my feelings, I love them, but to live back in Cuba, will be like to try to put the genie back inside the bottle, once he came out and see the real world.
    I admire you, you do have the COJONES I do not have. And sorry for my broken english, never went to school here,I learned on the street, to busy with two jobs and to lazy to go back to school.


    • Querido Jorge

      I am so sorry to learn of your plight. Family affairs are the most painful issue in this whole US-Cuba political mierda. I am considering writing a post about emigration, split families, the longing and pain when someone falls ill/is born/dies and all the other things that life can dish up for us and during which we depend on family and friends and can only do so much when they’re separated by such Straits. I have many friends leaving, others who have already left and every single one of them struggles with missing and not being there for the people they left behind.

      You sum it up perfectly: families would change any amount of money in the world to be able to be together again, even if it means living on bread and water. Not all families, but most Cubans ones I know.

      Since I have to look on the bright side of things (my sister in law told me when I first moved here: Conner, you have to laugh, otherwise you’ll spend all your time crying. So true), you are blessed to be able to come here 4x a year – as you know, many don’t have the money/freedom/time/paperwork to do that. So hug your brother, tell your mother how much you love her and help your father with the arreglos in the casa every chance you get.

      Hang in there!

      PD No importa ni pin*a tu ingles

  14. tici

    that was one of the the more touching and honest replies to your great posts, not tied to politics to hard but really to the heart of separation and guilt, though people can live a across a large country and feel the same thing

  15. Jorge Murillo

    Unfortunatelly politics are related to everything in life, but I tried to keep it away from the post, because if we talk about it, them, we will ended up here debating only about it, and because of my personal politics views and beliefs, is what I am separated from my family, and after 20 years of separation, and a more quiet look at life, I grew tired of the politic fight,
    I believe at this point in life, I need to get closer to my eldery parents, my sick brother, and to also participate in the future of my son life, who soon will marry and maybe I will have the luck to be grandfather.
    I am tired to see my family from the distance, yes, I am lucky, sometimes I go more than 4 times a year to see them, many times I had to have two jobs to provide for them, most the normal items and food, that they will not be able to put on the table with only my father retirement pension of 200 Cuban pesos.
    Everyday when I go tired at night to bed, sometimes after long days of two full times jobs, I go to sleep with the imagen of them not having to many difficulties, They do not have luxuries, I can not afford them, but for the last 20 years, I had been able to provide decent food, clothing and medications.
    Now times had changed for me, they need a warm body close to them, the physical limitations due to age and normal “wear and tear” is putting me again the wall, money alone, is not making it, my son help with all he can, he live far away of my parents house, but even do, he manage to come at least twice a week or more, to help with all he can, but he have his own life, problems and obligations.
    What solution do I have ? i do not know, I wish I had a glass ball, to see what will be the so called “emigration reforms” if that will facilitate us to stay more time in Cuba, if we will be allowed to be “Cubans” again and not be treated as cash cows,
    I had in the pass, offers from a couple foreign companies in Cuba to work there, BUT never had the “green light” from the Cuban government, and I do not want to keep rambling on the subject, because them, I will ended up talking about politics.
    Just to finish, a couple days ago, watching the history channel, I saw the complete speech of Martin Luther King, and yes, I do have a dream too, and like he said:
    “…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”
    I have that dream, that one day, all Cubans will be equal, that we all pay with the same money, that we all can live in the same country, and WE ALL, can have the same rights, no matter your political ideas, Will not be perfect, but I bet, will be way better that what we have today.


    • Conner, where I come from (Ireland) they’d say you’ve got some liathróidí – balls! I can live and let live with most things in Cuba. The queuing, the shortages, the infidelity, the jealousy. But no matter how long I live here, I will never truly know what it’s like to be Cuban. And that for me is sometimes the most difficult part. If it all gets a bit too much, I know I can leave. I have education, skills, contacts and family in Ireland that would enable me to have a nice life outside of Cuba. I have options. Listening to my Cuban friends and family and their daily struggles, I often feel overwhelmed with guilt at my relatively privileged position. In Cuba I feel more at home than anywhere in the world and yet I will always be an outsider. I just try to take it one day at a time – only way I know how to survive here.

      • I know exactly what you mean – and posted about my (and all foreigners) perpetual outsider status last year. Caveat emptor: that post is a serious catharsis (ironically: very cubana of me!)

        But guilt? No m’ijita. When I was 12, I turned to my mom one day who was feeling guilty and told her: guilt is an unnecessary emotion. And I believe that to this day – especially about something I have absolutely no control over (ie where and under what circumstances I was born). In my personal philosophy, it’s not the hecho of such a thing like birthplace, but what you do with it. So I help out my Cuban friends and family in any way I can (sometimes getting myself very frustrated/broke/taken advantage of in the process) and in turn, they help me out: resolving sticky bureaucracy, gifting me brown sugar when my small ration runs out, connecting me with influential/interesting people etc etc.

        Also, Cubans play right into that (perceived) guilt and I don’t like being manipulated like that.

      • Conner o wise one, have you ever thought of becoming up as a Babalawo/Spiritual advisor/Lifecoach? -delete as appropriate depending on your personal belief system.

        As a product of good ole Catholic Ireland we are born with masses of guilt and it’s something that challenges me even more in Cuba. Thanks for straightening me out. Now how much do I owe you? Will two chickens and some butter do?

      • PS: I cannot access your blog from here?

  16. Jake Watts

    I am curious about the legal situation of an American living in Cuba both from a US and Cuban immigration perspective. Do you have to be married to a Cuban to do it and get around US Treasury restrictions? And, the Cuban immigration situation as well.

    • Getting around Treasury? I do not recommend trying – that’s illegal – and Im a letter of the law kind of gal. I am legally based here, according to both governments, as an accredited journalist. This is one of the very few ways for US citizens and residents to be based in Cuba.

      One of my next posts is going to be on Cuban immigration. Stay tuned!

  17. C – it’s a wordpress blog so in theory you should be able to access it from Cuba. Web address is: Also on FB under same name if you want to get me. Un beso. Tanja

    • Still trying but still cant actually load page. I used to be able to access it, so no sure what’s going on except that Cuban practice and theory rarely dovetail! As you know, I’m sure. Ill keep trying though.

  18. Frances

    *is only as good. I have met some truly wonderful Cuban men, don’t get me wrong, but the decent ones seem to be of the older generations. And I don’t want to singar con ninguno. [Sanitized into Spanish, eds]

    • Frances

      Sorry, this post belongs to my earlier comment up above! But as far as actually living in cuba is concerned, why on earth would you do that? I live in London. Where women can walk down the street without being stared at and made to feel uncomfortable and we have complete freedom of speech. No repressive laws (well no major ones) keeping us down. Here I can live in the 21st Century, enjoy clean healthy food, earn a decent living and wear the trousers in my relationships. And maybe, just maybe, find a decent man with integrity who won’t lie and cheat

      • There are 2 years of posts about why Id choose to do this. The laughter and dancing, strength and intelligence you see, feel and experience everywhere. The malecon and sea air, the safety, the music obviously and art in general, the humor (unrivaled!), the cheap cigars, the time everyone makes and cherishes with friends and family, the freakin contradictions which keep my muse on his toes, and above all the Cubans.

        Im not made uncomfortable by the stares and come ons, something some agree with and some vehemently dont, commenting on my post Piropos Cubanos, Si o No.

        I enjoy clean, healthy, ORGANIC and locally grown food, something Ive also written about at Here is Havana. Trousers? They’re ok, but sometimes I want to have a hand slipped up my short skirt!

        You say “here I can….maybe, just maybe, find a decent man, etc etc”. So how’s that working out for you over there?

      • Frances

        Yes, the decent, faithful man bit is probably just blind optimism wherever you are in the world. I was not lucky enough to sample much of the home grown food you talk off..which is a shame. I found myself craving apples, oranges and fresh milk…not to mention English tea. I love Cuba, and sorry if I sound harsh, i just could never live there that’s all. And I do find the stares/comments irritating at times, when I just want to be anonymous and pop out for a sandwich it gets tedious.

    • Wonderful and sexy are two entirely different criteria (see comment by Frances below). The trick is to find both in one package.

  19. Okay, I have returned from my first trip to Cuba so now can actually contribute somewhat to the conversation. Maybe because I am half Cuban myself, but I absolutely LOVED IT. None of the negatives you mentioned above bothered me. It was gorgeous and full of life. I loved the people sheltering together in the rain, the abundance of guavas and rum, the bicycle taxis, the kids playing soccer in the street, the malecon, the beaches, the people, the music and dancing, etc etc etc. SO, I actually would want to live in Cuba! I think people are not differentiating between living as a Cuban citizen and living as a foreigner, a RESIDENTE TEMPORAL, which I believe you, Connegro, are probably doing, am I right? These people have internet access and can come and go as they please. I at least need to go back for a more extended trip to explore the countryside further. Wow, what a beautiful country. (Yes, I have family there and I fully realize that there are an abundance of negatives for the residents there and it was sad to see that side of the situation).

    • Watch out, the place is addictive!! So glad you enjoyed it.

      The things I mention in the post are more of what wears on you after many many years of the in and out of daily luchita. Look for my next post for more musing on this complex issue.

    • Quepasa

      Like so many have mentioned before: To know whether you are going to like it or not in the long run you have to try to stay there various long-term ( 3-6 months) stays before you decide. Things you find charming at first might turn out to be the opposite after some time !

  20. This is a very creative post regarding Cuba. I’m not surprised that Cuba is more of an ass than tits kind of country. That preference is true in most of Latin America.

  21. Pingback: Havana’s Happy Ending Massage | Here is Havana

  22. Mark Aldrich

    Hello Conner, we met a few weeks ago in La Habana (the Dickinson College group). Thanks again for meeting with our students. Have been enjoying your blog. (Was a little surprised with your reference to Yoani Sánchez, who I find can often be quite funny. Of course, she’s often writing about things that are not funny, but she also touches frequently on the absurdities of daily life in Cuba.)

  23. Human beings are nothing if not adaptable, and every thing that you mention in this post one can learn to put up with, given time. Yet, in many of your posts, you mention the loneliness of the expat. As someone who has lived on tiny islands in the Bahamas for 17 years, I find that to be the one thing that adaptation won’t really touch. Knowing that no matter how long you are there, you will never be one of them. No matter how well you master the idioms, the customs, or how well you learn to deal with the contradictions of an alien culture, you will never belong. I have many, many friends here, but I know in my heart, no matter how often the “say” I have “become” Bahamian, in any conflict, I’m a foreignor and always… will….be…

    • Asi es. Very well put. I think the loneliness in Cuba is compounded by the fact that you make dear friends and then they leave (this is happening way too often for me lately); you make dear friends and then they die (this has happened to me way too much here. A virtue of the fact that inter-generational friendships are common); you dont have skype, affordable/clear telephone communication with family and friends back in the USA (in my case); there is no text messaging bw Cuba and USA.

  24. Very true, and as you frequently mention, one of the primary reasons we expats stay abroad is the priority those cultures usually place on time for friends and family, unlike the New World. It makes one feel those loses (felt everywhere) more acutely. Still, in the context of your post, the things an expat has to cope with that most can’t, “fitting in” is a basic human desire that we have to deal with doing without. Your blog is wonderful. Going to La Isla in Sept for second time (Oriente) this Fall. Very helpful to gleen your keen insights. Kudos.

    • And whats really interesting to me is the whole back-to-the-land mvmt; work to live, not live to work mantra; and slow food/locavore craze- all things that we here on the islands have been doing for generations and they’re just getting clued in up north. See!? we DO have something to show ya’ll!

      Thanks for the kind words on my writing. You wont be swinging through havana? Have a great adventure.

      • Some folks are just slow to catch on to a good thing (she types as she draws in the sweet smoke from a Cohiba – we get them HERE).

  25. Allison

    When my Cuban hubby and I first started, I thought there must be something wrong with me for how QUIET he was in the bedroom. It took some getting used to, but interested to know this could be a cultural thing. Perhaps years of having to do it while not wanting to be discovered or while just a room over from the parents?

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