What I was Thinking While I Was There

I think that I’ve started this blog post about forty times, trying to figure out how to show you and tell you everything that I want to, and I’ve finally figured out that I’m best to go with an Inigo Montoya quote.
"Let me ‘splain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Cuba was the best vacation we’ve had in a while.  Admittedly, Joe and I don’t go on many, so the competition wasn’t really stiff, but it was truly grand. Havana is a city I’ve always wanted to see, so that was a highlight for me, and not at all what I was expecting. 

It’s hard for me to separate my expectations of the city with the reality of what I found there, or my ideas about what people in Cuba have (and don’t have) from the actual things that I saw there.  The standard of living is very different than here. 

Like a lot of developing countries, there’s not big houses, a car for every house, a computer (or two) or so many clothes that they regularly donate to a charity or have big yarn stashes. The way we (North Americans and Europeans) live, is a life of pretty wild decadence to their eyes.

Unlike some other developing countries (and I’m thinking here of the places we see on the labels of goods we own – China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan – for a start) while the standard of living is lower than ours, there is a stunning lack of abject poverty.  I’ve seen more homelessness in downtown Toronto than I did in Havana. (For the record, the amount of homelessness I saw in Cuba was zero.)

Every Cuban has a right to certain things provided to them by their government. Housing is highly subsidized. The rate of home ownership in Cuba is 85%, although the number of people living in one residence might be surprising to us as North Americans. (They have a cultural preference for all generations of a family living together.)  They might be crowded, but they all have a home to live in.  (Questions about homelessness were met with confusion, largely.) They have excellent health care, some of the best in the world by any standard you care to assess it,  and it’s accessible to all.  Life expectancy is higher than that of the US, and only slightly lower than that of Canada, and the same goes for infant mortality.

Education is free in Cuba, from primary school to University, and the literacy rate is an amazing 100%, something neither my own country, nor the equally developed country to my south can claim. 

This statistic, together with some other remarkable facts about healthcare explain a great deal about why the average Cuban- particularly older ones, speak with real gratitude about the revolution. Before Castro and the revolution, only about 50% of Cuban kids went to school,  and 45% of the population was illiterate, healthcare was for the rich, and many Cubans weren’t just poor, but destitute.  It’s not hard to see how a shift away from that would be positive, especially for the Cubans old enough to have lived both ways.

I’m not saying all this to convince you that Cuba’s a paradise without problems. There are problems, for sure, particularly around political freedoms. Cubans don’t vote, for example, but it’s more complex than "Socialism bad, democracy good." It’s more a question of priorities.  Given a country crushed by poverty, illiteracy, lack of healthcare and misery, would you trade your political system for making sure everyone got those things? Cubans said yes, and as a result of the revolution, there’s a standard of living that means that nobody’s living in a cardboard box or wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, or get them help if they’re sick.  Most people in Cuba don’t have much (although that’s changing, as a great many of them start small businesses and branch out,. The highest income earners in the country are in tourism and crafts)  but every person has enough, and considering what they had before? I don’t think it’s irrational at all that they chose it.  I’m not sure what I’d pick if I was living like that.

It’s a beautiful place, and the people are remarkable, strong, funny and kind and I enjoyed every minute. It’s a remarkable time in their history, and it was a privilege to invest in them.

PS.  I’m not stupid.  I know that anytime you use words like I’ve used here (socialism, in particular) that you might as well pour gasoline on your comments section and toss a match in. I’ve decided to talk about all this anyway because I trust you, and because I believe that you’re all respectful and smart enough to know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Everyone who is going to comment here comes from a country that has problems. None are perfect, and I think we should be able to talk about choices, other ideas, and the way that other humans choose things (remembering that overwhelmingly, Cubans chose Castro and this system with a degree of ferocity that makes our political support look anemic.) Also, I know darn well that they aren’t free (although Cubans are starting to travel abroad for education, business and travel, we met some who had been on holiday to Canada) and so do they, but remember their perspective.  While we were there I overheard a conversation between a New Yorker and a Cuban. The American asked if he minded that his government wouldn’t let him go where he wanted. The Cuban asked her how she had come to Cuba.  When she replied that she had come through Canada because her government didn’t allow her to travel to Cuba otherwise, the Cuban smiled at her until she laughed too. We all know it’s not the same, but their perspective is an interesting one.

Go forth and comment, but with respect for all people, will ya?

PPS:  I didn’t see any knitting in Cuba, but man, can they crochet.

261 thoughts on “What I was Thinking While I Was There

  1. I’m so happy you had a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing bits and bobs of it with us. (but I think I’m gonna avoid the comment section from here out, what with the gas and the matches and all 😉
    Welcome home.

  2. Thank you for having the courage to post this, Stephanie. The photos are beautiful and I’m so pleased you have had such a great holiday.
    You’re right that it is a conundrum, but I can see the value in everyone having access to education and health care particularly.
    I absolutely understand that something has to give for a country to be able to provide these things to its people, but it makes me think about how many things we have that we don’t need.

  3. This was a very interesting post, in the best sense of interesting. I learned things. And it reminded me that I have a question about Canadian health care. I may send it to you, in case you need more fodder for setting your comments section on fire.

  4. Thank you for all of this. It is most fascinating. I love your photos. A bit discouraging to think how their literacy rate and life expectancy is higher than in the US. Did you see any urban farms? I’ve heard a lot of Havana’s produce is grown within the city.

  5. As an ex-pat American living in another country I get the privilege to see all sorts of forms of government and society. It’s eye opening, encouraging, discouraging and all sorts of things. I see lots of different ways of doing things, for sure. Not one of them is perfect and there is a trade off sometimes for the things that work well. Do I see things done much better than America does them? You bet. Do I see things done much worse? You bet. I love my country and can’t wait to move back, but I also grieve for all the political strife and seeming disregard for any view point but our own. It saddens me that the world views the word “compromise” as a dirty word and can’t see the good in other ways of doing things. Maybe I am naïve, but I just don’t understand why we can’t work together for the good for everyone, not just ourselves. I think we all should have an opportunity to live outside our countries for a good long spell.

  6. Brava! This post is exactly why I wish every citizen of my country (just south of you) could be given a passport and required to use it at least once every two years (and not to cheesy resorts in Mexico). Traveling makes you realize how many “needs” are really “wants.” And that different is not equal to bad.

  7. Sounds like a lovely vacation at just the right time. I used to work with a man from Cuba who said many of the same things you did. And not only do they have phenomanal health care but they are on the leading edge of much medical research — compared to any other country in the world. The other thing I have found very interesting in things I’ve read is all of the classic American cars they drive. You showed several in your pictures. Pretty fun. HBO made a movie about the life of Arturo Sandoval — jazz trumpter — that is very good. Seemed to be a good representation of both sides of Cuba. He eventually had to move to the US. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Beautiful pictures. Great insights. We need to learn and share, and comprise as mentioned earlier. There is no ONE right way.

  9. I wish all countries could learn from those that do certain things better than they do. Patriotism shouldn’t mean blindness to one’s country’s faults. I very much enjoyed following along with your trip. I have some friends who’ve just gotten back from there as well. It will be interesting to see things through their eyes as well.

  10. Wouldn’t it be grand to live in a world where we had political freedoms and all citizens were guaranteed a basic standard of living? Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Every country has problems. Sometimes, I agree with certain aspects of the Cuban political system. Other times, I can’t believe I would go there.
    If we were perfect, no one would have anything to strive for.

  12. As an American who has never left the country (that will someday be rectified), I always want to bang my head against a wall when I see my fellow countrypeople react in horror against the word “socialism”. I love my country but I’m not blind to her many faults and I wish more Americans would open their eyes to what works so well in other countries. I was so disappointed recently to find that even if my mom were to apply for dual citizenship with Canada, I would not be able to because it only applies to 1st generations born outside of Canada. And yes, Canada is completely on my list to someday visit. I would love to see where my grandfather was born. My son visited Toronto a little while back and all he could talk about was how NICE everyone was. I also have many friends from Canada (who are, of course, also nice) who have made me fall in love with a country I’ve never been to. I’m proud to be an American but I’m also proud of my Canadian heritage as well.

  13. Going to Cuba is on my bucket list. With the relaxing travel restrictions and cultural visas becoming available through various tour groups, I will get there. Visiting any country provides a refreshed perspective on one’s own (or it should). I never did understand the American blockade on Cuba, it strikes me as a very juvenile reaction to a political problem (“I’m taking my ball and going home. So there!”).

  14. So glad you had a nice and relaxing vacation. I so wish I could visit Cuba, hopefully one day the US will allow it….I learned quite a bit from your post-thanks for sharing it..

  15. Thank you for this post. I am a little too young to have lived during the crisis between the US and Cuba and I’ve never fully understood it. I am always curious as to how others live and reading this post gave me a glimpse of a country I may never get to see. So thank you again.

  16. You know Steph, you had me with the knitting – you are one of the few reasons I am an avid knitter and it has brought such joy to my life. But it’s your eloquence and ability to so concisely bring awareness and understanding to issues that I also appreciate that really make you near and dear to my heart. Thank you for being a voice for so many of us.

  17. Lovely post – I agree with encouraging debate and discussion on different systems and perspectives.
    As a side note, considering what you just flew home to, I think you may want to reconsider the comment about yarn being a want versus a need ;0)

  18. All that warmth and sunshine! Looks like paradise to me…particularly right now.
    You made some excellent points there, too. Makes me think about what, exactly, does “freedom” mean.

  19. I don’t know why people in warm climates seem to prefer crochet over knitting, but I found this was also the case in Mexico and Laos. I’ve seen many locals crocheting in those places but didn’t see a single person knitting either.

  20. Unfortunately, this is not true. People there did not choose Castro. And if it’s so lovely, why are there so many political prisoners and people boarding rafts to float away? Infant mortality rates are not what they seem. They just don’t report what other countries do.

    • Thank you! Socialism and communism are not the great systems they could seem to be to certain people. Almost all of my family is in the US now thankfully!

  21. Thank you, Stephanie, for a thoughtful and insightful post. Your positive perspective and willingness to share what you discovered on your trip are enlightening. I had a negative image of Cuba, and it seems that the people are happy and well educated and enjoy some benefits of their society that we in other “developed” countries can only dream of.

  22. Thanks for the lovely post and the great images of Cuba. There can never be too much discussion about what kind of society we wish to live in, and it is a privilege to hear more about other systems. I long to live in a society where no one goes hungry or homeless or uneducated, and I’d much prefer an income system where disparities were much less. I say this as a well paid Australian. Homelessness here needs a lot of work, but I was so shocked visting the USA.

  23. Thank you for sharing your vacation experiences with us. I’ve seen other Caribbean countries, and had to imagine that Cuba probably was built similarly. Havana has always beckoned; I wish freedom of travel were a reality.

  24. Yeah, Stephanie! Agreed on all points–multiple positive perspectives are what makes a worldview, and we are sorely in need of that sometimes. I’m thrilled to hear about the crochet, too: I’m a born crocheter, much more of a naturalized knitter (and believe me, I repeatedly keep flunking parts of the knitting naturalization test). Welcome home!

  25. One of my daughters is going to Cuba next month for two weeks of vacation with her small family and wants to go visit Havana. Thank you for your photos and comments…much appreciated.

  26. Someday I hope to go to Cuba. Thank you for your insight and thoughtfulness. The world is complicated, but information and perspective like you provide helps make it less so.

  27. Well, THIS isn’t mch fun, you pinko Canuck. (Is there a c in Canuck?). Only one dissenting voice in all this time? Oh, for the glory days, when A simple Canada Day post would call out. battalions of wide-eyed flag-wavers. Dunno – I may just have to go over to YouTube and read Dixie Chick comments. Glad you’re back.

  28. I don’t know (sniffs) a country without knitting??? Seems pretty backward to me!
    It is a place I am not able to visit, and my international visits are, um, limited. No homelessness and 100% literacy, something to be strived for, by every country. I am happy with my kids’ school having a 92% passage rate for end of year algebra exams and 93% passage rate on end of year English exams. But, always room for improvement. I would guess the number of malpractice suits brought, or frivolous lawsuits brought (any lawsuits brought) is substantially lower than in the US, which allows Medical professionals to be Medical professionals, rather than defendants. Additionally, I hope for the sake of the Cubans, the Medical professionals get to make the medical decisions, rather than how it is in the US, currently.
    The architecture pictured is truly amazing.

  29. Because I read your blog mostly for the knitting posts, I will refrain from commenting on the delights of third world dictatorships. Next trip, how about Miami, where you can meet some Cuban refugees and hear their opinion?

  30. I’ve heard wonderful things about Cuba, and after this, I’m going to have to consider a visit myself. Keep warm – it’s going down again tonight!!

  31. I’ve a friend who visited Cuba urge me to go before development and US style agra-business move in. She said the countryside was charming, with lots of butterflies and wildlife. It is good that some parts of the world haven’t modernized the character out of themselves yet.

  32. I am envious of your trip to Cuba. It is a place that I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember, but can not. While vacationing in Mexico several years ago a tour guide offered to make arrangement for me to visit, but I was afraid to disobey my country. To read your report of the magic of this country makes me sad that I did not go when given the chance. It warms my heart to hear that the people of Cuban are thriving despite my country and that they have what is important in life, things that Americans no longer value. Someday, someday!

  33. Lovely post. Thanks so much for the descriptions and photos! The US seems headed for loosening that embargo and I’d love to be among the early visitors.

  34. I never comment here (but always read what you write). I have to say that I’m very thankful you wrote about Cuba. As am American I can say I no way too little about the country, other than we can’t go there or buy their cigars. Pitiful. I read what you wrote with great interest as I attend church and serve our city’s much too large homeless population. To think of a place with almost zero homelessness is interesting. Thanks for the little peek into Cuba.

  35. Nothing as complex as a whole country is ever simple or black and white. I do think it’s really interesting to read what you’ve observed. Thank you for sharing so frankly and being honest about what you observed.
    I do think any culture is better with more knitting though. 😉

  36. Love this post. As an anthropologist, my job is to make students challenge their assumptions. I regularly use the documentary “The Greening of Cuba” in class. I highly recommend it as an eye opener about Cuba as a system and some of our erroneous assumptions about life there.

  37. Beautiful photos. Glad it was a safe and interesting time. Every system is complex, look at the freaking Brits driving on the WRONG side of the road! Now thats a complicated international problem!

  38. Thank you for sharing your lovely photos and observations on Cuba, especially how the average Cuban sees his/her situation. Most informative.

  39. I never thought of Cuba as a vacation destination but now I’m sold! Except for the lack of knitting but then no place is perfect!

  40. My Dad was a career US Navy officer, and we lived outside the US on a number of occasions. I was blessed to learn at a young age that all countries had much to offer, just as did our own. I am proud to be an American, even though I do not approve of everything my country does, but other places offer other beauty and cultures and viewpoints. I’m happy for you that you had the chance to savor Cuba, especially this frigid winter! Thanks for sharing with us.

  41. Interesting commentary. Glad you enjoyed your trip. Wonder how any sort of government like that would last in a country that’s as large as ours — without a strong military presence. Uh-oh. Never mind.

  42. Just a thought….why then do people flee in the middle of the night on make shift boats and rafts that are over crowded? Risking their lives and the lives of their children? Many don’t make it. I know people that got out in the 70’s and were not even permitted to take prof of their education with them!
    Their stories were very different.
    This is not fuel just another view of the picture.
    I really like your blog….. could we get back to the knitting??

  43. I am hyper aware of my perspective, as the first thing I thought when you first posted about your trip was surprise that you were allowed in. Until that moment, I had assumed that because Americans weren’t allowed in, no one was allowed in. I am embarrassed to admit that, as it reinforces the world’s view of self centered Americans, but since you are trusting us, I am trusting us too. Thank you for opening my eyes on this topic by sharing your thoughts. Beautiful photos.

  44. I am conflicted. I love the Cuba posts, the photos in particular, but I really, REALLY want to see the finished Christmas knitting
    Just saying…
    @Kate Sander – You complain about the side of the road we drive but you should be focusing on some of the greater injustices we have done you, like some of the truly terrible telly we have sent across the pond *cough* Jeremy Kyle *cough* – on behalf of all of Britain I would like to extend my most sincere apologies

  45. Thank you for your thoughtful and great visual images. A Cincinnati photographer friend traveled there with an artist exchange a year and 1/2 ago. he descriptions were mostly about the cars. (Guys)
    You filled in so much more of all I was curious about. Thank you for sharing. Everything.

  46. Thank you. this is another reason I read your blog and feel as though I would like you in real life as well as in print. respect is often more than a two-way street. yet it is one we all have for you.

  47. Very interesting. Very, very interesting. My parents went to Cuba several years ago (through an Elderhostel program) and reported much the same. Me, I would love to listen to the music. Your compatriot Jane Bunnett has made some brilliant music with Cuban musicians. I heard her live several years ago, and her album “Alma de Santiago” is a prized part of my music collection.

  48. Your perspective on Cuba is very interesting. Did you visit the whole island? I ask because when my former boss was there about 3 years ago, her tall pale soft spoken husband was begged for change by children everywhere he went.
    I am curious about Cuba, and about socialism and how people manage under it. It’s good that everyone can read there … but I don’t know actually if they can read whatever they want about all the places and lifestyles and everything under the sun the way I can.
    But good health and good schooling do count for something. The refuges that are in Miami now were desperate and had no options. Maybe these new Cuban kids will grow up healthy and well fed and literate so they can change things from the inside? If they want to. I think they want to.

  49. Once again I learn from you; a wonderful, thought-provoking post. I will readily admit that I had no idea until your previous posts about Cuba that everybody else can travel there! (I am from the U.S.)
    Your perspective is always so helpful, human, and compassionate. Thank you!

  50. Love the pictures! As an American the likelihood of my ever getting to Cuba for any reason is pretty low so I appreciate being able to “see” it.
    Not going to make any political commentary because really, this isn’t the blog for that. I am curious about one thing though. Do you have any idea why there is crocheting but no knitting?

  51. Emma @ 8:18 – don’t know who Jeremy Kyle is, I don’t have a telly, but thank you for Top Gear!! (I do have a friend who has a telly and all the cable a single guy with a good income could want!!) Stephanie, never thought about YOU going to Cuba, but have to say, that first picture, reminded me of Vizcaya in Miami Beach. The pictures that follow, not including the car, Sicily, until the one after the church (with a Christmas tree!!), that one, the fort in either Puerto Rico or St. Augustine… As so many have commented, who’s perfect and who knows the WHOLE story?? Glad you enjoyed your vacation, and also agree w/ Emma, what’s up with the promised finished Christmas knitting post? And #3 of 8??? Stay warm. Thanks for the post.

  52. Amen. our biases are culturally/politically determined. Best to start from scratch and see what we come up with on our own…

  53. I agree with everything you said, and it is consistent with my experience in being there for an international conference in 1996. I was able to do two things the average tourist would not–attend a worship service and talk, at length with an older man who would have remembered pre-Castro days. It’s the life of the peasant better? Yes. But is there a freedom to read, think, express oneself? Limited, very limited. I gave my books away before I left. I cheerfully left greenbacks as tips, as I used the scrip I got in change because the value of those bills was far higher for them than for me.
    But it’s beautiful, and I hope I can return without having to get an “educational” exemption.

  54. So glad to see you post and that you are home. The trip sounds fantastic and the photos show many of us scenes of a place we will never visit for as many reasons as there are people.
    I personally want to see all the pictures of the gifts given away at Christmas to your loved ones. I managed a few myself, hats and cowls is all. No socks1 I just cannot make a pair in anything less than about 30 hours and so those are tough for me to give away. Your family members are very lucky!

  55. I went to Cuba some years back, and I agree with you. It’s a country full of contradictions, and for those, who deal in black and white, very confusing. Make no mistake, it is a dictatorship, but the revolution have done more for it’s people, than many elected governments have for theirs. I travelled on my own, and I’ve never felt safer in any other country… except maybe Canada. Cubans are friendly, curious and well-educated, and only too happy to strike up a conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t speak much Spanish, which was certainly my loss.
    Their coffee is the best, I’ve ever tasted, the ‘ron’ flows generously, and the music! Oh, My God! The Music!
    In fact, some of my best tall tales are from my trip to Cuba.

  56. Wasn’t it warm over there? Enjoy the warm weather? I was thinking about you while you was in Cuba. It’s so cold here in Utah. But Midwest is worst now. I envy of you to experienced warm place during winter time.

  57. I think a lot about freedom and what it means to different people. I think it is something that we in Canada take far too much for granted and are much too willing to give up – because we are pretty good at doing what we are told, mostly. Different political systems work for different people in different places and I would never presume to tell anyone else how they should live or to what they should aspire. However, that having been said, it does seem to me that freedom from dying unnecessarily because you can’t afford the treatments would be the first and ultimate freedom of all.

  58. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m not going to stick around for the debate because I’ve had it too many times to count, but I just wanted to say thank you. From a Canadian who lived many years in the US and just returned to the Great White North. Thank you.

  59. Wonderful post! Your photos are great. Only wish you’d show more cars… what a treasure trove for old car lovers. Travel is such an incredible learning experience… ruins simplistic ideas about people. I’m so glad you shared your trip! Oh, ps: people pictures would be great, too!

  60. Thank you for so bravely putting your comments out there! I imagine if someone had asked Americans during the depression if they’d be willing to give up some freedom for the “luxury” of putting a roof over their children’s heads and food in their stomachs, most would have willingly agreed. I hope Cuba is able to keep the best parts of their current situation while gaining some of the freedom we take for granted.

  61. Thank your for that perspective, Stephanie…I had no idea…and yes, you are absolutely right that different systems serve different people in different ways. We are living in a very imperfect world, both here in the US and abroad, but we are joined in our humanity…and in our YARN…!! From a dedicated crocheter and a seriously “wannabe” knitter…:)

  62. I was surprised when you said you were in Cuba, and had a stange reaction when you talked of the Bay of Pigs, but I am old and remember it all, and the Cubans who had education and money fled. Of dictactors, I do believe over the decades things have changed in Cuba for the better and your pictures remind me of most third world countries. thank you for the view of a place I have oftern wondered how it is now……..

  63. Wait, what? “Skin a cat”? Animal cruelty! Banish her! 😉 Just kidding! Glad you had a wonderful trip, and it was a great experience for all of us to learn about. As my dad says, “Nothing is so good that it can’t be improved on.”

  64. Glad you had a great vacation. What with the weather for the last few days, I had visions of you and Joe stranded in an airport somewhere along the route. Glad you made it. I was really interested in your post and certainly learned a lot. Strange we never hear any of this in the media, Keep up the good work and keep educating us.

  65. Please don’t talk about skinning cats. It is highly offensive to them. I’m sure some read this blog.
    Besides, would you really skin Millie, despite maybe having wanted to wring her neck several (dozen) times?
    More seriously, glad you and Joe had a good time. Did you see the recent news item about Cubans’ reactions to the prices being charged for new imported cars there? Might give you some additional perspective about what you saw on your trip. . . .

  66. I’m glad you had a wonderful time and shared so much of it.
    I’m over sixty and I remember photogaphs in the newspaper of Soviet missiles in Cuba. During the Cold War, that was really too close for comfort. There has been a long history of distrust of Fidel Castro. Having a communist country 90 miles off Florida was not taken lightly. Before Castro took over, Cuba was a very corrupt place with many well known American gangsters involved in casinos, gambling and a high crime rate. The average Cubans wanted a better life and safe place to raise their kids. That being said: 1) There was a great disparity of income. 2)There were many destitute individuals and families. 3) There were many who couldn’t afford health care. 4) There was a high level of crime. That’s like the 1%, homelessness, millions without healthcare and over crowded jails. Same problems, different time, and 90 miles plus north of Cuba. Well worth thinking about. Thank you for the grist. May we find a better way to solve our problems that doesn’t send our citizens off looking for freedom and liberty elsewhere at great peril to life and limb.

  67. Could the preference for crochet be due to the climate? I associate crochet mostly with cotton or some other kind of un-wool thread (yes, yes, I know one can crochet afghans and hats and scarves, but in the picture I think I saw lacier things). Maybe it’s just too warm for knitting?

  68. My brother is going to Cuba next week so I directed him to read your post. He thought that your view was incredibly thoughtful and it has made him look forward to his vacation even more.
    As a musician he is looking forward to hearing some local music. I hope he has more luck with that than you did with finding knitting.

  69. There is some knitting in Cuba, but what I’ve seen on various visits is mostly done in flat pieces (socks are knit flat and sewn up). I have several times shown Cubans how I was knitting socks (my travel knitting) and given away many pairs and sets of needles, as well as most of my stash of cottons (it’s hard for them to get anything except natural coloured cotton).

  70. Welcome back – especially that you made it through the Toronto airport in these frigid temperatures.
    Thanks for the excellent Cuba post and lovely photos.
    Travel can be such good education.
    Happy New Year!

  71. Lovely and educational post! Thanks so much for sharing with us. I’ve always wondered what Cuba is really like. I can certainly see their perspective and ours too. As you say, there is no perfect system or country.

  72. Thank you for sharing the photos and insights. I’m glad that you had a chance to expand your horizons in an environment that included sunshine, warmth and the beach!! A vacation with family to top it off?! Priceless.

  73. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful post—and for educating those of us who are your neighbors to the south. I appreciate you giving a beautiful portrait of the people and culture of Cuba. And thanks for challenging our sometimes thoughtless judging of other’s choices.

  74. I took my (US) anthropology class to Cuba in 2001/02 (actually this time of year, just like you). It is a country founded on revolution and full of contradictions, just like the US of A. You bring out Cuba’s successes very well indeed (literacy, health, schooling and freedom from abject want: all of which were the case pre-Revolution).
    Esp. in 2001, when Castro was chasing after US dollars after the Soviet Union had ditched it economically, I have never seen such overt social class divisions as there. The government had set up “US Dollar” stores, where luxury (to Cubans but basic to the “1st World) goods could be bought for US dollars but not for Cuban pesos. Those with families in the States sending money over or in the Cuban tourist trade could buy things there, as could the tourists, but not Cubans paid in pesos by their government jobs (such as teachers, doctors, scientists). It is a country well worth visiting: it makes you think.

  75. Thank you for sharing! Loved the information you you provided and your photos. In spite of being an American, I have socialist leanings. I firmly believe that there is too much importance placed upon the rights of corporations and the wealthy and not nearly enough upon the needs of the average citizen. Honestly, Cuba doesn’t sound half bad.

  76. Thanks for this! As an American, Cuba is one of the places in the world that has always felt off-limits to me. (Yes, I know there are ways around that, but…) It’s fascinating to hear your perspective.

  77. You said that you saw lots of crocheting. Do you have photos of some examples that you saw, and did you look at types of yarn available, and was it from shops, or is there also lots of spinning and dying?

  78. Whoa there, Rams — like you, I adore RachelH (*blows kisses*) and seeing her in the comments (*waves madly*) — but MORE than a thaw?? Sorry, nope, that’s going too far.
    But ask me again in August, eh?

  79. I’m glad you had a great vacation in such a beautiful country, Steph, but I have a hard time believing statistics from any country that so prohibits free speech and a free press. Cuba had the second-highest number of imprisoned journalists of any nation in 2008 (according to many sources, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international NGO, and Human Rights Watch). One way to continue to control and subject the citizenship is to deny easy access to information, and thus the right to use the internet is granted only in selected locations, and it may be monitored. As a result of ownership restrictions, computer ownership rates in Cuba are among the world’s lowest. I am fortunate not to have been in a position of having to “choose” a decent standard of living or my freedom, but I don’t think the populace actually had a choice, and if they did, many would not have chosen communism (thus the Cuban exile in which many lost their lives). If anyone is starting to think that Cuba seems too good to be true, Google the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which were created by Castro. Among the persecuted? Homosexual men. Also check out Operation Peter Pan (why would so many parents send their children away?). How about Googling Amnesty International’s Cuban human rights violations? Unfortunately, when people are living in deplorable conditions, the situation is ripe for a dictator to rise to power, crushing the freedoms of the people. I wish we could live in a world where all people could have freedom AND a decent standard of living.

  80. Well said. Thank you.
    Now….did you do any crocheting….or get any good patterns or yarns. I do both and still haven’t figured out which is my favourite. I guess it all depends on what I am making or what mood I am in….which is all about choices.

  81. Well, I have to say that I feel really uncomfortable with cubans “policies”.
    For instance, any problem with babies is not registered up to three days.
    So, if the baby dies just after birth, it’s not registered.
    That’s why they have such great statistics.
    I’m from Brazil, this was said by a cuban nurse living here for a doctor friend of mine.
    And I don’t understand that a socialist country does not allow voting. It’s kind of North Corea, where a family rules without elections for ages. More like a kingdom…
    No, I’m definitly not in favour for Cuba. And after this story, I stop believing in their statistical “facts”.

  82. Thank you for a lovely glimpse of a country I’m unlikely to ever visit. The US has been on friendly terms with so many brutal dictators, from all sides of the political spectrum, that I’m always amazed that Cuba is still forbidden territory. Americans are allowed (as most of us now know) to visit North Korea, but not Cuba.
    When Cubans fought for Castro, they were under the thumb of a brutal dictator, and weren’t in the habit of considering political freedom as a necessity. It will be interesting to see how things develop as the old guard dies and younger people take over.

  83. Thank you! What a great education you gave this American. I truly thought most Cubans were starving in the streets and trying to get to the US. Ha! You have confirmed that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

  84. Wait… no knitting? How is that possible?!
    Someone needs to organize a knitting mission trip to save these poor people from knitting poverty!
    (I kid.)

  85. I’m glad you got to see my parents’ birthplace. We Cuban-Americans are hard-working and fun-loving. We are not, however, fans of the revolution. My parents can never go back to Cuba. People get killed there for sharing their political views. (That might have something to do with the glowing reports you got from the Cubans you met.) My Dad saw someone get shot outside his home, for disagreeing with the revolution. Tourists see what the government allows them to see. On a happier note, my grandmother was a lovely knitter, so there are knitters in Cuba! I’m so glad, too, because I learned from her. 🙂

  86. I’m glad you got to see my parents’ birthplace. We Cuban-Americans are hard-working and fun-loving. We are not, however, fans of the revolution. My parents can never go back to Cuba. People get killed there for sharing their political views. (That might have something to do with the glowing reports you got from the Cubans you met.) My Dad saw someone get shot outside his home, for disagreeing with the revolution. Tourists see what the government allows them to see. On a happier note, my grandmother was a lovely knitter, so there are knitters in Cuba! I’m so glad, too, because I learned from her. 🙂

  87. I’ve been following your Cuban adventure with interest. I spent a year as a dependent on the US Base at Guantanamo in the late 70s. It was a beautiful place, although I’ve been told that it is not exactly the best real estate on the island, and unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to interact with the Cubans.

  88. Interesting trip and great photos! I’d love to see Cuba in person. As others have noted, statistics are tricky. International statistics gathered by the UN are generally more reliable than the ones published for tourist bureaux, so it might be interesting to compare. In any case, I’m not inclined to judge a government that has actually delivered on its most important promises. Even tho I hold U.S. citizenship I am embarrassed that so many Americans fail to vote or participate in shaping public policy. Many people would choose economic stability over political freedom. I think Cuba was smeared by the U.S. government for several reasons, including friction with its Spanish owners in 1898, the use of its location by criminals and gamblers who personified the un-Puritan life, and then communism, the enemy of the Cold War. It has been punished enough. Maybe we can be more honest neighbors and better neighbors in the near future.
    And on the crochet question, I lived in tropical Asia for years and it was too hot to even think of handling wool, nor was any available, nor did we need any. Cotton was much more available, practical, and useful when it could be found. Crafts as hobbies were not common; people who made things with hooks and needles did it professionally for money or for personal or family clothes and households.

  89. I have no problem with the kind of socialism that Cuba represents (or indeed with the kind of ‘socialism’ that universal healthcare in Canada or Australia represents), but I suspect that Cuba works so well not because it’s socialist, but because it is in effect a benevolent dictatorship. Benevolent dictatorships tend to work well as long as the dictator stays benevolent, but unfortunately they rarely have a system in place to ensure that the next dictator will have the same attributes. That said, Cuba is definitely on my list of places to vist.

  90. I do appreciate your thoughtful post. The Cuban people are lovely, and vilifying them and their nation doesn’t seem to be helping make the world a better place, in any way.
    Do remember, though, that the Cubans you talked to were not a random sample, nor a sample who felt completely free to talk. Many Cubans go through great tribulations to leave, so the ones who stay, are, to a small extent, there because they are somewhat comfortable with the state’s choices. And my Cuban-American friend says her relatives feel uncomfortable criticizing the regime, even to close friends and relatives, for fear that any negative statement could be used against them. There’s some fear, there. They would be unlikely to speak freely to a stranger.

  91. I have a friend who used to go to Mexico every year and two years ago she went to Cuba and said she’ll never go back to Mexico. She loved it just as much as you did. I really hope to get there one day!

  92. Thank you for sharing this, Stephanie. Everyone has a right to choose for themselves, and Cubans have for now. What a blessing if the Middle East were so fortunate! I’m 76 and have watched the world for many years – and I’m interested in all of it. How long do you think it will take for us all to learn to live together in harmony, if not equality in all things?? The goals seem so far away, sometimes. You speak for many of us Americans, too.

  93. ….and I didn’t notice any conflagrations here. Maybe a flicker or two, but we Harlotettes are a pretty sensible group, don’t you think? 🙂

  94. Cuba does look like a beautiful place to visit. Your photos certainly attest to that. But Cuba is run by a dictatorship, one that controls not only its citizens, but also what tourists are allowed to see. What you didn’t see was the widespread abuse of political rights and civil liberties (such as the freedom of association and assembly), the censorship of the media, of artists, of activists. Cubans are not free to speak against their government, so they don’t in fact “choose” to support Castro. They’re forced into it.

  95. Ohhh what wonderful photos and even better socio-political commentary. As an ex-pat american, living in Australia I have long felt that The US could do well with a bit of “socialism”, especially when it comes to healthcare and education. I understand that Cubans do not have the same political priveleges that Americans do but I also imagine that many Americans would happily trade their votes for a roof over their head, food on the table and access to healthcare

  96. What a fabulous post. Yes to all of it. The fact that America ranks 42nd in quality of healthcare IN THE WORLD, and we pay twice as much for it astonished saddens and depresses me. Homelessness, hunger, terrible education…saddens me. That we have the means not to destroy our environment, yet stubbornly choose to continuew to do so…argh. Well. Anyway. Cant we celebrate a victory for humanity in Cuba without being terrified that it makes our system vulnerable? Oh fooey. But great post!

  97. Well, I am from Eastern Germany, GDR, and before the Wiedervereinigung it was a country very similar to Cuba – wiithout thw sunshine of course 🙂 – and I highly doubt anyone would have confided to a tourist, that he is scared or would have talked about the darker side of such a regime. And yet we had excellent health care, no homeless, and of course free education for everyone.
    What I try to say – a tourist trip will show you only the surface of what it is really like to live under such circumstances, and yes, there are sure some benefits of such a regime. But I don’t think they make up for the other things.

  98. My father’s half brother defected to Cuba in the 60’s. He was a brilliant physicist and worked with Castro. He was murdered for political reasons in the late 70s.
    We recently came in contact with my uncle’s children in Cuba, who are now in their 50s. They work and they are poor. They are not particularly political, but their lifestyle bears no relationship to the lifestyle so many of us enjoy in NorthAmerica. I have never spoken to them about homelessness or healthcare, but the rest of it was grim. Really grim. They want our help to get visas to move here, but there isn’t anything we can do.
    It is a really complicated issue. I’m not sure it’s possible to get a true picture of what’s going on during a short vacation. But I’m so glad you had a good time, and I loved the pictures.

  99. So glad you got to go and that you had a great time, and thank you for letting us tag along. Fascinating to see a place so closed to us Americans. The bright turquoise buildings and the climbing bougainvillea in bloom–those were how I pictured Cuba, and clearly there was some of that, but always so much much more.

  100. Who says Democracy is the only way to go?? It’s like saying there’s only one religion, isn’t it. And I’m not surprised the crochet hook is king in Cuba. Crocheted lace is so much cooler than knitted. What are they using for yarn? Cotton, silk, hemp, flax??

  101. One more comment – saw a Documentary not too long ago about the folks in Havana. When food supplies got really low, ordinary people started growing bigger gardens to feed their neighbors. And then ordinary people reclaimed every empty space in the town to grow vegetables to feed everyone. Havana is now growing most of its own food within the city limits. Very enterprising!!

  102. I grew up in a socialist country, and now live in a “formerly socialist” one…without a seaside, beach, and a lot worst weather. Can it be they support Castro, because they dont dare to do otherwise?.
    ..glad to hear you had great time.

  103. I grew up in a socialist country, and now live in a “formerly socialist” one…without a seaside, beach, and a lot worst weather. Can it be they support Castro, because they dont dare to do otherwise?.
    ..glad to hear you had great time.

  104. Thank you for taking an interest in the country you were visiting, and taking time to talk to the people who live there, and being observant and respectful. No political system is perfect, and countries and people change and evolve as global policies and events shift. Wherever we are on holiday we must remember we are guests of that place, and respect the cultural differences, and learn from the people there how they live and why.
    Thanks for you blog – hope you are not too cold in the great freeze!

  105. Thank you for the post and sharing your experiences. I am a number person and whenever I hear statistics being used to illustrate a point, I cringe. How do you know that the illiteracy rate is zero in Cuba? Surely there are persons with learning disabilities in all countries that make it impossible to learn to read. How can it be that in Cuba, everyone can read? Could it be that the statistic is wrong? I’m not saying one political system is “the best”. I’m saying, question everything! Maybe the infant mortality rate is affected by the very fragile infants that the medical world attempts to keep alive in the U.S. but in other countries, that infant would not have made it to term and would not be in the infant mortality statistics. I don’t know how the statistics are gathered so I can’t draw conclusions from them.

  106. Thank you for sharing. The pictures were wonderful but your observations much more enlightening.
    no homelessness, free university degrees, a healthy population…it boggles the mind. How different would each of our lives be if we had experienced those very same things? Deep thoughts..Well…there would be MORE KNITTING?

  107. Oh well, this strongly reminds me about my childhood in Poland. Communism gave everyone basic access to education and healthcare. Many, especially elderly people, who experienced extreme poverty before, were truly grateful for it. The communist government somehow failed to mention, that, say, Portugal, a country which, after the war, was equally poor and in bad need of improvements in many areas fared better, even though it was blind to the bliss of communism and clung to that rotten democracy thing. Poland had the best statistics ever. (Of course we could not be FIRST in anything, that privilege was reserved for USSR, but we had very strong economy (and statistics to show it). Only the stores were mostly empty. We had free healthcare, but if you wanted something urgent you went private without mentioning it, because it would bring trouble on you and your doctor (and it was of course omitted in the statistics). We had free education, but only if you stayed within the boundaries set by government. (You could go to jail for owning a copy of Animal Farm or 1984 for example. Not that it would be easy to buy them, but hey, bookstores weren’t exactly bursting with books either, unless you were interested in reading how brave communist boys defeated the bad reactionist boys, how you should hate the reactionist boys, everything written in extremely boring, propaganda like language. Good books took hunting and put you at risk). And you got taught that Plato was a reactionist philosopher, hence doomed and wrong. (Yes, one of the textbooks in 1950s put it this way). If you dared to object it could bring trouble again. I sometimes think this is why there are so many excellent scientists and IT people in former communist countries. To certain extent it is impossible to falsify the results of research the way you could play around with humanities, like literature.
    I omit the obvious stuff, like people being tortured in jails (without mentioning in the statistics). And of course (no offence Stephanie)all of this was invisible in tourist resorts or touristy parts of capital cities in any communist country. The places where tourists from the mythic (and rotten) West could travel to were kinda censored too, to look better.
    I do appreciate my childhood because it taught me to be minimalist in my needs and appreciate things most people in Europe and America take for granted. Bananas, oranges and coffee available throughout the year. The passport in your drawer. The possibility to get virtually any book without risking my freedom.
    I’m somehow left-leaning, but communism, no thank you.

  108. Thanks so much for traveling with an open mind and then taking the time to look, listen, learn and then share. An interesting post and lots of interesting comments.

  109. One last thing – I do believe in public healthcare system. I really do. I cherish free education available to everyone. My short stay in Scandinavia taught me however, that both these things are doable without having to compromise your basic freedom of speech and other rights, that it is doable within democracy.

  110. I am visiting Thailand right now, from the U.S., and find their crochet skills awesome – we even bought some pieces from a Nana at the market. The are a intrigued by my knitting on the bus. Glad you had a great trip. Friends say Cuba is incredible and enlighting.

  111. It is certainly possible to achieve these things within a democracy Hannah, but starting from a very low base point , maybe they have managed to do it the only way they could. Hopefully more freedom of choice will come in time. They do however produce the best coffee!

  112. I’m glad that Cuba is not the political torture-chamber many Americans imagine it is, but then, I don’t think it’s as rosy as it appears on the surface, either. Why have so many Cubans fled over the years? If putting yourself and your children on a raft and trying to float to a country that doesn’t want you is a better option than universal education and healthcare, what is it that the visitors are not seeing? Is it possible that the people there agree with the system because it’s safer to do so than to disagree?

  113. Thank you for your thoughtful post. It is good to have you home safe and the blog up for my daily “Stephanie Fix”. It is so true that when we travel we are confronted with the reality of how others live – better or worse. In those moments we appreciate our riches – be it yarn stash, family or whatever. Take a minute today to appreciate all of what we have right here, right now. Go hug that yarn!

  114. What a lovely and fascinating post. Thank you for your insights, pictures and thoughts, well written and thought provoking.

  115. You are a beautiful and reflective writer, and I enjoy your entries immensely — especially this one. As a Floridian, I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. (We almost did accidentally once, when the motor on our little rented fishing boat died and left us drifting slowly southward.) There is so much we as a country could learn from this warm, family-centered culture. But, of course, we won’t.

  116. “The highest income earners in the country are in tourism and crafts” but no knitting?
    The capitalistic American in me sees opportunity here.

  117. In my books, everyone has a right to free education and (at the minimum!) free basic healthcare. Many democratic countries in Europe (think Scandinavian countries in particular, or France) have incorporated many socialist principles in their system, to the benefit of all.

  118. Carol, it is worthwile to remember, that while Scandinavian countries are well off now, they also started from a very low point. The climat and conditions were making it extremely difficult for them. Not so long ago, they had to literally remove stones first in order to get any arable fields. And the crops were poor anyway on this kind of soil. In some areas children had to stay at home for winters, because it was impossible to walk to schools. Cuba has a distinct advantage in this fields.
    Many areas of Scandinavia were in extreme poverty and neglect due to difficulty of access. Yes, Norway has oil, but others don’t, and yet they managed to get all the advantages they have now without using totalitarian methods.

  119. Politics make my head ache, so won’t even go there 🙂
    I will say though that of the places I want to visit your post has added Cuba to that list.
    Thank you

  120. Stephanie:
    Glad you had a great trip. Thank you for your insightful information about Cuba. We all have different priorities. In Canada we have the right to live under a bridge support and freeze to death in the winter. For those who are affluent enough to exercise our freedoms it is great, for others ???
    On another note be grateful you returned through Toronto, 2 planes full of passengers from Cuba going to Montreal were diverted to Fredericton because of the ice storm and sat in the planes on the runway for 6 hours waiting for CBSA agents to arrive on Monday.

  121. I live in the US and am unlikely ever to get over to Cuba…thank you for the pictures and perspective, both were very interesting.

  122. Steph, I’ve always felt blessed because I spent several years in Saudi Arabia in the ’50s and ’60s and visited later than that. I was able to see the growth of the services to the people as the oil money filtered into the hands of the royal family.
    Saudi-national employees were able to get loans to build houses for their families. Young boys were sent to schools and even, later on, young girls with the oil company’s assistance. Today their standard of living has moved forward from a Middle Ages equivalent into the modern world.
    And they live under a monarchy! But it’s one that has the welfare of their people in mind.
    And does it make me angry when my fellow Americans lambast the country and consider every Arab a terrorist? Yes!!!
    So now, am I to be considered anti-American? Probably, but if you’re thinking that, ask yourself if you ever wore a uniform to serve your country? I did.

  123. I have to say that reading the comments section has been fascinating.
    There are so many things I wish my country (US) did better, and so many frustrations I have with it. The examples you showed exemplify things I wish we would do.
    Reading the comments from Rachel (Cuban-American) and Hannah (who grew up in Poland), however, also gave me a lot of food for thought.
    No matter what the positives to any country, it seems there is always a dark side to it. It makes me sad to think about it; because really, isn’t life about treating each other the way you would wish to be treated yourself?
    Very naïve of me, probably, but still..

  124. Another beautiful and thoughtful post, Stephanie! As a Canadian, I believe international travel is important, if you’re able. I recently spent two weeks in a very rural area of Brazil and fell in love with the warmth, generosity and curiosity of everyone I met. It was so enlightening just to ask each other tons of questions about each other’s country. Every country is a work in progress!

  125. My take on Cuba is very different from yours. I’m glad you went and had a good time. I don’t begrudge anyone that. At the same time I my thought was that I have relatives who were forced from their lives and homes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs when Castro came to power. They lost everything. Some years later Barbara Walters interviewed him and where were they sitting? In the living room of the house that was my Aunt’s. I remember how she cried when she saw that interview. I have no desire to go there, but I’m glad you went and enjoyed what you saw and felt. This was a tough blog for me to read while you were there, but it didn’t stop me from reading it. It just hit a little close to ‘home’ for me.

  126. Once again, you have written a thoughtful and eloquent post. It is so important that people are able to see both sides of a situation, and the Cuba that you present to us here helps us to try to understand the “hows” and “whys” of people living differently than we do. There is always more than one side of a story.
    I’m so glad you and your family had a wonderful vacation! You deserve it– and hopefully the warm thoughts will help you endure the current Canadian blast of winter!!
    xo CGF

  127. One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill, “The vice of capitalism is an unequal share of blessings. The virtue of socialism is an equal share of miseries.” I guess they chose their system and it works out for some of them, but I’d still rather have mine. Thanks for the very interesting read.

  128. Thank you so much for that post. I grew up in East Germany, when it was the DDR still. Yes, it IS all about perspective.
    Safe, educated children is all we should care about. (My perspective ;-))

  129. There is always more than one side to a story. My ESL students from Cuba presented quite a different picture than yours. Their families, who still lived in Cuba, waited for the monthly packages that arrived from family members in the US to receive soap, toilet paper and even used clothing. I was told that they did not have some of the necessities of life because they refused to join the one political party of Cuba.
    I’ve enjoyed my experiences of traveling to third world countries, but know that I can only scratch the surface of their real life in a short visit. Thanks for presenting your snapshot of Cuba.

  130. One of the best things about traveling out of your own country is the perspective you get. We see ourselves through others eyes as well as learning how others get on. Makes a person think!

  131. I’m so glad you had a great vacation. Cuba is a country that I would love to visit but the US makes it almost impossible for Americans to do that. Maybe one day.

  132. What a great post. I enjoy your blog so much because it can provocative on so many levels and inspires so much good, open conversation. Whether it is about knitting, politics or life in general, I genuinely appreciate the way you get this huge, diverse group to talk about things.

  133. Very intriguing post! I’ve never been to Cuba, but I think I might like to go.
    It’s interesting how you might define freedom. Free to travel? Ok. Maybe they can’t. Free to give their kids an education? Free to be healthy, and live a satisfying life? From your post it seems they do. I’m sure it’s not perfect…
    What about us in N. Am? We are free to wreck havoc on the environment, and free to consume our way into debt. Free to create mega companies that go to developing countries and use their cheap labour.
    “freedom” has it’s down side too…

  134. Thanks Stephanie for a different perspective. That is truly what makes life so interesting – learning about and respecting others’ ways of life. How I wish our politicians would do the same.
    Best wishes for a most happy 2014!!

  135. Right now I am reading a book called Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, which talks about how the communists from the Soviet Union imposed their system on Eastern Europe after the war. They were amazed when their so-called Proletariat did not rise up and accept them when they entered those countries, and so they set about to impose their will on the people. It is a very enlightening book and proof that the ends of an mythic socialist utopia never justify the means of political repression. I would not ever give up my freedom for economic security, because I would not want to live in terror of being arrested by the secret police because of what some informant said about me or because the state assumed that I might be come kind of threat. I would not ever want to live in a system when the rules changed on the whim of a dictator to the point that you could never be safe.
    I find it interesting that you are able to so blithely ignore all of the blood and injustice that has been heaped upon the Cuban people because of the communist regime.

  136. I appreciate the perspective you present (it’s not often presented from the perspective of regular people) and would also love to see Cuba. For those of us, however, who have family who were brutally killed during the revolution and who have undergone the political oppression since that time, it’s a little harder to be all embracing. Tourists don’t get to see everything and don’t always get the hard truths from locals. I know the times are changing for Cubans and there is great hope for the future. I hope “progress” doesn’t destroy much of the good that you encountered.

  137. I’m a crocheter and I love your blog even though I don’t knit.
    I’ve also been to Cuba and you’ve captured an important essence: older Cubans love the Castros because they remember the horrendous time before. Younger Cubans, who take the literacy and healthcare for granted, are frustrated with the ban on travel abroad and with the general lack of political rights.
    Without the revolution, Cuba would be the Dominican Republic, which is a great vacation spot but a true hellhole if you were born black and poor there.
    I know that the DR has a veneer of democracy but it’s only a veneer. Check out Junot Diaz…

  138. Socialism does work in certain situations. Cuba had several advantages:
    1. a relatively benevolent dictator who didn’t rape the country to build a mansion in France,
    2. a population with a common cultural background,
    3. roughtly one climatic zone,
    4. small size,
    5. for most of it’s history a big benefactor (USSR).
    All of these contributed to success since infrastructure requirements were limited and cultural and climatic differences weren’t a big consideration.
    Trying the same tactics in aggregator countries (I don’t know if that’s the right term) like Canada and the USA is far more difficult. We could all be housed too. I have a spare room that could house someone but am I willing to share? Nope. We could do with fewer cars, smaller homes (does a family of 4 really need 3-6000 sq ft of living space?) spread across less space, etc. We are living the dream here in North America and, to a lesser extent, in Europe but that will change over time as we start to realize the full cost (public and private debt, travel time to the ‘burbs, lack of public facilities, breakdowns in health care and education) but it will take a few decades yet before we see real adjustments.
    Imposing a socialist regime in most countries would not be (has not been) successful but a trend towards a more socialist way of thinking would benefit us all. We are all better when everyone gets the health and educational foundation that gives them the chance to succeed and live a happy life and we are all poorer when we allow life’s challenges (mental, educations, health etc.) to break people.

  139. I’m happy for you that you have been able to go to Cuba before its socialism is no more. As an American I’m not really allowed to go, but I’d love to. That said, probably once its socialism dies or is altered, Americans will descend upon it and ruin it for everyone. So glad you’ve had a lovely vacation and escaped the cold! And for once I’ve avoided reading the comments because, well, you put it perfectly in your PS.

  140. My kids are Chinese and I’ve learned so much about stereotypes and misconceptions by visiting China three times in the past decade. The world is not black and white. I would love to visit Cuba and have enjoyed reading about your vacation.

  141. I’m so glad I waited for Hannah to post her perspectives on socialism before I read this.
    Fudging statistics is a real artform, requiring “special ed”. I feel obliged to point out that very few of us reading this posting have buried, or seen buried, most of our loved ones due to disease and/or outright starvation, year after year, as a matter of course. How would I feel if someone came along promising me I would never again bury my babies? I’d kiss their feet! I have no idea how men in general would feel about this but as women didn’t “vote” it looks like they felt much the same. Of course none of them are allowed to vote anyway, so there you go.
    AND we should keep in mind that countries with winters as well as summers have a very different set of problems.
    Thanks for giving us this to mull over. I wish health and happiness to you and all your readers.

  142. Thanks for your virtual tour of Cuba. Wish I could visit, but I live south of you.
    It seems Cuba has a lot to learn from America, but America also has a lot to learn from Cuba, too. Wish we could all get along. Perhaps then we would be able to solve problems such as poverty, homelessness, and many illnesses as they did in Star Trek. Those basic necessities shouldn’t be science fiction, but reality.

  143. Thank you for giving me, one who lives smack-dab in the middle of that country to the south of you, a view into a place where my government won’t allow me to visit. I’m grateful that you shared it. Some of us down here are well aware that our worldviews are skewed by what we’ve been taught. We want to learn more about our world–from many points-of-view.

  144. Great post. Visiting Cuba is now on my bucket list. It is refreshing to get an ordinary person’s perspective about modern day Cuba, instead of all the old bad stories from so many years ago.
    And I agree with JoAnn’s comment, that the good health care and education that Cubans now get are vast improvements over the old system that really matter to the people.

  145. Wow, you are amazing! You have opened my eyes and now not only is Cuba on my list to travel to, it may even be on my retirement list. Thank you for being such an eloquent writer. One of the many reasons I admire you.

  146. Yes, no country is perfect.
    No, I wouldn’t accept 100% literacy and healthcare at any cost.
    Maybe those interviewed are happy because so many refugees have taken to the water to get out of Cuba.

  147. Ugh. This is the post that finally makes me stop following your blog and buying your books. You are so incredibly paternalistic and condescending. To take an expensive vacation and deem the citizens of Cuba to “have enough” and then return to your cushy home (mostly made possible by you capitalistic ventures) is just disgusting.

  148. Ugh. This is the post that finally makes me stop following your blog and buying your books. You are so incredibly paternalistic and condescending. To take an expensive vacation and deem the citizens of Cuba to “have enough” and then return to your cushy home (mostly made possible by you capitalistic ventures) is just disgusting.

  149. Cuba has been on the list for a long time – I love the point you make that Cuba is not fully socialist – people are making money from their own capital projects in tourism and crafts.
    I love the crochet in that last photo! And the architecture. I cannot wait to go.
    Katie =^..^=
    P.S. How’s the weather shock, coming back to Toronto? haha

  150. Nice pics. I prefer freedom to totalitarianism. What do you think people are going to say when you are questioning them about how they like their situation? They are making those cars into boats to escape to the U.S. Make your next vacation to Florida and ask Cuban refugees what they prefer, Freedom or Tyranny. I appreciate your snarky story about the New Yorker visiting Cuba. No we aren’t allowed into Cuba and any self respecting American wouldn’t go, until the Cubans have freedom. “Any society that will give up a little Liberty for a Little security will deserve neither and lose both” Benjamin Franklin. That’s all.

  151. I wonder how much of the literacy has to do with a single language, and little immigration? (Or do they have significant immigration? I don’t actually know….)

  152. A beautiful post. As an American who has visited many foreign lands, I know that there are many great ways to live and that, for sure, Americans are pretty intolerant of anyone choosing a different path.

  153. You saw the tourist side of Cuba. Of course it is wonderful. The tourist side of any country is. I am an American. I remember when missiles were placed in Cuba, pointed at the US. I remember the ruckus associated with Soviets removing them. I remember when people were fleeing that country in massive numbers. I remember when Castro made threatening comment after threatening comment to my country. Life for the general population may be better in Cuba now, but Castro is still the leader. He is a dictator who rules with an iron fist. Do people in Cuba have cell phones? Can they leave the country if they wish? Can they vote Castro out of office? I don’t trust Castro. Don’t be seduced by the facade for tourists. It is nice that you had a pleasant vacation there. But there is more to Cuba than what you saw.

  154. I agree with Willa Slater’s thoughtful comment! Also, I wish Harlot would stop talking about ways to skin her poor cat. Next thing you know, she will be trying to figure out how to kill two birds with one stone.

  155. Being a United States citizen and after filling out the government paperwork, I was in Cuba in February 2009, as an academic librarian attending the International Book Fair. I also visited libraries, the university, the literacy museum… I loved Havana, its people, its music, its colors, its dancing, its history. I am disappointed that Obama has not reversed our policies towards an island nation that we badly mistreated in the years leading up to the Revolution. I’m glad you got there and I’m glad you blogged it.

  156. It looks like you had a wonderful vacation and your post is lovely – but I have to say it’s been REALLY interesting reading not only it, but the comments as well. Educational for me, at least.
    As for me – well – I’m afaid that on a global scale, Cuba hasn’t been in my thoughts for years. As a child of the 50’s and 60’s (living in Florida) I remember the missle crisis, and the boat people and those well known lessons about how an elementary school sized desk would protect us from an atomic blast.(lol) Not to mention fictional films like “The GodFather” and “Havana”. Then there was a revolution and Castro and something else and other things and life moved on both there and here. So – What do I know? Nothing at all. It sounds like some things are working and some things aren’t – pretty much like the rest of the world.
    In the meantime, as thinking adults – we do what we can and make an effort in our own small corners of the world and pray for our children. Oh yes – And KNIT!

  157. Your next vacation should be to North Korea, I hear they are all equal over there too. I’ll bet if you ask them they will tell you how happy they are and how they love dear leader.

  158. I so appreciates your insights. I would love to visit Cuba but, alas, I am a U.S. citizen. You were so fortunate to experience it all.

  159. What a great summation you made. We’ve been lucky enough to do some traveling this past year (Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary…) and what we’ve observed are for the most part happy people (valuing family, education, health…). They want their children healthy and educated and are working hard at it. As you said, there are many paths and we have to open our eyes to their choices and their accomplishments instead of being stuck with “our way is best.” Thanks for sharing and I’m so glad you had a wonderful trip!

  160. I am Mexican/American, and have relatives that came from Cuba before the revolution(inlaws). There was a great deal of wealth there before. After all the corruption/coup? they left in Cuba, I don’t understand the dictatorial politics, at least with the older ones, they possess here. Talking to you Rubio & Cruz. I heard it had something to do with JFK. I have one request: Next time you go back to Canada, please take your fellow countryman Ted Cruz with you. I’ll gladly take Mayor Ford aka Chris Farley! In the Latin culture, you won’t see homelessness, maybe unemployment, but not homeless people. That’s not who we are, we don’t throw ours out on the street. Nor will you see our elders in a retirement/convalescent home for the most part.
    Based on your blog, I have a hard time believing their literacy/grammar levels exceed Canada’s. America, yes, I can believe it. BTW, are you basing this on English? Spanish is much more expressive, so that may be why it appears to exceed.
    No they don’t do alot of knitting there or in Mexico/Central America. Weaving or crochet is their thing. And you should see some of those women from Mexico who crochet. My son’s babysitters could literally watch t.v. and occassionaly glance down at their crochet!! Even worse, they made their own patterns up as they went along. Probably cheaper to do with regards to yarn. You don’t need great yarn to crochet. My aunt taught me to crochet when I was 13. I believe she preferred it over knitting.

  161. Liz – I doubt very much that Harlot’s vacation was “expensive”…we all know her ability to stretch a dollar til it hurts 🙂 And from what I’ve read, her home, while lovely because it is filled with family, friends and love, is hardly “cushy”. Just sayin. We’re all entitled to our opinions. A difference of them is what makes freedom free.

  162. Thanks for a lovely post, Cuba is one of my favourite countries and seeing your photos makes me want to go back! Your post pretty sums up my experiences and all I remember from everyone that I met was the friendliness, I didn’t feel threatened when I was walking on my own, especially late at night, and although they didn’t have much they were so willing to give that to you.

  163. When I was a kid, I lived in my parent’s house. They fed and clothed me. Medical care was free. My education was Free (this all from my child’s perspective at least). They even bought me most everything I asked for yet I could not wait to turn 18 and become autonomous. I left their house, got a couple of jobs, moved into a little dinky apartment and there were times when I did not eat at all, but I was happy because I was free. I’m still free. Much older, and have a better standard of living than I did when I first moved out 35 years ago, but I would not trade my freedom for all the free health care and free education on earth. Everyone should be allowed to make their own choices. That’s my 2 cents.

  164. Thank you for another lovely post.
    Ditto to Rachael’s comment. She put into word what I was thinking much better than I could have.

  165. As an American of Cuban descent, I’m very envious of your ability to take off to Cuba at the drop of a hat. My one visit to Cuba to visit family and get to know many aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time came after months of paperwork and planning to secure a visa. I’m glad that you got to visit my beloved homeland, it is truly “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.”
    Your post reports your experiences and observations, and I can’t fault you for that, but please keep in mind that a tourist only sees very little of what a country is actually like. My parents lived in Castro’s Cuba for 10 years before they left. They were adults at the time of the revolution, and so got to experience both the before and after. Even with the improvements in access to healthcare and education, they were still willing to leave behind their families and everything they had ever known in order to provide a better life for the children they hoped to have. When I visited Cuba I stayed in my uncle’s house in Havana, not in a resort. If you think the people there have “enough” to live on without help from their families in the US, you are mistaken. I’m sure the people you spoke to had only positive things to say; they have no choice in a country where children are encouraged to report their parents for “speaking against the revolution” and where your neighbor could be a spy for the local committee without you ever knowing it. The revolution has certainly brought some improvements to people’s lives, but the picture you saw is a very, very small picture. I do believe that things are now starting to slowly improve, but it is a very slow progress.
    As far as the knitting/crochet aspect, both crafts are known in Cuba, but crochet is far more popular. My mother learned how to do both, but was able to make part of her living by crocheting lace trims for wedding and party dresses.
    I was tickled to see you mention the tradition of grapes at midnight on New Years. We did this every year when I was growing up, so the tradition is definitely known and practiced in Cuba, though it comes originally from Spain.
    Thanks for your post, and thanks to all the commenters for giving a larger perspective.

  166. These posts have been great to read. I’ve wanted to go to Cuba since I was 12 (and I’m more than 5X that age now) and I first met Cuban immigrants. I’m goin in March! I’ve told DH, my relcutant companion, that he needs to read this asap.

  167. Thanks for your great posts from and about Cuba, and especially the wonderful PIX (your photography is awe-inspiring)! Our family went to Puerto Rico for vacation in 2011, and found much the same architecture and plant life there but, sadly, a great deal of abject poverty and crime. I won’t get into a political debate, but I can’t help wondering if some Puerto Ricans would trade places with Cubans if they could…

  168. Both your writing and the many comments are SO interesting. I used to live in South Africa, which we all know had and has many, many problems, but it’s still a beautiful country full of beautiful people, which is what I got from your post. For some reason Judy Collins’ voice is running through my mind: “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, I really don’t know clouds at all.”
    Love your photos.

  169. What a thought-provoking post, and with beautiful photos as well!
    I understand the conflicting opinions about Cuba’s politics. I do not treat the word “socialism” as a 4-letter word, but I highly value my civil liberties (infringed upon as they currently are). It’s hard to fathom not being allowed to vote and fearing for my safety if I speak my mind in a reasonable manner. But I have also seen abject poverty on my travels to various Caribbean countries. Maybe if I had EVER known true hunger I would not think twice about surrendering freedoms for food and shelter.

  170. What makes you think the people chose this form of government! And also, did you choose the
    “form” of government you live under. I don’t think so.

  171. Thank you for chancing the results. This was an outstandingly educational post, one that I probably wouldn’t have gotten *anywhere* else, and I’m grateful to have been able to read it.

  172. Thank you for showing me Cuba through your eyes, as I agree with you on so many issues (yarn for example), so I appreciate your thoughts and the pictures.
    cheers, cheryl

  173. I don’t have a lot to say about the debate between socialism and democracy, like you said, we all have our problems and I look around at our wonderful country and occasionally despair. I hate to say it but everything makes our political support look anemic. Vote people! Especially if you’re under 35!

  174. I really enjoyed reading your observations and seeing your photos. I always find it refreshing to hear a different view presented about places where all one seems to hear are horrible things. I also think that all those commenting here have been very helpful as well. Since I am an american ex pat now living in the uk I find that I am seeing the world in general in very different ways and enjoy learning more each day. Again, thanks for sharing.

  175. I’m from one of those “socialist countries” (at least before the elections a couple of months ago). I love the fact that my country sees to the health care and – my favourite topic – education of every citizen. Even university studies are free.
    IVwould have been “better off” by far in the US (I’m a relatively well-off Norwegian) But I would much rather contribute to the country’s communal health and education than be able to afford yet another car. Or whatever.

  176. Thank you for sharing. I love that you recapped your visit. It sounds like you learned a bit on this trip, which should be at least part of why we travel? yes? It is pleasing to me to get first hand info, and dispel fear that is tossed about regarding some other countries. Thank you again.

  177. Stephanie, as always your posts give me food for thought. Politics and government oversight aside, I am very glad you wrote about the trip. My world is larger for your talented descriptions, and the lively discussion in the comments! Stay warm, think of the warm sunshine of Cuba and hug it tight.

  178. Stephanie, thanks for the effort you put into this blog. I can just imagine how long it took you to write this post because I can feel from here how much care you took with your words. The pics are great and I am glad to have a bit of information about a place I will probably never visit – not because it’s against the law, but because I have so many things I want to do that are higher on the list. I don’t judge other people or their beliefs or their countries, but I do believe that we all of us, always, everywhere, have choice.

  179. To: Maxine at January 7, 2014 8:33 PM
    Most people I know who went, travelled to Mexico “first”(wink,wink). Personally, I’ve had no interest in going to Cuba, and no interest in going to Mexico again. Funnily, I want to see Canada and when it’s not under an ice spell.

  180. I was so surprised when I read you were in Cuba. I honestly didn’t know anyone was allowed to travel there. I don’t think we in the US are allowed to but I could be wrong. I’m glad you had fun and were safe. Are things really cheap there?

  181. I am a frequent reader of your blog and wow am I disappointed with this blog. As a Cuban-American living in Miami whose parents were forced out of their homes, I can tell you this idyllic revolution mentioned here is far from the whole truth. I would encourage you not to take at face value the statistics put out by a dictatorship about its own country. Of course they say the literacy rate is 100%. Of course they say there is no homelessness. Why, when they have the power to manipulate all facts, all news, all information about their country, would they choose to admit the real state of things there? And who is there to tell you otherwise? People in Cuba are terrified of saying anything against the government, of admitting that they do not have “enough.” They are too scared to tell you that the government-subsidized food isn’t enough to feed their children for a day but it’s supposed to last for weeks.
    I would encourage you to come to Miami on your next vacation. Ask Cubans who have since escaped the island and you’ll hear a very different tale.

  182. My father fled Cuba when he was 8 years old. Left behind his parents and infant sister. Both my Mother in law and Father in law left around the same time. All were separated from there families until they were able to leave as well. Since the revolution it is estimated that over one million Cubans have fled the dictatorship, I doubt that includes the people who have died at sea.
    I encourage you to read the blog “Generation Y” by Yoani Sanchez a Cuban journalist who is living in Cuba and has been arrested multiple times for speaking out against the government. I sincerely think it will give you a point of view that as a tourist you are shielded from.

  183. My father fled Cuba when he was 8 years old. Left behind his parents and infant sister. Both my Mother in law and Father in law left around the same time. All were separated from there families until they were able to leave as well. Since the revolution it is estimated that over one million Cubans have fled the dictatorship, I doubt that includes the people who have died at sea.
    I encourage you to read the blog “Generation Y” by Yoani Sanchez a Cuban journalist who is living in Cuba and has been arrested multiple times for speaking out against the government. I sincerely think it will give you a point of view that as a tourist you are shielded from.

  184. I really loved this post. I vacationed in Cuba when I was a student a dozen or so years ago. While there was much I wouldn’t trade my Canadian homeland for, I found Havana to be quite eye-opening and inspiring. And frankly, given what I thought I knew of the country, I really didn’t expect that.
    Nothing is black and white, everything (and everywhere) is a shade of grey. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on Cuba.

  185. Hats off to you! It’s easy to eradicate homelessness when the homes you give away are stolen from their rightful owners. How about you eradicate ignorance and study true history? Folks, the internet is home to many words, albeit not all valid. PS: prior to your glorified revolution, Cuba was already an established country. Developing, indeed! And quite contrary, many yarn stores were thriving.

  186. All countries have “issues” that someone loves/hates. Thank you for sharing a part of Cuba that we USA citizens don’t get to see. I hope one day I can visit Cuba freely (read – without going through another country)

  187. Thank you for giving us images of Cuba today from an outsider’s perspective. Everything that we know about this island-country is full of dogma. Ir’s great to hear about your experiences with living, breathing Cubans. And the architecture and beaches still look beautiful.

  188. Thanks for a interesting post … I’m against the travel ban for US citizens. If its so horrible in Cuba, let us see for ourselves!
    I’m a US citizen who thinks we should provide healthcare and education for our population … and I’m happy to pay taxes to do it!

  189. Beautifully said, nicely illustrated, and I only wish more of my countrymen would read it. That was an amazing post and if I could figure out how to print it in my little local newspaper, I’d ask for permission to re-print.
    You have a wonderful outlook.

  190. Thank you for your intersting and thoughtful post!
    I grew up in Socialist East Germany (GDR) and I share most of the experiences in the comments of Hannah (from Poland) and Katrin (GDR).
    Don’t know much about Cuba but because of these experiences in a socialist dictatorship I am afraid that you as tourist are not allowed to see the whole picture (faked statistics, no free press and so on).
    YES to free Health Care and Education for everyone, YES to decent living conditions and YES to Freedom of thought, vote and speech…for Cuba, the US, North Corea, well every country… I think we all agree that it cannot be an either/or choice!
    Greetings from Berlin! 🙂

  191. Glad you went. Glad you’re back. Glad you wrote about it. Really, really glad you opened with an Inigo Montoya quote. That is all.
    Well, that and the observation that the comments that in essence say, “shut up and knit” remind me a little too much of the people who told the Dixie Chicks to “shut up and sing.” Excellent documentary if you haven’t seen it.

  192. I think for the most part politics are dealt with the same everywhere, go with what appears best. That’s how I vote for U.S. President, not based on party affiliation (I’m a Republican) but which candidate seems to be the lesser of two evils.
    I don’t know Cuba’s past or present enough to have a knowledgeable opinion, but it seems Castro served his purpose – at that time.
    I agree, resiliency is an admirable quality, and an attitude of ‘less is more’ is obviously a wise understanding of contentment. Neither of those will feel like a coping mechanism as long as we live in a rational environment that nurtures everyone to evolve, with freedom.
    These are beautiful pictures Steph. Thanks for entertaining this armchair traveler. 🙂

  193. Don’t numbers like zero homelessness and “the literacy rate is an amazing 100%” make you wonder?
    What about dysfunctional families – how do they live together; people with learning disabilities, how do they all learn to read?
    Certainly we would all be better off if we were more open-minded and willing to learn from other cultures and societies. Rich North Americans could cut way back on all types of consumerism (yes, almost all of us).
    Western capitalism isn’t great. I’m just suspicious of perfect.

  194. Wow. I’m genuinely surprised at the lack of incendiary devices in this comment stream, despite divergent views. So, we’re all here because you talk to us about knitting, but then when you broach a highly politicised, completely non-yarn-related subject, there is a fair and frank discussion?
    Have you considered world domination?

  195. Very interesting post. As an English women living in the US I often find the lack of understanding the average American has for other countries and cultures dismal. But I also have to remind myself that the US is as big as a continent, and how many times would, a country the size of France, Spain or England fit within it’s borders? I’m sure not everything in Cuba is rosy, and not all the figures reported are correct as there is no other way of measuring them, but I do know one thing after years of traveling… we as a people shouldn’t judge others by our own standards, needs or wants. And one final point, if we in the developed countries are so free to educate ourselves and travel why are we so ignorant when we have the choice not to be?

  196. Two words:
    NSA spying
    Senator McCarthy
    Cold War
    social democracy
    “national security”
    extreme poverty
    voter registration
    civil rights
    high crime
    black ghettoes
    unfettered capitalism
    income inequality
    historical perspective
    economic exploitation
    racial profiling
    Indian reservations
    media bias
    anecdotal evidence
    Just sayin’

  197. I think you are being naïve. My father has done humanitarian work in Cuba (and has traveled as an American from Miami to Cuba). When they go, they take as much weight as they can in Tylenol, vitamins, baby formula and other basic necessities. If health care was as complete as you say, they would not rely on humanitarian groups for these basic things. I think that you sometimes see the world as you would like to see it, instead of how it is.

  198. I am glad you had such a wonderful vacation with your family and enjoyed warm beaches. Cuba’s tourism bureau sure has put a great spin on life in Cuba.

  199. Where i live, the temperature is 28-32C (80-90F) all year round & there are few occasions requiring a knitted sweater or shawl. There are only 3 yarn stores in my city of 5+ million as few knit. I get my addi needles online from Germany. Perhaps the weather/lack of knitting supply are reasons why knitting is not as popular in Cuba? TY for sharing pics of Cuba. The bougainvillea is beautiful.

  200. I live in south Florida. I think you should visit Miami and the rest of south Florida and talk to all of the Cuban Americans who escaped from Cuba and you would hear a very different story indeed. We still have a lot of people washing up on rafts or homemade boats on our beaches who are trying to flee that country and make it here alive just to have a better life. The people you talked to were obviously not free to speak their true minds.

  201. I’ve read some of the comments here. The 5 or 6 comments above mine span the gamut of reaction. No, Stephanie, you are NOT naive. Each culture has problems and inequalities. I, however, as a US citizen/resident, think that we are not given a true picture of Cuba (nor of many other countries) by our government and our commercially owned and run press outlets (please note I did not say “news” as we get more commentary than news these days). During Hurricane Katrina we refused medical aid from Cuba – they were standing by outside our territorial limits with aid and were refused entry because of these ancient and outdated political differences.
    I’m glad you had a great time. I’m glad you had the courage to put this blog post out. Thank you for all you do in knitting and in cultural exposure.

  202. There are many positive aspects of the American health care system. When you compare outcomes for specific illnesses the United States in among the best. Minnesota has been ranked the healthiest state in the nation 11 out of the last 18 years. Even so, there are a number of people advocating a massive overhaul of our state and national systems to provide so-called universal health care. No one opposes covering everyone; the real question is, how can we best do it?
    There is no instance in which a government has run a health care program more efficiently than the private sector. The only way universal health care can adequately address rising health care costs is by limiting available care. Rationing of care is not an acceptable health care delivery principle, nor is it an appropriate way to contain heath care costs. Read about the often vaunted Canadian Health Care system from a physician who has lived and worked within that system.
    Universal care ensures that everyone gets the same care but of necessity it will be of lower quality. In order to control the cost the government will limit payments and determine treatments. Doctors will be required to only use what the government determined was the “best practice” to treat your case, even if it doesn’t work for you. They will be punished for using treatments that were not a listed “best practice.” Government directed medicine will result in fewer practitioners because their practice is controlled by the government.
    On top of all that, you will not be allowed to purchase treatments that would not be provided by the government run plan with your own money because that would unfair to those who could not afford to do so. Obamacare bans “private fee-for-service” so like Canadians and citizens of many other countries with universal coverage you are not allowed to purchase additional care. That is why so many Canadians come to the U.S. for medical care, even though they have so-called “free” universal health care. Where will we go?
    Physicians will called upon to make treatment decisions based on their perception of a patient’s quality of life and age.
    The problem with socialized medicine is that the government’s budget is finite. As health care costs rise the government will have to decide whether to raise taxes or cut benefits. The Obamacare law includes the establishment of an Independent Payment Advisory Board whose role is to insure that Medicare payments are held below the cost of medical inflation. Rationing will occur if we rely on an appointed government panel to control Medicare funding.
    Ironically, while approximately 75 million baby-boomers begin to enroll in social security and Medicare benefits, over 50 million potential taxpayers have been aborted who otherwise would have offset the cost of baby-boomers’ benefits! As the abortion mentality continues to permeate American culture, the greater effect will be felt in the economy. Except for immigration, the United States has had a falling population and the problem is even worse in other parts of the word. What’s more, the Obamacare law includes free abortions for everyone making
    The real reason health care costs have been rising is because health care is getting better. Americans have been unwilling to sacrifice better care and technological developments due to cost. Rather, they look to market forces to drive costs down. This is what we have seen with the Lasik surgery technology. Initially it was very expensive, but as demand for the procedure continued to rise, the costs have gone down.
    The reality is that technological advances cost money to develop. Part of the increase in health care cost pays for this development. If the government limits costs, the first loss will be the development of new technology and treatments. This will limit the ability of the medical community to treat new illnesses or find treatments for illnesses like Alzheimer’s and cancer. The United States has always been the foremost developer of new treatments and technology for the world.
    The shift to universal health care will inevitably exacerbate the shortage of doctors and limit access to technology because the government will only be able to afford a finite amount. Some legislators talk about a “medical arms race” where cities and municipalities are trying to spend more money on the best advances. They think this is a bad idea and want to limit the amount of technology that can be accessed in a given region. Supposedly this will reduce costs. In reality, it results in limited access, and long waits by patients—a form of rationing well known in Canada.
    However noble the goal to provide all Americans with adequate health care, Obamacare is not the type of reform that will ensure everyone receives the care they need. Government-run, socialized medicine can only lead to rationed care because they contain no provisions to expand available care while adding patients to the system.
    There are better alternatives that can provide health care for all:
    Fee-for-service: Protecting an individual’s right to use their own money for health care costs not covered by insurance is essential to avoid health care rationing.
    Expanding access to the private market: We can help individuals enroll in adequate health care programs by offering subsidies to enable all Americans to access insurance in the private market based on their ability to pay.

  203. I loved your post as a liberal to the south, but I must point out that socialism and democracy are not in opposition. Democracy is in opposition to dictatorships. Socialism is in opposition to capitalism and is part of the spectrum towards communism. Communism is linked in opposition to democracy because generally in order to get the wealthy with the power to give up that wealth some group has to step in and forcibly take it. This force is undemocratic even if it is in the best interest of the whole. Many countries are part socialist and still democratic. Americans don’t want to admit that more help for the poor wouldn’t be a loss of their freedom, but ign

  204. I spent a few months in Cuba as a student about ten years ago. I appreciate your willingness to accept ambivalence about the Cuban system, and I also think it’s more complicated than you may have seen in a short visit. I was in Cuba not long after having visited Nicaragua, and the differences between these two very poor countries were striking. I agree with you that the accomplishments of the Cuban revolution are very real: for all the poverty in Cuba, there was no destitution to speak of. Many people had less than enough, but there were not homeless children, there were not people dying of starvation. People had medical care, though the medical system didn’t necessarily have the resources that one would hope for. The city of Havana was surprisingly safe, I think probably almost as safe as claimed by the official statistics.
    That said, the Cuban regime is repressive in real and nontrivial ways. Cubans could be hauled in at the pleasure of the authorities if they were seen associating with foreign students or tourists. Press freedom was a joke. Pro-revolution rallies were mandatory. The dual-currency economy operating at the time privileged those with relatives abroad or access to tourists, and left black markets or dregs for the rest. Many people’s homes were inadequate, and basics like pens and toilet paper were scarce.
    My sense was that people of my generation (I’m 31 now) were far from uniform in their feelings about the Revolution. Many people were acutely aware of freedoms that they did not have. They were educated and creative, and in my experience, they were sufficiently informed to feel resentment at not being allowed to take their place in the international community of scholars and artists. Interestingly, I also had the sense that it was in fact an accomplishment of the Revolution that people were asking, “Why don’t we have what the Canadians have?” rather than “Why aren’t we in misery like the Hatians?”
    I’m not sure that it’s accurate to think of the repressiveness of the regime as somehow a price that must be paid for the gains that have been made, because that implies that repression is the only way to accomplish material improvements. But it’s true that they are linked in ways that I haven’t been able to fully understand. I did have the sense that Cuba’s international isolation was a mixed blessing, and I worry that, when it someday joins the globalized world, most Cuban people’s living conditions are more likely to slide toward those of Hatians or Nicaraguans than those of Canadians.
    These are my impressions as another outsider, and not an expert. But I thought you might be interested. Thanks for your willingness to have an open mind and speak out.

  205. Re: the repressive aspects of Cuba’s government — since the Revolution, Cuba has faced the reality that US international policies meant that Cuba had to guard against US involvement in any attempt to overthrow the Cuban government. The US has had a long-standing policy of involvement in Latin American affairs, dating to its early days as a sovereign nation and known as the Monroe Doctrine. The US has utilized this NIMBY policy against quite a few Latin American states: the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, its role in El Salvador — and in Nicaragua with the contra scandal.
    It’s impossible to ignore the role of the US in attempts to ‘rid’ Cuba of Castro; the Bay of Pigs invasion lingers in international consciousness even now, a half-century later, but it was only the noisiest attempt. Can we say that oppression perhaps begets repression?
    How many democratically-governed Latin American (or other) nations have had their political system subverted through clandestine US support for a specific type of political party, or for multinational corporations, for example?
    One can go on and on… the complexities of any given political event are unknown to most people because governments hide information about their policies and actions, because media reportage is circumscribed, and because people are willing to believe the reportage they’re fed if that reportage fits into their belief systems (systems which themselves are determined by how the person has been brought up to see the world, the bias or limits of the education he/she has received, the extent or direction to which he/she has grown ‘outside the box’ — in short, how a person sees him/herself and ‘Others’ in human society).
    There is no black & white; at best, what we can do is to open our minds and understand the true meaning of the words, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  206. Thanks, Stephanie. Enjoyed your vacation vicariously. I’m an Alaskan, I know dark and cold, intimately. I also know what it’s like to be homeless, to not be able to afford to send your kids to college. I’m 61, with several chronic illnesses, and I can’t afford to visit the doctor more than once a year, and don’t get me started on the cost of the prescriptions. I’m just hoping I make it to 65, when I’ll be eligible for our version of “socialized medicine”, Medicare, to kick in. So, yeah, your description of Cuba sounds like a paradise to me – too good to be true.
    The lack of knitting, now, that would be a drawback. I crochet, but knitting is my fave. Reminds me of my friend Lourdes, who finally got to go “home” to the Phillipines last year (she’s a Vietnam era “war bride”). She took her knitting with her, and everywhere she went, people were fascinated with the “new” craft (once again, expert crocheters, no knitting), and wanted to see the yarn and needles and to know how it was done. By the time she left, she had taught all the women in her family how to knit, along with most of their neighbors, and she gave them the needles and yarn she had brought with her when she left. Since then, we collected a big box of yarn and spare needles for her to send back – a “care” package for budding knitters! If knitting takes off in the Phillipines, you’ll know why…

  207. Funny, at the moment, I am wearing a crocheted vest which I bought in Cuba. I was there on a mission trip, and my impressions were very different from yours. I am glad that you had a good time, though. I did, too, but for very different reasons.

  208. Thank you Stephanie for giving a different perspective on the country of Cuba. Its interesting to hear how it is there as we do not usually hear much here in the USA.
    We truly are a bit spoiled in North America, as my stash will agree.
    Thank you.

  209. Thanks for this post. Thank you for being able to think OUTSIDE the box. I am weary of the “socialism bad, democracy good” chant that I hear so often, living in a rather conservative southwest Virginia.

  210. I’m from the US and while I don’t travel abroad as much as I’d like, I’ve done it enough to understand how important it is to visit other countries to understand our differences more fully. I’m fascinated by the different priorities of different nations and how they are shaped by history and culture. Thanks for this post!

  211. Great article! I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Cuba in 2005 with my church. I agree with everything you have to say. One addition I would make would be to emphasize the happiness and generosity of the Cuban people. Also, there food is OUTSTANDING!

  212. No offense, but I think your perspective on Cuba is more than a little naiive. That wonderful, subsidized housing you saw used to be privately owned by hard-working men and women. Castro seized their private property and froze theirfrank accounts in the name of “wealth redistribution.” He received the popular vote because in the beginning, he hadn’t yet shown his true, Communist colors. Their are dissidents rotting in Cuban jails as we speak. The luckier, ones like my parents, we’re able to leave with only the shirts on their backs. My father’s family has lived in Cuba since the 1500s. Can you even imagine the pain of leaving everything and everyone they loved behind? Obviously, things have to be pretty bad before contemplating a move like that. It’s also worth noting that the Cuban government is masterful about having tourists see what they want you to see. Nor are people free to talk or criticiize the regime. I’ve had relatives go back illegally to help family members left behind, and I could tell you stories that would break your heart. All is not as it seems, I assure you.

  213. It’s your blog — write whatever the hell you want! I love hearing about Cuba, and thanks for your reflections and the photos.

  214. Hi Yarn Harlot-
    As a visitor to Cuba in 1979 I echo just about everything in your post from my visit there.
    People were lovely and warm. I had an opportunity to use the clinic there for a rash from fish eaten and walked in, was treated, received medication and left with not one thought or mention of fee, insurance etc. Couldn’t say that here (South of Canada) in many places.
    I appreciate the memories your photos brought back and your take on the country-Right on-Thanks for sharing!

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