I went to Cuba as a spoiled brat Canadian and came back with a whole new respect for those less fortunate.
When I first got to Cuba I had the attitude that I was a better person than people there because I have nice — and somewhat expensive — things. I didn’t want locals looking at me or the staff at the five-star resort talking to me.
When I first drove through town it almost seemed like those places you see on TV where people have very little and don’t seem to mind it. In fact, that’s exactly where we were. There was a strange moment when our double-decker tour bus with dozens of cameras drove by the residents and they waved and were very welcoming. It felt like we were at a zoo or on a safari, gawking at the people. It was at that point I lost all fear of these people I once thought were less than me.
When I went to the flea market I wanted to be like one of them. I wanted to negotiate with the person at the table and see what sort of deals I could get. Soon after I thought, “Wait a second, I have lots of money, these people don’t. Why not give them the asking price, if not more?”
That’s what I did. Walking the streets and going by some of the houses, friendly people greeted me at the sidewalk and said “Hola” and shook a hand if you wanted. I handed out some of the coins I had.
They have a dollar coin just like we do in Canada, and I had a bunch of them jingling around in my pocket. I gave away the change, not because they asked for it — and I certainly didn’t feel that’s why they were being nice — but it was just something that felt right.
Here I am: a well-off Canadian taking pictures of these people, and in my mind somewhat exploiting them so I could take the images home with me. On the bus back to the resort I went through the pictures and started deleting from the camera some of the ones I took of locals because I didn’t need to come back with proof that they have it rough. I’ll have those visuals in my mind for a long time.
After that excursion the luxuries in my suite I complained about didn’t seem all that bad.