Five life-lessons I’ve learned from Cubans

I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends! Foto credit: Pedro Pablo Chiu

Today’s guest post is by Sara Maria

The first time I went to Cuba I fell in love with its music, its art, and its people. Since then, I’ve returned to the island several times. During all these visits, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many Cubans and get a sense of what daily life really is for them.

My Cuban experience has been very varied: from 5-star resorts in Varadero, to Cuban BnB’s, to regular Cuban homes. I’ve been lucky to get a cool group of friends, and thanks to that I’ve immersed myself into the Cuban society. I have even broken the immigration law!

So, after having experienced the depth and width of Cuban society, I couldn’t help but wonder why I keep gravitating back to this strange little place on earth.

Art, music, creativity and good company are the Cuban medicine against all problems.
Art, music, creativity and good company are the Cuban medicine against all problems.

After given it a good thought, I came to the conclusion that Cuba is a place where I have learned a lot about life. Let me explain: the contrasts of Cuban society runs deep. The difficulties and scarcity they still have to cope with are extreme. The pain these people carry in their souls is heavy. Cuban history has a timeline of overcoming hardship over and over again. However, these people are proud of their country, they are very solidaristic, exude self-confidence, and they are HAPPY!

Yordani Salazar, a TV director who started a theater project for children in his community. The plays try to teach values to kids.
Yordani Salazar, a TV director who started a theater project for children in his community. The plays try to teach values to kids.

So, let me tell you the five lessons I’ve learned from Cubans, using my own translation of popular Cuban sayings:

1.) “Nobody is better than me, only the earth, and I’m standing on it” (Nadie es mejor que yo, solo la tierra y yo la piso):

One thing that amazes me every time I go to Cuba is the extreme self-confidence of EVERYBODY. Cubans firmly believe they are the hottest people on earth, regardless of body type, age, or even disability. I’ve seen guys with crutches flirting openly on the streets, 60+ men and women seducing the opposite sex on the dance floor, ladies showing off their curves with pride, and young people walking the streets like they are in a fashion show. Yes, Cubans are good-looking, but this overdose of self-confidence makes them irresistible.

The truth is that they have not been bombarded their whole life with advertisement telling them their bodies and looks are not the “ideal.” The result: an entire nation with healthy self-esteem. Whenever I’m in Cuba, I get infected with this confidence-virus and forget those extra kilos, or whatever is not perfect about my body or self. I have learned to honor and appreciate my beauty more after all these trips to Cuba.

- I’m sexy and I know it!
– I’m sexy and I know it!

2.) They may kill me, but I will have fun! (A mi me matan, pero yo gozo)

Cuba is a joyful place. Cubans are always smiling, joking, flirting, playing domino, dancing… having fun! When two Cubans come together, laughter flows, and if there are more than two, oh boy, that will be a party! Cubans know how to enjoy life despite all their troubles. In fact, they are masters of laughing at their problems!

I have learned a lot from Cubans in this regard. To look at life from a positive standpoint, and have a good laugh is, in my opinion, the healthiest choice one can make. Life is not easy at times. To be able to smile and enjoy the moment to the fullest is a lesson I keep learning every time I go back to Cuba.

Cubans are always having fun!
Cubans are always having fun!

3.) If there is no bread, let’s eat casabe (A falta de pan, casabe)

Casabe is a type of bread made of yucca. This saying basically means that if you don’t have what you like, you just like what you have. This is simple – yet profound – life wisdom. Many times in our Western culture, we are unsatisfied with whatever we get: it can always be better. In Cuba on the other hand, people have learned to accept whatever they have (or not have) and not to drown in a glass of water, so to speak.

While it is important to reach for more in life, sometimes, just being content with what we have can bring us peace of mind. Every time I travel to Cuba, it puts things into perspective for me, and I appreciate what I have more.

As long as you have your loved ones with you, it doesn’t matter if you have bread!
As long as you have your loved ones with you, it doesn’t matter if you have bread or, like in this case some spaghetti with mayonnaise to share!

4.) Where two can eat, three can eat too (Donde comen dos comen tres )

Sharing is very common in Cuba. This is an island that has been living under communism for decades. Ideals of fellowship and solidarity are still strong in Cuban society. In fact, nobody is alone or feels lonely in Cuba. There is always a friend, a neighbor, or a relative who will lend you a helping hand.

If you arrive at a Cuban home – and I mean a normal Cuban home, not a casa for tourists – you will see how basic it is. At the same time, you will notice that they share whatever they have with their neighbors, family, and friends. Last time, when I arrived at one of my friend’s houses with a Christmas-bread, they immediately gave a piece of it to their neighbors. As I noticed this, my friend’s mother told me: we are all a big family. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and there was no food, we shared whatever we had with our neighbors.

Nobody is left alone in Cuba!
Where three can sit, five can sit as well! – Nobody is left alone in Cuba!

5.) He/She who has a friend, has a sugar factory. (Quien tiene un amigo tiene un central)

This is a very Cuban saying since a “Central” is a place where sugar is produced. I have been lucky to make some good Cuban friends, and that has made a world of difference in my Cuban experience. Unfortunately, many tourists don’t get to experience the real Cuba. They get entangled between the tourist industry and the jineteros (scammers) that leave a bad taste to their trip.

Most Cubans are honest, hard-working people, who are so busy solving their daily problems that they will not mind approaching a tourist. They will go to clubs with groups of friends, they will hang out with their families, and they will be comforting each other in their neighborhoods. If you want a real friendship with an honest Cuban, you will have to approach him or her. The other way around most probably will be a scammer trying to get something from you.

As in the rest of the world, real friendship is something special. In Cuba, however, a friend is almost part of the family. While in other countries, special occasions like Christmas are reserved only for the close ones, in Cuba a friend will take you home to spend the day with their family. Cuban friends will do and give everything for each other and have a high level of loyalty and trust. Friends are there for each other no matter the time of the day (or night).

I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends! Foto credit: Pedro Pablo Chiu
I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends! Foto credit: Pedro Pablo Chiu

These have been some of the wisdom-pearls I’ve collected from Cuba. There is so much we can learn from its people. In my opinion, the beauty of traveling is to experience and learn from other cultures. For me, Cuba has been a place where I have learned how to appreciate and celebrate life. I hope you will also have the chance to experience the joy of living the Cubans hold.

Author Bio: Sara Maria is an international, global-minded lady who loves to travel, meet new cultures and learn from them. Born in Rumania, with Peruvian and North-African roots, she’s been living in Norway for most of her life. Sara Maria is a language teacher and an artist. Follow her journey of art and travel at: www.paintplayandtravel.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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