We arrive to town of Hershey on our bikes. Here we get to know Ula, a Polish woman who has lived over 30 years in Cuba. What brings her here?
Back in the seventies there were many Cuban students in Poland. Usually those students, on contrary to the regulations of their studies, happened to socialize with Polish girls. Once upon a time Ula met such a guy and probably not as the only Polish female student at this time, she fell in love with a Cuban exchange student. Then the story goes: after some time she became pregnant and when the child was born, there were also some more problems to come. In Poland, just ahead of the imposition of martial law, life was not easy. To that end, Francisco, currently residing in Poland, had been deported to Cuba for disciplinary reasons. Then, Mrs. Ula with her newly-born child sailed with a ship to Cuba. Having no idea what to expect, she followed her destiny in the search of happiness.
In the beginning, as Ula says, it was very difficult. Especially as a young mother raising a child without the knowledge of the Spanish language. “How is Cuba’s nowadays? Very little has changed in recent years. Rice, beans, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, milk – you need ration coupons for all of these. You have to stay in long lines and the products are not always there”, she continues –“Ration coupons are registered by name. To get your liter of milk you have to be there in person, every day, stand in that line”.
The price of rationed milk is about 0.25 peso cubano or about 1 cent per liter. The black market street price skyrockets roughly 40 times to about 40 cents. The difference is dramatic, especially having in the view that almost every Cuban earns monthly only 250 moneda nacional which equals to 10 peso convertible or the same amount of dollars. As the saying goes, “Cubans are able to do it”, hence everyone here finds creative ways to make extra income on the top of the government salary. A perfect example is Marzena, Mrs. Ula’s daughter. She is a host for a Polish travel agency and guides tourists around the island.
How are you going to make ends meet in a household budget? The monthly rent is about 40 pesos, which is less than $2! The bills alone are about 0.09 MN for the first 100 kWh. The extra energy becomes few times more expensive. Goods bought on the street, such as mango juice, sugarcane juice or ice cream is extremely cheap, even for Cubans.
Unfortunately, the range of the shops where you pay with peso cubano is limited. The common perception, especially among aspiring Cuban girls is that moneda nacional is an inferior currency, thus it is fashionable to use peso convertible (CUC). At least the idea of using it, because in theory no one can afford it. However, more often than not I happen to see well-dressed Cubans showing off and spending CUC like crazy.
Call it what you want, but by all means any comparison to the more developed countries leaves Cuba with literally no social disproportions. The welfare states, such as Cuba, Sweden or Denmark, usually provide citizens with the opportunity to live extremely easy at a basic level. Make it Cuban style and then you get basic food, rum and tobacco at the Fidel’s bill. Add music and street snack vendors and you have all a Cuban needs to be happy.
Talking about food stalls, nothing energizes more than a 2 peso glass of sugar cane juice, called here guarrapo. It is always prepared on site in guaraperas.
Sometimes I hear sighs like “Life used to be better here” – trying to get to the point one may conclude – “Back in 2000, a beer cost 60 centavos and today it is 12 pesos”. That is twenty fold inflation and rise from 2 cents to as much as €0.40!
Myself, being a declared Moneda-Nacional-Man, a loyal idealist searching for practical ways to blow my giant pile of peso cubano, I get a Cuban leather sandals, a real steal for 250 MN, the official monthly salary or ten bucks.