Gifts brought home from Cuba
|This necklace, crafted from a silverplated fork left behind when Batista supporters fled Cuba in 1960 , was something I bought at a craft market near downtown Havana.|
No I didn't buy any cigars or bring back any of Cuba's delicious rum. I couldn't legally even bring back coffee, which I found to be rich and full bodied.
Works of art and handcrafts are the only things Americans can bring back from Cuba because of the U.S. embargo.
Cubans will gladly sell us those things but if we're caught smuggling them into the USA the penalties are harsh.
Each of the six members of our group were offered a cigar after a delightful rooftop meal in a downtown Havana paladar, a restaurant established in a home. The building had been owned since 1929 by our host Mickey's grandfather and operated as a restaurant by his parents. He played professional baseball with the Cuba National team until retiring several years ago to go into the family business.
After Mickey clipped the ends of each of our cigars and showed us how to get it started we all tried to smoke it without inhaling.
I nearly choked on the taste and I think I may have turned green, but some of our group members seemed to enjoy it. I left it in the ashtray when I finished my dessert.
The next day we visited a huge arts and crafts market the size of a football field near the waterfront where I ended up buying some paintings and a necklace, pictured above, that reminds me of an octopus, one of my favorite underwater creatures.
It's made of a silverplated fork, cutlery left behind when the rich supporters of Batista got out of town after the revolution that brought Castro to power. We were told that their estates fell into the hands of their servants, which live in them to this day. The silverware was confiscated by the government which held it until a few years ago. That's when they released it to crafters for making into jewelry.
The young woman who sold it to me spoke excellent English and told me that she had previously worked as a teacher of English to elementary school teachers, working for the state. But she said she's doing much better financially making and selling her jewelry in this crafts market. While teaching she earned about $15 a month. She makes much more now selling the necklaces and bracelets for $7 each. She still has her state health insurance, as everyone does, but now that she's on her own she is no longer eligible for the paid sick leave she'd be paid for several months as a state employee. She also has a home, paid for by the government, and her children are getting a good education, she said. Class sizes are, however, about 40 students to one teacher.
And if she should become ill she'd be in a precarious economic condition. So, she said, she is saving more than half of everything she makes.