HAVANA, CUBA


If you go to Havana you may find things are not what they seem.

If you go to Centro Habana or Old Havana looking for a room to rent, you may well find a sparkling new hotel suite on a grimy street, behind the façade of a dilapidated building – or you may walk down a spotless street and find a room that has gone to seed, behind the façade of a sparkling new building.

You may see a 1950s Plymouth with beat-up bodywork and after lifting the top see accessories found in a more modern vehicle.

You may run into a black woman with pronounced African features who turns out to be the granddaughter of Caucasian grandparents, or encounter a woman with pronounced Caucasian features who is the granddaughter of African grandparents.

You may meet a taxi driver or bartender who’s an engineer, with a bachelor’s degree, or an executive who didn’t attend university.

You may see a black man who is a freemason, or a Catholic, or a white person practicing an African religion such as Yoruba or Palo Monte.

You may see a clear, blue sky and find yourself in a downpour within minutes, or find yourself in the rain and see a clear sky in mere seconds afterward.

You may hear someone praise the government and then see them do something to undermine the government, or hear someone deride the government and then do something that benefits the government.

You may see people looking for food the entire day – like lions in the jungle, or fish in the sea, or ants on land – but you will not see any malnourished people.

You may see someone acting courageous, and it could just be a way to hide their fears, or you may see someone who’s very calm, concealing their courage.

You may see someone dancing happily and that person could be full of sorrow.

You may see a product with a cheap price and it may just be quoted in hard currency.

You may see people protesting and they could turn out to be government agents.

You may hear that the economy is growing while doing worse every day.

You may see dirty streets and very clean-looking people.

You may run into extremely vulgar people at the city’s most renowned cultural centers, or come across highly educated people in the worst neighborhoods.

You may see a ramshackle home endure a hurricane and remain standing, then watch a building collapse after a simple rain.

You may see the most democratic place in the world, or find that no more than four people decide even the most insignificant of things.

You may be walking along a newly-paved street and suddenly stick your foot in a pothole.

Someone may offer you something to eat when they have nothing to offer.

You may catch a glimpse of the 21st century at luxury hotels, only to step out to the street and see a city intent on keeping the 20th century alive.

You may see a medical doctor upholstering his own furniture, and then see an upholsterer paying someone else to upholster his furniture.

You may see a talented man suffer misfortunes, and then a vulgar man enjoying good fortune.

You may see a doctor asking a healer for advice, or see a healer asking a doctor for tips.

You may hear people speak of the United States with a hate-filled tone, and later see them leave for Miami.

You may see workers at a factory stealing products to re-sell them, or see restaurant employees bring in their own food to sell to the patrons.

You may see a foreign worker staying at a luxury hotel as a tourist, or see a foreign millionaire lodged in a bad neighborhood.

You may see a person who has a degree in chemistry running public transportation, or see a transportation engineer who’s a high executive at a chemical products factory.

You may run into many Fifth World things while coming across many First World minds.

You may be surrounded by the sea while eating imported fish.

It may be winter and feel like summer.

You may come to believe there are no homeless people in the city or you may have a long chat with one of them.

You may see many people in the same place and feel that very few actually get together.

You may run into many people who like to visit Havana and find very few people who’d want to stay there.

You may hear a lot of people say that there’s no place better than Cuba to live in and many other people say that Cuba is the worst place to live. Some may say there are countries where life is better and others will say life is worse, and those who say such things may have never been out of the country.

You may see people who have an aggressive look and are actually peace-loving Christians.

You may be celebrating a national holiday festively, and, on studying the history behind it, find that it was actually a day of death.

You may see people walking down the middle of the street and see the sidewalk overgrown with tree roots.

You may hear beautiful speeches and see far from beautiful prospects ahead of you.

You may hear people speak ill of capitalism while using several capitalist devices.

You may hear someone say that this article derides the city and that someone may love Havana less than yours truly.

The truth is that Havana challenges the old Biblical proverb of “seeing is believing.”