Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Night Out at Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Havana.

While in Cuba we discovered some of the truths about the government and system out there. It started when we met a very good looking young Cuban waiter in a restaurant in Havana, who asked us if we wanted to go clubbing with him and his friends on Saturday, we didn't say no. Who would!? He promised us it was the best place to go clubbing for young Cubans, and there would be no tourists there. We had this image of them taking us to some little salsa bar on a backstreet, with dancing and £1 mojitos. Well, we definitely got the £1 mojitos, however the place we went to was nowhere near what we imagined it would be.

Fabrica de Arte Cubano (aka, Cuban Art Factory), is a new-ish project by famous Cuban musician, X Alfonso. It's an art installation in the early evening, and then around midnight it turns into a sort of 'underground club'. It's in a huge old oil factory, and there are various different rooms and areas dedicated to different things. This is where the wealthy Cubans come to hang out. The government kids, and the upper class in this socialist/communist world. 

Because despite what the government want people to think, there is a class system, and there is an aristocracy. And if you delve deeper into Havana outside the normal touristy Old Vieja district, it is very apparent and incredibly obvious. Just driving down the streets of Miramar and Vedado you pass huge mansions with brand new Audi's and BMW's sitting on the drives, while in Old Vieja people live in crumbling buildings and tower blocks, their 60-year-old cars pieced together with scraps from other cars.

Whereas on the streets of Havana you have adverse poverty, where the people aren't even allowed to own mobile phones and are terrified of discussing politics in fear of being reprimanded, here in a club on a street in the Vedado district, there are kids on their iPhones taking selfies, grinding dancing to Robin Thicke, and being very open about the fact they don't like living in Cuba and want to move overseas. 

The average Cuban earns just 24CUC a month, that's about £15. Entry to the factory at any time of day, whether you're just visiting for the art in the early evening or visiting at midnight for the club, is 2CUC (about £1.25). Our drinks all night added up to around 10CUC, that's half a normal Cubans monthly salary on one night out. The drinks system here is that you get given a card, and when you buy a drink or some food the barman/woman writes down in a box how much it costs. At the end you take your card to a man sitting at the exit, who tallies it up and charges you however much you spent. It was actually a really interesting way of doing things, and a pretty good way too! 

There is no doubt that this club is awesome fun, the art was impressive and experiential, there was a Cuban band playing for most of the evening before the normal 'club music' began (aka, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, Lana Del Ray etc), there were a few great bars dotted around with mojitos costing just 2CUC, a small cafe upstairs with delicate pastries, and a cinema room where they were showing everything from West End Shows (Shrek), to documentary films. X Alfonso financed the entire project himself, and I do think it's fantastic, however it's also very clear that the average Cuban on the communist government 'income' cannot afford to visit the Fabrica de Arte Cubana, which I think is very sad.

The big pointy thing in front of Jesus, is the memorial on Revolucion Square.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure every guy we met was called Alejandro, and all of them claimed to be artists, so let's just call them A1, A2, and A3 for the purpose of this post. These guys were insanely good looking and all spoke perfect English, and obviously as the other girls are taken, it was my job to keep them entertained so the others didn't feel the need to stray. Ha! It was such a chore. Not. A couple of them got high just like the wealthy English do (except with weed not cocaine - I can't imagine cocaine is readily available in Cuba), and one of them proposed to Jasiminne and I. We politely declined.

The band were awesome, everyone was jumping up and down and singing along in Spanish. We had no clue what the lyrics were, but it sounded good!

The toilets were...interesting. Toilets in Cuba aren't a pleasant experience, many of them have no locks on the doors, and they either have no toilet paper, or you have to pay a toilet attendant for it. Luckily I always carried my own tissues on me. 

I won't post photos of the guys we met, the last thing I want to do is get them or their families in trouble if anyone sees this. They were absolutely lovely though, complete gentlemen, and a credit to Cuba. They looked after us, and when Jasiminne felt sick they drove her back to the hotel and made sure she got their safely. She told us they looked after her and dropped her off right at the door of the hotel. They were also very interesting, one of them had lived in London for a year as his father works here, and next year he's hoping to move to America. Another is currently at university and hopes to move to Canada to become an engineer.

We asked them how they can move to different countries when normal Cubans can't...they told us it's simple, money and connections. It's all about who you know and how you can get out. A1 told us how he hates Cuba, the government, how he sees the terrible things they do and he just wants to get out ASAP. A2 isn't as bitter, he says he loves Havana, but just wants to experience living in different countries. We asked about the healthcare in Cuba as everyone says it's the best in the World. A1 shakes his head and looks to the floor with a saddened smile, "No. The tourist healthcare is the best. The local healthcare is not. The conditions are dreadful, when I tried to film inside the hospital, they threw me out". 

We learnt that to leave the country the average Cuban has to be invited overseas by a citizen of that country, aka, a tourist in Cuba. This is the main reason why every Cuban is so friendly and wants to be your friend, not just because being friendly comes naturally to them, but because if they become friends with people from overseas, those friends can then write to the government and ask their permission to have the Cuban come and stay with them in their home country. It's the only way the average Cuban can ever leave the country.

While in Cayo Largo we also got talking to a few Canadians who regularly visit Cuba. They told us stories that they've learnt from friends in Cuba. In the tower blocks in the cities, there is a warden on each floor, it is their job to know every detail about each resident on their floor. If a resident has a new bag or trainers for example, the warden will ask them where they got them from. The Cuban must tell the warden, usually they get these items from friends who come back to Cuba or from hotel guests. The warden writes down the name of the person, and where they got the 'luxury' item, and it all goes on record.

Fabrica de Arte Cubana is an amazing place, it was really eye-opening to see a different side of Cuba to the stereotypical one we'd imagined. If you're visiting Cuba, I'd definitely recommend a visit; interesting art, cheap drinks, and awesome music. What more could you want?

I hope this post was interesting and insightful as to how things are politically in Cuba. the Alejandro's did assure us though that it has been much better since Raul Castro came to power, apparently Fidel was much more of a tyrant. Since Raul came to power Cubans are now allowed their own businesses (Casa Particular's and Paladares - B&B's and restaurants), new cars from Japan and Europe are gradually being imported into the country, and they're allowed a little more freedom. But there's still a long way to go before Cuba is even remotely up with the modern world and treats it's people as every human deserves to be treated. It's simply the basic human rights that they lack, and it really is disgraceful. 

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