Cuba: A Culture Encapsulated
By Moe Zoyari
My first trip to Cuba happened unexpectedly. I was in Mexico working on a photo project when a friend from San Francisco, who is a great travel companion, asked me if I would go to Cuba with him. In less than a few hours, we decided to get our flight tickets and went to Cuba. At that time, it was banned to travel to Cuba with an American passport. Now at the time of publishing this book, traveling to Cuba is still restricted for Americans and only 12 categories of travelers are authorized to travel to the island.
We went by air, but when we got there, it seemed that we took a time machine back to the past. This was the first time in my life that I truly felt history. It was unbelievable.
An entry stamp of Cuba is seen in my American passport.
An animation map shows the flight route of 1327 miles from Chicago to Havana.
JetBlue airplanes taxi at O’hare airport in Chicago, IL, USA.
Traffic moves on Malecon highway in Havana, Cuba.
Cuba on the first sight
Buildings were begging to be painted. There was no Internet. And you could see vintage American and Russian cars all over Havana. You could see people playing dominoes on the streets and old international news headlines would spread mouth to mouth. A few times, I felt like a fortune teller using my satellite phone knowing what was happening a few days ahead of all Cubans.
Shampoo - like many other regular house items – was a luxury thing to have. Water pressure in the Casa, or the house, we booked was low and It made taking a shower hard. What we paid for one night at that Casa, which was relatively cheap - was equal to the salary of a doctor in Cuba. We paid for about $25 a night for a huge house that used to be a bank.
If something broke down, they knew it would take months for it to be repaired, and that fear of losing valuable things, made them to take care of their belongings better. They did learn to take care of their lives and their communities better, too.
With all these problems, people of Cuba were happy. Truly happy. And seeing this layered culture made me to go back four more times to document the life of Cubans which you can see a glimpse of it in this book.
Clockwise starting at the top left: Portraits of Cuban revolution leaders are seen through an old car in Havana, Cuba. / Cubans do their errands in Havana, Cuba. / A store is seen in Havana, Cuba. / Cubans and tourists talk and smoke in Havana, Cuba.
Havana is a time capsule, teleporting visitors back to the dreamy mystique of the 1950s. In 1961, the United States placed an embargo on Cuban exports, creating el bloqueo, "the blockade." This had large economic implications on Cuba as a whole and severely limited consumer choice. In many cases, stores sell only one or two types of a product, often leaving shelves empty. Even shampoo has become a luxury item.
We learn about history in schools, but it was only in 2015 when I first visited Cuba, that I truly understood what history meant. Old Russian Lada cars, which were imported to Cuba after the U.S. embargo. Old houses which were begging to be painted. And residents who would try selling you cigars in any occasion just to make a couple of dollars. The sound of live good music from every corner and body of dancers that one could see through a half closed house door. It seemed that I was thrown back 50 years to witness Cuba.