Opera Singers in Cuba

Opera Singers

(Me and Jessica with two of the opera singers that preformed in the hotel)

Walking the streets of Havana on another scorching day, Jessica and I began to hear a faint melody coming from within one of the beautiful buildings surrounding us. We decided to follow this beautiful tune to try and figure out where it was coming from. As we got closer to the hotel located behind were we were staying, we began to hear more clearly the deep, passionate bellows coming from what we recognized as opera. We entered the hotel to find three young men preforming in the middle of the lobby of Hotel Savia. There was a medium size crowd hypnotized by the powerful music these men were preforming.

I’ve only been to one opera performance in my life time and it was called Madam Butterfly. From this performance I wasn’t very impressed with the story line or the opera. It was a good experience but I never took interest in it. After being in Cuba for a few days and listening to all the street music and live performances during the days, I would have never expected to hear locals singing opera. The passion and power I heard these three men singing was mesmerizing. I can say that I have never been so locked into a performance and felt so many emotions from hearing any kind of music. These three men were nicely dressed, but not over dressed, singing in the middle of a hotel lobby the same way I’d imagine they’d sing onstage at their own personal concert. The hotel didn’t advertise this performance or make a big deal about it. It was very casual but the performance itself exerted as much talent as any professional singer or performer I’ve ever witnessed. This was just one small experience in Cuba that opened my eyes to the beauty and culture that the country held.

Here’s a short clip of one of the many songs these three men were preforming in the hotel lobby. There is also a hyper link that connects to the video above- https://youtu.be/yMv-dCyv9i8

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An Inside Look at the Family Dynamic in Cuba

familyThe economic status in Cuba has caused over whelming struggle for families. With hardly enough income per household to pay monthly bills and groceries, families in Havana come together to keep each other a float during this economic crisis.

The average home in Cuba consists of 2-3 bed rooms within the large broken down buildings in Havana. The ground floors are dirt floors, there’s no paint on the wall, just patches of the previous chipped off coloring of the cement, there’s very few doors within the homes. Usually there is one door in the entry way. There are only windows on the front of the house that is facing the street, none up in the bed rooms or back farther in the house. The décor within the homes aren’t ever consistent, maybe a few miss matched chairs and a table, or a random sofa that had been passed down in the family. In the homes of some of the elders you’d find a larger variety and quantity of knick-knacks that have been collected over the years. Again never matching, but every item collected in their homes could tell its own story.

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The average family size in Cuba is hard to calculate because the definition of family isn’t easily defined. If you defined family as only immediate members connected by blood, the average size might be around three people. If you include step children and step parents, the average number ranges a significant amount. It is also extremely common to have multi-generations living within the same house hold. This is part of the Cuban culture. But if you really want to know the average size of a Cuban family, you would have to realize that family isn’t only made from blood. The communities in Cuba are close and do what they can, under the circumstances, to help each other out.

Taking a closer look on how the family dynamics work for a local Cuban family, I got the chance to talk to Yahinna Francis Acebal Abreo and her three kids. Yahinna is 34 years old single mom that is currently in a paid training course for hotel and tourism work. She is the sole provider for her home and on average makes 15 cucs a month. She has two daughters and one son that range from the ages of 9 to 16. All three children have different fathers, none of which are still in the families dynamic any more. The oldest daughters name is Yeolin Tivero Acebal and she is 16 years old. Next in line is 11 year old Yenisleydis Tussaint Acebal. Finally we have the youngest son and he is 9 years old. His name is Lekyam Ruiz Acebal. This family of four lives in a small, ground level apartment home. When I say small, I mean small. When you walk in through the front door you are already in the kitchen. The kitchen has a dirt floor and is about a 8 foot by 4 foot room. In the corner behind where you open the front door, there is a tiny 3 foot by 4 foot cement room that consisted of a water heater, a bucket for a toilet, and a shower head. The last room connected to the kitchen was their one bed room. With a sheet being used as a door, you pulled back the sheets and saw a 5 foot by 5 foot room. On one half of the room was a pile of the family’s cloths, all mixed together. On the other side was one twin sized mattress that they all shared each night. The family’s average daily routine started off with everyone getting up in the morning and getting ready for school. All three kids would leave for school around eight in the morning and return around 5 that afternoon.neighborhoodd Yahinna would get ready for work and then walk every morning to her job. She usually gets home around the same time as the kids. When the kids get home from school, they are expected to do chores. Yeilin, the oldest daughter, cooks, cleans and does the laundry for everybody. Yenisleydis, the middle daughter, is expected to help her sister in any way she asks. Leykyam is expected to take out the trash every day. The only responsibilities that are expected from children are to do their studies and then their house hold chores. The mother and/or father is expected to be the sole provider for the house. There is generally one “leader” of the house; this person works and makes the income to pay the monthly bills and provide food for the family. Even though living conditions are very low and sometimes families don’t have enough to afford basic necessities such as soap, shoes, tooth paste etc., families in Cuba make do with what they have and are waiting for the day when feeding and taking care of their families isn’t such a struggle.

Like most families around the world, the parents want what is best for their children. Yahinna mentions that she hopes that the relations between the U.S. and Cuba normalize so that her children have the opportunity to go live in the U.S. She wants this because she believes there are better job opportunities and life opportunities that will help her children succeed and live better lives then how they grew up. What does Yahinna hope comes from the bettering relations with the U.S.?

“Bigger houses,” she said. This way all of the members of her family could have their own rooms and their own space to express themselves and grow.

“One day,” Yahinna said. One day, the economics in Cuba will improve and the life styles and living conditions for families will improve. Until then, families in Havana make the best of what they have and live each day knowing they have each other.

Community Pets

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During any hour of the day, you’d walk the streets of Havana and find not only people, but animals too. From day one in Cuba, we observed many different mixtures of dogs and cats freely roaming the streets as if they were equal members of their community. And from what I witnessed over the course of our ten day trip, that’s just about what they were.

Unlike in America, there didn’t seem to be a variety in the breeds of dogs. The only noticeable breed that we saw were Dachshund and then German Shepherds which were only seen if there were police dogs around. All the other dogs roaming the streets were mutts that seem to be made up of the same two or three different breeds of dog.

The majority of the dogs in the city seemed to belong to the community, not any particular owner. There were a handful of dogs that noticeable belonged to certain families or individuals. All of the dogs I saw were very malnourished and were covered in flees. They also were pretty battered up. Some of the dogs you could tell had been abused or in fights; they had cuts and patches of fur missing from all over their bodies. They people could hardly support feeding them and their families each month, let alone a pet. I believe this is what led to the large quantity of street animals in Cuba. The lack of consistent income and the price of living gradually got harder to maintain, so people couldn’t afford to have pets and stopped feeding them and let them out on the streets to scavenge for food.

Seeing this abuse every day defiantly pulled at my heart strings because I love animals and it is hard for me to see so many of them suffering like they were. I hope in the near future Cuba’s economy improves so that the dogs and cats of Havana can go back to being pets that are loved, adored, groomed and fed by their owners.

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Gerwyn Jones Profile

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Gerwyn Jones is a radio host for Radio Habana Cuba 102.5. Speaking fluent mostly fluent English, he is the English reporter for the station. Jones is 71 years old and has been traveling to Cuba since 1982. He is from Toronto, Canada and still continues to travel back and forth from Canada to Cuba. Working for the station for only 18 months, Jones is very intelligent in Cuban affairs. He reports the news, sports, weather, and culture. His favorite part of the show is reporting on cultural aspects such as music, architecture, language, dance, religion, etc.

Radio Habana Cuba recently celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2011. Even though Jones hasn’t been working for the station for quiet that long, he is still very vocal with how he feels about Cuba and the relations that are going on between the United States and Cuba.

“The values of Cubans will not change when the U.S. and Cubans relations go towards normality,” Jones said. He has the best hopes that the normality of relations between the two countries will help the economy and the people in Cuba. One concern that Jones does have about the relation between the U.S. and Cuba is that the U.S. will influence more violence to occur.

“Cubans are essentially peaceful and welcoming people. We don’t want the U.S. to influence violence or the right to bear arms,” Jones said. These were two of the differences that he pointed out between the two countries. Cuba would greatly benefit from bettering relations with the United States, but many Cubans have concerns with the cultural effects that will take place simultaneously. Some examples given of negative impacts the U.S. might have on Cuba where the influence of gangs and violence.

Jones plans on continuing to work for the radio station for many years. His enthusiasm and passion for Cuba drives his work ethic and desire to learn. He loves what he does and believes it has an impact on the communities in Cuba.