Hasta Siempre Internet 2: Analog Boogaloo

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The limitations of being able to connect in Cuba (to read more, see part 1) may be striking for someone coming from the US yet these challenges have had immense effect on how culture and society has developed in Cuba in recent years.

As soon as you step out of the airport, one of the first things you will notice is the lack of devices almost everywhere. In Cuba, there is a near absence of people texting while they walk or listening to music on headphones as they make their way to work. Instead you’ll find a lot more people out in the streets, whether it’s group of middle age women chatting, some kids playing tag, or a few teenagers going out for ice cream.

WiFi parks, however, are the other extreme. The only limit to internet access is the depth of your wallet. So Cubans don’t waste a second of WiFi leaving their devices idle. Though Cubans are generally very talkative, at WiFi parks, the only talking you’ll hear is from people making calls on FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp.

From conversations I’ve had, Cubans seem well connected, in the sense that they are caught up with some of the same movies, music and TV shows that are popular abroad. Cubans also seem informed about world news and events happening outside of Cuba and in some ways more engaged than people back home, as politics is not a taboo topic of conversation. Furthermore many people either have family outside Cuba or have traveled abroad themselves. Cubans are in fact pretty cosmopolitan despite Cuba’s portrayal as a “hermit island” in the news.

USBs play an important role in maintaining a free flow of media from the world to Cuba. The Cuban Government doesn’t recognize US copyright laws allowing for a flourishing exchange of pirated music, TV shows and movies. Often people download media at WiFi parks which they share with others via USBs. Certain enterprising individuals have even built livelihoods around the trafficking of media by downloading mass amounts of media on to USBs known as “paquetes” and then selling copies to others.

However, there’s more to Cuba than endlessly searching for ways to stay connected . For starters you can just go outside. You are in Cuba! But here are some analog things you can do to better slide into a life that’s (mostly) offline.

  • Bookstores: Even if you’re not very into reading it’s still worth checking out some books written by Cubans (who live in Cuba) as they are hard to find in the U.S. yet offer a perspective that you may find interesting. Best place to go are Cuba Libro, a bookstore owned by an American expat that’s also a really nice get some coffee and work on things for class if you’re not into reading. Alternatively, if you are in Cuba in the spring semester it may be worth going to the annual Feria del Libro at the fortress of La Cabaña which is basically a massive book fair were you can buy some very cheap books.

A Cuban “libro”.

  • Newspapers: Your best friend if you want news offline. Best to get them on Fridays as they include more pages. The two most common newspapers are both affiliated with the Cuban Communist Party which are…
    • Granma: Named after the boat the Fidel and Che used to first land in Cuba, Granma is the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Granma makes no attempt to appear unbiased but is your best bet if you want some general news about Cuba and the rest of the world. On Fridays, Granma also contains a spicy complaints/questions section, in which readers send in complaints/questions which then has to be answered by random government bureaucrats which can be an entertaining read
    • Joventude Rebelde: Tied with the communist youth organization, Joventude Rebelde is a good way to find out about cultural events. Any big cultural events happening in Havana will be listed in Joventude Rebelde from movies and concerts to art exhibits and theater.
  • Cultural events: There’s no excuse to not do anything on the weekend in Havana. There’s always something going on and it’s usually affordable and can sometimes become even more affordable if you bring your Cuban Student ID
    • Concerts: Vary greatly in genre of music. No matter how weird your musical tastes, you will probably find something you’re into during your time in Cuba.
      • La Fabrica: Interesting venue that is built in what was a factory. If you’re into either art or music it’s worth checking out as Fabrica hosts art exhibits and live musical events Thursday through Sunday
  • Pro Tip: You can text “cartelera musical” to “8888” on your Cuban phone get sent a listing of music events in Havana
  • Movies: The Cuban movie theater experience is something everyone who travels to Cuba should have. I’ll leave it at that
  • Malecón: If you’re looking for aesthetic sunsets, go here. If you get to know any Cubans you will likely end up going to the Malecón frequently as it is a popular place to meet up with people.
  • The Beach: If you ever have a full day off, this is also a good place to get aesthetic views and a break from the heat. There is a tour bus that leaves from Old Havana, which gets you a round trip to all the nearby beaches for only $5.

Last but not least, it’s easy to get caught up on the negatives of limited internet so here are a few positives:

  • Your Phone battery lasts forever
  • It’s harder to stay caught up on TV shows from back home but it’s also hard to get any spoilers
  • You can’t embarrass yourself on social media
  • FBI/NSA/Mark Zuckerburg can’t see you
  • You can’t stay up at night on your phone
  • You will always have solid excuse for not replying to things immediately or at all
  • You’re less likely to walk into a pole while on a FaceTime call

 

Alan Hamill is an International Studies major at University of Texas at Austin and studied abroad with IFSA at Universidad de La Habana in Havana, Cuba in spring 2019. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.

Article by Alan Hamill