That being said, there are always ways of getting to know things. Some of the workers at the resort seemed to find the fact that we were Chinese to be highly interesting, and we ended up teaching them basic greetings over breakfast and writing down simple translations on napkins. In return, they told us a little more about what life was like in Cuba. I think the resort may have rules on what the workers were allowed to say, because some of these explanations were accompanied by quick finger-to-the-mouth shushing motions.
What I did learn was pretty shocking. I don't know if it's because I live a relatively sheltered life, but some of the things that they said were sad. When I first came back from Cuba they were on my mind a lot, but today I realized with horror that I had already almost forgotten them. Putting them up in the blogosphere can serve as a reminder as I'll see it when I go on Blogger to change the template of my blog for perhaps the thousandth time.
Warning: all of the information in this post was heard from workers at the resort (with the occasional consultation of a Wikipedia page or two) and have been but loosely verified. Content may be highly inaccurate / misrepresent Cuba greatly.
Education and Employment
Since all education in Cuba is free, so all Cubans go to school and get educated. The problem lies not in the education system, but rather in the jobs available. Since Cuba is a communist country, everyone is paid the same rate no matter what field you go into. So unlike here in Canada, fields like medicine aren't sought after because the years of school simply isn't worth the payout.
Instead, the best field to get a job in is tourism. Working at a resort will get you the most money because you earn more than double your keep in tips. All jobs in Cuba pay 12-20 Cuban Pesos (CUP) a month. First of all, that's not a lot of money. (Putting this into context, I bought a shirt for 14.95 CUC in Cuba... how long do you think Cubans have to save before they can buy a measly T-shirt?!) Second of all, you can't really buy much with CUP... that only gets you locally grown items, and you need more than that to live. In order to buy anything that's been imported, you need CUC, which is converted from Canadian dollars. Where are you going to get those Canadian dollars? Tourists who tip you with Canadian bills! And therein lies the key to why jobs at these tourist resorts are so sought after.
I found it quite sad how Cuba has such an amazing education system in place - I mean, 100% literacy rate? And free education? Sounds like the dream - but unlike in Canada people aren't as motivated to learn because there's no reward. After all, if you earn a better living working in a resort, why should you bother pursuing any type of post-secondary study? And when I see these 50 and 60-year-old men helping us to lug all our luggage from the check-in to our rooms, it gives me mixed feelings. Is manual labour being the best job really ok?
Life and Family
According to one of the female workers at the resort, Cuban males often have many women and fool around with all of them. They're also extremely lazy at home and make their wives do all the work. Of course, this sounds suspiciously just like a woman complaining about her personal life, so I don't know how much credit I should give this. A lot of the male workers at the resort were married and supporting their wives, so I guess I should take this information with a grain of salt?
Another thing that was mentioned was that a lot of Cuban girls want to marry foreigners. This is because Cubans aren't allowed to leave Cuba unless they are issued a white card by their government (basically the Cuban version of a Visa)... which usually only happens if you're married to a foreigner. The thought of this restricted movement is kind of daunting...
Also, interesting / kind of messed up thing: did you know that Cubans aren't allowed to eat beef? There doesn't even seem to be a religious reason to it... it's just that all beef in Cuba is raised exclusively for 1. export or 2. tourists. Even if you have your own herd of cattle, you aren't allowed to kill them and eat them... you aren't allowed to sell them to others either. All you can do is sell your cattle to the government... at the government's price. And if you break the law and kill some cows? The punishment is up to 40 years in prison... as one of the workers put it, "You get more jail time for killing a cow than for killing your own mother."
This would be illegal for Cubans to eat. Imagine that.