Friday, February 14, 2014

La Vida Cubana

 Researcher in Havana

Philippine is a typical example of the international type of person. Having roots from different countries and having traveled a lot, changing cities is very natural for her.

Name: Philippine
Age:    24
From:  Provence, France
To:      Havana, Cuba
For:    Research on urban agriculture and Latin-American cinema

1.      Your motivation to go to Cuba.

"Buena Vista Social Club, old cars and salsa, how original! Even before signing up for my master’s in the Netherlands I knew that I wanted to go to Cuba, so one of the first questions I asked the admission committee was whether it was possible to do research there during my first year. 
They said it might be possible, and I wrote to the Cuban embassy in the Netherlands, who after a few months responded that I could do research with a local university. 
I googled Cuba and sustainable development (as that is the topic of my master’s degree) and found out about the famous Cuban urban gardens. I decided to do my research on that and go explore the largest Caribbean island and all of its cultural highlights."

2.      Your basic academic interest.

"That’s always changing. I was always very interested in environmental protection, but then my interest grew wider, including social and political concerns, and eventually leading me to a mixture of engagement, media and arts. I got passionate about documentary filmmaking, and I decided to study sustainable development as a way to get a chance to investigate on the issues I would like to work on in a more creative way."

3.  What was research about?

"Last year, I focused my research on urban agriculture. This year I began a research on mobile cinemas in Latin America as a tool for social transformation. Two very different topics, but food and arts are both very important!"


4.  What you loved about Havana.

"Everything feels so different due to the peculiar geopolitical situation. Things seem to have got stuck in the past, which is usually a reason to despair for locals but makes the experience captivating for foreigners."

5.   The hardest thing to get used to.

"The excessive attention of people on the street was the hardest thing for me to get used to. Most people seem to imagine that any foreigner is a rich tourist who doesn’t speak Spanish or know anything about life on the island, and it was exhausting to have to explain things over and over again. Having no cell phone and very limited internet access was difficult at times, but it is also an interesting experience since one learns to live without much technology as we did in the good old times…"

6.  How was the place you stayed? 

"I split my time between Neptuno street in the center of Havana and a film school in the country-side. Havana was interesting but tiring for the aforementioned reasons. My last house in Havana had no electricity half the time and barely any windows, so we had a lot of romantic candle times. The film school was incredible, surrounded by palm trees and filled by young artists from all of South America and beyond!"


7. The best thing to do with company in Havana.

"Sitting at the end of the Malecón (the wall at the edge of the city facing the sea) on a warm night, listening to street musicians and watching large container ships pass by."


8.   Something special about the citizens.

"They have gone through a lot, so they are pretty strong and ingenious. Most people are cultivated, and no matter what they keep dancing, and even two years old children know how to move."

9.   The food.

"As much as I was traumatized by the culinary experiences of my first six months in Cuba (rice, beans and chicken every day and little opportunities to find better for acceptable prices), things are rapidly changing and I was pleasantly surprised on my second visit. There are now more imported products, and the introduction of private-run restaurants seems to be encouraging a little creativity in the cooking department."

10.  Something one would not imagine/know about Cuba.

"It can get down to 4 degrees in the winter!"

11.  A negative aspect of the country that you experienced or found out.

"The segregation between foreigners and locals. As a student I was allowed to take Cuban buses, but non-resident foreigners are obliged to pay much more for the same service on special tourist buses."


12. The best place you visited in Cuba.

"A little fishermen village at the eastern tip on the island called Nibujon, there was green grass around the houses and barely any commerce. A family invited us for dinner and showed us a wonderful place to camp on a hill near the sea."


13.  The best city you have ever visited in the world.

"I would say Amsterdam, Istanbul and Tbilisi. Don’t ask me to choose!"

14. Where you would like to settle down (if you’d ever chose to do so)…

"As much as I can’t chose my favourite city I would find it very hard to answer that question now. It is hard at times to be a foreigner everywhere, but I don’t imagine going back to where I came from. I’d like to be in a place with a dynamic alternative/artistic scene, so why not Buenos Aires!"


15. Your personal definition of “home”.

"Where I feel comfortable and alive."

16. Your tip or your warning about going to Cuba. 

"The value of local currencies, a convertible Cuban peso equals 25 cuban pesos, so don’t mistake the two!"

[ Photos by Philippine ]

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