An Investigative Essay on Toilets in Cuba

I have a lot of fun and exciting adventures to share about the last few weeks, but due to what I call technical difficulties, I have been unable to write them all up. Chocolate milk was spilt (by me) onto my laptop. The laptop seems to be working, but the keyboard isn’t, apart from the z key which types continuously. Anyway, today I thought I’d share with you a topic close to my HEART, STOMACH and BUM.

Cuban toilets deserve a whole league of their own in the world of sewage. Tourists are blessed with the fortune of facing only the best of what Cuba has to offer. Tourist toilets often have running water, and nearly always a stern-looking woman who will provide you with toilet paper if you pay her, and will provide you with a sour stink-eye if you don’t.  Most Cuban toilets are not like this. The typical Cuban toilet has no seat, no running water or flush system, no toilet paper, no soap, and no door – OR, in many ways even more disturbingly, a door which is too narrow for the cubicle and leaves most of you exposed. The toilets at the Faculty of Modern Languages are the epitome of a Cuban Toilet, as not only do they have no doors, but (if you have a delicate stomach, turn away NOWWWW) they are always FULL of poo. Which makes you ask yourself: who is going into a toilet WITHOUT A DOOR and pooing!?!?!?!?!!? I believe that whoever did the poo did it before the door was removed. It certainly smells like the poo has been there a very long time. The toilets make the whole of the building stink, which – added with the lack of ceiling tiles, broken plaster and crumbling blackboards – makes a vision of dereliction quite bombarding to the senses.
The toilets are marginally better at home, where we have a certain amount of control over their cleanliness.  Our toilet is divided from the bedroom by what some poor soul may have generously once described as a ‘door’, but is actually nothing more than a kind of plastic screen.  Privacy is not an option. Linked inextricably with this theme is the unfortunate affect the Cuban diet has had on all of our digestive systems. A mixture of grease, bloating rice and ruffage-filled beans means our bowels have been in a constantly confused state since our arrival (rum may also be to blame). We’re all convinced we’ve developed chronic IBS. My stomach (and – I’m not afraid to share this with you – my bowels) have become as delicate and temperamental as the U-pipe in my toilet in the bathroom.
Needless to say, the toilet has become blocked more than once. And our maid/cleaner/homehelp lady (the infamous Ana-Maria) made it clear this was our job to fix, by demonstrating on the porch tiles how to use the crusty, moulding toilet plunger. The toilet plunger had (it’s now – THROUGH NO FAULT OF MY OWN – deceased) a fun quirk. Every now and then, it would flip inside out. This meant that, whilst you were bent laboriously over the toilet bowl (imagine in the Sims when the toilet blocks: this is what it is like when a toilet blocks in real life ,it turns out), plunging enthusiastically, it will suddenly flip inside out and shower you and the entire bathroom in shitty, pissy toilet water. After this happened twice and my pyjamas got a bit unhygienic, I took to plunging the toilet in the nude. This somehow seems more hygienic to me. Anyway, after drinking water in Trinidad last weekend we all got a furious case of ‘deli belly’ (read: the shits) and inevitably the toilet was blocked.  One particularly nasty poo-specimen proved quite unblockable. After watching Bajan-housemate toil hopelessly over it for a while, I gallantly decided to take matters into my own hands. I worked for thirty solid minutes with that plunger, putting in so much effort that I gave myself blisters on my fingers. Then, in burst of energy I plunged with such gusto that the plunger became unstuck from the stick and a huge piss-toilet-poo-water explosion occurred, covering my face in piss-toilet-poo-water. As I stood, naked, weeping silently, over the sink, using my  blistered, puss-filled hands to wash the poo out of my eye, I thought to myself: This, THIS, is what I will remember as a low point not only in my time in Cuba, but also most possibly my life.
For more info on life in Cuba: Food in Cuba

May Day Parade in Havana: "TODAS A LA PLAZA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Today is a hugely important day in Cuba because it is MAY DAY, DAY OF THE WORKERS!!!! Obviously workers are a big deal in this Socialist State, however confusingly they celebrate day of the workers by giving everyone the day off work (!!??!?!?). People have been preparing for the celebrations all week, and lots of shops and businesses etc etc have put up signs declaring their support for ‘primer de mayo’ followed by the popular slogan “TODOS A LA PLAZA”, which my dictionary reliably informs me means “Everyone to the town square!”.
Being an easily influenced sort of girl, I followed these enthusiastic instructions and Calle B and I set off at a bone-tingly early 7.10am (it was meant to be 7.00am but SOMEBODY was late) (that ‘somebody’ was me.) Off we marched!!!! Fortunately for us we live a small walking distance to La Plaza de la Revolucion, but others had travelled from far and wide to attend and I was woken 4am by a rather irate Bajan housemate exclaiming “CHEESE ON BREAD!!!” at revelers outside our window. At 5.45am I was again roused from a dream-riddled snooze by some eery, spage-age techno music echoing through the streets and lots of whooping from Cubans who had arrived early and were getting excited. People came in their work uniforms with big banners and papier mache models of Fidel and also crocodiles (relevance of which remains elusive to me) declaring their support for the revolution. Although it was still very early, a huge parade of workers was marching proudly alone, and we snuck round the people watching the march and GOT INVOLVED! Unfortunately I didn’t have a 10 foot flag, a “Viva la revolucion!” banner or a red t shirt that said “#yosoychavez” on the back, so I didn’t look like many of the other people there, but I did have an enthusiastic and revolutionary attitude which I believe my fellow marchers appreciated a lot.

At one point the march came to a stop. Our group had got a bit split up and I was left with Bajan roommate and a certain J McGuigan, who is yet to make a name for herself in Manchester but has a strong fan base in Nottingham who call themselves the ‘McGuiglets’. We heard one or two words from an old man who I have convinced myself was Raul and/or Fidel, then they played the national anthem and chanted “Viva la revolucion! Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!” and everyone waved their flags like CRAZY! This seemed to really enthuse the crowd, as the march took up quite a pace after that and people positively stormed passed the memorial of Jose Marti, which lies at the centre of the Plaza de la Revolucion. In fact, they were moving so fast that it was very difficult for me, Bajan housemate and McGuigan to manoeuvre ourselves to get in a good position to see the people on the podium. Thankfully, through some extremely skilled side-stepping, we did manage to get to the podium-side of the forceful river of people, and only trod on one or two or three people/children on the way, and THAT’S when I managed to get my top notch photo of Raul HIMSELF!!! Admittedly, at that exact moment in time, I can’t say that I was 100% certain which of the several men on the podium was Raul, or if he was even there at all. Rumours were flying left right and centre about whether he was in green, pink or white, so I took photos of all the men and on returning home we singled him out. He (Raul) was looking pretty happy and waving cheerfully at all the workers. Standing below there were also some representatives from all over the world of people who solodaridise with Cuba. Today was dedicated to Hugo frickin Chavez who is continuing to remain very popular with the poplace.

We not only got in touch with our patriotic, socialist roots this week, but also got one on one with nature on Saturday, as we went for a cheeky trip to Las Terrazas. Las Terrazes in an eco-community that is a day-trip away from Havana. At first our plans were nearly foiled as the bus there was full and we couldn’t find any six-seater taxis, which made the whole thing incredible economically unviable. However, by a stroke of luck, we stumbled on a very shiny, red car owned by a nice man called Carlos who agreed to drive us there for a very reasonable price. Once we got to the eco-community it became clear it was an incredibly large kind of place, but luckily Carlos drove us around the little roads so we could get where we wanted. You’d think riding around in a taxi inside an eco-community would be frowned upon, but it wasn’t. We went swimming in some natural pools. Everything was very GREEN and disconcertingly slimy, especially in the pool. Regular fans will no doubt be impressed, amazed and proud to hear I actually jumped into the pool from a nearby rock (more slipped than jumped, really, but the point remains). Hashtag overcoming my fear of water 2k13! Of the evening we returned to our New Favourite Club, El Morro in the fort, but I decided not to make a repeat performance of my Rapping, as – and i’ll admit this without any shame or embarrassment – i was a bit nervous it was a one-off thing and I wouldn’t be able to repeat my roaring success. However, on Monday I was introduced to a group of hip-hoppers from the US of A as ‘the rapper’, and joined in their hiphop bodypopping dancing style (lots of twisty-wrist going down), so you’ll be no doubt glad to hear that I am continuing to represent the UK hip hop scene here, “across the pond (and south a bit)”.
I’ll end on some sobering news. The more sensitive souls among you might be troubled to hear that both my laptop and my mp3 player have come into contact with a serious amount of liquid this week, and neither seem to have come off too well from the meeting. Both have failed to respond well to my fiddling with them, despite gentle coaxing and frustrated bursts of anger. Additionally, the laptop has acquired a vaguely unpleasant smell of gone-off-chocolate-milk. Thankfully Bajan roommate keeps leaving her laptop unattended and, through some serious sleuthing, I know her password and so have been hacking it.
Lots of love, Sarah x