May 24, 2017
As told to Rebecca Kleinman
photographs by rhonda smith | March 1, 2010 | Lifestyle
The first time I visited Cuba was for vacation, but this time I was on a mission. The thing that always comes to mind is the country’s politics, but that wasn’t what I wanted to cover—nor was it what the Cubans I encountered wanted to talk about. Their conversations centered on daily life and family, just what I hoped to capture.
Many of my friends and relatives were scared for me to travel there alone, especially as a woman. But I felt pretty safe, and even hired a young man to squire me around on his pedicab. Locals give you access to places where a tourist would seem totally out of place, like the neighborhood barbershop. Throughout my four days of shooting, I scoured Old Havana, the Malecón—a famous waterfront strip from where it’s said Miami can be seen on a clear day—and beyond, including the central and new sections.
Immediately I was taken by the people’s friendliness. I happened to be there during its annual film festival, but not having prepurchased tickets, I was out of luck. Or so I thought until an old woman in line, who didn’t speak a word of English, overheard my limited Spanish and invited me to join her. Another woman noticed me near her doorstep and invited me into her home to share family photos and stories. It’s also common for Cubans to cook homemade meals for tourists to earn a little extra money.
I was similarly impressed with the overall sense of resilience in Havana. This make-do spirit could be witnessed from the elderly (a group of guys sitting on cement cinder blocks and balancing a tabletop on their knees for a game of cards) to the young (boys playing baseball with a paper ball and stick wrapped in tape).
My subjects didn’t mind me, allowing me to be a photographer’s dream—a fly on the wall. I couldn’t fully capture this place in one trip. Next time I’d like to visit the tobacco fields. I want to know more.
TOP IMAGE: A classic American, pre-1960 cacharro. BOTTOM IMAGE: An ice cream parlor in Old Havana.
photographs by rhonda smith