David and I just returned from an incredible week in Havana, Cuba, where we got to experience so many new things we didn’t even know were possible. Throughout the trip I found myself marveling at the many oxymorons that constitute Cuba… it is a surreal place and probably impossible to fully understand. And while I could write novels about the trip itself, for this blog post I thought I would share my takeaways related to fixing up an old farmhouse.
- It’s okay for things to be old. And look old. Havana– and the parts around Cuba we saw outside of its capitol city– is full of old old buildings that aren’t in perfect condition. It was very reminiscent of St. Augustine… with the flavor of Tegucigalpa (or probably all other Latin American cities, I just haven’t been to any others). The buildings were statuesque and absolutely stunning, but it was obvious most hadn’t been taken care of/ restored properly in the centuries since their creation. I’m sure a lot of restoration work has been done in Cuba but it’s certainly not the norm throughout. The longer we walked around the streets of Havana, the more I came to appreciate the old age of the buildings. Sometimes when you find out the age of a home, you’re shocked because it’s in such excellent condition… I’m not sure I would be shocked hearing those kinds of stats in Havana. At the end of the day, though, the obvious age of the city lends to its surreal beauty. And Havana really is a beauty. The photo below was taken in the second floor of a private home in which a family has opened a restaurant and bar on the third floor (most restaurants are state-owned, so this is a rarity) and I love how the home is obviously in disrepair but obviously breathtaking.
- Be happy with your surroundings, even if it isn’t your ideal. I think a lot of Cubans know their political/ economic situation is far from ideal, but that doesn’t mean they hate their existence. (I’m describing the Cubans who have chosen to remain in Cuba.) One thing I loved about being in Cuba was the warmth of the people I came across. It didn’t matter if we were in a tourist area or not– the Cubans were nice. They didn’t beg or grovel and they didn’t look down on us Americans clearly out of place. Cuba suffers from a low birth rate and high emigration, as well as multitudes of other issues, and yet we saw lots of families together, lots of kids playing, and lots of smiles. The below photograph shows how a restaurant in a prime location (yes, that’s the ocean you see through the window, and yes, it’s state-owned) chose to tear down most of the exterior walls but left the original two-story facade. What an innovative way to make the most of a crumbling building.
- Recycle what you have to make it work. A trade embargo is not the best thing when it comes to importing building materials– but some Cubans aren’t letting that stop them from building or improving their existing homes. As a cute sign eloquently stated in my grandparents’ restored 1792 farmhouse: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.” The picture below shows a wall with just the mortar on one side– the bricks in the second layer of the wall have been carefully removed. The Cubans seem to be experts in really using something up or wearing it thoroughly out.
I think I will be processing our experiences in Cuba for a months to come. Seeing how Cubans live– most on a state “salary” of $20 a month– was a good reminder of privileged I am, and how blessed I am to have been born in the US. As we move forward with our home renovation projects, I’ll be sure to take these lessons (and probably more upon further reflection) with me.