Weronika Zalewska’s photographic storytelling reveals an authentic face of Caribbean world. Her photos, dreamy and steamy, unveil the inner turmoil of Cuban streets outside the space of touristic sensations.
Life still happens on the streets. The seemingly timeless puzzle of buildings and objects gives a strangely melancholic background to each vivid action; making a barefoot football match or a domino game of elderly men who sit on the edge of the pavement a strange battle of questions on what’s happiness. For some who come here, the nearly spiritual charm of the street life gives an illusion of the unneeded change – contrary to the actual hunger for something new arising in the heads of the youth.
It’s a hunger for the kind of freedom that doesn’t fit in the frame they were formed to live in; the frame that prioritises the contribution to an idea that has become less and less clear, now mostly seen for the lack of chances given to people who have been wishing to explore the world that’s somewhere outside.
The door to the world is slowly opening, though for now mostly through the uncontrolled words and images that give a sensuous glimpse of the unknown variety. Many young locals connect with the coming-and-going backpackers who only leave behind their mad stories; never fully grasping how it feels for the young Cubans to listen while realising that money might indeed sometimes mean freedom.
Many older people avoid the subject of politics, seemingly torn by a contrasting mixture of feelings. Most of them still emotionally connect with the rare case in the world history when communism served as a social defence against an imperialistic regime, though gradually followed by the well-known hunger for power. Regardless of the contrasting beliefs, the vast majority seems eager for change; ready to finally give it a chance. Travelling around, I observe the same absurdities I know from the stories of my parents’ youth; the absurdities that make the hard-working people doubt their dignity while having to ask nearly for anything, from toilet paper to milk (even though, some limits on consumption would be considerable in the western world).
In spite of all, life happens on the streets, meeting the joy of simplicity. Many of those who come here wonder whether it’s the unity in difficult times, the small-sized houses where generations often wake up in shared bedrooms, or the dense weather; almost as if seeking an excuse for the western world to have lost the simplicity of sharing; an excuse for forgetting the compromise of co-habitation and its great favours, all out there to grasp through the senses.
In the small towns, young couples drink beers in local bars; men resting their hands on girls’ tight jeans in a perfectly cliché image from the Caribbean. The warm humid days pass, disturbed only by the rapid afternoon rains, short and powerful, easy to forget, quickly replaced by the evening sun that dries the corners of each street. Many things are lacking; but seemingly not the time, in favour of the ones who decide to stay outside.
Women sit down together on the streets or bungalow porches, braiding their hair among the loud laughter of storytelling. It’s a pity to feel that, through most of the local men calling at white girls on the streets, they share mixed feelings towards female tourists (also due to the rising popularity of sexual tourism, quite likely more common among women). I don’t blame them; it seems as if the male sexism deprived the female relationships of strength, tired with the competition of superficiality, though still swallowed by it.
There are many eyes that explore Cuba from closed hotels; judging the country for its ‘sell-off’ while at the same time expecting the comfort of familiar chain stores; often unsatisfied with its touristic standards outside of Havana or Varadero (an all-inclusive ghetto for the ones who like taking pictures of palm trees with blue & white background). They go in circles with horse-like eye-flaps not to get distracted by seeing the side streets. I hope people here will see through that; learn to do things differently as a nation that has been seeing the beauty in any condition. Once more, it looks like people take the best things from poverty much more than they do from the riches. In that way, Cuba is rich in the most genuine sense and will hopefully stay so.
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