On my first trip, I did not understand much of Cuba. I don’t speak Spanish, I hadn’t read up on the history of Cuba really, I just experienced and enjoyed Cuba but I left half of my heart there.
I feel there is great value in observing people in a place you don’t know, in feeling the place out. Especially as a street photographer.
I walk the streets, camera in my hand, and I just take it all in as it presents itself to me. I observe closely, I submerge in my impressions and follow my gut feeling. To me this is heaven on earth. And it helps me to not speak the language because Cubans are immensely warm and friendly people and will always make contact with you, especially of course with someone who travels “alone”, but once they realized that I do not speak Spanish they kind of forgot about me. They let me hang around without paying much attention to me.
The situation I love the most: I am part of what is going on and at the same time I am the observer…
To give you an idea of Cuban hospitality: when I was in Cienfuegos, one day I got up very early and walked from my house to the main local sightseeing spot, the Punta Negra. On my way back, it was around ten a.m., I felt I really needed a coffee.
So I saw this community center that was obviously open already. I went in, asked for coffee and was told I should kindly wait a few minutes, they would start the machine and make me some.
So I went outside and looked around and saw a terrace with many tables and chairs, a music system and some empty space near the speakers that could easily be used as a dancefloor.
And since things are generally slow in Cuba it is often a good idea to just sit down and wait to see what happens. And that is what I did. I had my coffee there and then observed people coming in and taking to the tables.
They looked at me and I saw the question marks in their faces but no one approached me. I took photos of them, smiled and generally felt very good about being in the midst of this … whatever… it turned out later that this was a company event.
The company rewarded the best workers with food and certificates. And then came the point when the dancefloor was opened.
I danced to a song, and that was of course a bit of a surprise (as I wasn’t even invited in the first place). However, it also broke the ice, and we had a great party after that! I was invited to eat and drink with them and we had a ball dancing together (and at one point we even had a little Cuban-German dance battle, it was so much fun).
To imagine the same situation in Germany… I would not have lasted five minutes before someone would have asked me about why I was taking photos and told me that it was a closed event and I would have to leave.