"Los Habaneros," the People of Havana

Collection with 28 media items created by Transterra Editor

Cuba 13 Sep 2013 06:00

The People of Havana

In September 2013, I photographed almost 100 people inside their homes in Havana. The inside of a person’s home says as much about their personality as their portrait does, and most of the homes I visited were filled with personal, social, cultural, economic and religious clues about their Cuban occupants. These interiors testified to the many hardships the people of Havana endure and the Cuban people’s resilience and resourcefulness.

Despite the years of international isolation, economic sanctions and general hardship, the people of Havana are warm, welcoming and positive. They are determined to enjoy life. There’s a strong sense of community in every neighborhood. Vulnerable people are supported by their community and no one is isolated.

Cubans make do with what they have. When something breaks, it’s fixed with whatever material that can be found. Nothing is wasted. Frequently it seems that nothing is thrown away. Despite the poor state of the buildings and the cramped conditions, most of the homes I visited were also filled with vibrant colours, mementos, belongings, beloved pets and human warmth and spirit.

The poor housing situation in Havana contrasts sharply with the many positive changes to society that the Communist Party has bought about. The housing in Havana lags far behind all the other indicators of development. Although the government still struggles to provide citizens with safe and comfortable housing, Cuba has a high life expectancy (79 years is the average), a 99.8 percent literacy rate, free education at every level and free health care for all its citizens.

These discrepancies between the housing conditions and the level of education and health care create a situation that is unique to Cuba. This is a country where a highly specialized doctor, for example, has no other option but to live in a cramped and humid room, in a dangerously unstable building.

There are however inconsistencies between the living standards of certain people. Not everyone is in the same situation and some people are able to live in better homes. This is often due to government connections. Residents who have family members working abroad and who send money to them and residents who are paid directly by tourists also have the means to improve their housing situation.

Cuba Havana People Life Daily Lives Woman Man Elderly Photo Essay Portrait Series Portrait Habaneros Citizen Inhabitants

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Los Habaneros 26
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

A couple in their late 80's who have to struggle down two crumbling staircases every time they need to leave their home.

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Los Habaneros 27
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

This is one of six tiny one-room dwellings that were created by putting up partition walls on the ground floor of a colonial house. This man's small space is further divided by the wooden supports that are preventing the collapse of the ceiling.

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Los Habaneros 28
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

This woman, a retired teacher, has filled her small apartment to the brim with mementos. She loves to add to her many collections.

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Los Habaneros 1
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

Inside the home of four elderly brothers in Old Havana. The youngest of four brothers is enjoying a cigarette at the ground floor apartment his family has lived in for four generations. The apartment has electricity and basic plumbing, but water infiltration into the ceilings and walls has caused great damage.

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Los Habaneros 2
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
12 Sep 2013

A dancer cuddles her puppy in her one-room apartment. The cracked and sagging marble floor is typical sight in buildings throughout Havana. Despite the acute shortage of living space in Havana, most people have at least one pet. Dogs are particularly popular. Pets are considered part of the family and are treated with love and respect.

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Los Habaneros 3
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

An elderly lady points toward a portrait of revolutionary, Camilo Cienfuegos. This 78-year-old woman shares two small rooms with her son. The original stairs to their home collapsed completely and were replaced by a four meter-high, rickety, homemade staircase. Ten years ago, this woman fell down these stairs and broke her shoulder, hip and all of her front teeth.

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Los Habaneros 4
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

A young woman in her kitchen. The floor of the landing in front of this apartment has caved in and large marble slabs have fallen down to the hallway below. The couple who lives in this apartment have to walk carefully along the edge of the landing to get to their front door. They have no running water and have to carry buckets of water across the dangerous landing.

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Los Habaneros 5
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

This lady shares her apartment with her daughter and grandchildren. Although the apartment allows in more air and is brighter than most, it can only be accessed by a crumbling staircase.

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Los Habaneros 6
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

A cabaret performer dressing in his one-room home in Old Havana. As well as performing in clubs, he also teaches salsa to tourists.

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Los Habaneros 7
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

Although the building where this man lives is as unstable as most buildings in Old Havana, he has family in Miami who help with the costs of keeping his small apartment in relatively good condition. Cubans with family members abroad often have the latest flat screen televisions and other appliances in their homes. These items are unaffordable to most Cubans and they are not generally for sale in shops in Cuba.

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Los Habaneros 8
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

An elderly woman in Old Havana reminisces about her younger days. She lives alone in two tiny but immaculate rooms. Like most people in Havana, she is rarely alone for long as her neighbours visit often. Cubans have a great sense of community and are friendly and supportive of each other.

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Los Habaneros 9
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

This woman's one-room home is immaculately clean and tidy. She has to share a bathroom and kitchen with three different families and her room is accessed by climbing a crumbling staircase.

Like many elderly Cuban ladies she carefully stores and displays her personal mementos. She was very keen to show me her vast collection of old family photographs as well as newspaper cuttings of Fidel Castro.

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Los Habaneros 10
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

This man whose wife died recently now lives alone in this roomy house in Old Havana. He is struggling with his loss but does his best to get up every day and to keep his house tidy. The house has all its original features, but it’s damp and the electrics and plumbing are very rudimentary.

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Los Habaneros 11
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

This woman enjoys the good lighting and ventilation due to the large street-level windows. Her windows, like most street-level windows in Havana, are barred for security.

Like most Cubans, she is very sociable and she has a constant stream of friends stopping by to talk and to swap rations.

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Los Habaneros 12
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
08 Sep 2013

This man was hit by a car a few years ago and his right leg was badly injured. After years of serious infections, the decision was made to amputate his leg. Whenever he needs to leave his first floor apartment he has to either drag himself down the crumbling staircase or rely on two strong friends to carry him down. He turned to drink to ease his suffering and although he is no longer in pain, he continues to drink heavily. He relies on begging to survive.

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Los Habaneros 13
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
04 Sep 2013

This woman's apartment is on the ground floor. Although there is the constant risk of the building collapsing, the ground floor rooms often have better light and ventilation.

This woman is taking a break from her dusting and enjoying her cigarette seated next to her window which looks onto the street.

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Los Habaneros 14
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
09 Sep 2013

Three friends who are sharing a room with one other friend. The two men standing had small roles in a Spanish movie, filmed in Cuba, in the 1990's. They are proud of this and still refer to each other jokingly by they on-screen names. They were well paid but they spent all the money in the months after the filming ended on having a good time.

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Los Habaneros 15
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Two elderly brothers in their home that is very damp and has a mould issue. Although the house is quite spacious the plumbing is very basic. The brothers were born in this house and have always lived here. Neither brother married and they have no children.

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Los Habaneros 16
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
08 Sep 2013

This lady lives alone in her manor house in Vedado, Havana. Her husband died at the end of 2011 and she has no surviving children. Her late husband’s family built the house, in 1928 to 1929. Unlike most wealthy families, they were permitted to stay in the house during and after the revolution. Her husband was an expert in water purification. During and after the revolution, he worked for the party.

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Los Habaneros 17
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
12 Sep 2013

This couple own this beautiful, roomy apartment. They run a bed and breakfast business for tourists. The husband is a retired teacher of politics.

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Los Habaneros 18
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

A man smoking with friends in his one room home in Old Havana, combining two of the favorite pass-times in Cuba - socialising and smoking.

More than half of Cuban adults smoke and lung cancer is a major cause of death on the island. The government is working at increasing regulations on advertising and sales of cigarettes and, as of January 2014, smoking has been banned in public places. Time will tell whether or not this new ban will be enforced.

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Los Habaneros 19
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

A young man reflected in a bedroom mirror at his home in Old Havana. This man shares two small rooms with his boy-friend in this crumbling house in Old Havana.

Pre-revolution, Cuba had strict laws that criminalised homosexuality. However private, non-commercial sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults 16 and over have been legal in Cuba since 1979.

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Los Habaneros 20
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

An elderly lady spends most of her day in her wheelchair in her covered courtyard because her tiny room has no light or air circulation.

According to the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma, Cuba's healthcare system is facing the urgent challenge of increasing its network of nursing homes and geriatricians to serve its aging population, given that the country will be among those with the oldest populations by 2050. Currently, 18.3 percent of the Cuban public is over age 60, and this represents more than two million of the island's 11.2 million citizens.

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Los Habaneros 21
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Aug 2013

This woman lives with her paralysed, elderly mother. The daughter is unable to have a paid job because she has to care, full time, for her mother. They rely on hand-outs from neighbors.

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Los Habaneros 22
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

A young couple and their baby live in this small apartment that has heavy damage due to the water infiltration. Their belongings are moldy and it is no longer safe to use anything electrical at the apartment. The family are considering moving into the already crowded home of some relatives.

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Los Habaneros 23
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

This woman told me that her long thick hair could be sold for a lot of money to make wigs and hair pieces. She always puts it up in a bun when she's out, incase anyone is tempted to cut it off and run away with it.

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Los Habaneros 24
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

This small apartment has been divided vertically to create a sleeping space.

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Los Habaneros 25
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

"Music's in our blood," this man told me. He also told me that he wears all his watches so that he knows where they are.