Growing up in comfort in Mexico City turned commentator Karla Zabludovsky on to Communism, making her think that ideology was the answer to the world’s inequalities. So in 2009, she and a friend went to Cuba to see the revolution’s success’ firsthand. But the lessons the island taught her were not what Marx and Castro might have liked.
Long before I visited Cuba, I was sure it would feel like home to me. My family disagreed. When my father dropped my friend Lucia and I off at the airport to catch our flight to the island, he told me I’d be back in two weeks. ‘He’s so wrong’, I thought. ‘I’m not coming back.’
We planned to comb the island from East to West by car. Lucia would leave but I’d settle in Santa Clara, the adopted city of Che Guevara, and join the revolution.
I did notice my new home was lacking in some ways. Upon arrival in Santiago, we settled into one of the safest-looking restaurants for a late-night snack. They were out of bottled water—and everything else on the menu—except for ham sandwiches. ‘It happens often’, the bartender told us.
The next morning, daylight showed dilapidated buildings, groups of bored looking men, and pharmacies with nearly empty shelves. But I wasn’t about to doubt the revolution just yet.
Soon we hit the road. The highway was lined with Communist slogans on billboards. ‘Homeland or death.’ ‘Socialism is humanity’… At first my heart swelled with pride. But I started wondering why the government felt people needed to be reminded so forcefully about the revolution’s ideals.
In Camaguey, Lucia and I went for a drink at a local bar. A group of twenty-something locals and a Dutch tourist joined us. After our second round of mojitos, Lucia discreetly kicked me under the table. I looked to her left and saw the Dutch man running his hand up and down one of the girl’s legs. She didn’t look very comfortable. I remembered people telling me that women in Cuba sell themselves to tourists for a drink, or a pair of jeans, but –until then–I hadn’t believed them. A couple of our new friends walked us back to our homestay and I asked them if it was true. ‘We all do it. We can’t afford nice things otherwise’, they said.
I felt sick. And after that, nothing seemed quite right. In a bookstore in Cienfuegos, all the “New Books” were yellowed hardcovers about Marxism, Leninism and Castro’s life.
At a ration store, the gentleman behind the counter told customers there was no milk or rice… or cigarettes. The man explained to me that the food –when he had any–wasn’t free, like I thought.
The night before Lucia left, she asked me if I still believed in the revolution. But I couldn’t even find words to express how deeply disillusioned I was.
I flew back to Mexico a couple of days later–feeling lost and angry. But in the end, my father was wrong. It didn’t take two weeks for me to realize that communism doesn’t work—it took three. But for me capitalism isn’t the answer either. I’m still looking for a happy medium— and a place to live that feels like coming home.